everything you need to know about holiday gift-giving at work

Confused about office holiday gift-giving expectations? Wondering about things like:

  • Are you expected to get your boss a gift for the holidays?
  • What if you’re being pressured to contribute to a group gift and you can’t afford it or don’t want to?
  • Do you have to participate in the office Secret Santa? And what’s a good gift if you do
  • Should managers get their employees gifts?
  • What if a coworker gives you a gift and you didn’t get them anything?

I’ve got answers to all your office holiday gift-giving dilemmas over at Money. You can read it here.

{ 132 comments… read them below }

  1. Bwmn

    One thing our office Secret Santa does is that on the slip of paper that includes someone’s name, there are also three lines for people to write down what they’d like. This is incredibly helpful in providing those straight forward/simple gift ideas (i.e. Starbucks/Bed Bath and Beyond gift card or XYZ sports team office paraphernalia). We’re not a large office, but big enough that during Secret Santa it’s easy to have a moment of “I don’t know anything about them outside of work.”

      1. Liana

        I think the secret part is that you don’t know who is getting you the gift. I agree, though, that knowing what you’re getting takes some of the fun out of it. But I also hate office Secret Santas and generally don’t think they’re work-appropriate.

      2. Elsajeni

        If you want the gift to be a surprise, you can give more general categories — last year I was in a Secret Santa exchange that asked us to include some gift ideas, and I said something like “I love Captain America, Star Wars, and trying new flavors of tea.” Nothing so specific that I knew exactly what I would get, but enough guidance that the girl who drew my name, who I barely knew, would have something to go on.

    1. Elizabeth

      I worked somewhere once where we did the opposite and listed three things we definitely didn’t want, e.g. so that people who hated scented candles or bubble bath or coffee wouldn’t accidentally end up getting stuff that might be generic and harmless for a coworker you don’t know well but ultimately useless to the recipient.

      1. Anxa

        I kind of want to do this in my regular circle, but then I’d worry a bit that someone who didn’t see that list got me something and found out it was on my do-not want list.

        I have problem skin and I get scented lotions all of the time. I do enjoy just sniffing them, but I can’t really use them anymore.

    2. Artemesia

      I don’t get ‘gift cards’ — that is like going around one’s gift circle handing out money. At most a SS program out to be tiny treats IMHO. Otherwise it is such a burden on people who don’t have a lot of excess cash.

      1. ScarletInTheLibrary

        And in my experience, they have the potential to say “I didn’t bother to get to know you.” Especially if the gift card is from Starbucks or store next door. Can’t you tell I’ve been let down in during Secret Santas?

        1. Cheeto

          I love Starbucks cards. It’s usually one of the things I request if the workplace does Secret Santa. I’m a picky person– unless someone is very close to me, they’re not gonna get something to my exact taste. I’d rather get a gift card and go get something I really want.

        2. Melissa

          Different strokes. On the receiving end of any gift giving, office or otherwise, I think gift cards are almost perfect. To me, the perfect gift is cash. I don’t expect anyone but my husband to get to know me well enough to buy gifts. Even immediate family don’t really know/remember/understand my tastes, hobbies, etc. If I received a $5 gift card from an office Secret Santa, I’d be happy with it.

      2. Bwmn

        Our office’s approach to SS is definitely about “fairness”. The idea that one person will spend time/money thinking of an amazing gift and then receive a gift that feels considerably *lesser* is a large goal. While a gift card to Starbucks or Bed Bath and Beyond may not scream “I know you and thought about you” – I also don’t expect that from our part-time accountant.

    3. ScarletInTheLibrary

      I think it’s good for the receiver to write a short list of things that the Secret Santa should know about the receiver. Minimizes people getting someone who HATES chocolate a gift of chocolate. It’s also a good excuse to actually get to know someone you normally would not.

    4. Rachel in Minneapolis

      We did something completely different instead of Secret Santa this year which I love—which totally addressed the problem of “I don’t know anything about them outside of work.”

      Each employee donated whatever amount they liked (at least $1) anonymously to the main admin assistant. When you donated, you got to submit your favorite charity on a 3×5 card with a note as to why you love this charity and your name. Then at the holiday party, the admin picks one card from the box and the total donated goes to your charity! It was fun to share charities with our co-workers.

      I believe they had guidelines on which charities were acceptable, but we had a broad range. Every one got to choose to donate or not and all of us felt happy that we didn’t leave the party with another Santa mug.

  2. Menacia

    We have a holiday party in my department and everyone is asked to bring a gift worth $20. The kicker this year is we’ve been asked explicitly (as in on the email invite), no gift cards. Now gift cards make it VERY easy for people who are clueless about gift-giving (the majority of guys in my dept), so to hobble them even further is not fair. Then again, even if someone does give a gift card, no will know as we do a Yankee Swap, so no one knows who the gift giver is, which has its own pros and cons. One year a guy brought in a crocheted sign with a saying that was made by his mother, we knew this because he had a similar one in his office already. So this guy did not even buy the gift (and he was very well off), and instead put in this fugly wall hanging, which no one wanted and he ended up taking back anyway.

