the rules you need for office gift-giving (which your coworkers are probably violating)

Every December my mail fills up with letters from people wondering how to navigate office holiday gift-giving customs. Do you have to give a gift to your boss? How do you deal with that coworker pressuring you to give more than you can afford to a holiday gift collection? What gifts are appropriate for colleagues in the first place?

Here are the five most important rules you need to know in order to navigate office gift-giving this month.

1. Gifts should flow downward, not upward.

Long-established rules of etiquette say that gifts in a workplace should flow downward, not upward – meaning that your boss can give you a gift but you and your coworkers shouldn’t give presents to your managers. This rule exists because of the power dynamics and pay discrepancies in the boss/employee relationship. The idea is otherwise an employee might feel pressured to purchase gifts for a manager, and it’s unseemly for managers to benefit from power dynamics that way.

There are certainly offices that ignore this rule, and where gifts to the boss are common. But at a minimum, you should feel free to opt out from any pressure to chip in for a gift to your boss, and you might even raise this point to your colleagues and ask if people want to reconsider this year. You’re likely to find at least some of your coworkers will be relieved to have one fewer spending obligation this month.

2. Workplaces shouldn’t pressure people to contribute to gifts or gift exchanges.

Group gift exchanges like Secret Santa or Yankee Swap can be a good way to ease the pressure people might otherwise feel to buy their coworkers individual gifts. However, offices should let people opt in or opt out without pressure, since gift exchanges can strain people’s budgets at an already expensive time of year, and others may not want to participate for religious reasons. A low-key, opt-in approach is the way to go.

The same is true if your office is taking up a collection for a group gift to a colleague. If you’re being pressured to chip in for a gift when you’d rather not, it’s okay to say, “I need to pass” or “my budget won’t allow it this year.”

3. Don’t give overly personal gifts to colleagues

As a general rule, gifts that are intended to be put on the recipient’s body – like perfume, lotion, clothes, or jewelry – are too personal to give to colleagues. Gag gifts can be hit-or-miss; if you know the recipient well enough to be sure she’d appreciate a joke gift, go for it, but otherwise it’s a risky move.

Food items like candy or baked goods can be a smart choice, especially if you remember to take allergies into consideration. Wine and liquor are often appreciated –
and have the benefit of being easily re-gifted if they’re not to someone’s taste – but be careful about not giving alcohol to a recovering alcoholic, a Muslim, or someone else who is known not to drink.

4. Respect price limits on gift exchanges.

If you’re participating in a gift exchange that includes a price limit (for example, “gifts must be less than $20), don’t exceed it. If you show up with an e-reader or a cashmere blanket while everyone else is exchanging socks and funny mugs, you’re likely to make other people feel uncomfortable. The reverse is true too: If everyone else is exchanging gifts they genuinely hope people will enjoy, you’re violating the spirit of the exchange if you show up with a gag gift and may cause someone to go home feeling slighted.

5. Company gifts to employees shouldn’t leave people out.

For companies that give employees gifts at the holidays, giving every employee the same gift can be a tricky proposition and feel impersonal. Giving turkeys to everyone can make the vegetarians on your staff feel unappreciated, giving coffee neglects the non-coffee-drinkers, giving wine neglects your Muslim staff, and so forth. A better option, if your company is open to it, is to let people choose from among a few options – or even better, to give bonuses or an extra day off.

{ 309 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat*

    I’d love to see people’s rules for gifting downwards – my thoughts:

    1) Cash or cash equivalents are best.
    2) Give gifts to people who worked for you part of the year, not just whoever is working for you at the end of the year.

    (My colleagues suck at this. It drives me crazy every year).

    1. Crazy Dog Lady*

      I love #1. I had a boss who gave each of her direct reports (3) a little gift bag filled with cash at the holidays. At the time, money was tight for me, and it was so appreciated.

      On the list that Alison posted, I agree with everything, especially #2. My company does a department holiday dinner, and participation in the dinner and gift exchange is pretty much mandatory. The gifts are usually lovely, but I hate the financial impact. The argument is, “It’s only $25!” but at the holidays, $25 is a lot for me.

      And for the love of all things, I wish everyone took the “no gag gifts” line seriously. I did a random gift exchange with a group of friends where we all drew gifts randomly at a brunch. I was stuck with the one gag gift (a pack of diapers, a baby’s bottle, and condoms to deal with my “daddy issues” – that’s what the note with the gift said. I was super irritated given that I had put together a pretty nice gift for the potential recipient. Also, I’m a charter member of the Dead Dads Club, so that was super fun).

      1. hi.*

        whoa, that is so much worse than what i was going to post. i’m so sorry.

        last year my team of 10-ish did a yankee swap with a $25 limit. i found 2 good bottles of wine on sale (normally 20+ each) and spent $26. i ended up receiving a 10 year old plug-in computer mouse that was technologically obsolete and also for PC use only – we all use macs at work and i have a mac at home. like, the rules were clearly outlined – this was not a ‘gag gift’ or ‘regift’ yankee swap, you were supposed to buy something good. most other people got decent gifts but someone else brought in a half full can of nuts and wrapped them. so i guess i got the 2nd worst one? i should’ve kept the wine for myself.

        they also did a “no swap” version where you pick your gift then can’t exchange it – so not truly a yankee swap. i was visibly pissed to get stuck with the mouse. i’m not playing this year, it’s a waste of money when people don’t take it seriously. i don’t have $25 to just throw away when other people participating basically take things out of the trash and wrap them up.

        1. Amadeo*

          I thought the point of a yankee swap/dirty santa was to bring something awesome so you could watch people trade for it like mad. Trash gifts just ruin the fun.

          1. hi.*

            No, you’re right. That is definitely the point. I don’t know how we got railroaded into the crappy non-swap version, if I remember correctly it was just one person saying that’s how they’d always played it and probably everyone just went along with it. It was a total fail. I found myself irritated and resentful that I’d taken it seriously and other people hadn’t.

            The year before there were some great gifts that people were falling all over themselves trying to get, and we played the standard way with trading. It was obviously a lot more fun. I have zero interest in participating from this point forward, I know I’ll be the “no fun” one but whatever!

            1. Blue Moon*

              I hate playing these games. I feel like I always get the shaft. Everyone else walks with great gifts and I get trash. I know I’m in my head too much and others do too, but I wind up walking away mad. One year the girl that had my name was late, I thought she wasn’t showing and I had brought my gift for someone else. Left a bad taste in my mouth for gift swaps at work.

            2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              My family does it this way, out of concern for the feelings of people whose gifts (that they contributed) aren’t well-liked. Sigh.

