Modern Gifting Etiquette Explained

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Etiquette, in some ways, seems like a remnant from a bygone age. It's depicted in historical films, showing general confusion over which fork to use and whether to address the Queen as "mam" or "marm". Confusing and something to be left behind - but perhaps it has a place in the modern world?

We have replaced standardized etiquette that could be written about in books with more of a general "is this okay?" level. Everyone has different opinions on things like thank-you notes and how to address someone professionally, which complicates the matter even further.

One aspect to focus on is birthdays. More specifically, what's suitable for birthdays. When should you make a fuss and arrange a big celebration? When is a card acceptable - and when can just a text message suffice? We're all busy people trying to get to grips with a brave new world, so rather than fretting, here's a general guide that should be able to save you from a few social faux pas.

Happy Birthday To... A Colleague At Work

You don't know them well, though you've spoken a few times and consider the relationship friendly. Most of your conversations have been about work with the occasional mention of family. They're an acquaintance, but not a friend.

What's Suitable? If there's an office card, put your name to it with a friendly message. If it's not been organized, then send them a quick email or just mention it in passing.

Gift? No.

Happy Birthday To... An Old Friend From School

You were close once, but distance and the realities of adult life have meant you don't have time for one another. You haven't often spoken in recent years, but you know from memory it's their birthday and don't want to ignore it.

What's Suitable? If you have their address, a handwritten card would be your best bet. You could just use social media, but if you were once close, then it might feel a little dismissive - better to send an email directly if you can't send a card.

Gift? No

Happy Birthday To... A Member of Your Social Circle

You know one another, have socialized together - but it's never been one-on-one. They're a friend of a friend, and while you get on well, you tend to need a glue of another person to keep you around one another.

What's Suitable? A card and a message on social media. If you want to bring the relationship closer, or they don't live nearby, then you might want to send flowers or make a special effort.

Gift? Possibly, if you want to be closer to them or they sent you something on your birthday.

Happy Birthday To... Your Boss

It's perhaps the most difficult relationship of all and the one that's easiest to get wrong. If you don't send a gift and other employees do, will that reflect badly on you? Or will sending a gift be seen as brown-nosing?

What's Suitable? Whatever everyone else is doing, be it a simple office card or a full party. Talk to your colleagues and, if possible, arrange something from everyone rather than taking the burden on yourself.

Gift? No - unless you are particularly close or they gifted to you on your birthday.

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