10 funniest workplace gift debacles

I recently asked readers to tell me about their most awkward workplace gift moments — and you delivered. Here are the 10 funniest and most awkward – from which we can draw the 10 key gift-giving lessons below.

1. Employees should not be pressured to send the CEO’s family on a ski trip

The second-in-command of my organization sent all of us this email: “Dear [staff], Each year we have done a holiday gift for [CEO] to recognize his leadership of [organization] during the year. Given the very busy holiday season, I’d like to start the ball rolling on the collection early this year in order to present him with his gift by December 18th at our annual retreat day. Please send your contribution to me and I will take care of purchase, etc. Last year we presented him with a two night stay at [resort] mountain for him and his family to go skiing and they loved it, so why not repeat the appreciated gift?”

Please note that the CEO is the highest paid person in the organization, and I am an hourly, part-time employee being paid less than the industry standard. I am incredulous at the expectation here. The wording of the email implies that the staff has no choice.

2. Not every sentiment needs to be shared

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?…

3. No self-improvement gifts

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 the “30 Day Shred” DVD who had loved it and lost tons, 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.

4. The boss’s spouse shouldn’t win the raffle

I worked for a small company, less than 20 people. It was privately owned by one person (Terry). Each employee’s name was placed into the hat for a prize ranging from $10 gift certificates to a brand new desktop computer and two tablets. Turned out the boss was included in the drawing. When Terry’s name was pulled for a prize, he politely declined it (as he should have, since his 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.

5. If you need a manual for gift exchanges, you’re doing it wrong

Several years ago, I took over a department that had been badly managed by a borderline 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 three-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 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. 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.

6. Keep it PG

We had a white elephant gift exchange, and one of the gifts was 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 gift 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.

7. Not the place for pennies and paperclips

At one of my previous jobs, the organization did 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 who 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 coffee and bakery chains, 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 a jerk. (I do think he felt like a jerk after seeing everyone else’s gift.)

8. Be cautious when it comes to self-published poetry

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.

9. No medical supplies

Once, during a Secret Santa, I got a (unused, thank god) plastic hospital bedpan.

10. Nothing from behind the couch, please

I think my worst gift exchange was the White Elephant when I worked at a rare books library, where everyone brought truly quirky awesome stuff to throw around … and what did I end up with? The library director brought a used cat toy that looked like a voodoo doll, complete with dust bunnies and cat fur still attached as if he’d just pulled from behind the couch. If you’re going to be “forgetful,” just don’t even participate!

{ 115 comments… read them below }

  1. Ruffingit*

    Well hey, my story made the list :) It’s amazing how low morale can go with these kinds of things. One would think a holiday party would be fun and festive. Turns out it can be just another vehicle to stomp the morale of employees. These stories demonstrate how oblivious (and downright cruel in some cases) some employers can be.

  2. Jen in RO*

    In the initial thread I was sad that we weren’t doing a Secret Santa at work. Turns out, we are! I’m excited and I hope it all goes well *fingers crossed*

  3. Chocolate Teapot*

    I still need to wrap my Secret Santa gift, but I did have some assistance from a colleague who knows the recipient better. (Yes, I know it’s not entirely secret, but I would rather give something I know the recipient would like!)

    1. Ruffingit*

      Nice of you to ask so you can get something the recipient wants. I applaud that! So much better than making a blind guess and it turning out badly.

      1. A Bug!*

        I think a good way to do Secret Santa assignments is to have everybody who wants to participate write out a short card and seal it in an envelope. Then when you get your santa assignment, you also get some guidance on what gifts would be appreciated. (You could even have the envelopes be the means of assigning Santas, if the name is left off the card or replaced with “Dear Santa”.)

        Then people can use their discretion in providing helpful information to their Santas. Allergies, dietary restrictions, favorite flavor, etc. It gives the giver an idea of the recipient’s preferences but isn’t binding if they think of something else good.

        1. FreeThinkerTX*

          We’re (supposedly) doing that with our Secret Santa exchange. “Supposedly” because my person just said, “No allergies, any gift is OK.” Grrrrrrrr…

        2. Ruffingit*

          I agree that if Secret Santa is going to be done, this is a good way to do it. It’s just too hard to otherwise be aware of a person’s likes and dislikes. Those are not always readily discernible just from working with someone.

