office holiday gift-giving stories: unburden yourself here

Well, we’re officially in the holiday season — which in workplaces is also the season of forced merriment, holiday party gaffes, pressure to donate to extravagant gifts to your boss, and other seasonal pleasures.

In the spirit of the season, I want to hear about workplace gift debacles. Did a game of Secret Santa end in tears? Did you win a used cat toy in the gift exchange? How about the box of crushed peanut shells that mysteriously appeared in the office gift swap? Were you asked to pitch in to send your CEO’s family on a ski trip? (These are all real stories that we’ve heard here in the past. Now you must top them.)

Share your weirdest or funniest story related to gifts in the office in the comments. And if you have a great workplace holiday story that isn’t gift-related, throw that in too.

{ 496 comments… read them below }

  1. Esra

    No used cat toy, but yes to a used coffee mug. Complete with coffee stains and remnants of that day’s brew.

    1. Windchime

      At OldJob, my close friend got an ugly, cheap mug filled with unshelled nuts for one day of our 5-day Secret Santa gift exchange. Another day, she got a Hershey bar out of the vending machine. It made her feel so hurt, especially since everyone else was getting cute gifts.

  2. Jen in RO

    I’m actually sad that I never had a Secret Santa or any kind of gift giving activity in the office… but I’m looking forward to the stories.

    1. Elkay

      Thankfully gift giving hasn’t featured in my offices either but I keep hitting F5 in the hope that someone’s posted an amazing story.

      1. Jen in RO

        No, I am *actually* sad because I didn’t get to buy/receive gifts! I know I’m the minority (and I’m usually a Grinch), but it would give me the warm fuzzies. The fact that I worked with nice people helps.

        1. Jazzy Red

          “nice people”

          That makes a lot of difference. It can be loads of fun if everyone knows each other well enough to find gifts appropriate for their specific person, but less fun to get things that you don’t like.

          I’ve been in both types, and now I usually avoid them.

    2. Neeta

      I had one, where both the Santa as well as the Santee were secret. It made for some interesting gifts. Eg: a big burly rocker-type got a a huge orange bendable flower.

    3. Jamie

      I have never done a secret Santa either, I’ve always wanted to – it does sound fun.

      I’ve never gotten anything bad from work. I had a coworker friend leave me a KISS hello kitty doll anonymously last year and that was one of the most awesome things that ever happened to me. What was even cooler when I finally tracked down the giver she told me that she looked for Ace because she knew he was my favorite, but they only had Gene. It was one of those real moments, you know…I was touched someone knew me that well.

      From work proper I’ve always gotten good stuff. Everyone gets grocery gift cards for every holiday and we do a raffle where names are drawn and you go up and select something from the gift table. Everything from tvs, xboxes, to Christmas candy and coffee cups, sports tickets, etc….so it’s a wide variance of value. The biggest ticket item saved for the last name called. It’s fun and During during the Christmas luncheon (at work on the clock – yay).

      What does bother me personally is when management or individual contributors who are the higher end of the salary curve take the nicer items if called early. I always grab a mug or some novelty candy thing or tin of cookies…it makes me feel bad when I see someone making good money take the $200 gift card. It’s not against the rules, but I don’t think I’m the only one who notices this.

      Oh, and one year they had the cutest penguin cookie jar – it’s just adorable – he’s wearing a hat and scarf and my Penguin love is second only to HK. Anyway, I heard someone else was hoping to get it because his sick mom loved penguins…so I left it for him. So I asked where they bought it so I could go get one, and lo and behold what was on my desk when I returned from the party? 2 penguin cookie jars, one for me one for my sister. My boss knew of my penguin love and went and got them.

      She’s also the one who bought me a gorgeous white gold and amethyst Hello Kitty pendant when I completed a major project, and brought me back a silk scarf from Iceland because she knew how great it would look with my favorite sweater. (I started crying because the last gift my mom ever gave me before she died was a silk scarf – sometimes you can’t help crying at work.)

      And she got me Van Halen tickets for my birthday and just bought me a lightscribe pen.

      Okay seeing it in writing ip my boss is the best gift giver ever!

      I have no bad stories – although when I worked at another place I hated it so much and the corporate party was so swank and glitzy and everyone got gift cards of $100 and expensive door prizes while the plant workers got trinkets I stopped at the fire dept on the way home and dropped the gift card in the toys for tots box. I was just so sickened by the management there I didn’t want it.

      (Oh and for those of you with the power to affect this – the best end of year gift is a bonus! One size fits all and no one is allergic to money! Tokens are really fun, but that’s the thank you people want.)

      1. Audiophile

        Coolest boss ever! Can I come work with you two? Those are seriously awesome gifts.

        I agree with you, that someone on the higher end of the pay scale getting a $200 gc seems unfair. And I agree that bonuses are always welcome. I only worked at one place, so far, that gave out bonuses.

        1. Jamie

          Yeah, I don’t get why people do that. They don’t want to do a separate raffle because there is enough social and political division in manufacturing no matter how management tries to mitigate that – which I get but you’d think people would feel weird taking a high dollar prize in front of people who make much less.

          For some people a $200 gift card will make a significant difference to their Christmas.

          I think good gifts all have one thing in common, when they show that the giver knows the recipient and put thought into what they’d love. Like the camping post below – it’s about knowing what will get people excited.

          And I would love it if you worked with me…I’m going back Monday and I’m scared of what awaits. I could use some back-up!

          1. Zelos

            How come they don’t do a raffle draw? I can see the system where people “select their own gifts” being fraught with either guilt or side-eye from others. Everyone would be watching if you snag the X-box or $200 gift card or whatever, even if you’re on the lower end of the payscale…and that alone might put people off.

            1. tcookson

              My husband’s company does a gift draw, but lo and behold, the front office people always end up with the high-dollar items (flat-screen TV’s, amusement-park tickets, ski weekends) while the guys on the floor end up with the modest prizes. It is really odd how that keeps happening every year for the past 19 years . . .

          2. Chinook

            As someone who won a $50 gift card last year at the Christmas raffle right after buying a condo (it was cheaper than rent and I could have pets), that gift card meant Christmas presents for family. Now that I think of it, last uyear’s gifts were all re-gifted door prizes or via gift cards. Sure, a bonus would have been nice but these helped the same. (I even used the jumbo candy bars the boss gave me from supplier gift baskets in nephews’ stockings. They thought Santa was well connected that year)

          3. Anon

            I wouldn’t feel weird taking a $200 gift card if one were on the table when my name was called, even though I make twice as much as some of the staff. That’s the entire point of the exercise, to take what you want when your name is called. Plus, just because someone makes more, that doesn’t mean that $200 wouldn’t mean just as much to him/her. That person’s money situation could be precarious–I make “a lot” compared to other people, but we can barely pay our bills because my husband lost his job and my school loans are through the roof, on top of diapers, formula, and medical bills/insurance for our infant daughter. If I had a $200 gift card, I wouldn’t have to wrap up used toys that were given to us by family for Christmas presents. So I guess the point is, don’t assume things from someone’s salary.

            1. Jamie

              Of course you can’t assume anything from someone’s salary, but in the work environment perception is often more important than reality. The fact is when people who make a lot more than others take the bigger ticket items it can create a negative impression.

              So sure, in the real world there are so many factors which influence our situations – but within the very small world of a work place those nuances dont really exist – and it can rub people the wrong way when someone one who is on the higher end of the scale takes the higher end stuff and leaves the lower value stuff for people making far less.

            2. NewGirlinTown

              Here’s my take on this.

              You’re making more money, yes, but when was the last time you took a fancy trip to Hawaii? Bought a new Mercedes? Walked in with a new handbag that cost more than someone in your company makes in a week? Probably never, right?

              The thing is, when people look around the office, they often judge salary in relation to that person’s lifestyle. I bet your co-workers (at least some of them) know of your difficult financial situation.

              I think the OP above is talking more about someone who is a higher-up and clearly making more than enough to afford a certain lifestyle (pulling up in a luxury vehicle, taking nice trips, etc.).

              1. Jamie

                For people at the same level maybe. But people will know that directors and managers make more than the receptionist or the factory workers. I’m in manufacturing and I don’t drive a fancy car and my purse came from Kohl’s on sale, but people will still assume that the head of IT makes more than the floor operators or the file clerk.

        2. Jessa

          They really need a separate thing because those on the high end of the payscale should be management and they shouldn’t be in the same gift pool as the employees. Because well gifts flow downward.

          1. Jamie

            This isn’t about gifts flowing upward because no employees contribute to the gifts – the whole expense is on the company.

            And there are a lot of people on the high end of the pascals who aren’t management. Engineers, for example, make great money in my industry even if they aren’t in management.

            1. Lora

              Being a math-y science nerd, I read “a lot of people on the high end of the pascals…” and thought, “that’s an interesting way of putting it, but yes, sometimes my job IS high pressure…”

  3. Lucy

    My former boss used to give all of the members of our team a gift card around the holidays. One year, when I didn’t get the gift card, I assumed he stopped the tradition- it turns out, everyone else did get one, just not me! I assume he just forgot me but that did not help with my fear that he didn’t like me.

    1. Para Girl

      I have lost out on Christmas gifts TWICE because my boss liked me!! One year, he brought in a bottle of wine for each paralegal but admitted to me that he had forgotten to bring one in for the paralegal we were going to be firing soon (bad work product). He told me that he was giving my bottle of wine to her because she would be upset if she didn’t get one. Sure!! I figured I would be getting an even nicer bottle of wine the following week. Nope!! Nothing. Ever.

      The following year, we had a new supervisor but the exact same thing happened. He forgot the low performer, told me how embarrassed he was and would it be okay with me if he gave my gift to her. And then nothing to make up for it.

      What the…

      1. kdiver

        Not to be cruel, but it sounds like you’re not as liked or as valued of an employee as you may think. If you’re being too nice, too eager-to-please, stop. Posture, it’s all about posture…

  4. Dina

    My story isn’t just for the holidays… whenever my boss’s kids are selling anything for school or sports he comes to each of us and we are each required to buy something his kid is selling. Most of us make $50,000 or more less than him and he has 3 kids in school and in sports. It is 50/50 whether we actually receive what we were forced to buy. Gotta love work.

    1. alfie

      This is a peeve of mine. The pressure to buy what children are selling from their parents. Supposedly it’s the kids that are getting experience selling, right? At one of my jobs, a top admin would have her daughter tape an all staff voicemail for girl scout cookies and then she would remind us when we got our paychecks. It bothers me anyway, but especially from people at the top.

      I always say if an actual kid/student approaches me, I will buy, (and I do, but it rarely comes up) but I don’t from the parents who make more than I do and are using company resources to pressure me.

      Also, I’m Jewish, so any holiday secret Santa type stuff almost always results in Christmas-themed stuff that I really don’t use. I still do it to go along, but then I just have to take an extra step to regift or donate to Goodwill.

      1. the gold digger

        Agreed. The kid should be doing the work. I will not buy from parents, but I will buy from any kid who actually comes to my door to ask, which means I buy about one thing a year.

      2. tcookson

        I like what my boss did when his kid was selling candy bars for school: he bought a whole bunch of them from her and put one in everybody’s mailbox at work.

        1. Julie

          That’s the way to do it! When I was a Girl. Scout, my dad took the order form to work (I was too young to know it wasn’t OK), but I also went door-to-door in our neighborhood (with a parent watching from the street) and sold quite a bit that way.

          1. KitKat

            When I was little and in Girl Scouts, my dad would take the form in to his office, but usually he would just send a ping out to his section (he worked in a telecommunications office; lots of cubicle farms) and say if they wanted something to come see him. There was no looming pressure and usually his work buddies bought a box or two because they never got them another way. Even now as an adult, I see no problem with that sort of system. Heck, usually that’s how I get my cookie fix nowadays!

            1. LPBB

              At a previous job a coworker would always bring in her daughter’s Girl Scout cookie order form. I never bought cookies from other Girl Scouts because I wanted to make sure her daughter got my $$. I don’t see anything wrong with that system either

            2. Penny

              I think it’s in the approach. If someone sends a mass email saying the order form is posted somewhere and feel free to order, that’s cool, but it’s awkward when someone approaches you one on one.

              1. Deborah

                You know what they say – Where goes the Girl Scout cookies, so goes the union. It’s about a solicitation policy. If you let one person/group in then you have no standing to keep out others.

          2. kac

            I wouldn’t be upset if a coworker brought in something for girl scout cookies, depending on how they handled it. If someone sent out a quick email to the staff saying: if you’re interested you can buy

            1. kac

              oops, I hit enter too soon!

              If someone sent out a quick email to the staff saying: “you can buy cookies at my desk, if you’re interested.” and that was the last we heard of it? I’d have no problem. (I’d actually be pumped because those cookies are delicious.)

              But if someone is actually soliciting them? That’s too much pressure and is unprofessional.

        2. Poe

          When I was working part-time at a…sports-type place (I don’t want to give it away!!), the kid of the owner was selling chocolate bars for her swim team. The kid made a really cute sign and put it next to a box of the chocolate bars and a box for the money. It was a very small place, so everyone was honest, and the kid made a ton for her team by just having it somewhere both staff and clients sat for a break, and nobody felt pressured. She also put up a thankyou and updated tally every few weeks, which was cool because we all got to find out that she won a prize.

    2. Sourire

      Ugh, I hate those sales. I’d really rather just give you $10 directly than spend $20 for 3 cookies that end up giving the kid $3 and the company a ridiculous profit.

      That said, I have evil, evil coworkers who leave those $1 candy bar fundraising boxes is the break room (honor system and no pressure) and I fall victim to those way too much. It is just as “cheap” as the vending machine though, so I guess it’s not too bad?

    3. A Bug!

      It is 50/50 whether we actually receive what we were forced to buy.

      What an excellent lesson for your boss’s children to learn.

      1. Lizabeth

        When parents showed up at work selling “stuff” for their kids’ fund raising I would ask what they were raising money for? Nine times out of ten they couldn’t tell me so no sale…plus what they were selling I wouldn’t give as a gift to somebody I hate….

        1. De Minimis

          So happy that we have a strict “no soliciting” rule at my work. Even stuff like Girl Scout cookies has to be done covertly.

    4. Windchime

      How do they require you to buy something? Do they actually come around and tell you that you must purchase something?

      1. Dina

        Yes, he says “It’s time to buy xyz. How many are you buying and I need the check made out to…” I suppose someone with stronger fortitude would say no, but when he is standing in your cubicle and says it, choice doesn’t feel possible. I haven’t found anyone who has said no.

        1. NewGirlinTown

          That is definitely not cool.

          I’ve heard of a tale of how someone handled this same situation. They began telling anyone who would ask them to purchase a kid’s fundraising product that they would purchase the product on one condition: the child themselves had to come into the office and pitch the product. That was the only caveat, but apparently, no one ever took them up on the offer. Maybe tell your boss that’s your new policy?

    5. Sue

      I always, and I mean always, said I had my own kids and grandkids to buy from so I bought from no one at work. Work is work and home is home.

  5. josh

    CEO ski trip? Really? I suppose with a bit of reflection it all depends on the contribution required from each employee and what exactly the CEO has done over the course of the year.

    If they are the type of of leader who helps employees dig their cars out of the parking lot after a snow storm, routinely hires from the ranks of homeless/disadvantaged populations when possible or reaches out to people on their personal/family issues, then maybe they have engendered themselves to others in the company in such a way people want to give back to him or her. So if the impetus for this gift is an actual expression of gratitude, I can see it in some circumstances, if its is just out of some sort of slavish devotion, quasi cult like behavior, then yes, it is over the top. It is also understandable that not everyone in a company may have those same feelings towards the CEO.

    1. Melissa

      Most CEOs are getting paid at least low six figures. Even if they are Mother Teresa, they still don’t need their employees to give them money towards a ski trip!

  6. Pringles

    A half-used jar of Vaseline and other sex accessories, including handcuffs. It was meant to be a joke, but came off entirely creepy because of the individual who gave it. He showed up halfway through the white elephant exchange, so we all knew which gift bag he’d brought. We had a great, easygoing office at the time, but reactions varied between stunned silence and awkward laughter. Even years later, no one really mentions that story, and that office doesn’t let you forget anything.

    1. Liane

      There are no words, no punctuation marks, no letters in ANY alphabet, and no emoticons to express this level of disgusting.

      So I guess the battle is for second place, or have I just not read far enough yet?

    2. Windchime

      That’s just disgusting. The toys and handcuffs are horrible enough, but the Vaseline just makes it extra gross.

    3. AnonPuff

      Well, that wins…. I’ve also officially lost all my punctuation and vowels and brain cells. *shudder*

  7. AdAgencyChick

    The Yankee swap where the client was in the office that day, so one of our account managers put in a gift on his behalf. Except the gift she chose “from him” was a shaping undergarment. Some clients do like to have a buddy-buddy, jokester relationship with their account team, but he was not one of them. You could see the look of horror on his face when “his” gift was opened — and of course the coworker who pulled it was the quietest, most super-professional person. (AKA, the person most likely to react to receiving The Chic Shaper undergarment “from the client” with deep embarrassment rather than a laugh.) I still wonder why that account person thought it was going to help her client relations to do that.

  8. Apollo Warbucks

    At my old job we decided to do a secret Santa, there was a young girl in the office who was just out of school so she was about 16 or 17 the gift was the most inappropriate you can imagine (that bad Id be embarrassed to say what it was here), she was so embarrassed when she opened it in front of everyone. Really not funny no one owned up to it but they really severed to be fired for harassment.

          1. Jamie

            I remember the episode of the British office where they had a birthday party for that one woman and someone gave her a sex toy and it was out in the open, I said to my husband then that would get you fired in any office in America.

            I guess not. Unless he did get fired?

