Ask WWD: Gift Giving When the Only Person You Meet Face to Face is the UPS Guy


Sal Cangeloso of XYZ Computing asks:

I think a good subject to go over for the holidays would be gifts. Since we don’t have a in-office secret Santa or something like that, what do we do? Send cards? Send candy? How much should I give the UPS guy (I get a lot of packages) etc. I am sure this is something people have questions about since most of the people I work with I rarely meet in person.

Let’s tackle the two parts of the question separately. First, how do I recognize the UPS guy? This Holiday Tipping Guide for Small Business Owners makes it clear that cash gifts to your USPS, UPS, or FedEx delivery person are problematic:

  • USPS doesn’t allow employees to accept a cash gift in ANY amount.
  • FedEx as well bars employees from accepting cash gifts.
  • UPS strongly urges employees not to accept cash gifts.

I’ve been giving cash tips to my mail carriers for years and not a one has turned it down. If you are comfortable giving a cash gift, anything from $10 to $50 can be appropriate, depending on how often you get deliveries and on your budget for gifts. $20 is a good default: it’s not too cheap but not weirdly generous gift

But if you feel that offering cash crosses the ethical line for you or may make your delivery person hesitate, give a noncash gift worth $10 to $30 instead. The ideal gift is something that won’t weigh them down for years to come (no hand-knitted Rudolf sweaters with a light-up nose, please) but will bring a bit of holiday joy right now. A basket of ripe pears and cheese, a box of almond toffee, or some paperwhites in a pretty cachepot ready to bloom let them know you care.

Second, what do you do in absence of office Secret Santa gift exchanges? What if your work associates are scattered across the globe? What if it’s already December 20th and you haven’t yet arranged for anything? You could send an electronic greeting card, but those are probably most appropriate for friends and family. You could have flowers or a gift basket sent via a service like that contracts with local delivery people, so you don’t have to worry about shipping time. However, this may be more than you want to do in many cases.

How about writing a simple email acknowledging your appreciation for your associate and wishing them a happy holiday? To make it most personal, include specific comments about how you’ve enjoyed working with them in the past. Mention what you hope to collaborate with them on in the future. The benefit of this approach is that it doesn’t put any obligation onto the receiver like a gift might. It doesn’t change the nature of your relationship or use the holidays as an excuse to become more intimate–not everyone wants to ramp up the intensity of their work relationships. But it does spread holiday warmth and good cheer.

If you’ve never felt the holiday joy of a Secret Santa gift exchange or you just want to remind yourself to be happy you’re a web worker, check out this excerpt from The Office.

Tell us how you’re showing the people you work with you care during the holidays. And submit any questions you want the WWD community to discuss on our contact page.


Mary Deaton

There was a time (oh, so, many years ago) when I WAS the UPS guy (gal). Nobody ever told me I could not take a cash gratuity. It isn’t like I reported it. I would also get glass bottles full of brown liquids, boxes o fat and sugar, and when I had the garment district in downtown Los Angeles, free clothes. I didn’t expect gifts, but for regular daily pick-up or delivery customers it was the rule they gave me something.

Now that I work from home (and weigh lots more than then!) I send small boxes of chocolate to the people I work with on a regular basis. I order them online, since all of these people live in other cities.

For trades people, like the postal carrier, UPS, and so on, I leave a small, edible something. I know it will be gone before they ever get back to the barn.

Anne Zelenka

Right you are Sal, an email blast to 200 people with holiday wishes… what’s the point?

For people you work closely with and especially for good customers, it may make sense to go with something of more substance. If it’s for people far away from you, I think it’s nice to do something that’s specific to your geographic area (like sourdough bread from San Francisco or macadamia nuts from Hawaii).

I’m sure a delivery driver would rarely turn down cash… makes me wonder why the companies don’t change their rules on this. Why not allow cash gifts up to, say, $40? Perhaps there’s an ethical issue I’m missing, but I think it would be better to allow the employees to take tips up to a certain amount so as not to have them feel they can disregard the rules.

Sal Cangeloso

After way too much deliberation I ended up getting a gift for the UPS, Fedex, and USPS guys as well as something for my advertising people. I have a few more people on the list, but have not acted yet…

Since I see the same UPS, Fedex, and USPS people a few times a week it was easy to track them down and give them an envelope with some cash in it. The guys were more than happy to accept something and while they did not seem surprised by the gift, they were definitely appreciative. I think reasonable gifts for these guys is important because they work really hard and working conditions are often not that great. [ google “fedex drivers lawsuit” etc.]

As for other people, like my advertising company, I think a gift is a great way to show them that you appreciate what they are doing. IMO, something like this is not necessary under most circumstances, but we work together pretty closely and they have done a killer job this year.

I think those thank-you emails are great so long as there are personalized and they are not a email blast with 200 people cc’d. If you want to take the time to tell someone thanks or best wishes, than that is awesome, but as recognized in in The Office clip above, the size of the gift does play a role. When you (as a business) are giving the thought is important, but substance matters as well because it reflects on you and the organization.

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