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Vendor gifts: Holiday cheer or ethical dilemma?

Twas the night before deadline and all through the office,
we worked with our heads down, appeasing our bosses.
But what to my weary eyes should appear?
The USPS delivery, bringing vendor-purchased cheer!
Brown, unmarked boxes of who knows what,
Cookies? Chocolates? Kitsch that is haute?

‘Tis the season! The lights, the cheer and, for some, the vendor gifts.

In the name of the holidays, vendors will often promote goodwill (future sales?) by giving gifts to employees they have worked with. Although thoughtful, some gifts can raise ethical and moral issues. For example, an extravagant gift could make the recipient feel a sense of obligation. You certainly don’t want gifts hampering employee objectivity when making purchasing decisions or recommending products or services to clients and users. You have an obligation to consider your company’s – not your own — best interests (as well as those of consumers or people looking to you for advice).

Most companies have strict human resource policies about what is considered a gift, what dollar amount needs to be reported to the company, what needs to be sent back (What, no spa weekend?!), etc. For some industries (such as health care) the giving and receiving of gifts can raise certain implications concerning the appropriateness of medical treatments given to patients and at what point the gift starts looking like a bribe.

So, how do you differentiate between a possible bribe and a simple thank you? Use common sense, read up on your company’s policy and if you find yourself in a gray area, it’s always best to check with your HR department.

With that said, you may not even really want what your vendor is sending you. Here are some examples of vendor gifts my colleagues have received and kept over the years (whether they wanted to or not):

  • A large, corned beef-style chunk of buffalo.
  • Electric ice cubes (sounded dangerous to me, although she swears by ‘em).
  • A bottle of chocolate wine (yes, it was alcoholic).
  • Mr. Potato Head.
  • A box of mixed nuts doubling as a business card holder.
  • A red velvet blanket teamed with Godiva hot chocolate (?).
  • A bottle of whiskey. Period.
  • A gift card for either a facial or a body wax at a local spa (No further comment necessary).
  • Steaks. Packed in ice.

Feel free to send along any strange, interesting, bizarre and random vendor gifts you’ve received (or sent).

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