going-away gift for an amazing boss

A reader writes:

I have only been at my job 6 months, but it has been an incredible time. I was brought in as a temp, but am all about helping out. My boss took notice that my abilities extended beyond what I was hired to do, and she went out of her way to open up more opportunities to me. As of this week, the paperwork is processing to make me a permanent employee several steps above what I was hired for, and several steps above what most people my age with my experience get to do. I’ve been incredibly lucky.

Mostly I have made a connection with an amazing businesswoman. She has recently made her announcement that she will be moving on within the company. I’m happy for her and have been tasked (as the only other woman in our group) with picking a going away present. A little sexist, but I appreciate her so much I’m happy to have the opportunity.

She has given 2 years to this team and launched its point project; she is a big deal. I want to honor her, especially because she has made such an impact on me. 

I am just blocked on what to get her. She is not a typically girly woman, but definitely stood apart from the men in our office. Prior to this job, I worked in mostly woman-dominated industries, and massages and nice perfumes were the norm of going-away gifts. I feel like that would be almost offensive to her. (Maybe I’m just being paranoid though?) However, the typical man gifts like fancy pens or watches don’t fit either. I’m stumped, and I would rather look for something really nice than go with flowers or a gift basket. Do you have any advice for me? As a serious woman in business, what would you like to get?

I’m 21 and she has shown interest in being a mentor to me even after she leaves. I want to strengthen that bond.

Get her a gift certificate to an especially nice, special-occasion-type local restaurant, in an amount that would cover two people there. I’d be completely into that.

While I don’t think a gift certificate for a massage is offensive, per se, I do think it’s a little … intimate for the office. (That said, I did once book a massage for an employee and had it charged to me. But I knew her really well and knew it wouldn’t be weird.)

Go with the restaurant thing. That’s assuming that this is a group gift and not just you paying for it, which it sounds like it is.

Separately, tell her directly how much you appreciate what she’s done for you. That will strengthen the bond more than any gift!

{ 54 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    You may also want to find out what her favorite department store is, or favorite store, or accessory shop…you get the picture. Then get a gift certificate from that shop. Just another idea in case she’s not into the dinner thing. Good luck!

  2. Anonymous*

    Depending on how many people will be contributing you could go for an Ipod. Two people retired from my office and we were able to do that. Just a thought. Good luck and that’s so great you got to k ow her.

  3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    In situations like these (Kim said as though she’d been in one herself, even though she’s only offered advice to others in them) I like the pooling of funds to make a donation in their name to the charity of their choice. I feel like it’s professional, and nobody would be unhappy to get it.

    Restaurants are good in some of the same ways, in that even if it’s not a food they typically like, they’ll find SOMETHING and have an enjoyable evening. But while I would be fairly happy to receive something like a gift card to s department store or something I could use to buy stuff, I probably have more stuff than I need. :)

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*

      The charity thing depends upon everyone who is donating agreeing that boss’ charity is something they wouldn’t mind their money going to. If I donated money toward a gift and then found out they had given the money to a charity I fundamentally oppose, I’d be upset.

      1. Jamie*

        “If I donated money toward a gift and then found out they had given the money to a charity I fundamentally oppose, I’d be upset.”

        Me too. The charity thing is really nice in theory, but it gets very sticky in practice.

      2. khilde*

        “If I donated money toward a gift and then found out they had given the money to a charity I fundamentally oppose…”

        Hmm….I might have to disagree. Generally speaking, I agree that people shouldn’t be forced to donate money to causes they don’t support. But in this case, it’s a gift. To my mind, this doesn’t seem much different than giving a gift of money and then the recipient donates it to a charity you don’t like. Your money is still going toward that. It’s just that in the first scenario, you actually know about it.

        1. Jamie*

          I see your point and it’s logical…so I hate when I have to come down on the side of the illogicial…

          But for me it would be like if I kicked in $10 to buy someone a going away gift I don’t care if they buy tchotky, get a gift certificate, or 900 beanie babies…but if they put it toward “The Society to Support the Extinction of Kittens” I would be horrified.

          Because now my money is helping a cause I vehemently oppose. I do NOT want kittens to become extinct and in fact would contribute money happily to a cause that was working to prevent the extinction of kittens.

          I don’t think it’s so much about giving to a cause which is fighting breast cancer as opposed to one fighting leukemia…most people would be of the mind that curing either is a good thing…but even then people can be touchy about which of the million charities do the best work, etc.

          It just seems like a landmine to me.

          1. khilde*

            Well….my points are not always considered logical so to have you say it is is a big win for me!! :) lol

            I do understand what you’re saying and I agree. If I put myself in the position of gift giver (particularly as a group gift, where my opinion of gift selection is diluted amongst everyone elses’), then I can see how if I found out my money went to the kitten killing charity I’d be pretty annoyed, too.

            I think what I hear you saying is that since there are so many other totally neutral gift-giving options, it’s better to stay away from charity gifts entirely. It’s not like it’s charity gift or nothing. I concur.