  4. BCW*

    You know, some of these are funny and awful, but to me all of these don’t seem terrible.

    #3 I guess if the person was severely overweight or something, I could see how it can be taken poorly. But something that is fitness related, I don’t think is automatically bad. Yes, some people are more sensitive than others, but I don’t know that anything relating to health (or any other self improvement) should be always a no no. I mean, if someone gave a healthy living cookbook, I wouldn’t take it to mean that they thought I was a fat slop, just they thought I might like it. Maybe it was based on something I said, like “I wish I could cook healthier for myself, but I don’t know how”.

    #5 The manual itself seems a bit much, but some of what was in there didn’t seem horrible either. Having a standard policy for when birthdays are celebrated and what kinds of gifts people get can actually alleviate problems. I remember reading on here people who were upset that some people got better celebrations or gifts than others. And having everyone throw in for these things is something many jobs I’ve had have done, and it works well. Everyone throws in $10 at the beginning of the year or something, then everyone benefits throughout the year seems fair. Otherwise you have those people who never contribute, but when the cake is there, they are right there eating a piece. I don’t know how its ever illegal unless you are forcing it on people.

    #7 You know, many people have different definitions of white elephant gifts. I once got a bunch of Christmas “junk” in a work white elephant, and I used it to decorate my cubicle. The point of ours was to make it so no one was going out of their way to buy another gift. Someone else got a 4 pack of beer (because the person had drank the other 2). It wasn’t a big deal. I think because of the different ways people can see it, maybe its up to the person organizing to be clear on it. For example “it must be store bought” or something.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      #3 That particular DVD (“30 day shred”) is all based around weight loss — it’s advertised as “lose 20 pounds in 30 days.” So it’s pretty weight-specific in its marketing and packaging, even though it’s also used for general fitness.

      1. BCW*

        Ok, I wasn’t familiar with that particular product and the tag line, so I can see that one. I guess I was just saying I don’t know that any fitness product necessarily bad. I could see some enjoying a yoga related DVD or something similar.

        1. Ruffingit*

          The thing that got me about that story was that the receiver in question had talked endlessly about her love for the particular product. I could see how the giver would think she’d enjoy it. But I guess I can also see how it’s just a generally bad idea to give diet-related products. I’m just going to be less harsh on the giver here because they made an honest mistake based on someone’s continual discussion of how much they admired the product in question.

          The original story:

          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.

          1. BCW*

            Yeah, that was kind of what I was going for. She said how much she loved the trainer and had friends who loved the product. I could see how the giver could think she was doing something nice.

            1. Chocolate Teapot*

              Yes, I would have also thought that hints were being dropped as to what the recipient would like, and would have been pleased to know, so I didn’t have to have the furtive conversation with a colleague.

            2. Jamie*

              Yes, in this case I can’t see why she was offended since she explicitly said she liked this stuff. I would have thought it was safe, too.

              But in general everyone should stay away from items that could be taken as a implied criticism. A steak grillers cookbook to the vegan, make up to the woman who doesn’t wear any, and Idiots Guide to Computers from IT to pretty much almost everyone else…those are obvious, but you never know who will take offense so you want to stay away from trying to use this to evangelize something you think would improve anyone.

              A healthy cookbook could be a lovely gesture because you’ve tried the recipes and they are super tasty. But the risk that people with whom you’re not close will take that as a critique of their daily burger or love of donuts is pretty high.

              1. Anonymous*

                Idiots Guide to Computers from IT made me laugh though. I’m sure a lot of them would love to give that! Obviously, they can’t but I would get a chuckle out of it.

              2. Jen in RO*

                Maybe I’m weird, but I’d laugh my ass off at those. Even though the healthy cookbook would end up under my McD’s fries.

              3. tcookson*

                I would laugh my a** off if my IT person gave me an Idiot’s Guide to computers! He could even flag and highlight some things in there for me — like how not to download a virus and then keep it secret for a [non-disclosed length of time]!

              4. Rana*

                Maybe she didn’t like the show, DVD etc. for herself, but was passive-aggressively suggesting her co-workers needed it?