    1. Brandy in TN

      Thas why I hate the office gift giving. Invariably, no matter what, Ill get something from someone with no thought or effort put into the thought. Mid year, a family friend spotted something at a thrift shop for like $1, that I would love, thought of me upon seeing it and gave it to me. I like stuff like that. You thought of me. But in the office, nah, it causes resentment in me.

      1. Stranger than fiction

        I’m with you. There’s a certain type of snack my boss likes and when I vacation in a spot where that particular item is made very well, I bring some back for her. I consider that more thoughtful and appropriate than upward gifting at the holidays or bosses day.

    2. Allison

      I remember doing one Yankee swap a couple years ago where people actually gave pretty decent gifts. I put in an aromatherapy set, since the department was half women and someone was bound to need help unwinding from the end-of-quarter frenzy. I walked away with the highly coveted wine glasses that had chalkboard bottoms so people could mark theirs at parties.

      I agree gift cards are helpful, especially if you’re in a city with lots of nearby coffee/bagel/lunch places people go to all the time, but the year before the aforementioned Yankee swap with decent non-card gifts, I was in an office where nearly everyone put in a gift card, so I can see why one might want to encourage some creativity rather than end up with a pile of cards.

    3. Bwmn

      While our office’s “tell me what you want” version of Secret Santa may not be the most personal or a complete surprise, it does help avoid the feeling that you spent $20 (or whatever) but end up with something entirely thoughtless or cheap. We are allowed (and often encourage) to go the gift card route. Because no matter how busy you are, there’s a CVS down on the same block as our office where you can at least get a $20 gift card to Amazon and call it a day.

      1. Windchime

        One time a friend and I participated in our office Secret Santa. I was getting lovely, thoughtful little gifts all week (it was a 5 day thing, and you find out who your Santa is on the last day). Small but pretty things, like a tiny Angel made from a handkerchief or a tiny, $2 box of festive candy. My coworker got a Hershey bar out of the vending machine one day. The next day, she got a cheap, ugly mug from the dollar store filled with bulk walnuts. It just made her feel so bad that she was obviously an afterthought to her Santa, she never participated again.

        1. Cat

          I think part of the problem with this kind of thing is that some people have the gift of taste and some people don’t. When you’re looking in the $2 range, that becomes extremely clear.

          1. Bwmn

            I agree with that – I also think that small things throughout the week can put a lot of pressure on someone who pulls the name of coworker they don’t know particularly well. If I was doing Secret Santa with friends/family and felt like I was an afterthought – that would definitely be miserable. But I’m not expecting that kind of thought from a coworker.

    4. Sunflower

      In this case, I’d go somewhere with a really liberal return policy- like BBB- and buy something like a shower radio or foot bath(did this happen in the office?) and attach the gift receipt.

      1. Charityb

        He’s probably been trying to dump the thing for years, if not decades. It somehow always comes back to him, like a cursed artifact in a horror movie.

    5. M

      Maybe I’m crazy, but it makes me kind of sad that no one wanted the “fugly” wall hanging — honestly, I think it’s a lot more meaningful to receive something that was made by hand by someone. It shows thought and effort went into the gift, so I wonder if that was this coworker’s intention in throwing this in. He may have been hoping that someone would appreciate something his mother thoughtfully made?

      1. Liza

        Eh, I draw the line in a different place for handmade gifts than you do: if Person A makes it for Person B, that is meaningful and does show thought and effort, but if Person C made it and Person D gave it to Person E, I don’t see any more thought or effort there than if D bought something at a store.

        1. M

          I’m not sure we have enough information, though? As an example, my grandparent’s neighbor knitted a baby outfit for my grandparent’s first great-grandchild (before anyone was expecting said child). She knitted it and gave it to my grandparent to give when the time came. Despite not knowing the person she was knitting the outfit for, it was still done with a lovely intent. Maybe that’s how this went — the coworker’s mother made the hanging specifically for the swap. We just don’t know and I hate to assume someone was being thoughtless by including this in the swap. I would hate someone to think that of me if I actually intended to be thoughtful.

    6. Honeybee

      I thought the whole point of a Yankee Swap/white elephant was fugly gifts? We’re doing one on my office but we’ve made it very clear that it’s more for entertainment value than gift-giving. Every white elephant I’ve ever been a part of is like that – it’s supposed to be funny that you have all these useless weird gifts.

  3. LSP

    We do White Elephant. It’s about 50/50 participation, but those who choose not to participate enjoy watching the whacky gifts people get. (Those who don’t can leave, no biggie!)

