Q: My line manager and I are not very close. Our relationship is purely professional. However, each time she travels abroad, she brings me a gift. She started by gifting me chocolate bars, now I am receiving necklaces and beautiful earrings. It feels odd but I don’t know if I should say no.
Saying no is exactly what you should do, but how you communicate this is of utmost importance. Work relationships between colleagues should always be professional, and your boss needs to know this very well.
Simple gifts such as chocolates, inexpensive gift vouchers or bottles of wine are okay. They are usually given out as a sign of appreciation, but when they become more expensive and offered to just one member of the team, you have reason to worry.
Extravagant gifts can easily be seen as a form of blackmail, harassment or simply put, a bribe.
The moment you receive them, there is an expectation that you should give something back. It is therefore important to try and understand the intentions behind each gesture, and to speak out when you feel uncomfortable. If, for example, your boss is being nice so that you overlook certain work procedures in their favour, you will be party to that misconduct.
The most polite way to decline an inappropriate gift is to say: “No, but thank you. I do not feel that this gift is appropriate.” The word feel here is personal.
You have no obligation to give any explanation as to why you did not accept the gift.
You can use the same statement to return any gift that offends you. Remember that your boss is human, and likely to feel embarrassed. She may push back, but stand your ground and emphasise that receiving the gift makes you feel uncomfortable.
A genuine boss should understand that you are not interested in their schemes and leave you alone. One with ill intentions is likely to feel challenged and see your feedback as a gesture of insubordination. In such a situation, you may want to refer to your company gift policy and highlight the conflicts that are likely to arise when the policy is breeched.
Be sure to always be exemplary in your work, and if you see any signs of being side lined, seek an explanation. If need be, seek HR’s guidance. Although I am not sure how a gift of necklaces and earrings from a manger could be excused as genuine, if you realise you may have misjudged the situation, be ready to apologise.
The best gift we can receive or give one another is honesty.