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.[youtube=]

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.


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