          2. Calla*

            Yeah, I think some things are just not a good idea in general, especially for co-workers. This reminds me something: when I was a teenager I had pretty bad skin and my family knew it made me miserable. One year they suggested getting me ProActiv as a gift. Thankfully they didn’t, but I definitely would have been insulted — so you agree I need this thing, and of all times, you’re going to do it for a special occasion/holiday gift? Like a facial spa set or something would have been fine, but something with the message “Here, clear up your acne” (or “here, lose some weight”) is just better not done unless you know for sure they want that specific product.

            I get the sentiment — it’s something you know they probably want but there’s no real good way to go about it. Same way that, though I have family and an SO with dental issues who want them fixed but can’t afford it, I wouldn’t get them a dentist gift certificate unless they specifically requested it.

            1. TychaBrahe*

              But what if you had gone around for three months saying, “Oh, I wish I could afford that Proactiv stuff. Jenny uses it and her face cleared up. Mom, how much will you pay me to clean out the garage? I’ll even take everything to the dump if I can borrow the car. And then I’ll wash the car. I really need to earn some money so I can buy that Proactive stuff.” Would you then be insulted if you had gotten the Proactiv for Christmas?

              I cannot tell you how many women I know want either a Dyson or a Kitchenaid for Christmas, and none of them would take it as a comment on their housekeeping or cooking skills.

            2. Ruffingit*

              I would get someone a dental gift certificate if I knew they wanted a problem fixed, but couldn’t afford it. Although, I wouldn’t give it to them as a gift thing such as Christmas or birthday. I’d just give it to them in general.

          3. Anonymous*

            I really don’t think the gift giver did anything wrong here. It seems like the perfect gift… except for the weird crying reaction.

            1. Lynn*

              And really, if she received the gift on a bad day, or a day when she was feeling bad about herself, that might have made all the difference. There are some days I’d react differently to the exact same gift–it’s just how I am. :)

                1. Jamie*

                  Yeah – like anything else timing is everything.

                  Like with teasing…some days it will strike you as goodnatured and even affectionate and will laugh…different day, different mood, different stress level and the exact same comment will annoy you and make you roll your eyes and remind yourself this is why you don’t talk to people.

          4. Shannon313*

            As an avid JM fan, I would’ve loved the gift. But I wouldn’t buy it because in this context I’d almost assume the recipient owned it already!

          5. LPBB*

            I have to admit that this story reconfirmed my decision not to participate in Secret Santa exchanges. I can see how a Jillian Michaels DVD or any weight loss oriented product would be upsetting — if it came completely out of the blue. But in this case, the recipient had talked endlessly and enthusiastically about it!

            It sounds like the giver had paid attention to the recipient and tried to get her something that she would like. Unfortunately, that something happens to come loaded with cultural baggage. I can completely see how the giver would have made that mistake with the best of intentions.

            I know workplace Secret Santa exchanges can be a lot of fun and that a lot of people really enjoy them, but they also have a lot of potential to go wrong, which is why I avoid them if at all possible.

      2. KJR*

        That is one tough DVD. I love it, and it works! I know we weren’t debating its merits or anything, just thought I’d throw it out there. And who doesn’t have 20 minutes??

    2. EM*

      #7 was mine!

      I didn’t explain this in my original comment back in the thread, but the thing is — both myself and the colleague that brought in the box of junk were fairly new-ish employees — we had both been at the organization for around 5 months and so this was our first time celebrating Christmas as employees there.

      So what really baffled me is, wouldn’t you think, as a new employee — you would err on the side of caution with a holiday gift swap and get something reasonably nice instead of bringing in a box of junk when you don’t know what the culture/norm is for these kinds of swaps? Or else at least ask another colleague who has been there for a few years and knows what to expect?

      And I will say — at no point did the organization ever mention that gifts should be something used/not bought or that the gift swap was a joke. It actually took place at the annual holiday party which was after-hours and food was served. Personally, I thought it was clear you WERE supposed to buy something when they said a limit of $15.

      Anyway, I think it’s hilarious now, I just felt badly at the time for the person that got stuck with the junk.