            1. A Bug!

              That would be the correct thing to happen, but it sounds like management didn’t bother looking into identifying the giver. I think the fact that the giver chose to remain anonymous says well enough that they knew it was a mean and stupid thing to do.

              I can’t imagine, at seventeen, receiving an anonymous sex toy at an office party. I probably would have quit, although I don’t know what I would have said in subsequent interviews to explain why.

              1. Apollo Warbucks

                The management didn’t do much to find who gave it, but no one was going to own up to it. What I found really bad was the comments made by some of the other men that worked there were worse. The girl was very attractive but they were old enough to be her father and they should have shown some respect rather than be perverts. Its a UK based firm half owned by a US firm and several of the UK’s high street banks.

          2. Lindsay J

            This is the second really inappropriate gift in this thread. I mean at my job we cross some boundaries and have conversations that would probably be considered inappropriate in a lot of offices but I’m pretty sure that none of us would think that anything like this would be okay to gift at work.

    1. Denise

      Yeah, unfortunately, that is completely unacceptable and horrifying. Sadly, hardly anything is ever done when people are sexually harassed.

  9. Blinx

    Former crappy manager asked me loudly, when I arrived at the company Christmas lunch, whether I wanted a goat or a cow for Christmas. My answer of “huh?” got a response that he would sponsor a farm animal, in my name. Never got any certificate or anything that he actually followed through. But he got points for asking me in front of the higher-ups.

    1. Clever Name

      Sounds like they were talking about Heifer International, one of my favorite charities. You can give in honor of someone and they’ll send them a card saying so. They probably never followed through since a gift of a cow is $500.

      (My personal financial goal is to one day be in a position to gift an “ark” of animals that is $5000. Some day)

      1. RJ

        I love Heifer International, and just to make sure those $500 – $5,000 price tags don’t put anyone off, you can also give one or more “shares” of an animal. A share of a goat is only $10! :)

          1. Green

            Or, heck, Farm Sanctuary has many animals you can sponsor, and the animals get to live out their lives happily without being subjected to cruelty.

            1. VictoriaHR

              Heifer’s animals aren’t necessarily slaughtered. Goats and cows are given to families for milk, rabbits’ dung is used for fertilizer in families’ fields. I would bet that very few of the animals that you can sponsor through Heifer are killed and eaten right away. The focus is on sustaining a family indefinitely, not for one meal.

          2. Gail L

            I’m so late to this, but it really, really bothers me when people apply modern concepts of vegetarian/veganism to the developing world. I work in Afghanistan, with farmers, and something they do not have there is refrigeration. Nor a good supply chain. There are only 3 kinds of food that hold up well in a harsh winter with no electricity for refrigeration: grains, roots, and live animals. Even the roots require an adequate storage facility to minimize moisture and regulate the temperature. Farmers work hard to dry fruits and vegetables for the winter months, but it’s a food insecure country. For people to have a varied diet means they rely on both the meat and the dairy provided by an animal, in addition to what grains and other things may keep. It is easy for people in the west to have a varied, healthy, meatless diet, but it is not easy for people in the rural developing world.

            I have qualms with Heifer, but really their reliance on animals as a concept is not one of them.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              And I think that’s why you don’t see real protests against Heifer. But it’s still not a very thoughtful gift for someone who’s vegan for animal rights reasons.

              1. ChanukahElf

                My vegetarian sister was obsessed with rabbits for a while, so my mother, not thinking it through, gifted rabbits through Heifer as a Chanukah gift. We still poke fun at her for the time she had some bunnies killed in my sister’s name.

      2. Penny

        What does sponsoring a farm animal entail? You save an animal, they name it after you or….? My aunt has a small farm and named all her cows after all the cousins. It’s a kick when she talks about them using our names.

      3. VictoriaHR

        I always give my nephew a half a llama or some rabbits through Heifer Int’l for his birthday. He lives on a farm and loves animals, and is involved in his church, so he appreciates it.

    2. Emma

      Ricky Gervais has a skit about this situation. The giver gets to feel good about giving to their cause, the giftee feels bad because she doesn’t actually get anything except a piece of paper (maybe) and the goat doesn’t want to be bought and sold, anyway. “C’mon, goat, why don’t you want to go to Africa?” “Um, LIONS?!”

      1. Jamie

        Yes! Was that in his Out of England tour?

        He also too I the other side of it on one of the radio shows where Karl was the one thinking it was a lousy gift and he and Steve defended it. Karl did this whole thing about how the thought they were sending goats from England to Africa and how confused they’d be. I don’t care if his stupid schtick is real or feigned, it was pants wettingly funny.

        1. Emma

          I’m not sure which tour it was, but it was quite funny.

          I didn’t know he had a radio show! I saw the Heifer International comment and thought “I definitely saw a comedian talk about this. How alternatively unfulfilled and smugly self-satisfied this situation is.” So I googled, and Wiki tells me he had that exchange with Karl! I’d love to see it…only because I’ve heard David Mitchell and other comedians/Brit personalities reference Karl Pilkington and I have no idea who he is.

          1. Jamie

            OMG the radio shows are THE BEST! YouTube has tons of them – they are my commute and housecleaning company.

            A lot of people know Karl from An Idiot Abroad, and those are okay but nothing compared to the radio show. I’ve literally cried on the way to work because I was laughing so hard. A good sample is a Day in the Life of Karl Pilkington on YouTube – it’s a hour long snippet from the radio. I heard that and was hooked.

    3. Anonymous_J

      Ugh. As a vegan, that REALLY would have offended me! I mean, the intent most of the time with those is good, but just wow.

      1. Anonymous

        I don’t see why this should offend you… the purchasing of the cow or goat is in order to give it to someone disadvantaged who can use it to support themselves. I highly doubt they would kill the animal to sell its meat, since the milk and dairy products would be much more profitable over time. And dairy cows/goats are fed and treated very well because their milk is better that way.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          It’s offensive if you don’t believe that animals are ours to use for food, whether or not they’re killed. It’s just not an appropriate gift for most vegans.

          1. Sue

            And UGH as a non vegan you are an idiot. How the hell should anyone know you are a vegan. I don’t care if someone is a Muslim or an Atheist or Jewish – if i bring a Xmas tree in for my office party or a cross that’s something else they would whine about right? Jesus christ SHUT UP already with this politically correct crap!

            I have tons of vegan friends and they don’t whine when I have a holiday party where I serve beef – sheesh

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Where are you seeing whining here? We’re discussing what would and wouldn’t be a thoughtful gift for different types of people.

              And yeah, crosses aren’t typically appropriate office decoration.

              Also: We don’t call people idiots here or yell at them to shut up. Please cut that out.

            2. Melissa

              If you gave someone Jewish or Muslim a cross for Christmas, they wouldn’t have the right to be upset? Of course they would – it’s a thoughtless gift that assumes that everyone is Christian. You may not know if they are not Christian, but you could take the time to ask before buying them a religious gift. Similarly with this – maybe you don’t know that they’re vegan, but before you buy a gift like this, you would ask.

              It always amuses me when people get irrationally angry about “politically correct” things, since “politically correct” just means “polite and acting like an adult who understands that people are different.”

  10. Amy S.

    My former employer made it a custom to send all 3,000 corporate employees a sweater for Christmas. Every year there would be photos on our website of the “fabulous” fashionable sweaters that a limited amount of employees, usually those who worked directly n the office, would receive and our company photos could be compared to the GAP or a very corny JC Penny ad.

    Low and behold the employees who worked remote would get the bottom of the pile sweaters. Not the most fashionable, or most flattering, but the ones that were cringe worthy. My department, which was strictly remote, had the worse pickings and was considered more of the runts of the pack. The first year of this tradition, that I was there for, I managed to snag a very nice white sweater which although was a male still looked fashionable. I had lucked out from the horror stories of other employees who had stated they had gotten bright pink sweaters that, working out of New England, made no sense in January when it was -20 out and the sweater was paper thin. The second year of this tradition, when I was starting to fall from grace, I ended up getting a green sweater. Not just a green sweater but a lime green sweater, with my “fuller body” self, that made me look like a Christmas tree out of the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

    In the spirit of gift giving I lucked out and my friends had a “sadistic santa” swap at the end of the holiday where I put the sweater in circulation and “won” the prize for best sadistic gift out of the bunch. I ended up exchanging the 70 dollar lime green sweater for a bag of candy in an empty hat box.

  11. LV

    1. I did an 8-month internship, and my boss there was not the most pleasant of people. I would go weeks without seeing her because she was constantly calling in sick and she ignored me most of the time she was in the office. At Christmas, she popped her head in my cubicle long enough to say, “I was going to get you a gift, but I decided not to.” Thanks?…

    2. This isn’t really *my* office gift-giving story, but when I was 17, my mom regifted me something she had gotten from her office Secret Santa… without having opened the gift first! It turned out to be a bottle of fancy olive oil. She said, “Oh, I assumed it was makeup or something.” It was wrapped in a box, but even so, shouldn’t she have been able to tell that it was a heavy bottle of something liquid?

      1. Jamie

        Wow indeed. I officially feel better about my own social skills.

        Seriously though, that’s terrible.

        Although….do you think they would work with my family today? “I was thinking of making a Thanksgiving dinner but I decided not to.”

        And yes I am having much more fun procrastinating here but I need to go wrestle a 24 lb turkey into the oven.

        (Can someone tell me why oh why my husband needs to buy the biggest turkey the store has every single time?).

        Oh and weird thanksgiving trivia, I read recently that ten average cost for a thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings for 10 people and left overs is 49.04 this year. At first I was wondering in what alternate universe these people shop and then I read their list.

        For 10 people:
        1 16 lb turkey
        Bread for stuffing
        Ingredients for 1 pumpkin pie
        A horrible veggie
        3 lbs sweet potatoes
        12 biscuits

        You try to put 10 people on a pie in my family, or limit them to one biscuit a piece and there will be dysfunction. Just goes to show when you see stats you have to look at the fine print.

        And with that I need to go make my leberklosse stuffing (and out of curiosity I googled it and no one else is on record with using this for fowl stuffing…this is the second beloved family recipe from my german gramma that I can’t find anywhere on the web. She was either a culinary genius or just making crap up.

        1. Sourire

          We’re making more food than that for 4 people this year! A smaller turkey, but more sides. The leftovers are the best part!

        2. fposte

          Have fun, and sit down and make ’em do it for you if it’s too much! Emotional blackmail is your post-operative right.

          1. Anonymous

            They are helping, well one is and the other two are still sleeping. What they don’t know is when you sleep through prep you get clean up duty after.

            And I have become an expert at emotional blackmail – but if I’m not up directing the action we’ll end up with raman and pop tarts.

            And apropos of nothing I’m so annoyed at this whole things being open on thanksgiving thing. It wasn’t that long ago stores were closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day and we all survived. My husband always works Thanksgiving and of course I’m cool with that – the whole protect and serve thing…but I have one kid working early afternoon (fast food) and one working tonight until the wee hours of the morning at the mall (retail). So we have to cram thanksgiving in between everyone’s shift.

            Seriously, people can’t forgo burgers or hip and trendy clothes for one holiday?

            Speaking of this retail thing, you know sometimes we talk here about titles not matching what one does and the ethics of changing it on the resume? My son works in a popular clothing store (not the one run by the horrible man) and he works the register, folds stuff puts things away, helps people find things…general retail floor stuff…his official title? “Stylist.” What are people thinking when they make these up? (Although he does know which Vans look best with different jeans, t-shirts, and button downs. Silly.)

            1. A cita

              Eh, I don’t know where you have lived, but everywhere I have, lots of retail and most fast food have always been open during the holidays. I worked in retail food in a tourist area when I was young and worked Thanksgiving and Xmas and New Years. It’s the price of working retail. I didn’t mind. I knew it going into it. I was just relieved to have the shift to make money because those jobs don’t pay much and you rarely get enough hours, so being able to earn that money to pay rent and such was more important. I worried about the store being closed and losing a whole day’s pay, which I couldn’t afford. Plus, customers were usually a lot more friendly on those days and tipped more.

              1. Jamie

                It must be a regional thing, because it’s pretty recent here that stores are open Thanksgiving outside of pharmacies and convenience stores.

                Hopefully stores and restaurants are giving first option to the people who want to work for scheduling, because based on my daughter in fast food they struggled to schedule because if given the option no one would have worked.

                And just an aside, they should be a lot more careful with scheduling on holidays than other times. My daughter was called and told not to come in because they over scheduled – one manager revised the schedule and didn’t let people know they weren’t working. No big deal for her, she’s just home, but they sent someone home after working for 15 minutes (who lives several towns over – didn’t even make enough to cover the gas to get him there) and another co-worker of my daughters didn’t go out of town with her family because she had to work today…was called off and is now home alone on Thanksgiving.

                You’re right though, it’s nice for the people who would prefer to work to not lose a shift, but in my experience far more people would rather have the day than the hours.

                1. Chinook

                  The idea of working for only 15 minutes and then being sent home is horrible and I am surprised it is legal (it isn’t in Canada – you have to be paid for 3 or 4 hours depending on the province which means overscheduling a shift costs the company money and is a no-no). Was she atleast paid for the hour or only for 15 minutes?

                2. CAA

                  It’s not legal in California either. An employee who shows up for a scheduled shift and gets sent home early gets paid for half the shift (at least 2 hours and max of 4 hours). If they call you before the shift and tell you not to come in, then they don’t have to pay anything.

              2. She

                Too true! Back when I was a waitress, I worked at a hotel where the dining room was open Christmas morning, for breakfast only. It was the biggest tipping day of the year! (ex: “Oh you poor thing! Working Christmas Day! Here, this is for you…”) Then I was off by noon or 1:00 and would head over to have dinner with my family, me and my nice fat wallet. :)

                1. She

                  Sorry – also, time and a half in wages, plus the gratitude of my coworkers (the ones who were parents of small children) for taking the shift.

            2. FreeThinkerTX

              At a hotel I stayed at recently, the concierge wasn’t called a concierge, it was a “guest relations stylist”. WTF?

            3. Contessa

              I’m with you for retail stores, but I understand why restaurants are open (not everyone’s family cooks), and I kind of wish pharmacies were open. My daughter got discharged from the hospital yesterday, and we had to beg the hospital pharmacy to fill the prescriptions because there wasn’t anything open until this morning. I am eternally grateful for the hospital staff who came into work on Thanksgiving, though.

              1. NewGirlinTown

                The pharmacies weren’t open? Now that’s a new one for me! Stores being open (and even most restaurants) is definitely new for me, but I have never seen a holiday where Walgreens wasn’t open.

                1. Penny

                  Walgreens may be open, but the pharmacy part might be closed. The pharmacy typically has different hours and holidays than the store.

                2. Ellie H.

                  I think there is a legal requirement that one pharmacy in every area (county? town?) must be open on a holiday?

        3. Ruffingit

          Oh man yeah, nowhere on this planet could you make a T-day dinner for 10 for $50. That’s nuts. My husband and I are heading out to eat this year. We’re paying $15 a piece for all you can eat buffet. My dad and I did that last year. Food was excellent and no clean-up required. Winning! :)

        4. tcookson

          Wow . . . I spent more than that for my Thanksgiving of just 4 people; but I like to make sure that we can eat leftovers on Friday, because after cooking all morning on Thursday, I want that meal to LAST!

        5. Catherine

          We had 13 people at our house for Thanksgiving, and though we had more food than this (except for turkey), what actually got eaten was less.

        6. Penny

          Not to mention, biscuits instead of rolls and only one veggie (personally I love the veggie casseroles)?!

  12. Diet Coke Addict

    When I was a teenager I taught religious ed on the weekends to kids who were Catholic, but didn’t go to Catholic school. At Christmastime a bunch of the kids got me sweet little token gifts–I had a couple $5 giftcards, a box of candy, a Blockbuster popcorn bucket thing (remember those?), and it was all very sweet and unnecessary, but nice.

    One parent got me a set of cheese spreaders with Debbie Mumm-style sculpted characters on the ends. AND included a little note that read “For your dowry, one happy day!”

    I was 17 years old.

    1. Anne

      Niiiiiice.

      Reminds me of how I met my brother-in-law, when I visited home in the USA just after graduating from college, with bright purple hair and a dress covered in pictures of unicorns and rainbows. I picked up my nephew, who I’d never met before, in the middle of a huge crowded party… lo and behold, Evangelical Christian Sarah-Palin-Fanboy Brother-in-Law shows up and introduces himself to me by saying:

      “You must be Mary’s sister Anne. You know Anne, you look great with a baby on your hip.”

        1. Anne

          Given the massive differences in views on women’s rights, it actually would have been less offensive from an Obama fanboy, yeah.

          Still annoying. Less creepy.

      1. Lisa

        It would have been a lot better if he had said, “Wow. You’d be a crummy mother! I can tell by your hair color that you would be completely irresponsible. I hope you don’t plan to reproduce.”

      1. Diet Coke Addict

        The most amazing part was that they were SHITTY CHEESE KNIVES. And look, I am married at 25, and we received a lot of lovely gifts from my family and all, but I can guaran-goddamn-tee you that even if I had spent my teen years collecting items for my future home, a set of crappy, ugly, $9.99 cheese spreaders would not have been among them.

      2. FD

        I know! They didn’t even use the right word, for goodness’ sakes! Trousseau would have been more accurate (even if still dated).

        1. Wren

          That was what I noticed too! I would have said “hope chest,” though. Isn’t a trousseau just the word for clothing?

          1. Jamie

            My sisters are quite a bit older than I and they both had hope chests – not that they deliberately built up a true trousseau or anything. It was passé by the time and I was jealous – ended up buying myself one after I was married and use it to keep extra blankets and stuff.