          2. trash gifts for all*

            Unless everyone brings trash gifts (and it is agreed upon that it is a trash gift game), then that can be sort of fun. I’m in a group that does a version of that, where you have to fight over the packaging and don’t get to figure out what the present actually is until everyone has chosen theirs and fought over them. It’s entertaining to see how bad the presents are at the end (one time I got a portable screen door? someone once got someone’s kids old sports trophies…). But this is an actual trash gift exchange where you aren’t allowed to spend any money on the gifts at all and it’s mostly so that we can have a fun gift exchange without the cost of actually buying gifts. Most thngs get thrown away after a day or two.

            1. DuckDuckMøøse*

              My office did a white elephant exchange one year, where the rule was it had to be something of yours, from your desk (so not a stapler or pack of Post-Its from supply) and NOT be a semi-used item (because who wants a half eaten anything, or a used bottle of lotion – yuck!) It was a good excuse to shift the clutter ;) Since most people travel for business, and/or attended conferences during the year, there were a lot of gadgets, lanyards, and promotional items exchanged. Silly fun.

              1. Hallway Feline*

                Oh, that’s a good way to do it! Maybe I can convince them to do it this way for next year =]

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          That’s why I stopped participating in our office’s Secret Santa exchange – if people don’t care enough to buy something decent, I wish they’d just opt out (and yes, that was absolutely an option in my office). I did participate in a Yankee Swap one year, and I sat there looking at this $15 item that I didn’t like at all, and thought about the things I could have bought with my $15 for myself or someone else that would have been loved, and said “nah, I’m done with this.”

        3. paul*

          My workplace *finally* just quit with gift swaps. Thank god.

          We do a whole of people bringing in food though. Today was fudge (my boss) and I plan some queso for this Thursday or Friday

      2. Papyrus*

        Yikes, I don’t know how anyone thought that gag gift was anywhere near appropriate. That’s the person who has issues, daddy or otherwise.

        The only gag gift I ever bought was those candy “lumps of coal” for the office grump (and he would agree with that sentiment). And it was included with the other, real gift I got him.

      3. Nynaeve*

        I got a diaper bag as part of a work White Elephant exchange also! A cheap plastic one with a swaddling cloth and knockoff Baby Mozart CD. Why did MORE THAN ONE PERSON think this was a good idea?! It was so awful and awkward. I had just started working there and I brought a Target giftcard for the trade. At my previous job, everyone brought nice things for the gift swap, so I assumed this place would be the same. Haha, nope! Never again.

    2. BPT*

      Not sure what you mean by your number 2 – if someone has left the company by the end of the year, I don’t think I’m going to seek them out just to give them a gift.

      If you mean someone who worked with you on a project or something, then it depends. Hopefully everyone’s current manager would give their employees the same type of gift so that things are equal throughout the company. If someone did a great job on a big project for you or something, I could see maybe seeking them out. But it really just depends on the workplace – there are few places that I would think to give a gift to someone who wasn’t working for me at the time of the gift-giving.

      1. Cat*

        I mean if you have an assistant for 9 months of the year then switch assistants (for instance). I think you really should be contributing to both gifts, even if you don’t contribute the full amount. If it’s less of a direct employee relationship or your workplace is more “team” based, maybe that’s different.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          I had someone who had worked on our team switch jobs at the end of November and move to a completely different building. After checking with her new manager, I invited her to our holiday lunch and gave her the same gift as everyone else. She had contributed significantly to our team’s success (hence the new job and promotion) and it felt right to celebrate the year with her.

    3. Emi.*

      Why don’t you like charitable donations? Is it just because it doesn’t seem like a real present for the recipient, or because people get picky about charities? (I can see myself being peeved about a donation in my name to an organization I thought didn’t use their money well, even if I supported the cause.)

      1. iseeshiny*

        I know for me, it’s one thing if the donation is to a charitable cause I’m active in or am passionate about, but donations to the Human Fund when I only ever talk about the International Institute definitely can feel like less of a gift to me and more like a tax write off for them.

      2. Lovemyjob...truly!*

        I don’t like charitable donations made in my name as a gift for all of those reasons. I am very picky about the organizations I donate my time and money to. I also am more likely to not do nice things for myself during the year so when I get a gift card or something small like that I look at it as a small treat for me.

      3. Karo*

        Charitable donations can be really fraught with tension. Even leaving aside the charities that are more politically charged (e.g. Planned Parenthood), some people get pissed off. If you donate to an animal charity you get the people saying “well what about starving children?” If you donate to starving children you get people asking “what about cancer patients?” [This genuinely happened to me – I asked for charitable donations to be made to a cancer research foundation or an animal charity for my wedding and people got pissed that I wasn’t shilling for whatever their personal cause was.] Then you have people who want to ensure that they’re giving only to charities who have a really good rating on Charity Navigator. People get really touchy with this. You’re better to just give the money and let them make a charitable donation if they’re so inclined.

        1. Sled Dog Mama*

          I think the charitable donations should be out the window in all but a few very specific cases (ie parent/child or aunt/uncle niece/nephew or to boss gifting)
          I work in Cancer treatment it’s what I do EVERY SINGLE DAY, so yes a donation to the “Cure Cancer Foundation” is a little strange as a gift to me because
          a) That would put me out of work
          b) Please can I have a holiday where I don’t think about that

          1. Sami*

            Maybe I’m not understanding your comment exactly, but are you saying it would be bad to cure cancer because it would put you out of a job? Like, what?

            I’d imagine someone who worked on the cure for cancer would have her pick of jobs.

          2. Snorlax*

            I would like to think if there were an option to truly cure cancer, you’d be in favor of it even though it would put you out of work. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, etc.

            But I wholeheartedly concur that it would be nice if people only gave gifts that are meaningful or useful to the recipient, instead of charitable donations which are not a gift for the recipient at all.

            1. Lora*

              From my perspective those type of things are sort of depressing. I know exactly how little voluntary contributions will buy – the Cancer Walk I did with 2 dozen friends a few months ago raised $1500 from our group. That doesn’t even buy enough reagents, Invitrogen kits and mice for one decently meaningful experiment. And I know how hard it is to raise that much money, too! The entire event raised $330,000: not enough to pay for a single patient’s treatment if they are diagnosed at Stage IIIb/c or Stage 4. And it was quite a production with about 20,000 people participating.

              If you only have a few bucks to spend, I can think of a lot of ways that would help patients much more powerfully: visits from a therapy dog, entertainment of some sort for hospice and/or pediatrics patients, reading material and/or entertainment for the chemo center because infusions are boooooring, cooking decent meals for patients which are not gross hospital cafeteria food. Donations of time are always great – makeovers and hair replacement, massage therapy, non-religious counseling, nursing assistance emptying surgical drains if possible. And networking on the behalf of scientists is also nice! Scientists are notoriously bad at science communication, so if you have any skill in that area, or have any friends in venture capital looking for a place to spend money, talking to folks about how awesome (some program) is can be a tremendous help.