      1. BCW*

        Thats fair. I guess in my experience, I had more the “junk” white elephants than go out and buy something ones, so I may have been more inclined to do the junk. Although not as bad as paperclips! Lol. But I’ve also gotten used DVDs and things like that. But yeah, maybe he should have asked around

        1. some1*

          Right, but if I had been that gift giver in this story and thought it was a junk WE, the recipient would have had a $10 gift card to somewhere on her or his desk the next day, with a note explaining that I thought we were doing gag gifts/

          1. AnotherAlison*

            A similar thing happened at a white elephant we had for a networking group. One guy brought a used hockey puck. Everyone else had new cheap gifts, some kind of funny, but some not. The guy who was president of the group “stole” the hockey puck on his turn to make sure the original person wasn’t stuck with it.

            White Elephants have too much variation for me to do something wacky, I think.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        We did that at Horrible Nonprofit Job and it WAS supposed to be junk–we did it for laughs–but there were always people who would go out and buy something halfway decent. I guess their definition of junk was different from the rest of us.

        I remember missing out on the ostrich egg–I really wanted it and didn’t get it. >:( Also, one year, a giant stuffed bunny went all around the room and it ended up with a sales guy who said he would give it to his grandkids.

      3. Poster Formerly Known as Jane Doe*

        I felt bad for the gift giver in #7. I’ve never been at a company where the $15 gift swap WASN’T a white elephant. I’m not a fan of either option, but I could see how that person could make that mistake.

  5. Chocolate Teapot*

    Well, I was erring towards a “neutral” gift such as wine or chocolate, but if you don’t drink, or detest chocolate, then it probably wouldn’t go down well, so I wanted to make sure.

    At last year’s Secret Santa somebody got a small bottle of perfume, but that’s fraught with problems unless you know specifically that it’s Chanel No 5/CK One/ That one with the famous person in the adverts.

    1. Ruffingit*

      If you’re unsure, go with a Visa gift card and be done with it. That is basically cash on a card and if anyone is offended at that, I will be happy to accept it on their behalf ;)

      1. Jamie*

        Yeah – if you truly don’t know Visa gift card works.

        If you’ve seen them occasionally eat chocolate a nice box of candy is safer than wine, as I would think more people eat the occasional Christmas candy than drink and I don’t think there are religious issues with candy (although I could be wrong – I come from the religion that invented Advent calendars so we can count down to our holy day with chocolate, so what do I know?)

        Also, if you know for a fact that they celebrate Christmas (don’t guess, but if they’ve told you or mentioned the tree or whatever) a holiday ornament or tchotchke – not everything is even Christmasy. I love the penguin cookie jar I got and it’s non-denominational, a ceramic red ski capped penguin donning a scarf is appropriate for all.

        1. A Bug!*

          When I get people gift cards I usually also include a token gift – candy, a mug, hand lotion, little bag of baked goods. The “real” gift is the gift card, of course, but some people do find gift cards to be impersonal, or just like to have a physical gift to open during gift exchange.

          (And it gives me an excuse to buy a bunch of little boxes of Turtles. Somehow I always end up buying more than I need and have to eat the extras…)

          1. Jamie*

            Two words – homemade turtles. Next open thread I have a wicked easy recipe and they are better than even what you get from Fannie Mae (which are delish and second only to my mom’s recipe.)

            1. Jamie*

              Ha! I like the way you think! I am a huge fan of cute coffee mugs (I’m clumsy so I can never have too many) and also of regifting gift cards!

              I do always call the number on the back to make sure the balance is full – trust but verify.

        2. Catzie*

          I hate receiving VISA gift cards. I never remember to use them, and if I do, then the fees have eaten the card balance down to nothing or it has expired (or both!). Plus, the giver usually has to pay a fee for them, on top of what they are loading on the card. Granted, I don’t know if they’ve changed much since the last one I received, but I would much rather receive a gift card to an actual store. I may be in the minority though.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            No, you’re not; I prefer actual store cards too. Unless it’s a store I hate or don’t go into because it’s too expensive. A $25 gift card to Bass Pro is USELESS.

            Amazon ones don’t expire ever, I don’t think.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            I just stick the card in front of my debit card, and as soon as I’m buying groceries or whatever, I use it. Then I get $25 cash back (or whatever) and give myself the gift of cash. Then I don’t have to worry about the card expiring. Now if someone gives me a $500 gift card, I may be s.o.l.