            1. Public Librarian*

              If donating, consider the public library. We’ve got something for everyone (but very little for the kitten killers), we can always use the money, and practically everyone likes or loves a library.

              But I’d rather have the Tiffany.

    2. Ivy*

      Also, I think it depends on the person you’re giving it to. (A certain Seinfeld episode comes to mind where George “donates” money to charity in peoples names.) I mean…. no one would be unhappy about it, but there are people that aren’t into charitable giving that wouldn’t be happy with it either (on the inside of course). If you know your boss has a charity she really supports then it really is a great gift idea though.

      1. Ivy*

        ** except for the reasons Your Mileage May Vary listed… because I agree with that as well…

        Although with that, you could always just give you coworkers the option of not giving if they don’t support the charity and not trying to pressure them into it.

        1. Your Mileage May Vary*

          I sort of assumed by the post that the money was already collected, though, and the OP had to now pick out a gift with what was collected. I agree that everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to opt out of any money or gift-giving event and be allowed to do so gracefully.

          Today’s post is Reason #4,692 of Why I Hate Office Gifts: What to pick out that won’t offend people, that the recipient has use for and would actually like. Whatever happened to a cake and a nice farewell card?

          1. mh_76*

            The cake might offend people who are diet-conscious and/or dieting and the card might offend the Jehovah’s Witnesses. There is always…well, often…someone who will be displeased and the point of a gift is to not please the masses but to honor the departing boss and get something that would be meaningful to her, even if someone thinks that a beer subscription, a GC to a bookstore, or a donation to the local SPCA is inappropriate.

            1. mh_76*

              For sake of discussion (and more comments): What would you all consider to be acceptable gifts when you depart from your next (or current) jobs?
              Donations to:
              animal-related causes; music-related causes, esp. classical & jazz; IMF, MMRF, AHA, ACS, MS Society, [a few others]; community music groups of all genres; Worldwide Non-Profit for which I volunteer; Guiding Eyes & similar; Special Olympics…

              Gift Certs:
              Trader Joe’s etc, Bookstore, Museum stores, not Cheesecake Factory (because I was given one as a gift, don’t really like CF, and re-gifted it to a friend of mine more than a year later)…

    3. Blinx*

      Might be just me, but giving a “gift” to charity in someone else’s name is just lame, unless it was specifically requested in their obituary. They’re there at the party, opening up cards, and find a slip of paper or fake certificate about the donation. You can see the “oh” and the look of disappointment on their face. But they graciously thank everyone for their kind thoughts.

      Aside from actual cash, the safest thing to get is a gift card that is the same as cash (like Visa). That way, they can buy themselves whatever they’d like. If the person is someone who really does have everything (someone very high up) and might be offended by cash/gift card, then a token gift like flowers or a plant would be fine.

  4. Anlyn*

    Would a plaque be too corny? I wouldn’t go with something cliche like “world’s best boss”, but maybe something like, “valued colleague and mentor”.

    1. cf*

      I would rather have the $85 a plaque costs to go out to dinner instead. But I am not a fan of anything I have to dust that doesn’t perform a useful function.

      1. Jamie*

        Personally, I agree. I wouldn’t display a work award at home, nor at another company and I think this falls into the same category.

        The same sentiment could be engraved on something as others had mentioned – and I LOVE the idea of the Tiffany key fob Sage and Kristin talked about below.

        I had no idea Tiffany’s had reasonably priced things like that – I would absolutely love that even if just for the anticipation when seeing the box.

  5. Nev*

    When I left one of my previous jobs my colleagues gifted me a nice pair of earrings. Nothing too expensive, but a well crafted piece of jewelry which always brings fond memories, and which I wear with pleasure.
    However, as you have a different relationship with this business woman (and you probably don’t know her taste very well) you could get her a gift certificate for a nice business & travel accessories store. Or a membership to a museum (if she has interest in arts). The iPod is a great idea, and there are also other electronics suitable for business people (like the digital recording smartpens).

      1. Anna*

        And if she does have one, how much does she use it? If she uses it a lot and it’s a few years old, a gift certificate for a newer model might well be appreciated. If it’s a newish iPod, you may as well do something else for her. And if she doesn’t really use the one she has, it might be an indication that something else might give better mileage.

        (A family friend had been given a gift certificate towards one, even though she didn’t use her old iPod all that much. Since she wasn’t going to get all that much mileage out of the gift certificate, she kindly passed it along to me after my last mp3 player was stolen. Like people say, your mileage may vary.)

        1. Your Mileage May Vary*

          I do indeed say that. =P

          If she is really into her iPod, you could make the money an iTunes gift card. I happen to love those things because it will allow me to splurge on stuff I wouldn’t normally get. But others will say that a gift card is too impersonal…

    1. Jamie*

      The best gift I ever got a work was jewelry, but it was from a female boss with whom I have a close relationship. I think it wold have made me uncomfortable if it had come from a group, or a man…but that’s a ymmv issue.