    The most recent celebration had the tackiest gift in my 5 years here (read: free samples the person got from a product they sell on the side. Not even the actual product! Come on!) Yeah , don’t do that people.

    1. Shannon

      Eh, if they’re selling a product on the side, they may have financial issues, but still want to participate.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      That unfortunately is the problem with the white elephant game. Some people do a gag gift, some people find something in the back of their closet to regift, and others truly bring something nice, so it never ends up fair (not that life is) and it’s so obvious by the looks on people’s faces when they get the disappointing gifts. But I guess some people think that’s what makes the game funny.

      1. A is for A

        Unless you specify. My office always does a White Elephant “Re-gifting”. We are supposed to bring in gifts or items we’ve received that we, and no one else, would ever want. Or some junk that’s sitting around your house. The idea is not spending anything on it, and everyone ending up with something completely ridiculous. We’ve had everything from Halloween-themed gingerbread houses, to a creepy doll, to a pair of really ugly orange and yellow tie-dye shoes. It’s one of those things that we do because it makes us laugh and lets some steam off, and not to actually receive a great gift.

        1. Jerzy

          THIS is the way to do a White Elephant. I’ve never liked that game, exactly for the reasons Stranger than Fiction points out. It’s mean-spirited in a way.

          Doing it that way you lay out is much more fun, and seems to be very self-referential about the whole idea behind an office gift swap. I like it!

        2. LSP

          Agreed. My office is pretty specific, so that’s I was peeved with Free Sample Girl. We’ve both been here 5 years, so she knew what was expected.

        3. AnonymousaurusRex

          This is what we do. You *can* buy a gift, up to $15, but no obligation, either to purchase something or to participate at all. The rule is “the more ridiculous the better” and the real fun is in the creativity, not in the getting of a good gift. We only do it within our department, which has a fair amount of in-jokes. (e.g. We went through a big phase of funny goat video sharing last year, and one of my coworkers painted a goat meme as a gift). We have a good time.

        4. Ann O'Nemity

          Yep, my old office did it that way. They even called it the Tacky White Elephant. It almost turned into a competition for the worst and/or funniest gifts. The very best (worst) gifts lived on and were traded year after year.

        5. Windchime

          I participated in this one time and got a super ugly ceramic shoe that could be used as a container to hold pens or other objects. It was awful–but one of my kids LOVED it so it sat on his dresser for years!

        6. MaryMary

          One team at OldJob used to do a white elephant gift exchange where you were forbidden to purchase a gift. The gift had to be something random you already owned. Quite a few people used it as an opportunity to regift something they’d never use, others used it to clear out their junk drawer/closet, and there were a few items that stayed in the office year round. Gifts included a turquoise pullover with a horse on the front, an eight pack of blank cassette tapes, and a hamster that sang Born to Be Wild (all of which ended up being kept in the office and regifted year after year).

        7. Honeybee

          YES. This is the point of a white elephant. It’s not meant to be a real gift exchange; it’s a silly activity. The origin of the name is a gift that is expensive to maintain but functionally useless – a white elephant was a gift Indian royalty would give courtiers who had annoyed them. it was like subtle shade.

      2. Hlyssande

        Someone once brought a dusty, crappy wooden shelf to ours one year. The person who got stuck with it was justifiably furious. It was covered in thick dust – someone clearly just pulled it out of their shed or basement.

        The things that always went the fastest when we still did this were bottles of wine, gift cards, and lotto tickets.

      3. Collarbone High

        My parents (who aren’t known for their taste) have the world’s ugliest clock in their living room. The first time I saw it I was like “Mother of Zeus, why does this exist and what it is doing in your house?” and it turns out they got it at a white elephant party. It was intended as a terrible gift (and it is) but for reasons only they understand, they like it and were thrilled to get it.

    3. Transformer

      I’m actually excited for once. Instead of doing the “safe” gift, I found the Star Wars trilogy in Shakespearean form on clearance last night and I think it will go over well with all us geeks. I might even try to get it back.

    4. Erik

      Even better – one person decided to give an empty box for the White Elephant one year. That was cold.

  4. NJ Anon

    We are doing a non-mandatory cookie exchange. Can’t wait! I will buy a small gift card for my 3 reports but that is it.

    1. Liana

      The administrative staff in my office (not the faculty) are doing a cookie swap/contest and I am SO. EXCITED. My previous office did a Yankee Swap every year and I hated it. This year, the admins are all getting together and having a cookie bake-off. There’s no real prize, just bragging rights and a ton of cookies to eat. I feel like everybody wins.

      1. Kairi

        I’m on the social committee and was pushing for a cookie contest. When people asked what the prize would be, I just said eating cookies is a prize in itself! We decided to do it sometime after the holidays since we have so many other events going on.