  13. Ruffingit

    I shared this before I think, but I’ll do it again here since it applies. I worked for a small company. Less than 20 people. It was privately owned by one person (Terry). Each employee was placed into the hat for a prize ranging from $10 gift certificates to a brand new desktop computer and two MS Surface Tablets. Turned out the boss was included in the drawing. When Terry’s name was pulled for a prize, he/she politely declined it (as he/she should have, Terry’s name should not have been included in the first place). But then, Terry’s spouse’s name was pulled for one of the MS Surface Tablets. And it was gleefully accepted by the spouse who then drove away in a luxury car with the big door prize of the evening.
    Problem? Spouse didn’t even work at the company. Spouse owned a company of their own. Spouse could easily have bought that tablet 100x over. Such a prize would have really meant something to the employees working there, some of whom were having a hard time making ends meet to begin with.

    1. Ann Furthermore

      Ugh. What is wrong with people? This is like the recent post from the person being expected contribute money to send the CEO on a ski trip.

        1. Ruffingit

          Yeah, it really was. Oh, and the owner’s kid won the desktop computer that was raffled off too. Of course, he actually did work there, but he was also a high school dropout, frequently combative openly with the owner (his parent), missed meetings entirely, and slept on the job…out in the open, where everyone could see him doing it. But of course, that was all perfectly fine, but let one of the employees be caught “chatting” too much with a co-worker and they got suspended for three days. Yup, that happened. So it was basically the Jeffrey Dahmer School of Morale – morale murdered in horrible ways on a regular basis.

          1. Melissa

            Wow, 2 out of the 3 big prizes were won by immediate family members of the owner? That sounds rigged.

    2. Elkay

      Reminds me of the Christmas party at my husband’s work where everyone who was on the CEO’s table won the raffle prizes.

      1. tcookson

        That’s like my husband’s work; everyone who works in the front office gets all the good prizes. I wonder how they rig those drawings? Usually the person drawing for husband’s work party is the HR rep; does she have all the front office people’s names up her sleeve or something?

      2. Jen

        Yes! This happened at one of my old jobs. They’d have a bunch of really good prizes (like free weekend stays in nice hotels or a free plane trip anywhere in the continental US or a flatscreen TV) and some lamer prizes (popcorn tin, cutting board, gift card to Bass Pro Shops) but all of our names would go into the bucket. One year almost everyone on the executive team won a big prize. None of the underlings won a decent prize. Considering the executive team also got bonuses and the rest of us didn’t, it was a huge morale killer.

        1. Sancho

          Can I ask, I don’t understand the reasoning behind this. Why have such a wide range of value? No matter who won, wouldn’t people be jealous they got a gift card and someone else got a TV?

          1. Ruffingit

            I kind of wonder about that as well when companies have major prizes like that. I do have to admit it kind of sucked for me one year when I received a $25 gift card, while another employee in the company who was making a lot more money than I am got the big electronics prize.

      3. TeaBQ

        We had something like that once. Not at Christmas, but it was a company event with nice raffle prizes like stays in nice hotels and whatnot. Friends of the CEO’s admin went to the event, even though it was supposed to be employees only. They were HUGELY, loudly, obnoxiously drunk the whole time, and ended up winning most of the prizes.

        Nobody outwardly complained because the raffle was for charity so on the one hand – hey, money for charity is money so it felt like sour grapes to focus on who won the prizes instead of the charity that benefited. But on the other hand it was 3 women who didn’t work for the company who won the majority of the prizes while actual employees sat and watched.

        It even got to the point where, drunk as they were, they realized the awkwardness and started asking if maybe they shouldn’t be winning all this stuff. The CEO’s admin told them it was fine and not to worry about it.

        Again, ultimately it was a charity that benefited so yay for that, but in terms of employee morale it wasn’t that great.

        1. Clever Name

          Wow. It’s pretty clear what happened. I hope the admin was spoken to or disciplined in some way.

          1. TeaBQ

            Nah. The only person who had more seniority in the company was the CEO, so his admin was allowed to do pretty much whatever she wanted and nobody, even the head of HR, felt like they could say a word about it.

  14. Anon scientist

    We used to have terrific Yankee swaps, with a mix of great to funny to strange stuff. At some point in the distant past, someone had included a “Zena, warrior princess”computer game, and it was faithfully re-gifted every year as the booby prize.

    After I’d been there a while and was comfortable with the Yankee swap culture there (not the place for earnest gifts), I put in a Homer Simpson chia pet. That chia pet lived on for ages in a place of honor.

  15. SAK

    Worst gift I’ve seen in a Yankee Swap was a package of oyster crackers from the caf. We all felt bad for the person who ended up with it. The ‘gifter’ did not identify himself but we were pretty sure who it was based on handwriting on the envelope.

    1. havetoask

      If this swap is a joke….why feel bad for someon who ended with crackers vs. chia pet? I hate when folks take these swaps as chances to get “good stuff”.

      1. A Bug!

        I think there is a difference between “bag of oyster crackers” and “Homer chia pet”.

        I get gag gifts for people sometimes. The marker for “success” on a gag gift is different from that of a sincere gift, but that doesn’t mean a gag gift can just be any old piece of crap from wherever. There still needs to be some thought put finto it. Oyster crackers from the caf is just plain cheap and lazy, and suggests “I forgot about the gift exchange” rather than “I thought this gift would entertain you guys.”

        1. Jessa

          Exactly. Back when I was an admin assistant at a state run residential facility we had a gag gift thing nobody was to spend more than like 5-10 bucks (the 10 being if you were management.) I was the admin with the purse of holding. Sewing kit, check. Small pharmacy with bandaids, advil, etc. check. Extra pens, Swiss Army knife yep.

          They used to joke about the kitchen sink so they got me this gag key ring with a plastic sink on it that when you pushed the button made water running sounds. It was killer awesome. We all paid attention to what people were about. Guy who loved his flashy car got one of those die cast models. It was kitchy and junk stuff but it wasn’t CRUEL. If we’d thought about it we’da gotten one of those Chia pets for the woman who ran the onsite farm.

          1. Liane

            Jessa, are you perhaps a geek as I am? Was wondering, since in my experience, no one who isn’t familiar with role-playing games would call such a wonderful drawer as yours a “Drawer of Holding.”

      1. CAA

        You may know it by another name. Here’s the list of alternates from wikipedia: White Elephant Swap, Gift Swap, Yankee Swap, Black Santa, Chinese Gift Exchange, Dirty Santa, Secret Elephant, Greedy Punter, Thieves’ Christmas, Machiavellian Christmas, or Naughty Santa.

        1. MrsG

          I didn’t ever think of Yankee Swap as synonymous with White Elephant. We called our regular office gift exchange a Yankee Swap, and bad gifts weren’t brought.

        2. Vicki

          I hate hate hate this sort of “gift giving” thing. Hate with great passion.

          At LastJob, LastManager decided to do one. I brought a gift and a stuffed penguin. I said “I am not playing. The penguin is playing. Anyone can take a gift from the table or take the gift from the penguin. If, at the end, there’s a gift on the table, the penguin will take it. If not, the penguin will take his box home, unopened. But penguins do not steal gifts.”

          Someone took the penguin’s gift and the penguin got the last gift from the table.

      2. Judy

        Everyone brings and wraps a present, put them on a table.
        The first name is drawn, they pick a present and open it.
        From then on, each person who’s name is drawn can pick either one of the opened presents or a wrapped one from the table. If an open one is picked, then the person who had theirs taken picks another one from the table.

      3. MissDisplaced

        Note: These are generally supposed to be funny or “gag” gifts and not to be serious gifts. Funny items, joke items etc.

        The problems arise when people don’t understand and then “real” gifts gets mixed in.

        1. Kelly L.

          There are both kinds. The trouble comes when the organizers aren’t clear about which kind it is, or when one participant just says to hell with it and breaks the rule.

  16. Laura

    I got a nice big bottle of pink Veuve Cliquot from my boss last year (grouchily: “It’s pink. That’s your favourite colour, isn’t it?”), which was terribly sweet of him and came in very handy on New Years.

    The funny part is, we all exchanged gifts before heading over to our Christmas dinner at a swanky restaurant in the financial district. It was so windy that day, and as I was rushing across a courtyard to the dinner holding precariously my champagne, purse, regular bag and large other gift bag, a gust of wind blows behind me, knocking me on my face. A man checking his Blackberry actually stepped over me. Thankfully the bottle survived!

    (Footnote: as I related the incident to a group of friends, one of them responded: “That’s because you were in Commerce Court. The man was thinking, ‘I would help you, but I have to check my Blackberry on my way to the three meetings I have scheduled right now.’ ” Very true, I suspect.)

  17. en pointe

    My office exchanges our Secret Santa gifts at the annual holiday party.

    Last year my boss drew me and presented me with what can only be described as a sort of giant woven necklace – it looked exactly like one of my grandmother’s old doilies. After more than a bit too much to drink, I ended up tying it round my waist and parading around pretending it was a merkin.

    Not my finest office moment and, needless to say, my boss was not impressed.

    1. A Bug!

      This is the best comment I’ve read so far. I am sorry for your embarrassment but I thank you for sharing this story so that I can be relieved it wasn’t me.

        1. Nyxalinth

          Well, considering sex toys and such have been mentioned…

          It’s a pubic hair wig. Prostitutes in the 16th-18th centuries would remove their hair due to pubic lice, but their customers didn’t like them not hairy, so that was the solution.

          I know this because historical novels sometimes have information I’d rather not know :D

            1. Windchime

              Yeah, I have read a lot of historical romances and I’ve never heard of this. I wish I could still not know about it, in a way.

            1. en pointe

              Some salons and actors doing nude scenes use special glue – think Kate Winslet in The Reader.

              As for those Elizabethan prostitutes, no idea. String?

        2. Google is my friend

          A pubic hair piece. A toupee for the pubic area/genitals. In the 1700’s when mercury was used to treat sexually transmitted diseases (Gonorrhea or Syphilis) one of the side effects was the loss of pubic hair. To disguise this condition, that was not cured by mercury, a Merkin was employed

          1. Kelly L.

            It was also for dancers in nightclubs–the cops, essentially, would bust them if they bared all, but they wanted to look like they were.

    2. Ann Furthermore

      Oh, I know I shouldn’t laugh because it must have been mortifying for you, but this is absolutely hilarious!

      Is there any chance that your boss also indulged and did not remember the incident later? We can only hope!

      1. en pointe

        Ha, perhaps. She was a bit cold for a while but we never actually spoke of it after.

        My coworkers were not so quick to let me live it down, however.

        1. Julie

          Perhaps if you wore it as a necklace to work once or twice, your boss would forgive you. Or maybe that would just bring up the whole episode in her mind again. :-)

    3. Lily in NYC

      I am late to this thread and you probably won’t see this, but I am laughing at loud at my desk picturing you prancing around in your fake merkin!

    1. Waerloga

      And Happy Thanksgiving back to you !

      Although you celebrate it a wee bit later than us…. Side note Border crossing times (south bound into the states) 2 hrs… I wonder how bad it’ll be on Sunday coming back.

  18. Sourire

    I had a coworker who kept talking all over the office about how much she loved The Biggest Loser and Jillian Michaels, how she had friends who had tried 30 Day Shred who had loved it and lost tons, etc etc etc. So her secret santa that year got her the DVD.

    She opened it and cried, thinking she was being told she was fat. I really do think the giver had the best of intentions, but lesson learned. No diet/weight loss items as gifts, particularly to coworkers.

    1. Ruffingit

      Well come on now, that is just bizarre. The woman talked about how much she loved it, then got something related to it, and cried?? I feel more sorry for the gifter there than the giftee. They thought they were getting something she would enjoy.

      1. Jessa

        Exactly. Geez, unless the idea was you were supposed to be all “Jillian is cool but you don’t need her you know?” It’s very passive aggressive. JM stuff isn’t exactly cheap.

    2. The Clerk

      You know, every etiquette guide on gift giving says never to give “self-improvement” gifts, which I might have set aside in this instance…but this just goes to show that it can cause hurt feelings even when the person actually wants it.

    3. Lindsay J

      I had an issue like this occur at one place I worked. One girl would always be talking about how she needed to lose weight, how she was working with a personal trainer, how various diet pills and supplements she was trying were working, etc.

      One time she was on some kind of diet, and one of the other women in the office were interested in how it was working because she needed to lose weight too. So she asked the girl. And the girl started crying and went to her supervisor and said that she had been insulted about her weight, etc.

      Again, the lady asking had good intentions, but lesson learned: Don’t bring up somebody’s diet or weight loss at the office, even if the other person has talked about it before.

      1. Vicki

        ” even if the other person has talked about it before.”

        I think, if the other person has been over-sharing, they give up the right to be offended.

  19. Elizabeth West

    I hate those white elephant gift swaps. I refuse to participate any more. They’re just annoying and stupid.

    The last time I went to one, it wasn’t at my work but at a Christmas party through a meetup group I belonged to. Most of the people at the party worked together in the same office, and I didn’t know any of them. I took something fairly nice but that I didn’t want anymore–a wooden box with teddy bears painted on the top. I ended up with a handheld sewing machine. We also had to bring food, so I brought my famous cheese ball and crackers.

    The whole thing was horrible–it basically was this group’s private Christmas party that, for some unknown reason, they had opened up to the meetup group. Barely anyone spoke to me, the bar where they had the party was dark and cold, and the host forced everyone to play a very inappropriate party game with sexual overtones (think confession-type thing where you had to fill in blanks). Maybe that would have been fine for a close-knit group of friends, but NOT a meetup.

    I stayed through the gift exchange and then, when no one was looking, I took the remains of my cheese ball and left. The sewing machine went into the dumpster near where I had parked my car.

    I can’t fathom why they would have opened this party up to the group–it clearly was a work party for just them. The only reason I can think of is they might have hoped people would bring some cool gifts for the exchange. I don’t belong to that meetup group anymore–it got very lame and I found a much better one (a Doctor Who fan group). We had a party for the 50th anniversary special and a friend of one of the members made this! http://i.imgur.com/LIAvUT6.jpg

    Yes, that is a cake!

    1. Jamie

      That cake is phenomenal! I so admire people with the patience and talent to do that. I have a friend who made her pies out of real pumpkins – you don’t use Halloween pumpkins, some other kind, and she swears it’s easy but it might as well be witchcraft as far as I’m concerned.

      Our holiday argument was my husband buying frozen pies instead of ordering from Baker’s square.

      1. esra

        It’s super easy. You get can get pie pumpkins at most grocery stores. The texture is a lot nicer + fluffier than store bought pumpkin pies.

      2. QualityControlFreak

        I did that once, back in my starving student days when no food went to waste – EVER. I don’t even remember where I got the pumpkin in the first place. (This was a few decades back.) No witchcraft was required, but it was extremely time consuming. It did make lovely pie filling, but who has time for that? I still bake my pies at home and I make the pastry from scratch, but pumpkin? Comes in cans!

        Happy Thanksgiving to all who observe it! Time to go start the bread dough. :)

      3. A Bug!

        I find that it’s not worth my time to process pumpkins. The improvement over buying cans of pumpkin (not “pumpkin pie filling”, mind you, the ingredients on the can shouldn’t be much more than “pumpkin”) isn’t worth the extra effort when I have so much other stuff to do.

        And while we’re on Thanksgiving, everyone who loves the crispy parts of stuffing should Google for SeriousEats’ “stuffing waffles” recipe. It’ll boggle your mind. And you can make turkey sandwiches with stuffing waffles instead of bread.

        1. Grace

          OMG, I just Googled this – my lifelong obsession with stuffing just cranked up a notch!
          And although waffle irons are pretty uncommon here, I am now more than prepared to import one!

        2. tcookson

          Wow — I’m going to try this tomorrow! Stuffing waffle, leftover turkey, and cranberry sauce sandwich.

      4. Melissa

        They’re sweet pumpkins, but they’re kind of a pain in the ass to carve and then cook before making the filling. However, I agree that homebaked pumpkin pie has way better texture than store-bought pie, and you can control the taste and spiciness yourself. I just use the pumpkin in the can.

      5. Mander

        The first year I lived in the UK I couldn’t find canned pumpkin anywhere, so I cooked up a regular jack-o-lantern type pumpkin. Bleah. Not worth the effort at all, it was very tasteless. The next year I made sweet potato pie instead and it was a vast improvement — almost indistinguishable from pumpkin.

    2. Ruffingit

      OMG, how lame of those people to do that!! If you’re going to open up an event to an entire group, you should not then ostracize (basically) people who show up that aren’t part of your little inner circle. That stinks, sorry that happened to you! But, the Doctor Who cake is awesome!

      1. Jamie

        Yeah, that was terrible. Don’t let that discourage anyone from going to an AAM gathering because for what I’ve heard they’ve all been great.

        Speaking of, anyone up for another Chicago gathering after the holidays?

        And Rana if you’re reading, we can wait until you have the baby and need a night out!

          1. Ruffingit

            Congratulations!! Hope the birth was as easy as possible given that it can never really be described as an easy thing to do :)

            1. Rana

              Thanks! It did go pretty well, though earlier than planned. But she’s a month old now, and growing like a weed!

    3. Ann Furthermore

      Oh, I hate them too. They do one at my office every year for the people who all report up to my director, and I really don’t like them. They just seem so fraught. I always find some reason not to attend. There may come a time when I’m not able to get out of it, though,

      Not everyone shares the same sense of humor, so what one person might find hilarious another might find lame, or even offensive. And isn’t the whole idea of giving gifts supposed to be a nice thing? You know, where you think about the person you’re buying a gift for, think about what they might like, and then get it?

      I get that the point is to not spend alot of money, but just because something isn’t expensive doesn’t mean it can’t be a nice thoughtful gift. This is a perfect gift card situation. Just about anyone would be happy with a $10 gift card to Starbucks, iTunes, or Target.