            2. Cath in Canada*

              Yeah, that was very unfortunately worded… I’ve worked in cancer research my whole life and would be delighted to have to find another career path for such a good reason! So many of us get into this field in the first place because we’ve lost someone to cancer (my grandma, in my case), and pretty much all of us lose someone to cancer eventually (e.g. my FIL & several friends of my family just in the last few years). There are plenty of other problems we could work on if we solve this one.

          3. LSP*

            I think charitable donations can also work if you’re buying them for a specific person to whom you know a certain cause is very important. For instance, everyone I work with knows I had my nephew pass away last summer from infant leukemia. If someone gave a gift in my name (or his) to Alex’s Lemonade Stand or similar, I would be really touched.

      4. Cat*

        I just think it’s a problem to give someone who’s making less than you a charitable donation instead of something that the recipient could use for themselves. If you want, give them cash and let them decide whether to donate it or not. If you know for a fact there’s a charity the person is passionate about and devotes all their free money to, I guess that’s one thing, but I’m thinking more of a “we don’t know what to give you, so we’re donating a cow through Heifer International instead of just giving you money” situation.

      5. Crazy Canuck*

        If you would be peeved about a donation in your name to an organization whose cause you supported but didn’t use their money well, how would you feel about a donation in your name to an organization whose cause you actively opposed? That’s not a gift for me, it’s a tax deduction for you, and getting that felt like a slap in the face.

        1. Emi.*

          Oh, I totally agree that’s like a slap in the face. I brought up the nice-but-ineffective charity issue as something that could be a problem, even if the recipient supported the cause.

      6. Charlotte Collins*

        I think a lot of people just assume that the person would have given to charity anyway. I remember once when the VP of our division as a year-end thank you to everyone gave a charitable donation. Most of us supported the cause (Humane Society), but as one person put it, “Look! She gave herself a tax write-off as her present to us!”

        And it worked out to less than $2/employee, so we had a pretty good idea of how much we were worth…

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          Yes, it both implies that the recipient wouldn’t give to charity themselves, the recipient might not really want to support that charity for a variety of reasons (like ones that give so little to the actual cause!) and it’s not a gift if the giver can write it off their taxes!

        2. Natalie*

          Yeah, that’s what always feels weird about it to me. If you want to give to charity, just do that. Don’t try to magic it into a gift.

      7. AnotherAlison*

        Oh man, this just reminded me of the Year in Which our Charitable Giving Fell Short.

        The execs had pledged X amount to a certain charitable organization, and we had several fundraising activities/drives throughout the year to get to X. We ended up not meeting X by the end of the year. The company used to give out $50 gift cards at Christmas, and they asked everyone to donate their gift cards to the organization.

        I worked for a different division at the same building location, and our management didn’t ask us to give up our gift cards, so I didn’t. I still thought it was a ridiculous ask. They never consulted the employees when they made the pledge.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I guess they were, just by coercing others into giving. The best part is that the org was sick-children-related, so there was the potential to feel guilty (self-imposed) if you didn’t do it. You know? I’m not going to feel bad NOT sending the alumni association an extra hundred bucks, but sick kids are the worthiest cause of all, right?

      8. Liane*

        There is too much risk of a donation going to a charity that the recipient doesn’t care for, or outright objects to, whether inadvertently or deliberately. (The latter is probably a bigger problem in dysfunctional families than in offices, but considering some of the dysfunctional-to-malicious workplace stuff we’ve read on AAM this year, my Inner Grinch won’t be surprised if it happens on the job as well.)

        1. Crazy Canuck*

          Yeah, it happens. A former boss donated in my name to a church based charity that he knew I didn’t agree with because he thought it would be funny. So I donated to a gay support group in his name. I had never see someone get so angry before. It killed our working relationship and eventually I got fired. Apparently it was only funny when he did it.

      9. Chaordic One*

        At one place I worked we “adopted a family” and “the family” had issues. The head of the family had made a lot of bad decisions. Of course, no one should punish children for the mistakes of their parents. However, a lot of the suggested gifts were felt to be extravagant by some of the lower-paid people in the office who were having financial issues of their own and some of the office higher-ups were complete oblivious to this.

    4. Liz2*

      Also track what you give- I worked at a small business for 5 years. First year it was myself, a coworker, boss and boss’ wife, plus son’s girlfriend as occasional filing person started in Sept. At the end of the year, co worker, girlfriend and I all got a flower basket with $500 cash and $250 in assorted gift cards.

      Next year, the other co worker had left without notice on Labor Day and the girlfriend had moved on. I took up all the slack and it was a flower arrangement and $500. And then every year the amount went down again even though it was just me still and I knew exactly how much more our business had grown each year.

      Not that this was even the Top Ten of why I needed to get out of that place, but it added to the overall atmosphere of not being valued.

      1. HR Pro*

        Wow, I have never gotten a gift valued at $750 from one person/entity — not even from my spouse! That is an incredibly generous gift to get from an employer. (Year-end bonuses are different – those are often larger, depending on the situation or industry – but your situation clearly sounds like a gift.)

        1. Morning Glory*

          Although I agree that’s a really nice gift – the whole idea of shrinking gifts juxtaposed against growing revenue and growing responsibilities would frustrate me too.

          Especially if there was not a separate year-end bonus in which case, this functions as her only bonus.

      2. LSP*

        I once worked in a government office that had a set annual budget for paying staff however they saw fit, and they always held some aside to give bonuses at the end of the year (something public employees rarely get). My first year, I received the equivalent to my paycheck. The next year, I received $500. I really felt like I was being punished for something (it was that kind of office), so I asked about it. Turns out, the big bosses left it to the office manager to decide how much to give out of what was left in the pot, and since managers had changed during the course of the year, the previous way of doing things was lost. They ended up settling up with me, though, because they knew it was a jerky move.

    5. AnotherAlison*

      Isn’t there something about cash/cash equivalents that has tax implications? I’m not up to speed on the rules, but years back, we would get gift cards because they couldn’t do cash bonuses. (even though these were very small amounts)

      People at my office seem to like company jackets and shirts, but there are always people who don’t like those due to fit/size issues. (They finally started getting women’s-specific stuff 7 or 8 years ago, but still not everyone fits the average body type.) Technology gifts used to be popular, but it seems like it’s a trend that has come and gone. Now everyone has plenty of USB storage, TB drives, ipods, etc.

      1. Cat*

        I’m not up to speed on the rules either, but the standard at law firms is always to give cash or equivalent to assistants and I’ve never heard of it becoming an issue for the recipient even if technically it should be reported.

        1. Natalie*

          Since you’re talking about lawyers, they may well just have reported it on the next pay cycle. That’s what we’re doing with our holiday gift cards.