    2. Hlyssande

      My friend does a cookie exchange at work every year. Sometimes I question why she does it, since she tries out very elaborate and time-consuming recipes (this year it was one that required her to clarify several pounds of butter) while the other participants don’t. But hey, everyone gets a dozen cookies for however many people participated, so I guess that’s a bonus.

  5. Shannon

    Muslims aren’t the only religious group that doesn’t drink. Many sects of Protestantism also do not drink, and I’m sure that there are religions of which I am not aware that also do not drink. While I understand that you were attempting to convey the idea that you should be aware of your coworkers religious convictions before offering alcohol, I think the wording should have been a little more open ended to express that.

    1. Stranger than fiction

      Well I think Alison was just using an obvious one. But yes, I grew up Nazarene and not only couldn’t we drink but we weren’t supposed to dance or listen to secular music either (but thankfully my parents were ok with the last two as long as no one at church found out.

      1. Liz

        I grew up in the Wesleyan church – cousin of the Nazarene.

        I actually didn’t know until I went to college (a Wesleyan university) about the no dancing rule, though it had been repealed about the time I started college. The only reason it was still A Thing at school was because the alumni who paid for the school to function believed it was A Thing. Not even weddings held on campus were allowed to have dancing at the reception without explicit permission from the powers that be.

    2. AnonAcademic

      Also Mormons! I agree the wording could have been more open ended. Also, there are Muslims who drink….not every religious person is observant of all tenets of that religion.

    3. Jerzy

      I think it’s safe to assume Alison meant no offense. My parents are not Muslim, or Christian, and they don’t drink. People have given them bottles of wine before, not realizing they don’t drink alcohol. They never get offended, but will usually re-gift to someone who does drink. Everyone’s happy.

  6. KS

    Does anyone have any homemade non-food item gift ideas? Some of my coworkers have allergys so I am trying to stay away from food.

    1. Shannon

      Can you tell us if you have any crafting skills (knitting, crochet, cross stitch, sewing, etc) and about how many co-workers you’re making for and how much time you have to devote to the project?

    2. Ann O'Nemity

      DIY Scrabble coasters. Google search for pics and instructions. Super easy to make, and you can buy the Scrabble tiles on Amazon for cheap.

      1. Sara

        A friend of mine who was strapped for cash made coasters for everyone in our circle of friends a few years ago, and they are still one of my favorite gifts ever! She used ceramic tiles and attached little cork feet, and everyone got a different theme for the image. (Mine are the many faces of Ron Swanson.) I think she ModPodged and sealed pictures she printed from the Internet, but they look great and are super fun!

        1. Hlyssande

          That’s awesome, and now I want to do that with Star Wars characters for my older brother. Nice!

        2. The Cosmic Avenger

          Ron Swanson does not approve of coasters, because if you put ice in a glass, you’re going to ruin a perfectly good Lagavulin. :D

        3. lfi

          i’m making my sister a set for christmas with her instagram photos! mod podge, tiles, and clear sealer along with some felt on the bottom to prevent furniture scratches. :)

    3. LENEL

      If you Google “Peppermint Sugar Scrub” you should get some good hits, I’ve found people tend to like that for a home made gift! …Or at least if they don’t they haven’t told me.
      The only other non-food thing I do is a hidden book, where you find any relevant book (the one I have for my family Bad Santa is called “I Shall Not Want” but dictionaries do the job as well), use a Stanley knife and a ruler (preferably a metal one) then cut the pages out all the way down. I usually do mine while watching TV.

      1. Honeybee

        Yes, any kind of sugar scrub or shea butter whip is pretty easy to make. You could also make a candle – there are some candle making kits and/or instructions online too.

    4. super anon

      i made safety soy jar candles one year for people in my office. they were super easy to make out of soy wax flakes, and i made them unscented so they could be used in an emergency situations. i used the smallest size of canning jar you can buy at canadian tire, and covered the tops with pieces of fabric and tied the lid with some ribbon. there are tutorials online for how to make them that are easy to find.

  7. AyBeeCee

    A good gift exchange idea is a nice pillow. It was very popular at my work’s Yankee Swap last year. No need to worry about sizing or matching someone’s decor (they’ll provide their own pillow case of course) and you can find pillows at most price points, or buy two pillows if your spending limit is high enough.

  8. Jerzy

    Last year, at my old job, we decided to do a Secret Santa. In my 3 years there, this was the first time we had done so.
    I offered to help organize and offered up the idea of using Elfster.com, and app that picks all the names for you and allows you to put in ideas for gifts, even generic things like “wine” or “Harry Potter stuff”. I use the same app for an annual Secret Santa I do with a group of friends. Most people were really great about either taking their time to pick out something personal, or at least looking on the person’s wish list for ideas. I received a beautiful personal teapot and cup and some tea, which I still use almost everyday.