  20. Tatiana

    One December day long ago, I came to work half an hour early so I could leave early – only to find a half-dozen co-workers already there. Doing their own private gift exchange. In my section of the open-plan office. From which they did not have the manners to relocate when I sat down to work!

    1. Ruffingit

      WHAT?? Wow, that is so rude. They could have at least relocated when you showed up. Or, arranged to do this exchange out of the office over breakfast or something. Geeze.

  21. Lori

    Apologies if this posts twice, but I think my phone ate my first comment. I don’t have any horror stories, but plenty if memorable ones. The best was the year we had a flying money machine at our corporate holiday party. Everyone got to take their turn, trying to grab as many fake bills as possible amid the crazy blowing winds. At the end, we were told that the amount we grabbed would be our actual gift. Most of us grabbed between $200-$400, so it worked out pretty well for us.

    1. Jamie

      I so read this as “flying monkey machine” and I got so excited! I want to work with flying monkeys (which in my head are automated or real monkeys who volunteered because they love to fly….no forced activities.)

      1. Lori

        Omg, I think flying monkeys would have been terrifying, and made for a very different kind of holiday party!

      2. Another Emily

        I read that too, and then immediately thought of the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz. Wouldn’t you love to have your own army of simian minions?

    2. BGirl81

      That is hysterical…and reminds me of the episode of The Golden Girls when the girls appeared on “Grab That Dough”!!

      Host: “Better late than…”
      Blanche: “Pregnant!”

  22. Girasol

    A non-debacle: My boss drew my name in a gift circle, and since she knew I’d been camping for vacations, she gave me the trail guide to the Tahoe Yosemite Trail. We’d never head of it. After reading about it we backpacked the whole trail – almost 200 miles – and it was the trip of a lifetime. I’ve always been grateful for her thoughtfulness.

  23. Lore

    Our office Yankee swap didn’t allow you to unwrap anything till the end. So people would get crazy creative with the wrapping: I bought Scooby Doo paper one year and my gift got “stolen” a dozen times. No one cared that it was a dumb picture frame set once it was open. This hit its crowning peak in the year a coworker brought in a large, beautifully wrapped and decorated box that made a faint bell sound when shaken. When the lucky winner finally opened it, it had tons of stuffing, a string of jingle bells, and an iTunes gift card buried in the middle. I work in a bigger dept now and it would take all day to get through that game, but I do miss it.

  24. Lindsay the Temp

    Last year I got fired for Christmas…No matter. I hated the job and the boss, and was miserable. To be fair, I had pretty much already checked out. Now I’m at a perma-temp job that I absolutely adore! Happy Holidays everyone!

    1. Jamie

      I know there is always debate about whether to fire before Christmas so they know not to run up bills, or after so their holiday isn’t ruined…but right at Christmas? There is no reason for that – that’s horrible.

      1. Ruffingit

        Reminds me of my husband’s manager at his old job. The manager was fired the day of the Christmas party. The party took place in the evening. Everyone liked this manager and it was a huge downer on the party to learn he’d been fired a few hours before. I have no idea if he deserved it or not (the firing that is), but I thought they could have at least waited until the day after the party to do it.

        1. thingy

          This happened to a colleague of mine. She was put on redundancy notice 30 minutes before the Christmas party. Vile.

          1. Ruffingit

            30 minutes?? So very wrong. There’s just no reason they can’t wait until after the party to let people go. Geeze.

    2. Lindsay J

      One of my former coworkers got fired on his 30th birthday, from a company he had worked at for 12 years. Happy birthday! It’s one of the reasons why I just declined a job offer from them – it wasn’t an issue of gross misconduct or anything and they could have waited for a day or two after.

      1. Ruffingit

        UGH, that sucks for your friend. And it resonated because they lost out on a good candidate (you) by treating people that way.

        Not the same thing, but I have a friend who found out she didn’t pass the bar exam (very difficult exam required to become a lawyer in the US for those who may not know) on her birthday. She had a big party scheduled that evening for her birthday. I wasn’t able to attend the party, but I can only imagine how shitty she must have felt because everyone there knew the bar results came out that day and I’m sure they asked.

        1. Mena

          Related: I worked with someone who applied to three top-rated MBA programs, telling everyone in the office about it. And she didn’t get into any of the three. I felt bad for her and learned a quiet lesson. Why I applied to graduate school I told no one at work; I announced I was going and where when the acceptance arrived.

          1. Ruffingit

            Mena,

            I did the same thing when I applied to law school. I told only one person at work who was my immediate supervisor because I needed him as a reference for my application packet. Thankfully, he was very discrete. Only when I received the acceptance letter did I let everyone else know.

            This brings me to something I’ve often told people – learn to keep your own counsel. It’s much harder to “untell” news if you will if/when something goes wrong than it is to just keep it to yourself until you’re sure it’s going right. I had a friend who would announce everything to everyone about her plans to do this, that, and the other. People would then follow up with her on those plans “Hey so how is that app to grad school/diet/moving to the West Coast thing going?” And of course, she hadn’t done anything on any of those goals so it got to where no one believed her when she announced she was going to do something. I told her “If you’re really going to do something, then shut up and do it. Otherwise, stop talking about it because you have no credibility left at this point.” She was bothered that people didn’t believe her or weren’t enthusiastic about her plans so I had to tell her she just needed to stop.

      2. Scott W.

        I got fired from my first ever job (working on a horse farm) the week of my high school graduation. I knew that I was only ever going to stay there until that August anyway, but it was still crappy because it was too far into the summer to find a replacement job before I left for college.

  25. AE NAME

    At my work, each manager is encouraged to contribute a gift basket from their team, but in practice the expense is carried by the manager. Then we all sit for an hour while names are pulled, people pick and everyone oohs and ahs. Only about 30 of our 100 employees get one. Booze always gets picked first.

    I’m so over it.

    1. Ruffingit

      That’s just stupid. The managers ought to take the money they spend on that and distribute gift cards to their team members and be done with it.

      1. Julie

        I agree! My manager gets me a gift card every year. I know it comes out of her pocket, and it’s not extravagant, but she is very thoughtful. It’s always from someplace she knows I would appreciate. We don’t work in the same office, and we only see each other in person a few times a year, but she still knows that I’d much prefer a Dunkin’ Donuts card to a Starbucks card (for example).

        1. LPBB

          My amazing former manager would always buy the staff gift cards for Xmas each year. They were never that much, maybe $10 for Dunkin’ or Starbucks, but they came out of her own pocket and she was buying for at least 10 people, so it added up. We all appreciated those gift cards way more than the year-end bonuses, since they came from the heart.

  26. FiveNine

    At two different jobs I’ve been shafted in Secret Santa exchanges where whoever picked my name didn’t give me a gift at all. These were small-scale exchanges — both jobs were at restaurants, and we were wait staff — but I can’t even begin to convey how screwed and alone and depressed it made me feel (when we were already low on the totem pole, this was supposed to be a nice easy breezy break in the rough hours away from real family, etc). I now am hesitant to support any Secret Santa arrangement where there’s no accountability somehow (it’s possible for the organizer to require all gifts be given to him/her before someone accepts one, etc.).

    1. happycat

      I hear you! I worked at a fish n chip place, crappy tips, but the boss was nice. Every year they had a nice party, you could bring your family, one dish of food to share and one of the bosses played Santa. It was great fun. We had the secret Santa thing, fun! AND we could choose for our family as well. I choose three, and I put all three names in for my family. The limit was $20.00 per gift. I thoughtfully chose for my three people, got to the party, only to have the one woman who was the secret Santa for my family (not sure how one person ended up with all of our names) bring NOTHING for us. She and her family kept the gifts her secret Santa got them, and I gave my gifts to the three (non-related) people I had been secret santa for. It was awkward, and hard. I made a low wage, spent $60.00 and had to tell my young son there was no present for him, while watching this woman (who had our names and bought us nothing) open and enjoy her gifts with her family. It was hard, mostly in having my son see such mean spirit-ness.
      In the end the boss gave my partner a wallet, in an attempt to try and give us something, they were really nice people.

      Another year for secret Santa, a different work place, (my partner and I at the time worked for the same company) (it was fine, different departments, we had no issues with it) we did the secret Santa thing. Again, I thoughtfully chose a nice gift for my person, and, coincidently, this person was MY partners secret Santa. I got my person, a single man in his 30s, a coffee cup set, and filled each large mug with chocolates, fancy coffees, hot chocolate and sweets. He in turn gave my partner, as his secret Santa gift, Book Two of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, used, and wrapped in newspaper.

      Last year I was NOT into any more secret Santa crap, so when my office suggested it, I headed them off at the pass and organized our office donating gifts to a family in need. It was great, those who wanted to choose what gifts of the wish list for the children, to buy. We brought them all in one day to work, I ordered us pizza, supplied the wrapping paper, and we all wrapped our gifts together. It really felt good to do that, and we got them some really nice gifts. EVERYTHING on their wish list, plus gifts for the moms. (single parent households, hence no ‘dad’ gifts)

      1. Ruffingit

        Wow, the people in your first two workplace stories had no shame. NONE! How horrible that happened to you. But how awesome that you steered everyone toward giving to a needy family rather than doing office Secret Santa. Love that!

        1. FiveNine

          In my scenarios I really think it’s that we all had very little money (and that I wasn’t the only person who got shafted). But what people participating or organizing these things might not realize is just how much it can isolate and bring down a person (when, presumably, the idea is to lift everyone’s spirits). Or maybe it was just me personally during rough economic times at a distance from family. But under those circumstances, putting even modest amounts of money and thought toward a coworker wasn’t a small gesture — and then to effectively be excluded from the cheer and exchanges really adds on to what an incredible downer it can be (all I can say is, I’m not even depressive or suicidal). I really like the second poster’s idea of gearing all the focus toward a needy family instead, that ensures no one who is giving winds up feeling utterly left out in the cold.

          1. Ruffingit

            I agree with you that “exchanges gone bad” can leave a person depressed and downtrodden. If those exchanges are going to happen, there needs to be some kind of control on them as in people exchange names and then the gifts are given to one person to hold until the party. That way, if someone doesn’t do their part, they can be reminded that they chose to participate and that they need to do so. Heck, were I the central person in charge of holding the gifts, I might even buy a few extra gift cards to Starbucks or whatever to “sell” to those who don’t get the gifts they said they would get. Whatever happens, no one should be left out of the exchange when they signed up in good faith and held up their end of the bargain.

          2. The Clerk

            So, at this place I used to work, we had this thing where they would set up a thread on our forum and people could offer up stuff for Christmas–usually gently used things like purses that you didn’t end up liking, or perfume, video games, books (lots of those) or whatever. But a lot of people would offer up new things, like “I’ll do five $10 gift cards to such and such.” Someone who baked awesome cakes might offer one, etc. Now, lots of times (when the high wore off) the stuff didn’t quite make it to the recipient, but all in all it was kind of awesome.

            What bothered me one year was this: a manager posted about how her husband was laid off the year before, she didn’t know how they were going to afford Christmas, and did anyone have anything kids aged whatever and whatever might like. I mean, that in itself wasn’t too bad, because she wasn’t an ass about it (just kind of clueless; she kind of made it sound like her husband was the first person to be laid off in the history of ever and glossed over that he at least had unemployment money). But what it turned into was everyone who was going to offer up stuff started offering it to her–“Could you use this? It’s new!” “I’ll bake everyone in your family a _____!” “Do you want the gift card to _____ I was going to post?” Some people still posted their stuff but then other people were asking “Oh, could I claim this for [manager]?” So basically all that was offered to the rest of us that year were things the four people in her family didn’t want.

            The next year, I made an offer (it was like the second post or something) that if anyone was having serious trouble paying for basics and didn’t have anyone else to turn to (I shared a personal story to show that it’s hard for people without kids to get help), they could email me directly and I’d see about getting either a grocery or gas gift card for $50, plus a $15 one for Panera since we all love them and it would be a treat instead of a necessity. Then I gave an open invitation for anyone who didn’t have somewhere to go for Christmas to come over to my apartment and share dinner with me and my cat. Keep in mind it’s not like I was rolling in money either.

            I’d kind of had a feeling, and it happened: someone posted that they knew this family from church where one parent wasn’t working and could everyone see about helping them all have a nice Christmas? So here we go with all the nice stuff being offered directly to this person so she could turn around and play Santa to that family. Nice stuff. A used iPod, a used Wii, gift cards, etc. Then I got the email that made me see red. Someone was asking if they could claim a gift card for so-and-so to give to the family AND would I consider cooking something for them for Christmas “since they might not get a nice dinner otherwise”?

            Now, seriously, I didn’t come right out and say in my post that I was trying to offer something that wouldn’t get gobbled up by the cause du jour, but I think it was obvious I was aiming at people with no one to collect stuff on their behalf. So I politely declined. I actually shared my concerns about the “drives” with my own manager (not the one who asked for stuff that first year) a little after Christmas, and she agreed with me. I left that summer so who knows if anything changed after that. It just left a really bad taste in my mouth. Now I’m a little cynical when I see collections for so-and-so or their family, because I feel like an awful lot of people get disappointed so that one person or family can have a “nice Christmas.” :/

            1. Ruffingit

              I get what you’re saying here and I’m with you. When something turns into “collect for this one person” it can leave a bad taste in your mouth, especially the offer you made for someone within your company to share a meal and to receive something if they were having trouble paying for groceries and the like. You are so right that people without kids have a much harder time getting help so your offer was awesome, but then it turned into “let’s help a family!!” I can totally see how that would rankle.

      2. Penny

        I’m shocked at hearing these stories about people just not bringing gifts for the people they are Secret Santas to. If you don’t want to participate just say so and don’t draw a name, but don’t be a selfish a$$ and just show up for a freebie without blessing someone with a gift in return when you’ve committed to doing so by taking a name!

        But I love the idea of adopting a family in need and getting together to wrap the gifts! The team bonds, you get in the spirit of the season by helping others, avoid the awkwardness of weird or no gifts to coworkers and don’t end up with junk you don’t need.

      3. Mander

        I really like the idea of making the party about wrapping up gifts for people in need. That would be a lot more useful and could still be just as fun.

        These gift swaps seem like a fun idea to me, provided the gifts are appropriately small and thoughtful. Sadly for me the only time I’ve ever been involved in such a thing was in grade school, and it was one of those sad stories. I experienced a lot of bullying and was generally not popular, but I put a lot of thought into picking out a present that anyone in my class would like and I was excited to see what I would get. Of course, who was the only kid left out of the gift exchange? Yep. Stupidly that incident still hurts, even though I’m practically middle-aged now.

  27. Anonymous

    Last year I was the new person at Christmas and didn’t realize that everyone exchanges Starbucks cards. Is there any way I can gracefully get out of doing that this year, or should I accept that it is part of the culture here? I would rather not buy 5 Starbucks cards and get 5 Starbucks cards in return. It just seems ridiculous.

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Jen in RO

      Accept it and buy the cards, unless you want to be labeled the Grinch. (I think it’s stupid, but oh well.)

    2. CupcakeWithSprinkles

      If it were me, I would just tell them that it’s not in my budget this year. Most people can’t argue with that. :)

    3. Anonymous

      “I would love to participate, but tragically cannot afford to.”

      Dont drink Starbucks at work or you’ll blow your cover!

        1. Jessa

          Or say okay this year it’s $5 a head but it CANNOT be Starbucks. Let’s all try to be creative and maybe we can find new places to enjoy.

          1. Jamie

            Yep, at least it keeps it from being a dead swap. And no matter what their pr people want everyone to believe not everyone likes Starbucks.

            1. Ruffingit

              I rarely get anything at Starbucks. Maybe twice a year max. I love their chai tea lattes, but I save those as a November/December treat kind of thing. It’s just too expensive for me to bother with. I got a Starbucks card in my company Xmas drawing last year and I re-gifted it to a friend of mine who was in school and on a tight budget, but who loves Starbucks. So that worked out, but as a general rule, I think people do need to get off the “everyone loves Starbucks” thing. I don’t even drink coffee at all, I’m a tea person so outside the chai tea lattes, the whole coffee gift thing does nothing for me.

              1. Sarah

                Oh my gosh yes, I don’t drink coffee or hot chocolate OR tea and so I have to regift every SB card I’ve ever been given… but yet they keep showing up. I’ve probably given my roommate $100-$200 worth of Starbucks gift cards over the last five years!

    4. Donnatella Moss

      My former workplace did a yankee swap at Christmas – I didn’t participate in year two because it just seemed to be “pass the Dunkin Donuts gift cards!”

      I would rather pay for my own coffee. And by that point I didn’t like most of my coworkers and I headed out when the yankee swap began.

  28. Seal

    Several years ago, I took over a department that had been badly managed by a border-line psychotic micromanager. While trying to make sense of the ridiculous, overly complex procedures she left behind, one of my new employees gave me the “party procedures”. This 3 page, single-spaced document detailed which holidays, birthdays and anniversaries were to be celebrated and when, the types of gifts that were to be given to the various classes of employees for each occasion, and what type of food was to be served at each event. Even better, each employee was required to contribute money to a “kitty” to cover cards and gifts. Aside from the fact that most of the employees were either part-time or not well-paid, requiring that employees contribute money to anything like that is illegal at our institution. I have no idea how my predecessor got away with it despite the fact that at least a couple of staff members over the years had quit over that very issue.

    Needless to say, that was one of the first sets of procedures I axed, much to the relief of the staff. Now we have end of the semester potlucks, and I buy the pizza. No birthday cards or presents, holiday cards or going away cards (at least for our part-time student staff), either. Several people – including me – do not want a fuss made at our birthdays, and are not interested in exchanging gifts set Christmas. The one woman who was actually put out that people didn’t want to exchange gifts eventually got the hint and brings in cookies or candy as a gift for the entire department, which is fine but in no way required. So far, so good.