          1. Cat*

            I’m pretty sure not – these are cash gifts individuals give, not anything the firm does (bonuses do get reported).

            1. Natalie*

              Ah, well in that case they’re just dodging the taxes. It’s fairly common and not often an issue, as you note.

      2. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night*

        In my Fortune 500 company we are expressly forbidden to give cash or cash equivalents as gifts either internally or externally, and I was told it was for tax reason.. They acquired us last year and it’s been a huge culture shift as the previous owners gave out gift cards consistently as rewards.

      3. Natalie*

        In most circumstances, gifts from an employer are considered income. Cash or “cash equivalents” (i.e. gift cards) are always income so their dodge wasn’t actually correct.

      4. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

        I worked for a place that gifted all the employees shirts, but instead of asking everybody what size they would prefer, the marketing team chose sizes for them. That meant that they literally sat down and discussed each person in the office, and debated what size each one of them wore. Holy awkward.

        1. Sophie Winston*

          This happened at one of my employers too. I guess they were trying to flatter me with a medium. A too large t-shirt can be a night shirt, at least, a too small one is useless.

        2. Observer*

          And no one in HR had a problem with it?!

          Then again, a marketing team that doesn’t get why a bunch of people might not be thrilled about having their team analyze their shirt size, is a team that seems to lack some understanding of how people operate.

          1. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

            It was a start up. The marketing team and the HR team were mostly the same people. And yes, that is as horrible as it sounds.

      5. Lurker*

        Yes, it’s supposed to be considered a taxable fringe benefit, meaning it should have payroll taxes taken out of it. Even non-cash gifts can be considered taxable if they are not de minimus. At my company, the management wanted to give everyone something — let’s say an iPhone. The fair market value of the phone ($800) would be considered income (fringe benefit) and taxed. It became a big issue because employees who don’t make that much were, essentially, going to have to pay taxes on an extra $800 meaning their paychecks would decrease.

        There is an entire section of IRS regulations that explains what what is considered de minimus — things like occasional use of photocopiers for personal use, occasional tickets to sporting/cultural events (not season tix), occasional snacks, meals, etc. are probably de minimus.

    6. Joa*

      I’m curious about the difference in gifts that come from the boss via company funds vs. personal funds. I’m in local government and am very limited in how I can reward employees using government funds. When I give my employees gifts, it comes out of my personal finances. I would never feel comfortable giving my own cash, but have considered charitable donations.

      1. Cat*

        I was assuming this was from personal funds. I will admit to being a little squeamish about cash itself versus like an Amazon gift card, but I think that might be my own hang-up. (I maybe should have included a (4) that is: if you give cash, don’t give wrinkled bills of various denominations from people’s pockets at the last minute, though).

        1. the gold digger*

          One year, I shared part of my bonus with the two programmers who were essential to the success of the project (and who were not on bonus). I went to the bank to get new one-hundred dollar bills and put the money in an envelope along with a note I had written. They were the best people to have on my team and I never would have gotten my bonus without them.

      2. Coalea*

        Wow – it never even occurred to me that a boss might use company funds to pay for gifts! I have only ever had bosses give gifts that were paid for with personal funds.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Oh man, now I hope my employees realize I’m paying out of pocket for holiday gifts (even though the company pays for other recognition at other times)!

      3. Chriama*

        I think you shouldn’t bother. Bringing food in or a small trinket (hot chocolate mug) is much simpler).

        1. Cat*

          I think it depends on what kind of budget is standard. If there are four people sharing an assistant and it’s standard for everyone to put in $50 or $100 – well, nobody wants a $400 gift their boss picks out instead of getting to choose what they do with that money, or at least what they purchase with it. If the standard is more trinket level, that is probably as appreciated as a $10 Starbucks card.

    7. FiveWheels*

      Ugh, I would be mortified at a cash gift from a boss or colleague. It would say “not only do I not know you well enough to pick you a gift, but you are worth $X and not a cent more”

      Money works for kids who want to buy something but don’t have cash, or for immediate family who can say “here, go to the movies or get drunk or buy clothes or whatever on me” but IMO that’s it.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        I think that’s an unusual interpretation of cash gifts from a boss/colleague. First, I’m okay with people from work not knowing me well enough to pick a gift for me. They’ve never been to my house or out with me socially. Why should they know what I want? Second, I don’t think it’s how much I’m valued. They typically give the same gifts for multiple people, and it’s budgetary. I assume everyone would want to give me $100,000 if they could afford it. : )

        In my family, some family members are offended by cash gifts, though. They agree that you should know someone well enough to buy them a personal gift.

        1. FiveWheels*

          If someone in my work has to get me a gift and they don’t know me well, it’s not difficult to ask people who do know me “hey, what would Wheels like?”

          Anywhere I’ve worked that does Secret Santa operates like this, it’s not that difficult

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        While I agree that a cash gift says “I don’t know you well enough to pick a gift for you” it also says “and I care enough to recognize that and not waste money on something you may or may not like. Here is cash to purchase something that you will truly enjoy….because I care.” Really…not being sarcastic there…kinda reads that way though. :)

        I personally enjoy the gift more (versus cash) even if it isn’t perfect for me because it shows that the giver put in some effort and tried to find a gift suited to what they know of my personality, but I’ll always gladly accept cash.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        In addition to the comments above mine, a cash gift from a boss can say “I want to give gifts that are exactly equal in cost and thoughtfulness to all of my employees,” which is pretty near impossible to do otherwise.

        1. FiveWheels*

          This definitely depends on office culture, but I don’t think having the exact same value is necessary or even possible.

          Say I and Colleague both love perfume. Her favourite is expensive, mine is cheaper but hard to find. We both get our favourite – the outlay for Colleague is mainly money, the outlay for me is mainly time/effort, but the real gift is that our boss takes enough interest in us to find out what we like, and make sure we get it.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            That’s your opinion, and you’re entitled to it, but it’s not universal. Not everybody wants to get that personal with their boss or staff, and not every boss has a staff small enough to make this happen. (And I’d REALLY rather get cash than perfume from my boss!!!)

      4. Sunflower*

        I agree with Former Retail Manager.

        Also work and friendship are different things. I love my manager and we are certainly friendly and get along but I’m pretty confident in saying no way she could pick out a gift for me that I would really enjoy. It would definitely be a generic gift like a candle or something(she gives me gift cards). Most of these things have limits anyway(like $25) so I’m not expecting it to be huge. And unless you got something huge on super clearance(BTW if it’s on super clearance, that MAY be an indicator that it’s not a widespread popular item which would make it not a great gift to buy for someone you don;t know well), I can probably guess how much any gift I got is.

        Also at work, you kind of already have a monetary value attached to you- your salary.