    1. LSP

      I use Elfster with my group of friends too and it’s great! It helps me buy them stuff for their birthdays too since their wish list often has extra items left over from the holidays.

  9. Jen

    Any recommendations for what to do when you’ve bought into the office tradition of “everyone gets a small gift, your direct team gets a slightly better one, and something fancy for your boss” for a couple of years and are really not feeling it any more? I’m thinking of just downsizing everyone to the small gift (we’re talking like candy canes and hot chocolate pouches here, very small), but I’m worried my coworkers are going to resent me for it.

    1. Jerzy

      Yeah, this is one of the problems with doing gifts for everyone every year. I think your solutions will work, or even just bake a treat for everyone to share. Giving should be about what your intentions, not others’ expectations.

    2. A is for A

      What about writing a really nice note to each of them, thanking them for their contributions and hard work, and personalize it to include specifics? Then you can give it to them with their candy cane and hot cocoa packet, and it’s something that they’ll (hopefully) actually find meaningful and special.

  10. EmilyG

    Hold on! This article says that bringing in baked goods is a thoughtful thing for a manager to do. But I’ve also heard managers (especially female ones?) shouldn’t do baked goods because it’s too mom-like or something. In fact I thought I’ve read it here.

    I like baking and have too many direct reports to make gift cards doable without looking cheap. I’d love to bake but… new female IT manager. Does the commentariat think this is an okay idea?

    1. Jerzy

      Baking is something I love to do, and I am proud to have people who claim to have never enjoyed apple pie before gobble mine up.

      That said, if one apple pie or plate of cookies once or twice a year undermines my professionalism, I think I’d need to reevaluate how I am approaching my work. I[‘m proud of my baking skills just like I’m proud of my professional skills, and I want to show them off.

    2. Temperance

      I would advise against baking yourself if your reports are mostly male, or if your workplace is mostly male, especially as a newcomer. Picking up a box of cupcakes or a cake from a bakery isn’t seen as gendered (for instance, men in my office tend to pick up baked goods rather than bake themselves, and that’s fine).

      I’m in a male dominated industry, though, and extremely wary of coming off as too feminine.

      1. Cheeto

        I was thrilled to be known as the office baker in my 90%-male workplace. They respected my work. They just also respected my baked treats.

    3. Ad Astra

      To me, it’s not such a gendered issue when you’re in a situation (like the holidays) where you’re expected to bring a gift. It seems a lot more mom-ish to bring in treats for no reason. Framing it as a gift acknowledges the value of the baked goods you’re bringing in.

      If you have trouble asserting yourself or suspect that people don’t take you as seriously as they should, it might make sense for you to avoid baking. But I don’t think you need to treat it as a hard-and-fast rule.

    4. Erin

      I’m not sure if Alison ever said it, but I’ve read in Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office that women shouldn’t have candy or treats out on their desk for basically just that reason you said – it’s too mom-like. Maybe you were thinking of something like that? I think that’s different than bringing in baked goods for a special occasion (and putting them in the break room instead of your desk).

  11. F.

    The only two times I participated in Secret Santa exchanges in the office (two different companies, 15 years apart), the person who drew my name forgot to buy me a gift. Needless to say, I stopped participating, even though it was severely frowned upon at the second company.

    1. Brandy in TN

      Now see, I hate that. That just not right.

      The one time I did it, my person was late, so everyone was opening their presents and there I am, sans gift. Oh she got there…eventually, but still, the thrill was gone. Everyone was showing their items off.

    2. Menacia

      I *really* dislike the Secret Santa idea in an office because of this reason! It’s so much better to do a Yankee Swap, so if someone does not bring in a gift, they don’t participate in the swap. At least no one is left out unless they choose to be!

    3. AnonForThis

      When this happened – because they didn’t forget they just opted not to do it – they should have stopped this activity immediately. I wonder if it was severely frowned upon that this person at the second company forgot? Depending on who it was, probably not.

      No to Secret Santa.

  12. Temperance

    My husband’s company does a white elephant event. Our gift was a gift box with a bottle of Jose Cuervo and a bottle of margarita mix. It was a hit – it was stolen the max number of times.

    Alcohol is pretty easy for one of these events if you know your workplace has a fairly alcohol-friendly culture. (We both regularly have work events where alcohol is served, for example.) I think it would be harder for a Secret Santa situation, because you never know if someone drinks or not.

  13. ThursdaysGeek

    I worked for a company that did the white elephant exchange (yankee trade?). But instead of having us buy presents for our co-workers, the company gave us all $25 and told us to buy and wrap a gift that we would like and we thought co-workers would also like. We took turns opening the presents, stealing presents — knowing the values were all about the same and that there was at least one gift in there that we would like.

    I still have the fish tank I bought and got. I had no idea fish in a 5 gallon tank could live to be 17 years old!

