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When it comes to workplace gifts, what’s the best policy?

If it’s October, the holiday season is not far away. For many workplaces that means office celebrations and gift giving. Does the exchange of gifts between employees and employees and managers require company policies?

Maybe such guidelines aren’t deemed necessary. Of the half dozen workplaces quizzed by the Mississippi Business Journal, none has an official set of rules. Human resource directors and spokespersons at Entergy, Caterpillar, Memorial Hospital at Gulfport, Mississippi Power Company, American Healthtech and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (DMR) said they have no gift-giving policy and that each department can decide how they want to handle any exchange of gifts.

Yeah, cash is good…

Some, however, do have traditions revolving around the season. Teresa Boutwell, human resource director for 121-employee American Healthtech, says the company gives every employee a cash bonus each year around the end of November.

“It’s called the turkey bonus because it takes the place of giving each employee a turkey for the holidays,” she said. “Everyone gets the same amount and it goes out with a nice thank-you letter from the company.”

Additionally, this year employees of the Jackson company will participate in Operation Christmas Child for the first time. Some employees have done it on their own, but it will be a company-wide activity this year. Each employee will fill a shoebox with small gifts and trinkets to be distributed by the organization founded by Franklin Graham. Last year, 15 million gift boxes were distributed to children in this country and all around the world.

“We’re all at the point that we don’t need anything. We’re so blessed,” Boutwell said. “We’ve chosen to do this and won’t have a gift exchange at work.”

Policies in place — or not?

Pat Daughdrill of Ocean Springs recently retired as director of the Administrative Services Office of the DMR in Biloxi. During her long tenure there, she organized white elephant gift exchanges and holiday parties among employees.

“The DMR does not have a policy on exchanging gifts, letting each department do what they want to do, but the State Department of Finance and Administration has rules for all state agencies,” she said. “We are not supposed to give employees anything, even plaques. Promotional items can be used at public events only if they have a purpose, such as providing helpful information.”

The Caterpillar Company in Oxford observes the practice that no gifts are given to managers from employees.

“Other than that, each department does what they want to do,” said Susan Massey, human resource manager. “Some don’t do anything. Some have secret pals — that’s usually among the women — and some exchange names among the men and women. They like to have a meal when everyone brings a dish and exchanges gifts to get into the Christmas spirit.”

At Mississippi Power Company, spokeswoman Cindy Duvall says employees enjoy celebrating together and recognizing special holidays inside the workplace.

“At this point, there is no company policy on exchanging gifts, nor are there any events in which employees are mandated to participate,” she said. “Employees on their own initiative can present gifts to their co-workers and with management.”

Giving back

She added that employees feel strongly about giving to the communities they serve. “That is the passion and reason behind Mississippi Power’s non-profit organization, Community Connection,” she said. “Employees can join this group and have a greater impact on their surrounding community with a more substantial donation.”

Membership is increasing in the post-Katrina world, and there are chapters throughout the company’s service territory. Duvall said the organization, active all year, will be more active during the holiday season.

“The Community Connection chapters have clothing and food drives as well as hands-on projects and monetary donations that are often matched by the Mississippi Power Foundation,” she said. “During the holidays they will do things such as taking names from the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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