            (Although, I will say we get these at work, and I’m kind of unenthusiastic about it. Going back to years when I made less, the card was worth 2x as much as they give now. Now, it’s half of what we used to get and about the equiv of my hourly wage. It’s definitely better than nothing, but it’s kind of “meh”. Still waaayyy better than when my MIL gives my family of 4 a $25 Red Lobster gift card though.)

            1. Ruffingit*

              Ah yes, the $25 gift card for a family of four. I always think it’s so weird when someone does that or when they give you a $25 gift card to one of the most expensive restaurants in town where dinner for two starts at $50 and just goes up. It’s like saying “Here, I’ll pay for half your meal.” I’m torn between being thankful and feeling like they shouldn’t have even bothered.

              I don’t think it’s malicious, I think a lot of people just don’t actually realize how much things cost, particularly if they’re used to buying for one or two people only. A family of four is not eating at Red Lobster for $25 unless everyone orders a salad and even then you may end up paying for some of it yourself.

          3. Vicki*

            “the fees have eaten the card balance down to nothing ”

            What “fees”? I have never had a Visa “gift card” that had fees.

            1. TychaBrahe*

              In some states, the value of the card is allowed to decline annually.


              “Unused gift card balances are something of an annoyance for retailers; they’re a liability that can stay on a company’s books for years. To get them off their books and ensure they get to keep the cash even if you forget to spend it, many have created fees and expiration dates to try to absorb balances back into their bottom lines as quickly as possible.”

              I’m not sure if this is still true. The article mentions the CARD act as planning to modify these practices.

    2. fposte*

      Though as long as expenses are kept low, I don’t think it’s the end of the world if it’s not quite what somebody wants. That’s how gifts go.

      1. the gold digger*

        Yeah, if you’ve ever gotten a green glass pear from your mother in law, or a framed photo of her and your father in law (with a selection of frames), or three made in China nesting tables of cheap wood painted with hibiscus and hummingbirds, you really understand that gifts don’t always go your way.

        1. AB*

          From my in-laws I have received: a really hideous deviled egg tray (my husband hates deviled eggs), a re-gifted dollar store glass candle holder set with the candles removed, a shake weight, dollar store towels, a grease saver (for you to save the grease from you fry daddy to reuse, which we did not own), a frozen bag of mixed nuts (as in they had a bag of mixed nuts in their freezer and put them in a bag and gave them to me for Christmas) and a disposable razor and shaving cream gift set.

      2. some1*

        Exactly. My ex-BF’s mom gave me a gift card to a local gas station chain not knowing that I didn’t have a car at the time (we hadn’t met yet). I wasn’t offended, I was touched that she got me something so I wouldn’t be left out while they were opening gifts as a family.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Aww, that’s nice. I felt the same way when the family of an ex I began dating in September of that year got me a bunch of dollar-store gifts at Christmas. They were nothing special but they wanted me to have something to open. :)

        2. Jen in RO*

          I spent Easter at my friend’s in-laws last year*, and, while I don’t particularly like her in-laws, I was very touched that they got me a present too (a basket of chocolate eggs and a scarf).

          *She lives in another country, I happened to be visiting, and the in-laws extended the Easter dinner invite to include me too.

      3. Yup*

        I’ve actually created a nice circle-of-life where all the really terrible gifts I get from my mother go right into the joke holiday gift swap at the office. Other than the duplicate wrapping efforts, zero waste!

  6. smallbutmighty*

    Our holiday white elephant exchange is beloved by all, as far as I know, and one year those of us on the Fun Committee (yeah, that’s a thing here) decided to have a flash white elephant exchange on a random day in the middle of the year. We sent out an email in the middle of the afternoon notifying everyone in the department that they had 20 minutes to locate something in or around their cube, wrap it, and bring it to a conference room down the hall, where we had assembled drinks and snacks. I can’t remember laughing harder before or since. Some people contributed junk, some contributed treasures, no one spent any money (other than FunCo), and a good time was had by all.