  14. Ruth (UK)

    Last year, our office manager gave an employee some balls in the secret santa exchange. Basically they were stress balls (I think?) but made very clearly to look like testicles. To add an awkward-er dynamic to this, this was a male manager and a female employee.

    I honestly don’t think he thought much about it and thought everyone would find it light and funny. He’s never been particularly unprofessional in any other way so this was really quite an isolated incident (though tbh it kind of shook my faith quite a lot in his judgement in general).

    Obviously the receiver of the gift wasn’t pleased. A year on, we (ie. some of the employees) still joke about it (though not when that manager is present). Like, if someone mentions that something is unprofessional, the other might reply, “like giving someone balls for christmas?” It comes up occasionally…

    (one of my flat-mates at uni once gave me boob-shaped stress balls for our flat’s secret santa “because you’re a lesbian hahaha!” (which is true at least). Even in a non-work environment I think people need to think about who they’re getting these types of ‘gifts’ for…)

    On a related note, my mom is embarrassed that she gave someone a back massager thing in her work secret santa the other year. Apparently she remembered him saying about his back/shoulder problems and she has one of those hand-help back massagers which she finds useful for her back pain and got him one. She said only when he opened it did she realised it could possibly look like something dodgier than a back massager. . .

    1. pony tailed wonder

      Lol! I gave a bag of British food once on a women’s sports league I used to be in. The spotted dick was a hit. Who knew that you can get so many great jokes from that? My favorite was the one about having a can of dick to counter someone else’s can of whoop ass.

  15. Rachel Talada

    My biggest pet peeve right now is the email where I have to “opt out” of giving to all the holiday charitable giving requests. Meaning, I’m expected to give to all of those that I’ve been asked. Shouldn’t it be the reverse? I just didn’t respond. I had 4 campaigners send me emails requesting money or gifts AT WORK ALONE. (Plus church, radio, bells ringers at all stores, friends for friends, etc, etc.) I just can’t believe the audacity of being told that because I’m included in an email that I didn’t explicitly request to be a part of, then I am automatically opted in.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      That’s a ridiculous expectation. I’d ignore them all, and if anyone asks, just specify that you never agreed to anything or asked to be put on a list. In fact, I’d consider complaining about all of the solicitations at work. After all, if these things are allowed at work, the considerate way to handle it is to make an indirect request to your group and not pressure or confront anyone. Anyone who directly pressures a coworker is doing it wrong. (And yes, that includes management who pressure for United Way participation!)

      1. Rachel Talada

        I am ignoring. The most laughable part of one campainer’s request was the followup request in the meeting the next day that we all need to read her email…I read it. Still didn’t respond.

        Speaking of solicitations from management, my company started a “We Care” fund to help employees who have an unexpected financial burden (a specific event, like $3K in oral surgery not covered by medical or dental). Anyways, we’ve all been opted in for direct deductions from our bi-weekly payroll – each level (team member, supervisor, manager, executive) has it’s own level of deductions. This blows my mind! I have NO PROBLEM helping my teammates, but it was never even discussed with us before implementing the program and then they just decided again, without discussion, to deduct. I have to opt out again of I don’t want to participate.

  16. MaryMary

    I have two junior (entryish) level people who work with me on my accounts. They are not my assistants, I am not their manager, and they do not work exclusively with me. But they are the people I can send an urgent text to during a meeting and have an answer before the meeting is over, so I want to thank them. Should I get them a Christmas present? I was leaning towards something small, like an ornament, maybe festive lotion or a candle (they’re both women), a scarf, or gift card? Is a gift card too impersonal, especially if it’s for $5 or $10?

    1. Cheeto

      I mean, honestly, I’d rather have the gift card than a trinket. I have particular tastes,and I wouldn’t want to feel obligated to turn up at work wearing a scarf I didn’t like. I’d take a $5 Starbucks card for sure.

      1. Bwmn

        I’m also pro-small gift card. If it’s accompanied by a nice note (particularly one that’s cc’ed to their supervisor) and something small to Starbucks, CVS, Amazon, or another business close to your office – I would greatly appreciate that.

    2. pony tailed wonder

      I bet if you write a quick note to their supervisors anytime they are above and beyond, it would be appreciated as much, if not more than a gift. Jmo. But a nice small something might be a nice gesture as well.

    3. Liana

      I think if they’re not your direct reports, a gift card and a note to their supervisor about their hard work would go a long way. There’s a lot of emphasis in this thread about gift-giving in the office and how gift cards are just evidence that you don’t know the person very well, but the fact of the matter is, sometimes you DON’T know the person very well, and a gift card is a perfectly reasonable way of saying “I don’t know you outside of work, but I wanted to express my appreciation regardless”. It’s one thing to be offended by getting a gift card from say, your best friend, or a family member – someone who presumably knows your tastes. But being put off because a manager doesn’t know you well but still wants to express gratitude? It seems a bit … I don’t know, churlish.