    A big part of the reason I am so anti-party and gift-giving stems from bad experiences at other positions. One place took all of the permanent staff to lunch for Christmas and gave them gifts; us temps got nothing. Another place got a nice birthday cake for an employee with their name on it, only to find out that another employee in the office had the same birthday and was none too happy at being snubbed. At yet another place, the boss arranged an elaborate surprise party for their top assistant’s birthday; we later found out the boss had a major crush on the assistant and was trying to impress her with the party. I will gladly forego all holiday office parties to never go through awkward and awful experiences like those again.

    1. Ruffingit

      Breath of fresh air, party of one! I bet that department was so relieved to get rid of the bizarre gifting rituals.

  29. MJ

    We’re trying something new this year. We are hanging stockings for all 27 employees, so everyone will get a stocking at our pre-Christmas staff meeting. Everyone is invited to put something in each stocking, but it is anonymous and completely optional, and it can cost nothing. You could put in a joke, a Hershey’s kiss, a kazoo, or a homebaked cookie. Whatever it is, it has to be small or it won’t fit in the stocking. End of year letters will also go in these, which thank employees for their contribution this year, tell them what their salary will be for the coming year, and include a small bonus. We serve a nice breakfast at this meeting and people are invited to tell about something they are proud of for the year or are looking forward to in the coming year.

    1. Anonymous

      I really wouldn’t like finding out what my salary for the next year is going to be in a room full of people. The stockings idea is nice in theory but what if one person gets a lot more than another person. This seems like a recipe for an AAM question from your staff.

      1. Jen in RO

        How would someone know if s/he is getting more than others? It’s a letter and they can read it privately (either at the meeting or at home).

        1. MJ

          We are in an industry where hardly anyone does exactly the same job, and people have been on the job for varying lengths of time, so comparison would be difficult if it were attempted. It is also a professional environment, the letter is sealed, and if people are inclined to share (which legally they can do), they will do it whether they get the letter at the party or later. If some people were not getting raises, we would likely shift our practice.

        2. Jamie

          That’s what I was wondering. I’m my experience bonus checks (or direct deposit stubs) are usually handed out at the party, but they are sealed and people aren’t opening and sharing amounts.

          Raises? I don’t love how impersonal this is, but maybe it’s a larger company than mine. For us our bosses meet with each of us before end of year and thank us for our contributions and tell us the amount of our bonus. Our raises are discussed at end of year or first of the year performance review (which if it’s pre-Christmas well get the bonus info then also.)

          There is a distinction between bonuses and gifts, ime. Bonuses are based on merit and while not mandatory it’s based on performance and contributions throughout the year. That’s in the compensation bucket in my mind because it’s not owed, but it’s earned, if that makes sense.

          But I’ve worked places where after a good year everyone was gifted a certain amount at the holiday party. Not at all based on performance – everyone from the CFO to the maintenance crew got the same amount – and it was in addition to bonuses. One year I was very disheartened, because the previous year was very tough with the economy and tptb worked SO hard to avoid lay offs – and did – no one was let go …so the next year in celebration of things turning around everyone got a thank you gift – it was 4 figures – so not insignificant in my book.

          This went to everyone whether they’ve worked there 30 years or 1 week (yes, new employee was there less than a week – she was surprised to get a 4 figure gift before Christmas.). You’d think everyone would have been grateful, but I heard more complaining than happiness. There were some complaining it wasn’t enough, there were a lot complaining that they should have gotten more than so and so and that it wasn’t fair that everyone got an equal gift. Again, this is in addition to their bonus which was differentiated and based on individual value added.

          I will never forget the look of one of the officers when they overheard people complaining. Bonuses, raises, sure…be disappointed if you disagree with the value assessed…but a free gift just because they’re generous and you work there? Smile and say thank you.

          1. MJ

            Our bonuses are small and equal. It’s a token of appreciation more than anything, and people got teary last year when we did it for the first time!

          2. A Bug!

            That’s horrifying. I mean, seriously, what better way to ensure that your bonus next year is less generous than to complain about this year’s in front of the people who gave it to you?

            I know I wouldn’t be too keen on going out of my way to sweeten the bonuses if I knew that my employees wouldn’t be satisfied with four figures.

            1. Jamie

              Yeah and this wasn’t even a bonus – it was a gift in addition to their merit bonuses.

              But yeah, 100k+ in trying to be nice and generous and share the profit rewarded with a slap in the face. I was shocked how many people were complaining – it was a lot.

              For the record, now and always if people want to give me 4 figure gifts of cash I won’t complain and I’ll write a lovely thank you note.

              1. Jessa

                Exactly. Always. And it’s amazingly wonderful that your company included the one week person. Most companies would not have included anyone not there for at least 6 months.

                1. Jamie

                  Funny but I think it meant more to her than anyone else…she’d been out of work for a while and has younger kids, so getting that right before Christmas was pretty great for her.

              2. Ruffingit

                Lovely thank you note written on the most expensive paper I can find with my own blood made into ink for the quill pen I write it with. In other words, yeah me too on the whole thing of feel free to gift me any amount of cash and I will be grateful!

          3. Zelos

            That’s…horrifying. Some people can’t even get four-figures for their raises (which they earned and negotiated for).

          4. tcookson

            Before the economic downturn, our holiday gift was $100 for each year we’d worked there. The school can no longer afford to do that, but it was nice while it lasted.

        3. elinramsey

          I think that Anonymous was asking about what if one person gets more “small stuff” than another. People likely wont care about the stuff, but the stuff becomes a marker for how much they’re liked.

        1. Anne

          I was thinking of those valentine boxes at school too. Think adults will be sensible enough to abide by “one for everyone or none for anyone”?

      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        The part that seems unusual to me about this is that it makes the salary conversation one-way and short — as opposed to being a two-way conversation with your manager (where she can talk about why the raise is the amount that it is, or talk about why you’re not being offered a raise at all). Those conversations can play an important role in recognition, retention, and even performance management (the latter if the raise is low/non-existent because of problems). They also allow the employee to have a voice in the conversation — to negotiate, to send signals about whether they’re happy with the raise or not (something a manager wants to know for high performers), etc.

        1. MJ

          The end of year letter is an inherited 30-year tradition. It follows the year-end performance review process (which sometimes involves salary discussions) and a budgeting process that is governed by a board (letter coming from board and director). I will admit this conversation is making me worry a bit, but the letter expected, and if any letter contained bad news, we would definitely change the process.

          1. Anne

            Yeah, that’s actually how it’s done at my workplace as well and it’s fine. Salaries are negotiated during reviews (this month) and we get confirmation letters at the end of the year. It’s been fine for us, although I do make a point to keep mine and read it at home just because.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            As long as what’s in the letter isn’t a surprise (and is just a confirmation of an earlier conversation), that seems fine to me. But if it’s the first time some people are seeing the numbers, I do think y’all might be sacrificing an opportunity to do raises better!

        2. Catherine

          I see your perspective here, but I’ll throw in that the practice doesn’t strike me as unusual because everywhere I’ve worked as an adult has followed more or less the same practice. Raises attempt to follow your market value and are determined by HR; employees can request a salary review at set intervals. Performance reviews are done by direct supervisors who don’t necessarily have any budget control. (HR of course sees annual review documents, so they would be aware of whether the organization shouldn’t make a strong effort to retain someone with money.) Maybe this practice is somewhat specific to my field, and I can understand that it might sound odd, but it seems to work well. Basically, you’re expected to do a good job, and if you do, your manager retains you. Then you’re paid market value for what you’re doing. Generally, everyone has been given some broad expectations based on the organization’s financial performance before the letters come out. (E.g., I once worked somewhere that everyone had to take a pay cut, but it wasn’t a surprise when we got our salary letters.) Anyway, I’m glad I’m not expected to negotiate my salary every year.

    2. ella

      Can I suggest that you or some manager covertly keep an eye on the stockings and make sure that everyone gets at least something? I can see an empty stocking (except for the end-of-year letter) being a really depressing thing for an employee to see.

      1. MJ

        Of course, Ella, but fortunately unnecessary at our place of work. This group of people looks after one another like no group I have ever worked with! They are amazing!

    3. Twentymilehike

      I think that sounds very nice! Something like that would probably work in my office because everyone is really friendly with each other and very professional. I’m fairly confident that everyone has a set of people that they lunch with regularly that would fill their stocking with thoughtful things, and no one would take it overboard serious.

  30. Anne

    I’d just like to note that the photos on the “White Elephant gift exchange” page on wikipedia are hilarious and people should go check it out.

    (I did because I had no idea what this white elephant/yankee game people were talking about was.)

    1. Anne

      Also I am happy to report that I (and everyone else in the office) get a nice bottle of wine or bubbly and a Christmas card on our desk from the manager every year, taken out to a nice Christmas dinner, and treats from Starbucks and local gourmet bakery to munch on during our annual end-of-year presentation. End of story. All very nice, individual needs taken into account if necessary and I don’t think anyone has ever suggested upward gifts.

    2. Jamie

      Some people use the words interchangeably, but I always thought that a White Elephant was getting rid of something you have and don’t want – or regifting something you don’t want …the odder the better.

      And Yankee Swap was when you buy a generic gift in a price range.

      What they have in common is the ability to steal or swap gifts with other participants.

      I’d love to get in on a White Elephant – I have a pair of creepy Christmas Elves – and I know they are inanimate figurines, but that doesn’t explain their odd expressions and why their eyes follow you wherever you go. If anything in my house will come to life and kill me in my sleep it will be those elves – I think they’d be happier in another home.

      1. Windchime

        At a White Elephant exchange years ago, I was the lucky recipient of a dish (vase?) in the shape of a sneaker. It was super colorful and we all laughed about it, but I ended up having to take it home. My younger son was probably about 8 years old at the time and he loved that stupid shoe. He kept loose change and other small objects in it for years.

        1. Deborah

          omg! Ours is named Woody & he arrived Thanksgiving night by parachute. I am sooo going to have fun with this.

    3. Kit M.

      Those are amazing. It makes me want to upload random personal pictures and use them to illustrate Wikipedia articles.

  31. Newbie

    About 5 years ago, I didn’t want to participate in the department SS gift exchange, but my name was added to the list on the day I was out of the office, thanks to a boss that didn’t like me very much. Rather than make a big deal of it, I put together a nice home spa gift bag for a female coworker – using up all of the $20.00 budget.

    From my SS, I received a Staples ‘Easy’ button, worth about $6.00. Even my boss thought it was a lousy gift, and offered to share her gift. Never again, did I participate in the SS gift exchange at that company.

    Now that I’m with a different company, I’ll try again – but I’m not holding my breath.

    1. Jessa

      You’re nicer than me I’da made a big deal of it. You do not sign someone up for anything that costs money without their permission. There have been times in the past where I did not and could not spend $20 for anything. Even employed there were times when I was eating one buck bologna due to medical bills. I would have flipped (behind closed doors of course,) and told the manager, take me off it or you spend the money I do not have it.

      1. Newbie

        Oh, boss and I had a terse discussion in private about it. She didn’t understand what the big deal was, and then I pointed out that not everyone celebrates Christmas – for religious reasons. That made her sweat, because of the laws regarding religion and the workplace. That felt *really* good. For other reasons, I later nicknamed her Hell!Boss. Honestly, I wasn’t all that surprised that she was so careless and clueless.

        In hindsight, part of me wishes I hadn’t participated in the SS, because of the result. Then again, the person I gave a gift to was very appreciative. I ended up exchanging the easy button for something useful, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

        1. Marcy

          I decided not to participate in the SS exchange after a bad experience and because I just couldn’t afford to keep up with all of the birthdays and other events where I had to provide food, birthday cakes, and gifts and my horrible ex-boss told my coworkers as well as the people I supervised that I wasn’t participating anymore because I didn’t like them. Nice.

  32. Kimberley

    When I was a student I worked part time for a small chain of retail sports stores. I was the only female employee. At the Xmas party my Secret Santa got me a coffee mug in the shape of a breast. No joke. I laughed along with them all and ended up giving it to my boyfriend’s roommate who thought it was hilarious.

  33. EM

    At one of my previous jobs, the organization did do a gift swap each year. It was one of those ones where each person draws a number, which indicates what order you can choose a present and then people that come after can choose to either steal or take a new present.

    The only “rule” was that the item you bought to contribute was supposed to be capped at $15. So the game starts and people begin unwrapping gifts and every item is relatively nice for being under $15 — gift cards to Starbucks/Panera/etc, nice boxes of chocolate, etc.

    We’re getting to the very end of the presents, and finally someone chooses this small-ish box. The person opens it and finds…a box filled with random junk — paperclips, pennies, screws, etc.

    A kind of silence falls over the entire room for a minute or two, finally followed by some weak/nervous laughter.

    I don’t remember exactly how, but everyone knew who brought this box of junk — I’m not sure what the person was thinking — if he misunderstood and thought the gift swap was supposed to be like a White Elephant exchange or if he was just an ass. I think he felt like a jerk after seeing everyone else’s gift and I did feel sorry for the person who unfortunately picked his “gift.”

    1. Ruffingit

      That is messed up. The person who got that gift should have been gifted $15 by the boss to make up for it. Not that the boss has to do that, but it would have been a nice gesture.

  34. any mouse

    I worked at one place where there was no clear policy across the board. So some department heads bought their employees gifts and others didn’t.

    Mine didn’t. Not only did he not, we were required to chip in to buy him a nice present on Christmas, his Birthday and Boss’s Day. Although Admin Professional day was never acknowledged. I hated it.

    AND as a business we adopted a family and got gifts and food for them and my boss had the audacity to say that this family was getting a better Xmas than his own kids.

    He’d also complain about his high electric bill – mostly from the cost of his pool.

  35. mel

    I’ve never had a bad experience about christmas at work (it’s the only day out of the entire year that we’re ever closed).

    The first and last time I participated in secret santa, I was accidentally left out! Whoever drew my name must not have known who I was and so assumed they got another staff who had a name similar to mine.

    I wanted to politely pretend that I wasn’t participating but I’d invited my dude to come along and he did not hesitate to poke me and ask why I was left standing there.

    It would have been fine except they found an extra gift with someone else’s similar name on it and figured out what went wrong. Inside was a nice brand of makeup and a gift card for more makeup, which I appreciated, but I never wore makeup to work so it was obviously not intended for me to enjoy. Plus, the addition of the gift card put the value well beyond the dollar limit of the exchange, so I just ended up feeling guilty as all hell. To this day I imagine that it was probably from a friend of this other staff member who was probably unhappy that their thoughtful gift went to some unkempt stranger.

      1. Ruffingit

        I don’t think he pointed it out in front of others, the way I’m reading it is that he asked mel why she was left out and why she wasn’t saying anything.

    1. EvilQueenRegina

      At my old workplace, this one guy lost the piece of paper with the name he’d drawn out of the hat for Secret Santa and forgot whose name he’d drawn, then eventually he thought he’d remembered it. The problem was, there were two women in the team with similar names (Jane and Jan) and he guessed the wrong one of the two, meaning Jane got two presents and Jan got nothing. When Jane realised what had happened, she gave Jan the better of the two presents, and that left her with just a dud scratchcard.

      That same year, someone else also got a dud scratchcard wrapped in about 20 envelopes. Everyone had been laughing along as he opened each envelope in turn but when that thing fell out it just wasn’t funny any more – I did have to hand it to him for being able to smile about it.

      Since everyone I work with knows me well enough to know that they can’t go wrong with some variation on the cat theme for me, it usually means I will get something I like. For me, I don’t get why people would buy complete tat rather than putting some thought into what their recipient might like.

  36. Liane

    1–Christmas gift exchange at the party the small medical transcription company held for the local employees. It was one of those gift “exchanges” where you draw numbers to see what order people pick a gift, and after the first person picks, each person down the line has the option of choosing one of the remaining gifts or “stealing” a gift that was picked earlier. I brought homemade cookies on a nice plate. The one gift that was most coveted was in a beautiful gift bag of the kind that is meant to hold wine or liquor, which is what everyone assumed it was. The bag ended up with a member of top management and, because the higher-ups were all good people, we watched with good-natured envy to see what the gentleman had won to accompany his Christmas dinner:
    It was a brand-new plunger! (I felt obliged to say “brand-new” after reading some other entries.) Yep. Wood handle, rubber hemisphere. ROFL all around.
    The best part–he confessed that it was his contribution to the exchange! It was also supposed to be an extra gift, so not even the last person had to end up with something they really hated–but somehow the numbers came out even, through miscounting or someone not bringing a gift, but no one cared as we were all having fun.
    2–Not work related, but I thought it would be fun to pass on the gifts given by my teens at a couple of our church’s youth Christmas parties. Two years ago, my daughter decided to gift a blue Easter bunny she’d had for several years. She was inspired by someone else’s gift from the year before of a bra filled with candy. (Yes I said church parties, but we’re still talking about teenagers ) So she bought a pair of Christmas panties to put on the bunny before stuffing him in a gift bag. We had to rush from her dance recital to the youth party and couldn’t get any gift tissue, so she made do by stuffing the green tulle skirt from one of her dance numbers into the top of the bag! It was a popular gift, although some of the girls thought she was crazy for not wanting to keep her dance skirt.
    3–Last year, instead of his usual gingerbread house kit, my son decided to give coal–the chocolate novelty candy kind. I persuaded him to also add a small Ziplok bag filled with charcoal, so that would be seen before the candy. He painstakingly wrapped the tin, inside a box, with layers of paper and tape, so it would take a longtime to unwrap.
    The gift he brought home? A good-sized roll of bubble wrap! We are using it still when we mail packages.

    PS: could someone define Yankee Gift Exchange for this Southerner?

    1. A Bug!

      Yankee Gift Exchange is where everybody participating brings a generic, wrapped gift. They’re all put on a table or whatever, and then names or numbers are drawn out of a hat. From here, the rules can vary. In most cases, the first person opens a present, and from that point on, people can choose to either open a present or steal an already-opened present. The person who had the stolen present gets to open a new present.