      Please heed Alison’s advice and make sure you tell her, though. That will be far more meaningful than anything tangible. An email letting her know what she’s meant to you and our career (or a note – I like email so you can pull it up when going through a rough patch) would be great.

    2. Kate*

      Oooh I like the museum membership idea! I would be totally excited by that (says the woman who works and practically lives in museums).

    3. Candice*

      I like the idea of a membership to a museum. That’s something she probably wouldn’t receive as the typical gift.

      1. Andrew*

        It’s an excellent idea. Also possible would be a subscription to a concert or drama series (depending on your city and her tastes.)
        Or maybe tickets to some highly sought-after sporting event. Or even an offbeat experience like a hot-air balloon ride.

        For a lot of people, giving them the means to experience something beats giving them a physical object (of any sort) every time.

  6. Frenchie*

    Congradulations on your permanent position. You shared a wonderful story. I hope Alison forwards to yesterday’s OP who was complaining about her receptionist position.

    1. A Bug!*

      I recommend you read the comments of that post as the OP responded quite humbly and took the given advice to heart.

  7. AnonA*

    Or something business-related that you noted she needs like a business card holder for her desk engraved with her name?

    1. Jamie*

      I like this. Something engraved and silver she can use at her new job. And although the OP said she thought it was more for men, I think an engraved pen would be a lovely gesture.

      I’m a woman and I use pens. :).

        1. Your Mileage May Vary*

          OMG! That’s a real item! I thought that since it was on Regretsy, they had made it up.

          Also, *high-fiving another Regretsy reader*

          1. businesslady*

            Regretsy & AAM are two of the internet’s greatest contributions to my life!

            also, hi, all. I’m a regular reader but I’ve never bothered to come up with a consistent name before, so I tend to comment periodically as Anonymous, which I’ve finally decided is silly.

            1. Jamie*

              I officially love you guys – that actually brought tears to my eyes as I try not to laugh out loud.

              I’m spending this afternoon doing new machine installs so this is just what I need to keep me from starring at progress bars until I drift out of consciousness.

        2. atworknow*

          Good point about the pens! We all write :) and want to look good while doing it! Something from Waterman, Parker or even Cross would be elegant, useful, portray a mature image and not be too girly.

        3. Jamie*

          God bless you, kind businesslady.

          I’ve already passed that link around and we’re dying – I have a feeling that may be my new time suck site this weekend.

        4. Blinx*

          Businesslady – THANK YOU!!! That really made my day. The reviews on Amazon are priceless!! Love to find a case study somewhere about the Bic for Her brand.

      1. mh_76*

        fountain pen. wonderful to write w/ unless you’re filling out forms in multiplicate. a nice one is on my long-term “get” list.

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    Whatever you get her as a group, please also give her a card on your own in which you write down the sentiments you’ve expressed in this post. She’ll remember that far more than any gift!

  9. Sage*

    First, I want to say congratulations on finding a wonderful mentor and seizing a fantastic opportunity when you were given the opportunity to take on new projects!!! Far too often people mistake more work as exploitation. In your case, you are wise and saw it as an opportunity and that’s getting you far, getting you noticed, and now you have a permanent position at higher level than you expected.

    Now for the gift. Get her something beautiful and thoughtful from Tiffany and Co.. It doesn’t matter how large the gift or how small. Both men and women get excited when they see that are given that beautiful blue box. Business card holder, key fob, wine carrafe, whatever. Even if it is an earthy/out doorsy person, they will always remember the kind gesture in the blue box. No, I don’t work for Tiffany, but I have given a few Tiffany boxes to work colleagues and family for very special occasions!

  10. Clobbered*

    Whatever you decide, get a fun team photo, have everybody sign a mat with their sentiments and frame them together. I personally love getting those and they can be displayed in her new office.

    I also second something that can be used or displayed at work. Unless you know somebody personally it is tricky to get a home gift right., and you can already see for yourself if she has, say, a business card holder, or her headphones are too ratty or whatever.

    1. khilde*

      This was standard practice in all of the units I was assigned to in the Air Force. They had a litho of the aircraft my unit flew, or a litho of some artwork that represented the unit, matted and everyone wrote a little note on that. I am not necessarily a fan of things hanging on my wall that don’t serve a purpose, but I have specifically made room for these. To be able to read some of the nice comments and remember the names and moments from my time in the unit is unique and personal gift. I treasure them.

  11. Chocolate Teapot*

    A gift for a leaving female boss that I once had to buy was a gift voucher for a perfume and cosmetics shop.

    On the subject of pens, I once bought a departing male boss a Porsche designed pen, but it was from a posh writing implements shop, and the nice shop assistant seemed to make regular sales of leaving gifts. (I tipped out an envelope of mixed coins and small denomination notes on the counter and then he bought me a selection of pens within that budget!)

  12. lostandfoundling*

    Stationery. It’s sophisticated and useful beyond one night. Hard to go wrong with Crane, but there are a number of high-end paper companies.

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