  17. Polka Dot Bird

    What would you advise when a peer coworker has told you they’re planning on getting you a gift, but you’re not that close to them and don’t want to encourage a closer relationship? I’m planning on bringing cards & a candy cane for everyone in my team and calling it a day, but I welcome other thoughts. I told them not to buy me anything as I won’t be reciprocating but I worry I might still be given something.

  18. Anonsie

    Did we ever get an update from the CEO Ski Trip letter writer? I felt so bad for that OP, and always wondered if they staged a resistance.

  19. Dave

    I don’t understand why anyone would bow to the pressure if they don’t want to participate. I mean, not everyone is into “the holidays.” It doesn’t mean you’re not a “team player” if you don’t buy someone a stinky candle.

    1. AlyInSebby

      Would that THAT was universally understood in the workplace.

      Like many, both my husband and I get THE SHAFT any time we participate in a gift exchange.

      The first year he was in a real grown up job, in-house IT support at a BIG tech company I made sure we got a bottle of wine that most people would like, some chocolates and other yummy nibbles that one could have at their desk, take home or re-gift. He got a mug with a cow on it.

      We relocated 60 miles north – the following year we did a Starbarks gift cards for $15.00 and a bottle of wine. We got – a mug with a chicken on it for him and my person slinked out of the exchange when they were supposed to give me mine.

      The last straw, 2 years ago, his family. We did a family exchange so one gift for each couple/family. We know his family well, we got some great Italian crackers – cheese both his father and brother love, a bottle of wine and some chocolates – again you can eat it yourself for a treat, share with others at the holidays or re-gift.

      We got an Angel and Jesus themed snow globe (only one person is religious, and def. not us) and a FasTrak transponder that we had told everyone at Tday we would never want or use.

      The one BEST SURPRISE Xmas gift ever was the year we moved in together.

      My BIL and SIL got us a Hickory Farms mixed box. At first I was offended. I mean how much LESS thought could you put into a gift.

      But my hubby pointed out we now had some yummy snacks while we were broke, we also got 2 or 3 dinners out of it and we were practically fighting or competing over who could use it best.

      So, “No” bah humbug or whatever, I am not participating in your office gifty thing “…people just don’t all participate equally.”

      When co-workers or bosses have gotten me something anyway I reciprocate with Starbarks gift cards.

      I will hold firm that in these kinds of workplace thingys a gift card is best, you just gave/or got a free meal, that’s a win.

      I don’t want some “adorable” thing you knitted – it’s going straight to the Goodwill, I am not SORRY!

  20. The Unknown Elf

    (Wasn’t there an “Unknown Comic” who wore a brown grocery bag over his head back in the day? Just checking!)

    When you live in a small town where there are two degrees of separation or less between everyone, you learn to be careful with the re-gifting!! With office parties, church parties, school parties, the lodge, the in-laws, the outlaws, and your own family, by the time Christmas morning dawns you’re likely to find the same gift in your own stocking!

  21. Lindsey

    At my office, we put all our gifts wrapped in the center of the room, each of us get assigned a number, then we pick gifts from the center based on number. There is also a “gift-stealing” process.

    It’s fun, but most people bring bottles of wine, which makes it a bit awkward for the couple of us who don’t drink. There are usually only a few non-alcohol gifts. And you don’t know who your gift will go to ahead of time.

    I know wine is an easy gift, and I always join in the game and never say anything about it. Some people at work know I don’t drink, but it’s somewhat personal and not something I bring up. But for anyone reading this, keep in mind that for some people these gifts make the holiday parties uncomfortable, and consider whether something else might be better.

    1. Liana

      Do you mean a Yankee Swap? I know the rules vary by region, but this sounds like every Yankee Swap I’ve done. I think they can be great with friends, but in the workplace, where you might not know someone very well? Inappropriate.

  22. Seven If You Count Bad John

    So, I’m against gift cards, but not for the reason everyone else who is against them (“it’s so impersonal! You may as well just give cash!”) I agree that if you’re going to give money, you should give cash (and I disagree that cash is impersonal–I think the real reason we hate to give cash as a present is that it’s weirdly intimate.)
    I hate gift cards because they force me to spend in areas I wouldn’t normally (yeah, yeah, you can just give it on to someone else, but that’s true of the chicken mug and the bath salts too.) it forces the person giving it to sort of hazard a guess that I might go to Starbucks or Olive Garden or Target. Which I might.