        1. FiveWheels*

          That’s another reason why I’d be uncomfortable about a cash gift – my boss already gives me, through salary and bonus, money for me to spend on whatever I want.

      5. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

        I got a cash gift from a colleague I’d never even seen in person! I went in to the office one day after the holidays and discovered I had some Actual Mail waiting for me. I opened it, and it was a Visa gift card for $25 from one of the EVPs that I very occasionally dealt with. He was in an office on the other coast, we’d never met. I was so surprised, I blurted out “EVP sent me twenty five bucks!” and then of course I realized that maybe he didn’t send it to everyone else, and I felt weird. Anyway, I sent him a thank you email and that was that. But, so strange.

      6. Mookie*

        you are worth $X and not a cent more

        All gifts have a price-tag, too. You exchange currency for them, and at that point all spending ceases. Additionally, cash is easy to use or save, depending on what a person’s financial straits look like.

    8. Turtle Candle*

      In very, very, very limited circumstances charitable donations can be okay, I think. Some years ago my department received a gift that was a sizable donation to a “teach underprivileged children computer skills” type foundation. We were thrilled. But the reason it worked was that a) we were a software programming team, b) the charity was specific to our neighborhood, and c) the giver knew us all well enough to know that it was an issue near and dear to us. A “save the manatees” gift would not have touched us in the same way. So it’s possible to do well–just risky.

  2. Michele*

    For a while, as a communal gift, I would bring in chocolates or cookies for everyone to grab. Is that okay to do?

    1. Liz2*

      It’s what I’m doing, but it doesn’t “replace” a gift exchange if you have a smaller office and pressure to join.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      That’s what I do too – and people are always very happy for a surprise treat!

      But my office doesn’t even try to do the secret santa or white elephant gift thing :)

  3. Mabel*

    And if you must give gift cards, make sure they are usable by everyone, like an American Express or other type of gift card that can be used almost anywhere (instead of getting gift cards from specific store/shop). And really, it’s better to give a bonus or days off because even though gift cards are “just like cash,” there are things you can’t do with them (like pay your rent) that people might rather do.

    1. Liz2*

      I disagree because many of those cards require % to take in fees, sometimes require to be registered and have expiration dates. I think gift cards are fine if they are big box stores anyone can get to.

      1. Liz2*

        To clarify- I disagree with the Amex or Visa gift cards. I am all about just giving someone a bonus, depending on the tax ramifications.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        I used to get Visa GCs from an organization as a reward for contributing data for research, but then stopped and started sending GCs to your choice from a small list of businesses instead because people complained about not being able to use the Visa cards. It was a huge disappointment to me, because I always used my Visa to buy a GC from my favorite online retailer, and I lost out on that because a few people complained that they couldn’t use them to buy gas. >:-(

      3. Sunflower*

        I agree. At the end of the day, this is a gift, not your salary. I don’t think it’s fair to wag your finger at someone who gives you a gift card to a big chain store. My boss gave me a gift card to Bed Bath and Beyond. I’m pretty sure it’s bc she knew I was moving to a new apt. TBH I very rarely shop there but I managed to find $25 worth of useful items in that place pretty easily.

        1. Collarbone High*

          I used to work at a regional department store that eventually became a Macy’s, and store policy for returns was that we could only give store credit if they didn’t have a receipt.

          We’d get a lot of people after the holidays returning unwanted gifts, and some of them would get so mad about the store credit. “I don’t want anything in this store! I want the cash!”

          Really, in Macy’s, you can’t find one thing you want or need? (I could spend $100 in Macy’s in two seconds.) I’d always suggest they buy new towels, or pillows, or heck, restock your underwear drawer.

          1. the gold digger*

            My husband’s mother could not understand why I could not find anything on the site for the cheap Chinese pressed board furniture painted with hummingbirds and hibiscus that Primo and I wanted instead of the cheap Chinese pressed board nesting tables painted with hummingbirds and hibiscus that she had given us.

            After nine days in our house (for our wedding – do. not. do. this), she must have decided, “I see nothing – NOTHING – in this house painted with hummingbirds and hibiscus! THAT IS CLEARLY WHAT THEY NEED!”

    2. Allison*

      When I worked in the city, most of the Yankee Swap gift cards were for coffee and/or bagel shops in the area. Almost everyone drank coffee, and those who didn’t still liked the occasional bagel or breakfast sandwich.

    3. PNW Jenn*

      GCs are problematic because they force someone to spend money in *that* store. A few years ago my parents gave me a $50 GC to Sak’s 5th Ave, the closest one being some 800 miles away. If you met me, you’d know that I’m more of a Penney’s & IKEA kind of person, not a Sak’s one. The GC was too low to meet free shipping minimums, meaning I would have had to spend a tidy sum to get something – anything. The Sak’s pries were out of my budget for even mundane things, and they didn’t carry some of my favorite brands. I wound up giving the card to a friend who lived in a city where there was a store, and never told my parents that their gift went to someone across the country.

      TL:DR Give cold, hard cash.

    4. FiveWheels*

      I’m also not in favour of days off as a present. I mean the work I’d do on those days still needs doing, so a day off is just a trade for a much busier day elsewhere.

    5. Liane*

      My annual warning about credit-card-branded gift cards.
      1–Make sure you are getting a gift card and not a prepaid debit card. They are often sold near each other. Most Visa/Amex GCs have holiday/birthday/ribbon & bow graphics on the folder.
      [The prepaid debit cards do require a lot of personal info (like Social Security #) to register (because they are considered Banking Products by USA law/regulations) and often have extra fees beyond the fee to buy the card. They *are not* intended to be gift cards. They are for people who can’t get or don’t want a bank account or for someone who wants a card not connected to their bank account or credit line (say for internet purchases).]
      2–Unless the tender is split, Visa will decline a gift card if the purchase total is above the amount currently on the card–just as if you tried to go over the limit on an actual Visa credit card. This means the recipient has to keep track of the amount left on the card if they don’t use it all at one place, which is a big pain. With Amex–and most store gift cards–the card balance is simply subtracted from the total.
      3–Some of these are limited in where you can use them &/or may have to be activated with a phone call–so read the fine print.

  4. Arielle*

    If you’re a CEO and you want to give bonuses to your department heads in the form of wrapped gift boxes full of cash, maybe don’t do so in a loud ceremony in a conference room with a glass door. It’s pretty bad for morale for anyone below department head level, especially after being told there would be no bonuses that year. (My former workplace had some issues with boundaries and professionalism.)

    1. I GOTS TO KNOW!*

      In the words of Luke Cage…. Sweet Christmas

      I can’t believe this was a thing that was actually done. Department heads got boxes full of cash that they opened in full view of the floor? I can’t even wrap my head around that

      1. Arielle*

        Yup! I mean, technically they were in a conference room with a glass door, not right out on the floor, but when you hear cheering and clapping coming from the department head meeting, you’re going to turn your head to see what it’s all about.