      Rules can vary as to how many times a person can be stolen from or a specific gift can be stolen. Sometimes everyone opens a present, and then the stealing starts, except that it’s swap rather than strictly stealing. Sometimes the rules allow for a stolen person to steal instead of opening a new present. The rules usually allow for the first person to steal-swap a present after all of the presents have been opened (as the first person never had the option to steal on their turn).

      1. Anonymous

        As a Yankee, I never heard of that. It sounds like something I did in Girl Scouts, minus the stealing of the already open gift (trading I think was allowed), but I never knew the name of it. Thanks!

        1. A Bug!

          There are a few other names I’ve heard for it. White Elephant’s been mentioned a few times. I’ve also heard “Nasty Santa”, and a racist one I don’t care to repeat.

          It doesn’t really have a common name in my area; it has to be explained every time it comes up and it’s usually just called “gift swap”.

    2. Anne

      It seems to be a synonym for “white elephant” exchange – and I have to say, I’m from New York and I’d never heard it either!

      1. Lore

        I always thought the difference between the Yankee swap and the white elephant was that the white elephant are meant to be gift-y jokes and thus are unwrapped before being swapped, where the Yankee swap leaves the gifts wrapped until the very end. But that may be just my experience.

        1. The Clerk

          See, I thought “white elephant” was after Christmas, to get rid of a gift you got that you just couldn’t stand and would probably donate to Goodwill or hide in the attic otherwise.

  37. Jamie

    I know, off topic, but this was too funny not to share. Job description for horrible IT job and I don’t know whether to admire their honesty or curl up in the fetal position and cry.

    http://valleywag.gawker.com/an-amazingly-bad-it-job-listing-that-borders-on-abusive-1472848127

    This is my favorite part: Annual Salary: Negotiable, but you should know up front we’re not a terribly money-motivated group. We’re more likely to spend less money on salary and invest that on making your day-to-day life at work better.

    I’d better brush off my resume and snatch this up before someone else gets it. / sarcasm

    1. Anonymous

      I saw that yesterday and laughed way too hard. I do kind of wish all job postings were written that honestly!

    2. Marilla

      And this:

      – You should have no problems working in a creative and potentially offensive environment.

      1. Windchime

        Yeah, that jumped out at me. And I think it’s funny that they want one person who can program, run the servers, and do all the general IT stuff. Those are usually pretty different skill sets. I can program, but don’t ask me to fix your desktop because I haven’t got a clue, just like the desktop guys can’t fill in for me on programming if I’m out sick.

        1. Tris Prior

          That started happening in publishing, before I left. Must know all there is to know about print design, web design, be fluent in these 5 programming languages, and be able to fill in as IT support. Oh, and they’re going to pay you in the mid-20s for all that.

          I was a print designer, so I was pretty much screwed. Most print designers that I know do not also write code (though we were often sort of the default basic IT support for the office – “you use a mac, so you can fix this random computer issue, right?”)

    3. Esra

      Ugh, I used to be a Penny Arcade fan. They are bloody rolling in it. That posting set off some serious internet nerd rage.

      1. Gracie

        Ugh. Please let that job ad be fake or at least very tongue in cheek. I normally like Penny Arcade but between this (if it’s a legit job posting) and some other unpleasant stuff I’ve heard about them, they’re slowly sliding off my Internet People Who Aren’t Jerks list.

        NewJob has some kind of White Elephant party coming up. I heard last year’s involved tears and vibrators so I’m intrigued about this year’s.

    4. Jen in RO

      I don’t know, it doesn’t sound that bad to me. It’s an honest description of the workplace so at least people can self select out. And, depending on how small the salary is, I might choose nice conditions at work instead of high pay (of course, as long as the salary is still *decent*).

      1. Jamie

        I agree they should get points for honesty…as someone who would never work for a company where the culture is “not terribly money motivated” because…I have made my peace with being terribly money motivated a long time ago. :)

        But yeah – honesty works.

    5. Mallorie, the recruiter

      I say admire their honesty. I think all job descriptions should be written like this! I mean, whoever they end up hiring can’t sat they weren’t warned! And, honestly, there is probably a person out there who would fit this description to a T!

      1. Jamie

        Actually that person who fits it to a T – and I agree they are out there – is the person I want to hire after they leave there.

        Working for me would be a cush vacation after that.

    6. Tris Prior

      I agree with everyone who’s saying, at least they were honest? Having been baited and switched way too many times in my career, I would’ve appreciated a realistic answer to “how is the work-life balance here?”. I was lied to my face at least three times. I thought I was being proactive in trying to find out whether I was headed for another 80-hour-a-week-paid-for-40 sweatshop environment, but they were so desperate to get competent bodies in the door, I guess, that they flat out lied.

      1. Ruffingit

        Yup, count me in as in the Honesty Rules boat. I too have been lied to re: culture of a company so I always appreciate it when someone just flat out tells you it’s going to suck and/or they won’t pay much.

  38. Wren

    I interned as a student at a firm that pushed all employees, myself included, to contribute $40 to the principle’s Christmas gift. We were told the partners were contributing $80. $40 was well above my budget for even family Christmas presents! At least it was a paid internship…?

    I also heard the office manager tell the woman who had given notice that since she wouldn’t be around any longer to attend the staff Christmas dinner, she didn’t need to contribute. *eyeroll*

  39. Kimberly

    My Dad was a VP. One year for some reason his name the President’s name and the Owner’s name were put in the gift swap drawing. They didn’t know about it until they were given the names of their people. Not having an immediate out – they bought very nice gifts for the employees. Dad was still very embarrassed that an employee bought us an Atari (back when and Atari was the gaming system). The owner made it very clear to the organizers that the top brass were never to be included again and that he didn’t want any type of present giving to the executives from employees.

    I was a girl scout as was my sister. We were also the only girls in the company. The owner had a daughter but she was HS or college aged. My first year as a Brownie – Dad had a picture of me in uniform on his desk. When cookie sales started – employees demanded to know when he was bringing in my sheet or was I coming by to take orders. This was in the early 1970’s Houston so with the 2 murders nicknamed “the candy man” (Ronald Clark O’Bryan (The man who killed Halloween) murdered his son and attempted to kill several others in an insurance scam and Dean Corll murdered 28 young men) making the news – girls were discouraged from going door to door to sell cookies. So Sis and I took our cookie forms down there for years. But as soon as another employee had a girl in scouts – we bowed out and let her do the sales.

    1. Jamie

      GS cookies seem to be the one fundraiser people want to know about. We have a no fundraising ever for anything policy strictly enforced, so we get our fix when my husband buys from his coworkers kids.

      And if I saw a coworker had a pic of their daughter in a brownie or gs uniform on the desk I’d be asking to me let in on the cookie action…policy doesn’t apply outside of work.

      1. A Bug!

        We have Girl Guide cookies up here, but they haven’t really been the same since they switched from Mr. Christie to Dare for their manufacture. I think Mr. Christie owned the recipes so Dare had to come up with their own.

        (But it worked out for me – Mr.Christie now sells Golden Oreos, which taste the same as my favorite GG cookie. I can get them year-round and am no longer beholden to tiny be-sashed gatekeepers.)

  40. Hmm

    I really hate gift giving in the office. It causes me to spend my free-time doing something work-related to give someone something they don’t want or need. We used to have to do this AFTER HOURS too, which is *my time*. Now I’m in a “work to live” environment with a lot more older/mature people who know that their co-workers, while amiable to each other, are not pseudo family or even real friends. We just have a low key lunch and get to leave work early.

    1. PJ

      I know I’m late to the party, but +1. Many years ago I decided to boycot all the trappings of this holiday, the gift-giving/receiving in particular. It has made my life a ton easier, and I finally have my friends trained not to give me gifts. I resent like hell having to do stuff like this at work.

  41. Shelley

    I’m a communications Officer with the municipal government with city I live in. There are some great things about being a gov’t employee (fantastic pension, great benefits, good amount of vacation time). But there are some drawbacks too. We have to pay for our Christmas parties, and never get year end bonuses. I totally understand that it is because it’s taxpayers money. It’s just too bad hearing about everyone else who get them. A bonus around this time would certainly be helpful. My mom used to get a big Christmas bonus and it certainly made the holidays bright for her :)

    1. Anonymous_J

      To add to hers, our “bonus” is actually just our last paycheck of the year. It’s listed on our compensation sheets as a “bonus”, but it’s part of our salary and is taxed as such. I don’t know why they call it a “bonus.” LOL!

        1. Jamie

          Typically yes, but my understanding as of last year is that bonuses can be legally taxed at a flat rate of 25% so if your normal rate is higher you could end up paying more later. We’re given the option to have it taxed at 25% or our regular rate, but maybe that’s changed in 2013.

          And another point for people to remember that it’s separate from salary regarding 401 k withholding, so if you’re putting away a portion of your salary it isn’t automatic that the same will be pulled from your bonus – people should check with their HR to see how this stuff is handled.

          1. Payroll Lady

            The 25% is still the same (unless bonus and “supplemental” pay is over 1 million, then it is 35% for the portion over 1m) otherwise it should be added to your last pay check and taxed in the aggregate.

            Depending on what your 401k plan documents state, you may not have 401k deductions taken from the bonus check.

            1. Jamie

              Thanks for the confirmation. And that’s why I insist on my bonuses being under the one mil mark…that 10% is a real deal breaker!

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.

        What Alison said. If you were receiving, say, a $500 check as a $500 bonus, and separate from your regular pay, it probably means that bonus was not handled in a legally
        Kosher way (they’re not withholding your tax obligation, or reporting it on you w-2 as wages, and they’re probably also not paying their portion of taxes on it either.)

        If we did bonuses at my org, I’d handle it the same way; a separate line item on your paycheck, but part of your gross wages for the year and deposited with your regular pay on your regular payday.

        1. Sue

          A company who gives bonuses is under no obligation to withhold employee taxes – they must add those bonuses to payroll and pay their portion of the medicare and SS but they don’t have to withhold payroll taxes on them if they don’t want to.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Nope, they do indeed need to be taxed, although there are a couple of different methods that they can choose from to do it (percentage or aggregate).

          2. Payroll Lady

            Sue, this pertains to certain fringe benefits, not bonuses. Group term life costs over 50K is the first thing that comes to mind that is included in income, however the employer does not need to deduct Federal withhold tax on it.

        2. Sue

          Also if they pay for employee parties or buy meals for the employees, the costs of those can also be taxable income to the employees

            1. Sue

              Yep -http://www.veeceebookkeeping.com/holiday-gifts-parties-are-they-taxable-income/

              I KNOW I saw someplace about a specific example of a piza party but I can’t find it now. http://www.veeceebookkeeping.com/holiday-gifts-parties-are-they-taxable-income/

              Likewise when any of my clients let a subcontractor occupy their office space and conduct their general business out of it that office space is prorated by square footage basis / rent and becomes taxable income to them. I once was doing some subcontract work for a tax preparer and I was doing her tax clients accounting work – she asked me to be on site with her in her extra office space so we could both meet with clients if needed. If I had my business clients come into that office I would have been taxed on a fair market value for the rent

              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                That link says parties are not taxable to employees: “The cost of occasional parties and picnics is … nontaxable to employees and their families as a de minimis fringe, provided they are given infrequently and for the purpose of promoting employee health, goodwill, contentment or efficiency. For example, holiday parties, cocktail parties and company picnics fall into this category.”

    2. Brett

      I work in local government too, so I get the same fun of paying for the office Christmas party with no bonus (or raises – still not done with that 10 year pay freeze).
      Our unit hosts for the entire division, so it is normally ~$100 each that we chip in. But the annoying part is that I am the only one with no family in town, so every year I chip in and then miss the party.

  42. Nyxalinth

    When I worked for the Ballet here in Denver in the sales/customer service department, we all received very nice gift cards for 25.00 each. We were very happy with this. It was soured later on however when we went on hiatus as normal, but then time to return in June we were told “The Board of Directors has decided to outsource the call center to India for sales and service” and, we found out that they’d already been planning it and had given us the nice gift cards because they felt ‘guilty’.

    Performance sales have been down since then. Gee, do you think it had anything to do with outsourcing sales and service for your performances to a foreign country, when the whole purpose of having us specifically was we knew the venues, the area, and the performances from firsthand experiences and we could use this to help drive sales had anything to do with that? I surely don’t! No way!

    1. The Clerk

      They waited six months to tell you you needed to find a new job?????

      Damn, I thought the school I worked at was being obnoxious by waiting until the end of the summer to tell me they were cutting my position.

      1. Nyxalinth

        Yup. they just said “the decision was made…” but no timing on when it was made. Eventually we were told it was right after we went on hiatus. Apparently, we made too much in bonuses. I’d have given up the bonuses before losing a job completely, but no one ever gave us that option.

  43. Susan

    When I was younger, I was a free lance musician and played for a lot of lavish corporate Christmas parties. At one, I was taking my 15 minute break just as they began to hold their gift raffle. Some of the employees told me to put my name in the basket. I told them that it wasn’t really appropriate but they kept insisting. I wasn’t very good at standing up to people then so I thought “OK, I’ll put my name in to keep these people quiet and since I never win anything there is no chance my name will be picked.” Guess what. My name was the first one picked and I had to stand there in front of the whole crowd while the business owner told me that it wasn’t really appropriate and I wouldn’t get the gift. So embarrassing!

  44. pamplemousse

    I worked for a very sanctimommy boss for a couple of years at a federal agency. The first holiday party when she became our boss, she made everyone participate in a White Elephant gift exchange. When the Jewish guy and myself (non-Christian) did not bring gifts, she told us that she had brought extra gifts that we could use. I declined at least three times, and she just forced the gifts in our hands. Then when she wanted someone to read aloud “The Night Before Christmas” no one wanted to do that either. She asked several people who wouldn’t do it, and then she got to me. I said that I did not want to read it either, and then she told me in front of our entire department, “You have to read it because I’m your boss and I’m telling you to.” Yeah, she played that card at the flipping Christmas party! Someone else finally caved and read it. I really regret not filing an EEO complaint over that whole situation.

    The second year, one of the employees in our department ended up dying in December after a long battle with cancer. Our boss sent out an invite to her second holiday party, saying that she was going to combine a memorial for our colleague with our holiday lunch. Nothing says “ho ho ho” like merging Christmas with death over lunch. After she broke down in tears about how close she was with this colleague (who had been out of the office for a significant period of time), the Assistant Manager talked only about her sister who had cancer. Then, we were all encouraged to share our sentiments. One guy, who started on the same day five years ago, as the person who died and sat next to the departed colleague for five years (!!!) ended up reading an email from a guy in an office across the country that basically said, “I’m sorry to hear that X died. She was really great to work with.” Really, you work with someone for five years, and all you can do is read an email by someone who’s never even met her? Then, another person in our department asked when the managers were going to clean out X’s cubicle, because she was wondering if she could have some of the supplies in there. That is when I got up and left.

    Luckily, that was my last holiday celebration with that group.

    1. Jamie

      Those sound horrible – what are people thinking?

      I will however steal your typo and insist that my kids immediately begin referring to me as sanctimommy – because that is awesome!

      1. tcookson

        I took it to mean ‘”sanctimonious in an inappropriately overly-personal way” — just like somebody in my office. I’m going to start calling her the sanctimommy.

        1. Pseudo Annie Nym

          Hahaha! I just took it to mean that the place was run by sanctimommies–people who forcibly dictate to others how to be good parents (or in this case, how to celebrate!) They actually just had a new sanctimommy post on STFU today: http://www.stfuparentsblog.com/

          1. Emma

            Thanks for reminding me of STFUparents, it’s been a while since I read it.

            Tangent: I have to say that re: vaccines, the practice of having regular visitors/friends/family of the baby get vaccinated against certain infectious diseases is called “cocooning.” It’s legit and protects the baby, who is too young to get pretty much any of the vaccinations (except Hep B, typically given a birth nowadays). Most people don’t realize/plain old forget that you need boosters as adults, so I wouldn’t say that request is sanctimonious because it’s honestly not obvious the way “wash your hands and don’t smoke” is.

            *takes off public health hat.

            1. Rana

              Agreed. After my husband caught whooping cough a few years ago, I’ve gotten to be pretty militant about vaccinations. And, yes, that extends to insisting that anyone coming in close contact with our newborn has to have their boosters up to date.

            2. Jessica (the celt)

              Huh, I never realized people didn’t know about the tetanus (and others) booster being needed through adulthood. When I had to get the booster in high school, my mom reminded me that the next time I would be an adult on my own, but I still needed to keep it up to date. I have poor reactions to shots, so this is the only one that I ever really get, but I still get it every 10 years. (I was super glad of it, too, when I had a rusty nail go right through my little toe once shortly after I had my first adult booster.)

    2. Saturn9

      How do you possibly get “EEO complaint” out of that mess? Don’t get me wrong, it sounds awful but I’m just not seeing the religious discrimination you seem to be implying.

      Secular Xmas (the one with Santa Claus and also an orgy of capitalism, consumerism, gluttony and greed) is not a religious celebration. The only way this even borders on an EEO complaint is if you’re a member of a religion that claims any celebration to be against your beliefs.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I don’t think it sounds like it would rise to the level of an EEOC complaint either, but while Christmas may indeed be celebrated in increasingly secular ways, it is a Christian holiday. It is not typically observed by non-Christians.

        As a Jew, I can tell you that it’s frustrating to have people think that Jews should celebrate/partake in Christmas stuff “because it’s not a religious celebration.” It is absolutely a Christian holiday, even if many celebrants neglect that aspect of it.

        1. The Clerk

          because it’s not a religious celebration

          Um, where exactly do they think the “Christ” part comes from?