      1. Windchime*

        That does sound awesome, and fun! I can think of several things I would wrap and give, like a necklace made of flashing Christmas lights, or a couple of cool little stabby clips that you use to hang things on a cubicle wall. Or maybe a nice box of tissue, almost new.

    1. Jamie*

      I would hate this, because I know people who secretly covet my pink stapler and would resent that I didn’t kick it in – but I would not.

      This is fun to think about, though. Is it personal stuff or company stuff you all used? Because personal, I have a pink flower shaped paper clip holder filled with pink paper clips a former co-worker gave me. All the other personal stuff is either HK or KISS gifts and it’s ridiculous to think I’d part with any.

      If it’s company property? Heck, I’m IT, I’ve got the best gear in the place.

      1. smallbutmighty*

        I work for a large and very well-known sportswear company. We get a lot of swag and pretty much all of the cubes are lavishly decorated with stuff that, in a lot of cases, we’d never miss. A lot of us brought really nice stuff to the exchange, actually. This idea definitely wouldn’t work in every workplace!

      2. Cat*

        Heh, I just did a mental inventory and realized I have like 800 gazillion things I could contribute to such a swap, much of it left over from prior office pranks. I might start with the bag of tiny doll shoes.

    2. Jen in RO*

      Ohh this sounds great! My coworkers would probably love me, because I always have a ton of sweets on my desk (and there’s nothing *else* I could bring).

  7. CollegeAdmin*

    I used to do a Secret Santa with friends in high school, but when you wrote your name on the slip of paper for the hat/cup/whatever, you also wrote down three things you liked, i.e. earrings, dark chocolate, and movies. When your Santa pulled your name, it gave them a starting point.

    I mentioned to my closer coworkers (the three I share an office with out of the 12 total in the department), and we brainstormed together what each person on the floor liked. It worked out great – I didn’t know that Wakeen was a fan of the Celtics, but I was the only one who knew that all of Jane’s earrings were clip-ons. Now we’ve got a master list as a GoogleDoc for the four of us that we’ll keep adding to throughout the year; I’d love to see it go office-wide in the future, too.

  8. Anon today*

    Well, we’re heading in to a mini debacle here. Two of the members of our management team decided to put up mini stockings in our office, with names on them, for others in our company.

    The problem? The people who created the mini stockings chose to make them only for the owners, most of the managers, and some of the rest of the staff. But there are about 110 other people in our company who visit the office on a regular basis. They’ve started asking why they don’t have stockings, too.

    1. Jamie*

      Are there stockings for everyone who works in that office full time and just not the ones who visit regularly? If that’s the case it’s a easily explainable cut off. Or it is all one department or the front office? Anything with clearly defined parameters shouldn’t be a problem.

      And who even notices this stuff? I just found out last year one of the stockings up had my name on it – it’s been there for 4 years. And if you don’t work in the office but just regularly visit…I do not get the mind set of caring about this kind of thing. At all.

      And 110 stockings (plus what is already up) is a ridiculous amount of Christmas decor for an office unless you guys manufacture or sell holiday items.

      1. Anon today*

        Well, it’s for a restaurant, so there are dining room managers, kitchen managers, admin managers, bar managers, and owners. The additional staff that the Crafters made stockings for are other people that the Crafters seem to like to work with, but who aren’t managers.

        As the HR Manager, it’s weird to be present when other longtime, full-time staff stop in to do work in the office, and they notice that their name is not among those represented.

  9. ChristineSW*

    #9 – Wow….just when I thought the sex toys was hard to beat as the worst gift ever. A hospital bedpan?? Seriously?? Really glad it was unused. Still….ewwww.

    1. Jamie*

      No kidding.

      I posted this once when we were talking about gross things found in our desks by former occupant. I once found a mostly used bottle of ….lubricant. Not the kind that can be mistaken for hand lotion but the kind that has a flavor and heats up when you rub it.

      It was in the bottom desk drawer behind some files.

      To this day I still wonder…how? Why? And with whom?

      But to wrap it up and put it in a bag? Actually the act of doing that and the sex toy would frighten me – that doesn’t seem like a funny work place joke, it feels scary and intimidating. That would really have freaked me out.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Why = some people actually, erm, take care of themselves at work.

        I agree that the guy who gave used sex stuff at the Christmas party would have made me recoil. Ick ick ick ick ICK.