    1. kkcf*

      I’d say yes even though you found it on über clearance. It looks more expensive than it actually was and may make people uncomfortable based on appearance alone. I’m sure someone else on your gift list would appreciate it as well!

      1. Karo*

        Agreed. I think the general rule of thumb is original price because you’re trying to keep all of the gifts at about the same value.

        1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

          This. I have a friend who is the queen of coupons and discounts and she is absolutely amazing at finding deals, but it when someone pulls out 10 really nice items on a $15 exchange, it makes other people feel uncomfortable.

    2. BPT*

      I actually think that’s fine. People hopefully won’t hold it up and say “look, it’s cashmere!” when they’re opening presents. And wraps can vary in price so much from like $5 – $500+ (I’m guessing, I don’t even know how much rich people spend). So I think the thing here is that it’s within the spending guide, and it’s also something that looks like it would be in the appropriate spending guide.

      Whereas I wouldn’t give an iPad, even if I had some great deal where I only paid $20 for it. People know how much iPads are worth, and there isn’t really a range where they might fit into the spirit of giving a $20 gift.

      A cheaper wrap and a cashmere wrap basically serve the same purpose, even if one is nicer than the other. But there’s not really a cheap (at least $20 cheap) version of an iPad that would do the same thing. Does that make sense?

    3. KellyK*

      I think it depends on what the original price is. If it was marked down from $30 or $40, sure. Marked down from a hundred, it has the potential to create awkwardness or pressure for people to spend above the “max” next year.

      Also, I know this is generally considered tacky when giving gifts, but what about leaving the price tag on it? Since it’s a gift exchange with a max value, people already know roughly what you spent, and this way it doesn’t look like you’re showing off.

    4. SuzieQED*

      A not insignificant number of people have allergy/trigger issues with cashmere. No animal fibers.

      1. Natalie*

        Or that person can regift it if it’s something they can’t use. If we’re talking about a $20 Yankee swap I don’t think the participants needs to think about every possible allergy, condition, or religious restriction that could be a factor.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, it’s much more of an issue if it’s out of the price point. That’s especially true in a gift swap, where there are no problems if you swap.

        2. kiki*

          Regifting doesn’t work for everyone. Just like not everyone has kids, not everyone has family to re-gift to. I’d be taking it to Goodwill, honestly…a wrap is something that’s a bit too personal and not everyone prefers them.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Okay, but again we’re in “not everyone can have sandwiches” territory.

            No gift will work for everyone unless you’re really close to the person and know all the nuances of what they might or might not like. That’s okay.

            If that means you get a gift you can’t regift and need to dispose of some other way, that’s the price of getting gifts.

  5. Lovemyjob...truly!*

    Has anyone seen the commercial with the guy carrying the giant Edible Arrangement through the halls of the office? As he passes everyone else, they all toss a gift aside and start following him until there’s this giant group of people who go into the boss’ office and one of the guys not carrying the gift says “We got you a gift.”
    It bugs the crap out of me! I hate gift giving in the office. I don’t do it. My husband had a boss (who was also husband’s cousin) who forced his employees to buy $25 gift cards for each other and a $50 gift card for him every Christmas. There was a definite feeling of “if you don’t do this, I will fire you” in the air around the gift giving which is why I use the word force. Boss would give Christmas bonus checks the day of the gift exchange. One year, the amount we spent on gift cards for my husband’s co-workers and cousin was more than the bonus check.

    1. Emi.*

      Ugh. That’s terrible and also…pointless. If everyone gives everyone else a $25 gift card, what’s the use?

      1. Lovemyjob...truly!*

        Right??? I begged my husband to talk to the other employees and see if they’d be willing to not buy the gift cards but he said that because his boss made this big show of giving the bonus checks at the same time as their gift card exchange they couldn’t do it. It also made me crazy because one year there were 10 guys working there so boss got $500 in cards because he insisted that his employees buy him $50 cards because he was the boss. We literally spent $300 that year. The bonus check was only $200.

        In other news, when hubby gave his notice his boss (also his cousin) told him never to show his face at a family function from now until death. LOL! That was a great day! Hubby left the job for a better company that treated people like human beings and we had a get out of extended family function card free card that we could wave whenever we’re invited to a wedding, christening, graduation party, etc. That demand has saved me lots of stress and cash. And since we’re not the “rich” cousins they always invite the former boss. LOL!

        1. Blue Moon*

          Now I want to know…..Did your husband avoid family functions afterward, or did yall go?? And the cousins reaction?? He doesn’t own the family….I need more details please

          1. Lovemyjob...truly!*

            My husband is a contrary person and desperately wanted to go, but I hate social functions and his family so social functions with his family were a personal hell for me. Knowing this my husband took the gift that his cousin had unknowingly offered with his demand and we’ve stayed away. He left that job in 2010 and since then we have missed 3 weddings, 2 baptisms, 4 graduation parties, and one going away party…that we know of. The best part? Every time we turn down an invitation someone will message one of us to ask why. Our response is “Ask Boss cousin”. You know that if they’re nosy enough to ask us, they’re nosy enough to ask him and I still can’t imagine a re-telling that the family will believe where Boss cousin doesn’t come off looking like a jerk…no matter how he tries to drag my hubby through the mud. We have been invited to a wedding next year that hubby is excited about going to for another cousin so my reprieve is coming to an end, but it was the best parting gift ever.

      2. Central Perk Regular*

        My friend’s company does this – there is about 10 of them in her department and they all essentially swap $5 Starbucks gift cards. It’s the most pointless thing I’ve ever seen. There is not-so-subtle “encouragement” from their department head to give gifts amongst staff.

        I used to work at the same company, though in a different department. My boss there heavily hinted that she expected a Christmas gift from me. I got her a substantial gift card from her favorite crafting store and a box of expensive chocolates from a local place she loved. (Of course, this was a long time ago and before I knew that gifts should flow downward, not upward, in the workplace.) She got me a generic lotion set that was *maybe* $15. It was kind of hurtful, because I tried to get something thoughtful, and then she admitted to me that she bought my gift the day before Christmas because she had “totally forgot about me.” It was an indication of things to come with that particular boss. It did not end well, and I don’t buy gifts anymore for my managers.

    2. JBurr*

      Our former owner required everyone in the company to send everyone else in the company a Christmas card. And he meant everyone, in a company of ~130. And it had to say “Merry Christmas.” You risked your job if your card said “Happy Holidays.” He had the same standard for vendors and wouldn’t do business with companies that sent “Happy Holiday” cards.

      It’s a really good thing I came in after the buy-out.