        2. pamplemousse

          The EEOC website states under the heading “Religious Discrimination And Employment Policies/Practices” that “An employee cannot be forced to participate (or not participate) in a religious activity as a condition of employment.” http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/religion.cfm

          While there was no mention of participating as a condition of employment, she exerted significant pressure only on two people there. Still, I’m not sure that a complaint would have gained traction, but it would have been worth following up on.

      2. HannahS

        But secular Christmas and religious Christmas aren’t always celebrated separately. There are plenty of religious Christians who get caught up in gifts and boxing-day sales, and plenty of secular Christians who consider Christmas a time for family, generosity, and goodwill, not consumer greed. Even the celebration of “secular Christmas” often involves references to the religious roots of the holiday. It’s not being “against celebration” for religious minorities not to be comfortable with that.

    3. Elizabeth

      Those both sound like terrible holiday parties. I have to say, though, I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the guy who sat next to the deceased woman for not saying the “right” kind of thing. That sounds like an incredibly awkward situation, and I know a number of people who would feel uncomfortable being expected to speak in front of others about someone who had just died. Maybe he was very fond of her but afraid he’d get overly-emotional if he started talking about it – or maybe he never really got on very well with her and, though sorry she had died, actually didn’t have anything very personal to say about her.

      1. pamplemousse

        That is a good point, Elizabeth. You’re right, it’s not fair for me to criticize him for what he said. He is, in general, a pretty introverted and thoughtful guy, and everyone grieves differently. I know that everyone there was really, really sorry that she had died.

        I should not have thrown that one in there. Who knows what he was thinking after the first couple of shares or even about the whole event? You’re right. I was out of line on that one.

  45. Zelos

    I’ve never had a gift exchange at work. I have sat in on one though, when I was loaned out to another department who had a gift exchange.

    The quality of gifts ran the gamut, and I remember people giving envious looks to some of the nicer stuff (one supervisor got a Harry Potter collectible thing…a Snitch? I can’t remember) while most people got safer things like boxes of chocolate, Starbucks baskets and such. A few got coasters or Christmas ornaments.

    I don’t know if they managed to keep anyone from feeling left out or put out, though; there’s a huge difference between getting an HP collectible vs. a few Christmas ornaments. And the price limit was basically ignored in most cases, even with the “safe” gifts; I’ve no idea how much that HP thing cost, but it wasn’t $15.

      1. Zelos

        I don’t think we get them quite that cheap up here (I’m in Canada), but nonetheless, it looks significantly cheaper than I expected. (I was expecting somewhere around $30. Then again…since this event was from a previous job a few years ago, around when HP Book 6 released, maybe prices have dropped in the meanwhile?)

        Man, that looks pretty. I’m tempted to nab one for my HP loving friends now…

  46. Janet

    We used to do the white elephant exchange at work. I usually would regift something I received the previous Christmas. One year I brought in a set of little cocktail plates that had reindeer on them. I lived in a very small apartment so I really did not have the cupboard space for holiday dishes. Just not my thing. I so brought them into work for the gift exchange. The older women in my department had an all out war fighting over them during the “rob your neighbor” portion of the game. Someone even was like “Why would you bring these? They’re really nice!” but to me they were kind of tacky and just sort of unnecessary. One woman ended up with them after stealing them from an assistant during the rob your neighbor portion and the assistant cried. I felt kind of bad that I brought in something that caused so much strife. I won a bag of lard and no one tried to steal that from me.

    1. Janet

      Note – I should say I’d regift something I received the previous year from my mom who loves to give me seasonal decorating items even though I don’t like them. Like coasters with Christmas wreaths on them and tea towels. I have so many holiday tea towels I need a separate drawer just for holiday tea towels. She won’t stop with this.

      1. Lindsay J

        Yes. I brought nice Pfaltzgraff wine glasses to a gift exchange one time. They were the Winterberry pattern and I don’t usually drink wine and have room in my apartment for wine glasses with holly on them.

        The best gift that exchange, though, was a shovel and a bucket of margarita mix. I think that got stolen by pretty much everybody.

    2. Cassie

      Re: the “rob your neighbor” – I hate white elephant exchanges for that reason. I know it’s part of the game and all, but I don’t like it anyway (yes, I’m a poor sport). If I had no choice but to participate in a gift exchange, I’d rather it be either a secret santa or a random drawing.

  47. Lee

    I worked in a school where everyone, well almost everyone was into celebrations of all kinds. We had regular, amazing morning teas, celebrated birthday, weddings, you name it. As far as I’m aware, everyone loved it, but there was one employee who was never happy no matter what. Every year we had a secret Santa/present exchange where you could do the whole swap/steal gifts thing. You didn’t have to participate but pretty much everyone got really into it. This person obviously didn’t want to participate but instead of staying in her classroom (which would have been completely fine) she came, took part in the game, but evidently did not bring a gift. All was fine until we got down to the last few presents and people started to see that we were one short. The principal quickly ran and found some vouchers for movie tickets and added it to the pile. I have no issue with not participating but if you don’t want to participate, don’t. Don’t just participate and then wait for the awkward moment when we’re one gift short! And for the record, she later admitted she hadn’t bought a gift to smother colleague because she ‘thought it was stupid’.

  48. Marmite

    Not a Christmas themed story, but someone left our office recently to relocate overseas with his family. As part of his leaving gift we ordered him a specific kind of cake we knew he liked from a local bakery. He is an ex-army, motorbike riding, tattooed, self-proclaimed tough guy who was in charge of designing and overseeing our survival camps (I work for a company that runs various outdoor ed programs).

    Anyway, the cake arrived on the morning of his leaving and was beautifully iced in pink, glittery frosting with butterflies and bows adorning it. It looked perfect for a five-year-old girl’s birthday party. We still don’t know what possessed the baker to make that the theme for a generic “good luck” cake!

    1. EvilQueenRegina

      Maybe he just made a mistake? The card my mum arranged for my grandad’s 65th birthday had “Happy Retirement” put on it by mistake.

  49. Julia

    One year I was stopped on the street outside work by a guy selling his self-published poetry book. It was full of pictures of sunsets and poems in the style of:
    “I walk on the beach alone
    The waves crash
    But I feel at peace.”
    Anyway, I declined to buy a copy and he asked how to find the office receptionist, so I directed him in thinking he’d be given short shrift there.
    Fast forward to when we are all opening our work Christmas hampers and I discover that the receptionist was quite the poetry fan. He must have sold her a good 100 copies of his tedious book because every single employee got one.

  50. jesicka309

    I’ve seen a few ‘Secret Santas’ that went wrong at my previous office.
    We had a main office with a couple of satellite offices that would participate in our Secret Santa. Names would be drawn, and often, your Secret Santa was on the other side of the country, and you had never met them!

    One year, someone received a broken mug (it was broken in the mail). Another year, someone received a gift bag with a Christmas ornament, and a handful of lolly wrappers. And someone once got a whisk… like the egg whisk. Really weird.

    It was damn hard buying a gift for someone you’d never met that had to travel well!

    1. Ruffingit

      That seems to go against the whole idea of the Secret Santa thing. The point of it is to have some fun gifting someone you know who you can see opening the gift. A cross-country SS with people who’ve never met is just weird IMO.

      1. jesicka309

        Well, we opened the gifts via conference call, so we could see everyone doing it. Last year, I had a complete newbie in a different office. I had to ask her boss what kind of things she liked…and she never responded. I think I just got her chocolates in the end.
        We work with the other offices via email and phone, so it’s not like we’d never spoken, but it was still very awkward. One year I got an awesome gift of a gift bag full of my favourite chocolates, super personalised…and other poor people had other offices for their SS and got lame mugs, decorations and soaps. It was really hit and miss, but the boss was insistent on including the other ofices so they wouldn’t feel left out of the department.

  51. The Clerk

    So this happened last year: My office, for some odd reason, decided to have a short story contest with a Christmas theme, and the winner would get a $100 gift card for Christmas. It was going to be a big thing where the announcement and prize presentations would happen at the company Christmas party. Writing is my thing, so I worked on a story for weeks and it won! Yay! There was also a second prize of $50 and a third of $25 iirc.

    Well, here’s the thing. The managers who put this together made the announcement by email before the party, and nothing was said at the party itself. She waited a few weeks and then sent an email around that the value of the gift cards was going to be donated to the victims of Sandy Hook. Strangely enough, there was some backlash (I say strangely because you know people are usually too scared to speak up when charity is involved). But several people who entered the contest said it wasn’t fair for them to have spent all that time on something they wouldn’t have done except for wanting the prize, and even people who didn’t enter agreed. The general consensus was that if the managers wanted to get together and make a donation to help the Sandy Hook victims, that was their business and should be done separately from the contest. The managers were pissed. They sent this long email to everyone in the office about how they were taking money out of their pockets and it was up to them what to do with it, etc.

    The cherry on top? They ultimately decided to “publish” all the short story entries as an ebook on Amazon and have the proceeds (allegedly) go to Sandy Hook victims also. Even I said something then (I didn’t feel right complaining the first time) because I said the stories belonged to the employees and they should be the ones to post online (or not). Nope, no go. Evidently it was “obvious” that by entering our stories we had given up all rights to them.

    1. Zelos

      …I sincerely doubt that from a copyright law perspective (though I doubt this is a hill you’d want to die on). Unless you did the writing on company time and/or it was tailored specifically to the company’s wares/services as part of their business, I can’t see how they would lay claim to it.

      I’ll look it up when I’m not at work :)

      1. Anonymous

        I know in the tech industry it’s common for employment contracts to specify that any intellectual property created while employed by the company (even if it you did it at home) belongs to the company. Obviously the intent is that all your technical ideas will benefit the company (and so that you don’t go off and start a competing firm, for example), but I can easily see it being abused for something like this.

        1. Zelos

          Oh, for sure. There’s very clear rules about copyright belonging to the employer and not the author/employee when under a contract of service, but the work must be made in the course of the employment, and there must be absent any agreement to the contrary. You’re right that work done on personal time can belong to your employer, too.

          The sticking point seems to be “work made in the course of employment”. Now, I have no idea what The Clerk does for his/her job, but the way I read it is that the short story on Christmas was just a for fun thing and had nothing to do with the work. Unless she/he is an editor (in which case it gets stickier), or unless the story somehow contributed directly to the business, it’s hard to argue that it actually belongs to the employer. (But if somehow this short story actually contributes to the wares/services of his/her employer, then I’ve got nothing.)

          Mind, I really don’t think The Clerk is going to die on this hill, but if I can find the correct part to quote from the Copyright Act, s/he can…um, stand even more firmly on her/his moral high ground? :P

          (I’d be quoting Canadian law too because I’m a Canuck, which I’m aware may not apply to The Clerk.)

          1. Saturn9

            It’s not just the tech industry. I’ve signed a contract stating something along those lines at every call center I’ve worked at and also a couple of minimum wage retail-type jobs have thrown it into their new hire paperwork.

            Most likely someone in corporate at one company saw someone else in corporate at another company doing it and they thought it was a good idea. It is not.

            1. Anonymous

              Ouch. For “creative” roles at least there is some justification – how can you prove exactly when someone had that great idea? But for retail or call center work that you don’t take home?

            2. Zelos

              It’s actually part of copyright law and not specific to industry; for Canada I believe it’s 13(3) of the Copyright Act. (I’d have to look up US, don’t remember.) Employers do own copyright to work you’ve done for them, but because there’s a specification of “unless there was an agreement made to the contrary” in the law, and to save on arguments in the future, it’s usually just prudent to spell the arrangement out on the employment contract.

              I’ll look this up later tonight (I’m curious now); I had class last night so I didn’t have time.

              1. Contessa

                In the US, it’s “work for hire,” but the work has to be created “in the scope of employment.” There are also some other specific categories that are covered when the parties agree in writing that the works are made for hire. I’m not sure if an office contest is within the scope of employment, though, because it’s not one of the responsibilities of the job.

                1. Rana

                  That doesn’t sound like typical “work for hire” conditions, no. (The usual situation is like what happens in my line of work: I produce an index or an edited manuscript for a client, and the copyright transfers to them when I get paid. Or, not, if I don’t – which is a useful point of leverage.)

          2. The Clerk

            My company isn’t a publisher or anything creative like that, and we never signed any agreement. Now, I enter a lot of writing contests and there’s usually some caveat that you’re giving them the rights to publish it when and where they please, and sometimes if the prize or the odds suck I end up not entering because it wouldn’t be worth it to give up the story. But there were no terms and conditions with this contest other than the usual employees only, such and such word count, etc.

        1. Anonymous

          “A hill to die on” is an issue that you’re willing to sacrifice a lot to stand up for. It has military history, although I can’t seem to find a definitive origin for it in a quick search. For example, it doesn’t matter to me if I have free coffee at the office, but but it matters a lot whether the boss wants to make fun of me for being hearing impaired (which I am, and she doesn’t). The former doesn’t bother me, while the latter would be something I’d fight – that would be a “hill worth dying on.”

    2. Ruffingit

      THAT. IS. MESSED. UP!! In so very many ways. You and your colleagues had every right to be pissed about that. I would have been too. This is not about charitable giving, this is about doing one thing with the expectation of an outcome and then having the rug pulled out from under you. Just because a charity is involved doesn’t make what they did any better. It’s still outrageous and shitty.

    3. Not So NewReader

      This is so basic to management- you just don’t change the rules midstream.
      I bet no one enters another contest. Additionally, management has proven that they cannot be trusted to do what they say. Their word is not trustworthy.

      If something happened to me or mine, I would not want people being manipulated in to giving money to my situation. If I found out that was happening, I would probably give the money back.

      A donation is something that is made by one’s own free will and is a deliberate choice on the part of that person.

      What they did was wrong and the fact that they do not see what is wrong with it makes the whole thing many times worse.

      Sadly, if they just passed the hat, they probably would have gotten a decent collection to forward on.

      1. Gracie

        And I’d be wondering if the Sandy Hook charity the managers wanted to donate to was a real charity. Sadly, every time a major tragedy happens, almost immediately you see charity scams and fake groups popping up with their hand out.

        1. The Clerk

          Heh, I was thinking the managers (or the one who put the ebook together at least) would just pocket the money, but there’s that, too.

    4. Dawn

      I work in copyright. Unless you signed away your rights to the item, you are the rightsholder and can control when and if the item is published by someone else. You could receive damages, force them to pull the book, or give you a percentage of the profits.

  52. Sarah

    It’s not a terrible story, but I used to work in an office where we’d do a holiday potluck and ornament gift swap ($10 limit). I was always the person who bought the pretty ornament everyone wanted (come on people, it’s $8 at Target), while almost everyone else brought the ugliest things I’d ever seen. Every year I wound up throwing away whatever I ended up with. It’s disappointing though, because this SEEMS like a good idea (and at least it was fun).

    1. Windchime

      Yeah, I’m never happy with the ornament swap. I like delicate, glittery things like angels and snowflakes and ice-skating mice (yes, I have these) on my tree. But other people seem to like big, plastic-y balls that say “2013” on them, or have a Mickey Mouse image (yes, I’ve received these). Bleah. No ornament exchanges, please.

  53. jesicka309

    Oh, I have another one!

    When I started my old job, it was three weeks into November. They had already drawn the Sceret Santa names the week before I started, so I wasn’t really aware one existed until I was dragged along to the gift giving a few days before Christmas.
    I had to sit there awkwardly while everyone around me got gifts and try not to look disappointed. I’d been working there more than a month at that point! It made me feel like crap, like I wasn’t part of the team. What made it worse was my coworkers’ insistence that I come along – I’d been thinking that maybe the boss or the admin had gotten me a gift so I wouldn’t feel left out…nope! I’d been there long enough that it felt like a personal slight, and the fact that no one noticed made it worse, like I didn’t exist.
    I ran out of there the second the ‘official’ unwrapping was over. It really was a sign of the flawed culture at that place.

    1. Janet

      Being new at holiday time is terrible! I had that situation once. They did secret santas and names were picked before I got there and then I started and was not involved (which is fine) but I had to sit there for like 2.5 hours while a bunch of people I barely knew opened their secret santa gifts and they were almost all inside jokes so I either had to nod and smile like I got the joke while everyone was laughing hysterically or be that person who asks someone “Why is it funny that he got a jar of peanut butter?” And yes, it was also a sign of a pretty bad culture at this job too. There was a clique and you were in it or you weren’t.

    2. The Clerk

      That does suck, especially since they insisted you come. If I were on your team I totally would have gotten you a little something so you wouldn’t feel left out.

  54. Marcy

    Back when I was working for the world’s worst boss, she made everyone participate in a Secret Santa gift exchange. It was a week of small little gifts that you left for the person who’s name you drew. During that week, I had a meeting with my boss and after the meeting she started showing me her gifts. One was an angel ornament (she had other angel stuff all over her office) and another was a coffee mug filled with candies. She made fun of them all and said how stupid she thought they were. I was her Secret Santa.

    1. chikorita

      That’s just awful, I’m so sorry she did that. I will never understand why people do stupid hurtful crap like that- especially when she was the one making everyone do it!

    2. Ruffingit

      That really is terrible and I’m so sorry she did that. I would have loved to see her face if you had said something like “I’m your Secret Santa. Good to know you disliked the gifts, I certainly won’t bother participating next year.”

      Totally get what you wouldn’t say that though, just thinking how awesome the look on her face would have been. Although, if she was as shitty a boss as some I’ve had, she wouldn’t have cared even if you had called her out.

      1. The Clerk

        I never think fast enough, but it would have been fun to play dumb, too. “Oh, I’m sorry…I heard somewhere that you liked angels and thought you’d love it. Now I feel terrible. I never meant to ruin your holiday.” All sad and remorseful-sounding. Just to see her face.

