Korean Gift-giving Etiquette at Work

About Gift-giving at Work

Coworkers often give gifts to each other for different occasions. Taking part in these cultural rituals can create a more comfortable workplace. Although Koreans often don’t hold international residents responsible for following Korean Gift-giving Etiquette, participating in the customers creates a more comfortable and copacetic environment for everyone involved.

Every Work Place Has Its Own Culture

Each company, school, and organization in Korea has its own culture. Just like other countries, Koreans share an overarching culture but also modify their experience in different ways based on their individual situations. Bigger and smaller companies will have different expectations. Public and private schools will have different expectations. Companies in Gyeonggi-do will have a different culture than companies in Jeju-do. Companies in cities will have different cultures to companies in the countryside.

Such differences within Korean culture mean that communication with co-workers remains important, even after reading blog posts such as this. Asking other foreigners about their experiences withKorean Gift-giving Etiquette may not help you with your specific situation since the people answering your question worked in a different location with different people.

That said, gift-giving in the Korean office will likely be something you experience, and knowing what to ask questions about will help you succeed in your career.

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4 Most Important Gift Giving Moments at Work

For the following life events, Korean Gift-giving Etiquette is that you should usually give rice cakes. Such rice cakes gift should be placed on co-workers’ desks before work starts.

The rice cake gifts would have a little message saying something like, “Thank you for sharing my sorrows” or “Thank you for celebrating my wedding.” You can use a cute, tiny post-it from Daiso to make it easy to write and stick the message.

In order to know who you need to buy gifts for, we recommend consulting with your manager or co-worker. Different companies and institutions may have different traditions for who receives gifts. Taking time to communicate with co-workers and ask questions can help make things feel more comfortable and less confusing.

If you work in a huge company, you may order all of the gifts and the co-workers may help you hand things out. However, if you work in a smaller office you will hand the gifts out on your own.

When you get married

This gift should be given the first day you return to work after your honeymoon.

A parent’s funeral

If your father or mother passes away, you will give the gift after you return to work after the 3 days of mourning.

Returning to work after having a baby

You will give the rice cake after you return from maternity leave.

Retirement

When you retire from your job, you would give the gift on your last day of work. This is an exception, in all other cases the gift should be after the event.

3 Additional Reasons Co-workers May Leave a Gift on Your Desk

Your co-workers may or may not celebrate the following events with gifts. If they do, it will be with a drink (vitamin drink, packaged cold coffee) or baked goods. Oftentimes smaller offices with closer staff may celebrate these occasions.

As with most of the previous gifts, these gifts get placed on the desk in the morning with a note on the first day back at work after the event.

Baby’s 100 days

With kids being such an important part of Korean society, this has become more common in smaller offices.

The promotion of a spouse or yourself

This could include a promotion or a big event.

The first day on the job

If you are a teacher at a public school, this is not required. In an administrative office you should consider it. If you work at a hagwon bringing corner-store coffees for everyone can help get things off on the right foot. Just keep it cheap! Do NOT give expensive gifts. That will only be uncomfortable for everyone.

Engaging with Korean Gift-giving Etiquette as an International Resident

As new arrivals to the country, many of us do not have the family ties or promotional opportunities to participate in the gift-giving traditions. That means, if you work in the same job for years, you may want to come up with your own traditions in order to build better relationships. For example, sometimes we have brought baked goods after going to immigration to resign our contacts. This is NOT a standard but also helped to create a good feeling with co-workers.

What to Avoid When Giving Gifts at Work

One important part of Korean Gift-giving Etiquette is DO NOT give expensive gifts and avoid over-personalized gifts. Think 3-5,000 won per person or less. The gifts need to be generic and usually all the same with the same message. Keep it professional. The goal of office gift-giving is to create an overall strong feeling within your workgroup with no focus on individual relationships.

Ask Questions About Korean Gift-giving Etiquette and Clarify

Before giving gifts at your workplace, check a co-worker to make sure that you understand the culture of gift-giving at your place of employment. Every company and job will be a little different.

Check out our other posts about work and office culture in Korea.