      1. Nolan*

        How do you even police that? Like, did that guy just spend the second half of December checking up on the 130 xmas cards each employee received to make sure they passed muster??

  6. SJ*

    My favorite holiday gift-giving story about my ex-boss:

    Last year I was conscripted to drive my moody, rude boss to the airport for his holiday travels. (I did it a number of times, and I was never asked if I would do it, of course — it was more like, “If you don’t have any meetings within the next hour and a half, you’re my ride to the airport. Grab your keys.”) I had worked my butt off for this guy for over 2 years at that point — a very close working relationship, wherein he had impossible standards and often a terrible temper — and very rarely received any sort of thanks for my work, let alone a gift at the holidays. I was totally fine with that — my other boss gave me plenty of praise and feedback, and I’ve never expected any kind of gifts from anyone.

    So I was touched when my boss met me at my car in the parking garage for the airport ride and handed me a very nice bottle of wine. Is it happening? I thought. Has he realized the many errors of his ways and is giving me a gift to thank me for all my hard work and occasional chauffeur service?

    But before I could open my mouth to say something about the wine, he jumped in with, “Can you give this to Sally when you get back? I forgot to give it to her before I left.” Sally was his moody, rude, honestly terrible assistant. I was just his gift messenger for a coworker. I did not get a gift.

    This is probably my favorite story from my old job.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      If Sally was the terrible assistant, what was your job position that resulted in you being his chauffeur?

      1. SJ*

        I had “assistant” in my title as well, but I had higher-level job duties than Sally and managed the boss’s communications and other things. She managed his calendar and answered phones so she couldn’t leave the desk long enough to do things like airport runs.

    2. Purest Green*

      At that point I would accidentally-on-purpose let the bottle slip out of my hands. Oops! Clumsy me.

  7. ThatGirl*

    One minor thing I’m gonna disagree on is lotion – women in my office often give each other bottles of “smelly” lotion (like Bed Bath & Beyond) or candles as small gifts. As long as you know the recipient isn’t allergic to scents I don’t see that as overly personal.

    1. Liz2*

      I agree on not given scented things because I think scents in offices are never something to encourage. A lot of people are sensitive to artificial smells in general. Totally a YMMV, know your environment thing.

      1. hayling*

        Ugh me too. I am super sensitive and really prefer that people don’t use scented *anything* at work. I can even get a headache from those Lysol wipes!

        1. sniffles*

          oooh ! me too. An I can’t get people to remember that I can’t tolerate scents. Someone has something pine scented in here today (can’t find it without sniffing at each office/cubicle) and I now have a splitting headache.
          Yes, I know it’s your favorite scent or it’s the one scent that doesn’t affect your allergies, or you just forgot that that your dry skin lotion is floral scented, and I get that you are sorry to have given me a migraine but really, do I have to have a full out fall on teh floor asthma attack to remind you every single day???

      2. Corky's wife Bonnie*

        Yes, that’s me. If I received anything like that as a gift, as soon as I would open the bag, instant migraine that will bring nausea along with it. This happens to a lot of people.

      3. ThatGirl*

        I totally get “don’t give scented things” – I think that’s a fine rule. I was reacting to the article Alison linked to that said “don’t give lotion” which I don’t see as overly personal, like I said.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      I hate every single scent Bath and Body works makes, and 99% of scented candles.

      If I were given one, I’d just say “thank you” and then put it in my outside trash as soon as I got home. I’d never object, because that is rude, but I’m really glad I don’t work in your office. And I bet at least someone is either regifting or trashing them every year!

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        I don’t even mind some of the scents, but they’re all too strong for me. Any time I have tried to use those products I end up feeling like I have bathed in perfume. Definitely not a one size fits all gift (although it seems like it works in ThatGirl’s office).

    3. Allison*

      I’m picky about what goes on my body. I love Bath and Body Works and stuff that comes from there, I’m not necessarily a fan of the “similar” lotions they sell at Target and CVS. And even then, I like picking out my fragrances. My mom often asks me what BBW scents I like so she knows what to get for stocking stuffers. Some fragrances smell nice in the bottle but weird on me. The “joy” scent they release last year made me smell like an old, mildew-y couch and I didn’t notice until right before I had to leave for the movies!

      That said, one of my coworkers gave each woman on the team a bottle of BBW body cream, and I happened to like the scent I really got although I save it for spring and summer, keeping my smells seasonal. So I appreciated and kept it, but it was still slightly off base and I didn’t use it for a while.

    4. Marisol*

      I see that gift as being common and generic enough not to be considered personal. The recipient may not like the gift, but that can happen with anything, and regifting is an option.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Right. And as I said upthread, I understand that some people don’t like scents and nobody will ever be happy with every scent; I have some BB&W I like and some that I find way too much. I just don’t see lotion per se as overly personal.

      2. SuzieQED*

        It’s not about “not liking.”

        Some people have such issues with scent that they can’t even regift it b/c to have it in their car and transport it would cause issues.

        So, please, if you are a kind, decent person, do not give out scented gifts.

        There are so many other options.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s a different point, though; all ThatGirl is saying is that if you’re in an office like mine, where people don’t have problems with scent, lotion has escaped its personal associations enough to be okay.

        2. Natalie*

          If a person was that sensitive to scents, wouldn’t their co-workers already necessarily know about it? It seems very unlikely that one your co-workers is going to have a surprise severe allergy.

          (And c’mon, someone who gives a scented gift isn’t unkind or indecent.)

          1. SuzieQED*

            “If a person was that sensitive to scents, wouldn’t their co-workers already necessarily know about it?”

            I know people who have scent allergies that their coworkers do not know about. You wearing perfume 10 feet from them is different than having it in their car in an enclosed space. Totally different.

            So it’s not “surprise” scent allergies but “unknown” scent allergies.

            If it doesn’t impact their co-workers, why would they know?

            ” someone who gives a scented gift isn’t unkind or indecent”

            I didn’t say that AT ALL. You are totally putting words in my mouth.

            I said, if you want to be kind and decent, do not do it b/c people have issues. That doesn’t imply doing it makes you bad. It’s trying to put people on notice to be more considerate about the issue.
            If you can’t understand the logical difference, I can’t help you.

            Scent allergies are like peanut allergies. This will become more and more of an issue of awareness in the next decade.

            And, honestly, once you’ve had to take a friend to the hospital b/c of a severe allergic reaction to a scent in something labelled “unscented”, you really don’t know just how severe this can be.

            And, no, you can’t always smell it ahead of time, particularly if it is in an airtight tube that only squeezes out.