          1. Marcy

            I wish I had thought of that but I was just mortified. I had just started working there four months before. Other people were getting things like a pair of socks and a pack of straws so I still don’t see what was wrong with what I gave her- I had even made sure to get the candy I had seen her eating. Oh well, I tried. She didn’t react at all when the SS reveal was done and she knew it was me.

            1. Ruffingit

              She sounds like a total biatch. You tried to get her nice things and personally, I’d have been quite happy to receive what you gave her. She was totally the problem here, not you.

  55. candace

    A few years ago I was working at a smallish, uptight non-profit. Our new manager of about 3 months decided we would have our Christmas party at a nearby bowling alley. It was to start at 8pm; when I got there at 8:15, there were 2 people there – my manager and the file clerk. He had apparently challenged her to a shot-drinking contest, and they were already smashed when I showed up. As other coworkers arrived, they had more shots, as did my coworkers. Within an hour, most people were trashed, my boss was crying/puking in the restroom, and another coworker was standing by the back door yelling “woo hoo!!” at the guys going into the strip club next door. Soon after, no one could find my boss, and we spent a half-hour searching for her. Finally we found her passed out in the backseat of some random car that happened to be unlocked. We never did get to bowl.

    1. Anonymous

      Your boss was crying, puking, and napping in strangers’ cars?? I’m laughing but I feel just a little bit guilty about it.

  56. Tris Prior

    In my early 20s I was working in a creative field and everyone on my team was grossly underpaid (like, $18k/year while living in a very large, expensive, major city). There were four or five us us in our 20s, and one woman who was old enough to be our mom.

    Christmas rolled around and we started talking office gift-giving among my team. I wanted us to draw names so we’d each buy for one person only, and others agreed, but the older co-worker pitched a FIT at the thought of us not buying a gift for EVERY person on our team. And, she thought, we should spend at least 20 bucks per person.

    Turns out that her husband was, I don’t remember, a doctor or lawyer, and she was just working the job for a creative outlet, to get her out of the house. Her income was fun spending money, not money she needed to pay rent and buy food like the rest of us. And she could not understand how we couldn’t afford to spend $100 on co-worker gifts (when I did not even spend that on my then-husband and family combines!).

    The kicker? No one else except me had the nerve to stand up to her and say “I can’t afford this.” Boy, did I feel like a loser for not being able to meet the “required” spending amount.

    I’m in a new job this year and so far have heard absolutely nothing re what is done around the holidays. I should probably ask someone but dread having to have the “sorry, can’t do that, I’m broke as sh*t” conversation.

    1. Ruffingit

      People who do not have money troubles often cannot understand how much $100 really is. To someone with thousands of disposable income every month, $100 is nothing. To someone for whom a $10 change in the budget would mean eating beans for a week, $100 is a lot.

      1. Marcy

        I agree with that. I don’t currently have money troubles but have in the past so I still understand. I am now in charge of my department and I have made it clear that no gifts should ever flow uphill, not even on bosses day (which I don’t think should even exist). I get each of my staff a gift for Christmas and their birthdays with a thank-you card for all of their hard work for the year. I think they appreciate not having the pressure of having to do something for each other when money is tight and even worse, having to do something for people higher up the food chain.

  57. AnonPuff

    Hahaha! Unless there’s some other poor soul who got a used cat toy (poor you, we can be sad gift friends then…) then I think it was me who got that… yay? Hahah.

    At least (I guess) that was from a white elephant exchange….

    At the next job, for a regular Secret Santa thing (names chosen, not random) even though this isn’t completely horrible, I got a bag of day-old scones from a local British tea shop. :( Bleh. Everyone else got nice gifts.

    I give up! Hahah.

    1. AnonPuff

      Whoops… realized I already posted about the scones. My life is so exciting. Hahah.

      My most recent workplace (a library) had a good idea for keeping things more logical in an exchange — you only participated if you wanted to, and it was a paperback book (or nice but used, or cheap book) exchange. Hopefully nothing too awkward there…

  58. Lindsay J

    We’re doing a Yankee Swap (or it might be a white elephant, I’m not sure) and I’m very happy with how we’re doing it. The owners are buying half the gifts, and they gave our manager the money to buy the other half of the gifts.

    We still get a little gift and the fun of swapping/stealing, etc, but I don’t have to spend my own money or time on it, nobody is going to get excluded or get a box of peanut shells or anything like that, and nobody is going to get anything too embarrassing or inappropriate, either.

  59. Jamie

    At my Oldjob’s company Secret Santa about 7 years ago, employees who participated would write down three things that they like to make gift giving easier. For my list I put: chocolate, movies and coffee.

    That year I received a mug from the dollar store half filled with chocolates, Blockbuster *Coupons*, and a $5 coupon booklet for Tim Horton’s, with $3 missing from it….

  60. BN

    When I was in the 3rd grade my class did a Secret Santa (probably a $5 max), but I was going on vacation with my family and unable to attend. I believe I bought some sort of festive candy, or something otherwise neutral.

    When I returned, sitting on my desk was a bag of coal from my Secret Santa. I had gotten to school early the day I returned and was able to deflect most of the embarrassment, but I remember just thinking “what kind of person…?” I was glad my parents had taken me out of school the day of the (public) gift exchange.

    I try to avoid these sort of activities if I can. I always make sure to get something nice, and it’s fine at this point in my life if I get the crappy gift, but what I can’t stand is watching it happen to others.

  61. TeaBQ

    This isn’t a story to win any awards, but as long as we’re talking gifts I’d like to throw in a reminder that not everyone drinks alcohol. Luckily for me I can’t drink for medical reasons (messes up my medication) but god forbid I was a recovering alcoholic with the way bottles of wine get given out at the office as a generic holiday present.

    I’m gracious about the sentiment and regift the bottles when I can. But at the same time I can’t help but feel left out when my co-workers all get a gift that they can enjoy personally and I don’t.

    I did have one department head who was savvy to this kind of thing and, when he gave out bottles of wine to everybody in our department, gave me gift cards for the equivalent amount. It was a small gesture that meant a lot.

    Anyway, my point being it’d be nice if more folks were mindful of recovering alcoholics or others who can’t drink alcohol when shopping for their generic holiday gifts.

    1. Ruffingit

      THANK YOU! YES! I do not drink either, never have. I don’t have medical reason for this nor am I a recovering alcoholic. It’s just that alcohol has never been my thing, I don’t like it. But, whatever the reason a person doesn’t drink, it sucks when the gift du jour is alcohol. So with you on that.

      And, while we’re at it, if someone doesn’t drink it’s so very not cool to ask them why. For me, I don’t mind answering that it’s just not my thing, but if someone is a recovering alcoholic or has some meds they take that prevent it or whatever, you’re putting them on the spot and that is shitty. Don’t do it. If someone says they don’t drink, be cool and say “Ok, can I get you a soda or something then?”

      1. Jamie

        I so rarely drink – and never wine and I don’t have alcohol in the house…no moral, religious, medical restrictions….we just don’t drink enough to warrant it. I have enough people who love gifts of alcohol on my list so I have no trouble regifitng, but I cans see where it would be an issue for others.

        I totally agree one should never ask why if someone doesn’t drink. Like you I personally don’t care, because it’s not a sensitive subject for me…but no one should have to disclose personal reasons. And even those who usually drink and suddenly decline…dont gossip about why. Whispers about maybe so and so is newly pregnant, or addressing a drinking problem, etc. Its intrusive and rude so unless people want to share just assume they don’t feel like it (very likely anyway) and offer them something else.

      2. Mallorie, the recruiter

        Yes good point! I didn’t drink for about 3 years (and I was in my early 20s) and every time someone noticed I wasn’t drinking I would be asked “WHY!”…. I mean, I am not an alcoholic, but I just kept thinking, man, what if I were? That’s semi personal! It was always weird to explain, “Oh, I just don’t drink.” “Have you ever?” “Yes.” “But you don’t now?” “No.” “Ever?” “No. I haven’t drank in several years.” And then I’d just get a weird look. So great, great advice Ruffingit!

        1. Ruffingit

          It’s something that’s plagued me my entire life because I’ve never been a drinker. I’ve never been drunk in my life due to not being a drinker (of course). And I would have people say things to me like “Oh, I’d love to see you drunk” or “We really need to get you drunk..” like it was some kind of personal goal. Just have some respect for people who’ve chosen not to drink and be done with it. Geeze. This is one of my hot button issues.

          1. Jessica (the celt)

            Me, too (hot button issue). People think that because I don’t drink, I don’t want them to drink (when I don’t really care who is drinking as long as I don’t have to take care of drunks). I’ve never been drunk either, so I also hate it when people do the “You have to get drunk at least once in your life!” spiel or one of the ones you mentioned, because … well, no I don’t. I haven’t so far and I’m still alive, so…

            I don’t like it, and it tastes disgusting. (I can always taste the alcohol, even in those super sweet and sugary drinks.) And if “it’s an acquired taste,” then why should I work hard to acquire a taste I don’t really care to acquire in the first place? I’m not hampering your drinking, so don’t hamper my not drinking. (And I took care of my fair share of drunk people in college, so I’m over the limit of the number of times that I’ve felt obligated to do that, too.)

    2. Anonymous

      Very very true. Much of what Ruffingit wrote fits how I would answer so I’m not going to duplicate it.

      I just hate it though when you are in with a bunch of people who do drink, and that one person has to corner me to question me and then persist on getting me to drink something. Then, I hate to be called a teetotaler. I think that if a person has to demand and then try to pressure the one non-drinker to have a drink, that person has insecurity issues about their own drinking. Do they wish they could say no? Or do they wish no one would remember how much of an ass they can makes themselves out to be if they decide to have a little bit too much? Most of my friends know I don’t drink and don’t give a damn. I don’t care if they partake in a beer or wine. You do what you want to do.

      For me it’s not medical or religion but more or less taste and the idea of messing with the mind (mood changes, forgetting, etc.).

      1. Ruffingit

        Anon,

        I do think a lot of it for people is their own insecurities. Quite often, if you do something differently from others, they refuse to acknowledge that it’s just your way of doing things rather than being some kind of judgment of their choice. I’ve often said this to sum it up: “My choice is not an indictment of your choice.”

        In the case of people drinking, I don’t care if they get fall flat on their face, puking in the bathroom for 20 minutes drunk. So long as they aren’t driving or otherwise hurting another person, I don’t care what they do and I just want that same level of respect for my own choices.

      2. TeaBQ

        GOD yes. I was at a wedding once where one of the mothers of the brides kept insisting I have champagne. If someone says no thank you to a drink then accept it and move on, sheesh!

    3. Elkay

      But at the same time I can’t help but feel left out when my co-workers all get a gift that they can enjoy personally and I don’t.

      This exactly. What made it even worse was my heavy drinking boss knew I didn’t drink.

      1. TeaBQ

        That sucks. Last year I got a bottle of wine but the SVPs who gave them out did it to give a gift to everybody and didn’t know my preferences from a hole in the ground. So that’s one of those times where I just accept the sentiment and move on. But if somebody knows and does it anyway, esp your boss, you can’t even chalk it up to “it’s the thought that counts” since obviously there was no thought given to it whatsoever.

  62. The Other Dawn

    Not a Christmas gift story, but I’ll contribute it anyway.

    When I was new at the bank we had a little farewell party for one of the customer service reps who was leaving for another branch location. Nothing extravagant, just a cake after work hours and a gift. She was given a beautiful, expensive leather briefcase. She’d been there for a few years. When I left for another branch a couple years later, I got…a bag of bath products. And not nice ones, like Bath and Body Works or something. Just standard, cheap, run of the mill ones from Walmart or the drug store. It wasn’t only the disparity between my gift and hers. It was that it made me feel like there was no thought behind it, that I wasn’t as valued as the other woman, and that they felt I was “in need” of these products. (Maybe I’m just self-conscious, but gifts of bath products make me feel like the giver is saying something about my hygiene.) Yes, they gave me a gift, but in this case I’d rather have gotten nothing. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s something I’ve never forgotten.

    1. Ruffingit

      I think you’re reading too much into it on the hygiene end of things, but I don’t think you’re reading too much into it on the value end of it. It really sucks that the other woman was given something expensive and you weren’t. I can see how that would cause you to question why she was “worth the effort” and you weren’t.

      1. The Other Dawn

        Had it been one shower gel, one lotion, and a body spray I wouldn’t have thought too much about the hygiene aspect of it. But there were at least four bottles of body spray. LOL

        But, yeah, the value really got me. There’s no comparison between a $200+ leather briefcase and $35 of bath products.

        1. Ruffingit

          Four bottles of body spray? Yeah then clearly you just stink. Just kidding in case that didn’t come through :) I’m guessing that what happened there was someone went to the cheapo bath section at Wal-Mart and decided to just get several things so it could look like they were getting you a lot when in fact it was just cheap crap. I know people who think quantity makes up for quality. I’m thinking that’s what happened here.

          1. The Other Dawn

            Yeah, that’s what it seems like. I remember getting excited because the bag was heavy. But, lo and behold, cheap bath products. I actually did see this brand in the store some time later and each item was 4.99. I think there were 7 or 8 items in the bag. Eh, whatever.

      2. Jamie

        I agree. The discrepancy value would bug me, but I absolutely would t read anything hygiene related. It just smacks of laziness.

    2. Anonymous

      I hate that bath products are the generic women’s gift. At least they’re convenient to regift to people you don’t like!

      1. The Other Dawn

        Thank you! To me, it just screams, “I don’t know you well enough to know what you like and it’s too much effort to find out”, or “I know you, but I’m too lazy to put thought into a gift.” I can’t count how many bottles of crappy “perfume”, cheap generic bath product sets, and sets of ugly nail polish I’ve received for Christmas over the years! And don’t get me started on the jewelry boxes.

        1. Editor

          I’m sensitive to fragrances and some of the other stuff that goes into shampoos and bath products. I once had a hairdresser who insisted on selling me a shampoo her salon pushed, and she was upset when I refused to buy it any more because it was causing a rash on my legs where it splashed when I rinsed my hair (I have issues with my legs because of a very bad sunburn, so my scalp was fine, but my legs were awful).

          Bath products are a useless gift for me. I won’t try the stuff, and so I can’t use it. I always have to donate it.

  63. TychaBrahe

    The best Secret Santa I ever saw was when I worked at the science museum. One gift a day for the week, total value not to exceed $20. One graphic designer bought a $20 gift certificat—back then they were paper—photocopied it, glued the copy to a piece of wood, shellacked it, and cut it into four puzzle pieces with a jigsaw. On the fifth day her giftee got the real certificate.

  64. al fair

    one year my holiday bonus (I did IT at a small retail store) was a gift card for a wine store the owners also owned.

  65. Sue

    I’m confused here, why does anyone working anyplace think that they deserve a holiday gift from coworkers in the first place? I never did and I never would gripe if given something less than ideal. It’s rather tacky to put others down for at least trying. I exchanged with only people that I would normally be around, ie: people I actually LIKED! I would bring in treats like cookies or cupcakes for the holidays and the whole office but even when they did the “draw the name” thing I declined. Same with the office luncheon. I would rather take that 2 or 3 hours and eat a lunch on my own and read a book than to sit with a bunch of people I wouldn’t normally socialize with.

  66. Anon this time

    Late, but oh well:

    One former boss used to bring in a box of bottles of wine, put it outside his office door, and send an email to the department announcing that there was wine. The email would basically say “I brought wine – first come first served!”

    We had a couple of people who didn’t drink alcohol for religious reasons, there was at least one pregnant person per year, and there still weren’t enough bottles for everyone to get one. I think I got three bottles in five years.

    Thanks for trying, I guess?

  67. Denise

    I’m way late to the game, but maybe because I’m in training/instructional design and the boss needed to have her ego stroked, so we always had a collection for her which was for a day spa (where we would get to listen raptly as she list off the services available, but not get that crazy Brazilian, oh my) or nice restaurant, and the staff and her numerous contractors got to do a white elephant with $5 gifts (aka something for the thrift store). And, of course, a nauseating array of training games.

    (Ok, and on that note, we had a training game a couple of staff members made up where we were supposed to pretend that somehow all of our pictures were mixed up by some alien on some made up planet, and boy, oh, boy we had to sort things out. They displayed our a mash up of 3 of our faces on screen, and we got to guess which 3 people made up the mashed up face. Not only was the concept designed for a second grader, everyone was horrified. It was disturbing to look at. No, we don’t not feel more connected as a team. Hey, manager why don’t you deal with the serious issues in your department instead. How about that? Sorry, I digress, it’s a moot point now anyway.)

    This manager and the other egotistical manager I had always had the holiday party at their house, and it was always after hours or the expectation is that you’d have to stay beyond normal work hours, since it started late in the afternoon. (And, they always lived in some outer burb, so it was even more driving for me and anyone who didn’t live in that direction. )

    It makes receiving cheap SWAG from a contract firm a blessing. I can thank them for the gift, then quietly tuck it into my pile for the thrift store. I finally got lazy and just turned these gifts in to the (client) office’s lost and found . “Did you find that in a conference room?” – Them, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s where I found it.” – Me.

    This year I got an American Express gift card. Best holiday gift from a company ever….sad, but true.

  68. D raburn

    The hospital I work for gives out 30 dollar
    Gift cards to target, I’d rather not have it, it’s
    Insulting.

  69. woot

    A vendor (for whom I am a main contact) sent individual gifts to everyone in the department, personally addressed. I didn’t receive one. I struggled on what to do…if they had sent one to me and it got lost/misplaced, I would think they would want to know. Knowing that everyone else (even people who don’t have direct contact with them) received one, I figured it had to have been an oversight. It didn’t make the conversation any less awkward…I mean how do you have that conversation without basically asking for a gift? I double checked with the admin that there wasn’t one for me, and my boss mentioned it to the vendor (who said I was definitely on the list/sent one, and that they had no idea what could have happened).

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