    But, the gift cards are always round numbers like $25 or $50. Which can means that I will either end up short, and having to put in my own money to come to the full price of the item, which shafts me, or I’ll be over, and end up with extra money on the card that I couldn’t use. (Requiring me to at some point put down extra money to buy an item when I finally do run the card to zero.) This is deliberate design on the part of the gift card people–they are basically engineering that you’ll end up spending slightly more than you wanted to, or else they just pocket the free money left on the unused card. It would be nice if you could get gift cards for the value of a latte with no change, but whatevs.

    So that gift card (a) requires me to shop someplace specific and (b) costs me money. And I have been in situations where $25 cash would have come in very handy, but that $25 meal at Olive Garden, while it’s a free meal, still costs me because I have to tip, or damn I could have used that leftover buck fifty for laundry…or whatever.

    Gift cards for places like grocery stores are slightly better because everyone at some point shops for groceries. the Visa gift card is best of all if you really must.

    I’ll never forget the time I was walking past Oregon Electric Station (a fancy restaurant in Eugene) and this woman was there trying to sell a gift certificate for it that she’d gotten from her work. She didn’t need to drop $30 on one meal, she needed $20 cash to pay the light bill. I’m sure her employer thought it would be a nice treat.

    I’m a grinch. Office gifts should have no actual value, or they should be green and foldy.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      This is why (when we’ve given gift cards) we stick to the Visa/MasterCard gift cards, they are accepted anywhere those cards are. It’s actually a really good gift for exactly the reason you cited; they’re not tied to any one vendor or chain.

      My company has been giving these out for many years, and I always use it for a nice takeout/dine out meal. It usually gets used up in one go, but when it doesn’t I just use the remainder towards the next purchase that I would have made anyway that accepts that card.

      Cash seems like a gift with less forethought, and when I use the gift card my company gives me, I remember the gift itself. If I just had extra cash in my wallet, I would be less likely to use it to treat myself.

    2. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

      Oh gosh, the Oregon Electric Station! I was never actually able to prioritize eating there when I lived in Eugene (not when the Jackalope was right around the corner!). I worked for a “higher end” grocery store out there, they gave us all giftcards to the store which was kind of nice because you could spend it on something non-essential like fancy chocolate or you could buy food you actually needed to survive.

      1. Seven If You Count Bad John

        But you had to spent it in the store, which is kind of like company scrip–feels like cheating when the money’s going right back to the employer themselves. (Was it the Kiva, by the way?) if the gift is coming from another employee or another unrelated source, that’s different…

        I never ate there either. Way too expensive on my budget.

        1. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

          Most of the employees couldn’t afford to shop their regularly so it did have a weird feeling- like finally I can patronize my own employer! but our food budget was so tight when I lived out there I really just didn’t care because it did afford us a great amount of wiggle room on that line.

          It was not the Kiva, which we still talk about how much we miss visiting, even though my man and I haven’t lived in Eugene in 2 years.

    3. Margali

      In California, if the amount left on a store-specific gift card is less than either $5 or $10, I don’t remember which, the retailer has to give you the change in cash. I’ve had far more hassles with Visa cards than with store-specific ones. I prefer a gift card to cash, because it’s easy for me to fritter away cash, or give it to my kids when I forget to pay them their allowances, but a gift card to Barnes and Noble or Bed Bath and Beyond gives me the excuse to go buy something frivolous for myself.

  23. Alma

    I have also been so very embarrassed to be at the register with my carefully selected $25 of chi-chi groceries only to find out the card hadn’t been loaded. No gift receipt was with it, and it would embarrass me more to say something to the gifter.

  24. Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees

    Maybe it’s because I’m in Massachusetts that no one objects to getting giftcards at the office… because they’re always to Dunks and if you don’t drink coffee you know at least 50 other people who do

  25. WildLandLover

    Honestly, holiday gift-giving at work just rubs me the wrong way. I’m here to work, they are coworkers. I believe in performance awards and words of congratulations, thankfulness for a job well done. Leave the holiday gifts out of it.

    1. Oh no not again

      I don’t care for it for the most part, but its a THING where I work. I do like the random gift exchange game–I usually bring something immature.

  26. Oh no not again

    Regarding alcohol, if you aren’t sure they drink, don’t get them booze. A person in recovery doesn’t always advertise the fact. Although the gift giver isn’t responsible for anyone’s sobriety, getting a gift like that can set someone back. One of my family members kept getting me booze and booze themed gifts year after year and someone had to tell them I don’t drink anymore. It didn’t trigger me, it just stinks when you can’t use something you get. I don’t say anything because I generally dont tell people I don’t drink unless its an issue–getting a gift I can’t use isn’t high on my list, but I could see it being a problem if I was new to sobriety.

  27. Bob from Accounting

    This is my first year participating in a workplace holiday gift exchange, so I’ll find out if my gifts were a terrible idea or not. We’re doing a Dirty Santa/ White Elephant thing, so I’ll see if I can get my own gift if nobody else wants it. At least I know I’ll be able to enjoy my own gift.

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