        1. Sascha*

          Wasn’t there an AAM post about that a while ago? The OP had to share an office with a guy who watched porn or something? MORE SHUDDERING

      2. some1*

        A woman could have stored her purse in that drawer and it fell out, especially if she keeps it open. I have lost stuff out of my purse that way, but I stuff I wouldn’t want anyone to see (tampons or whatever) go in the secret zipped compartment.

        That being said, I’d probably have cleaned the desk with bleach.

        1. the gold digger*

          A woman could have stored her purse in that drawer and it fell out

          Which leads to the question, Who carries that kind of thing in her purse? Is it just in case the moment seizes you and you can’t wait to get back to your house?

      3. Ruffingit*

        Perhaps your company previously employed the woman who moonlighted during her work hours as a prostitute? ;)

    2. Windchime*

      Yeah, the half-used jar of Vaseline was about the grossest thing I have read in a long, long time. That would be super creepy and HR would be hearing about that one, I think.

  10. Lara*

    Ugh, a few years ago I worked with a team that was all women in their late twenties/ early thirties, so I brought a moustache-shaped wine opener to our holiday grab bag. What I didn’t realize was that our boss, a 50 year old man who does not drink alcohol, was participating and sure enough- he pulled my gift. It was Starbucks gift cards from there on out!

  11. Tony in HR*

    Two years ago, my boss sent her admins to buy all the white elephant gifts for us. One of the stops dictated by the boss was a well-known sex shop. As the HR guy, naturally I was horrified and disgusted, and voiced my concern (and was ignored).

    It took me ten months to get away from that place after that…

  12. Collarbone High*

    My parents got a hideous clock at a White Elephant party that was clearly intended as a gag gift. Everyone else got a good laugh out of how ugly it was, but my parents liked it so much they hung it on their living room wall.

    1. anonintheUK*

      I had a now deceased great-aunt who played bingo. In many places over here, some of the games do not give cash prizes, instead it’s chocolate, fancy soaps etc.
      One year, Aunt E won a clock. It was a hideous clock. It was bluer than a very blue thing, glowed faintly as if radioactive, and had misshapen dolphin-like creatures in papier mache protruding from it.
      So, I go round to visit Aunt E and she shows me this clock and asks what I think.
      ‘Honestly,Aunt E?’
      ‘I think it is absolutely hideous.’
      ‘Oh good, I thought that too. And do you know what I’m going to do with it?’
      ‘Donate it at the charity shop?’
      ‘No. I’m going to give it to Aunt J for Christmas. She’s 3/4 blind! She’ll never notice how horrible it is!’.

      I do miss Aunt E. She was completely mad.

  13. jesicka309*

    My office has decided to do a KK that involves stealing the gifts. It was voted on. I was against the vote – I hate the whole dynamics of stealing stuff. Someone will get offended that no one stole their gift, or keeps swapping their gift, or someone will get upset that they had an awesome item stolen from them etc. And of course there will be power plays, eg. “You can’t steal the cute pencil case off Bob, he has kids!” and “I’m the boss and I’m stealing the best gift and if anyone tries to steal it back I will give you dirty looks and hold it against you etc”.

    My solution is to not try. I plan on buying a tacky, lame knick knack, and amusing myself by watching everyone pass it on. I don’t plan on stealing either. I much prefer a thoughtful gift than this idiocy.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I’ve never been a fan of the stealing thing so I’m with you on that one. It can create bad feelings unfortunately as not everyone gets into the “fun” of that. Plus, yeah, stealing the gift from the boss is something some are reluctant to do. It’s just not worth the hassle in my eyes. Have a one-to-one gift exchange if you’re doing to do anything at all and move on.

    2. Kerr*

      This can work out well if nobody’s allowed to open the gifts until the number of steals has been maxed out.

  14. Mishi*

    I have found most people are bored with the gift stealing thing. What we did at our holiday party was to do an ornament exchange. Every one celebrated Christmas so that wasn’t an issue. We put a $5 cap.. easy to do with Christmas ornaments. For the exchange part we played the Left/Right game. Simple enough for everyone to enjoy, cheap enough for everyone to participate. A good time was had by all.

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