          2. AnotherAlison*

            Unkind or indecent would be the gift Crazy Dog Lady received (top of posts). Seems if companies put together prepackaged gift baskets for items, then it’s a reasonable gift to give, if you know no other information about the recipient. I probably don’t want a popcorn or a auto care set, and I might regift them, but I wouldn’t be up in arms about the thoughtless gift that was given to me. I would feel terrible if it turned out the recipient had raging scent allergies, but that’s the risk you run by not giving a generic gift card. Almost any standard gift is awesome for someone and horrible for someone else.

          3. AcademiaNut*

            I’m not particularly sensitive to scents (although I don’t like most of them particularly), but I do have sensitive skin.

            So lotions, bath beads, body sprays, and the like will be directly regifted or trashed, because it’s not worth the risk of waking up with full body hives. And this is something my coworkers wouldn’t know, because I avoid body products that aren’t strictly necessary, and stick to products that I know aren’t a problem. And I’d be really surprised if someone gifted me with Johnson’s baby lotion.

            If you specifically know that someone would like a particular product, though, then it’s generally okay to give it to them.

            My pet peeve with the lotions and smelly soaps, however, is that it tends to be a default female gift, under the assumption that all women will of course love scented body soap or hand cream.

          4. sniffles*

            Co-workers forget. It’s not like you walk in everyday and announce your allergy. I try to live through all the stuff in the air here but sometimes its 1 more scent that just puts you over the edge.
            Right now all the pine & cinnamon around celebrating the holidays means that by the time I’ve gotten into work, I’ve already gotten a migraine.
            Can’t tell you how manyt imes I’ve had to cancel an order for lysol products & substitute clorox products or had to move my seat in a meeting to avoid the smoker or perfumer.
            How “severe” does the allergy need to be?

    5. Punkin*

      I have given tubes of Fragrance Free Neutrogena Hand Cream (~ $5). I love those, but I can see where that would not be a fave for some people.

      1. Purest Green*

        I get eczema on my hands as well (though no outbreak for months now, but winter is coming) and my dermatologist told me to not even bother with lotion and use Vaseline, which does seem to be more effective.

        1. Marillenbaum*

          Vaseline is magic! The first winter I lived in Utah, I would put it on my face because my skin was so dry from the wind and cold and complete lack of humidity.

          1. Chaordic One*

            Just to clarify, I believe that you are referring to “Vaseline brand pure petroleum jelly,” which is indeed a gift from mother earth. Other brands are pretty good, too, but Vaseline is really the best. Sometimes in winter I will slather the Vaseline on my hands and then wear socks on my hands to bed and when I get up the next morning the skin on my hands is usually healed and feels nice and smooth.

            If your skin is chapped, hydrocortisone ointment in a petroleum jelly base is great at helping to speed healing. “Cortizone-10” and “Hydracort” are the most common brands where I live, but store brands seem to work O.K. IMHO Hydrocortisone ointments seems to work better for me than hydrocortisone creams.

            Finally, “Vaseline Intenseive Care” hand lotions contain alcohol and if your hands are chapped, they sting so they aren’t always the best option. Look for a hand lotion without alcohol as an ingredient.

    6. Becky*

      I often get lotion/body wash/candles from acquaintances (particularly my roommate’s sister). They usually go in my “re-gift” pile. I only like very specific lotions (the smelly ones give me a headache), I don’t like body wash and I don’t use candles.

    7. SuzieQED*

      Maybe you aren’t aware, but in some ethnic groups in the USA, up to 15% of the group are allergic to some forms or “scent”. This can be even natural fragrances.

      Do NOT give anything smelly. Period.

      Unless you poll the entire office ahead of time you do not know.

      A dear friend has perfume, scent, and fragrance allergies. She doesn’t advertise it, but she does have to pop a lot of Zyrtec to get by at work.

      Giving her candles is less than useless. It could cause a reaction.

    8. Kristine*

      I hate receiving lotion as a gift. I’m very particular about the brands of lotion I use and I hate when people assume I’ll love a giant bottle of a BBW lotion because I’m a woman. I end up giving them to my sister.

    9. Marillenbaum*

      I got a bottle of hand lotion from a coworker once. She knew I kept a bottle on my desk, and would occasionally come by to borrow it, so she joked that she ought to “replace” it, since she came by so much. It can work, but as in all things, be mindful.

  8. TeacherNerd*

    I live in Utah, Land of the Mormon. Getting someone any kind of alcohol is not your best bet, but because Mormons (like so many of us who follow a religious tradition, although I realize there are exceptions) don’t have any identifying markers, one has to guess much of the time. So, take alcohol off the table. I also work with a seemingly large group of people who are gluten intolerant. That means most baked goods are off the table. Another coworker is both Mormon and doesn’t like scented items, so there are two things off the table. I’m becoming against all gift exchanges; it’s gotten entirely too complicated. (Gift card to restaurants – via OpenTable, for example – might be a good idea.)

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Heh, I hear you on this. I’m becoming anti-gift exchange even within my own family (parents, sister). Why? I think this example sums it up perfectly: My 12 year old son gave my mom his Christmas list, and after reading through his request for video games, and video recording and editing equipment, her response was “I don’t like anything on this list.” I lightly said, “That’s why they’re gifts for him, not you!” but I was seriously ticked off. My parents don’t have any small grandkids, and it’s not fun for my mom to buy the things the older kids want, so she complains. And I bought her some shirts last year, and she forgot it was me, apparently, and complained a few weeks ago about those shirts not lasting very long. (They weren’t really cheap or from a discount store, just bad luck I guess.)

      1. Sled Dog Mama*

        We ran into this problem with our parents too. My mother does really well with gifts for me but for the little one and Hubs not so much, it’s whatever the heck she feels like. Some years it’s good (one year she got him a pair of work gloves and pants, the pants quickly became his favorite and he wore out the gloves he wore them so much) some years it’s just strange (the next year he said I loved those gloves but I wore them out another pair would be great, he got a coffee mug and a book). And don’t get me started on the we’ll buy our granddaughter what ever we darn well please side (ok mom but don’t you think she needs some toys that live at your house? like this thing that the batteries NEVER run-out on)
        In-Laws are only marginally better (MIL will get a list that has very practical items that we actually need and will use, “I don’t want to get you something you need or would buy for yourself, what do you want?” ARRGGHH those are things I want and also happen to need!)

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Maybe my mom is related to your MIL . . .my mother also said she wanted to “get me something I wouldn’t buy myself.” That was the year I ended up with a pink tank top with bedazzling for my ~36th birthday. Now it’s a go-to joke for my husband that she’s going to get us something we would never, every buy.

          1. Temperance*

            OMG. For my 30th birthday, my mother gifted me a neon-green, cheetah print shirt, and BONUS, the cheetah paw prints were sheer.

            1. the gold digger*

              What? Are you saying I would never buy myself cheap Chinese pressed wood nesting tables painted with hibiscus and hummingbirds?

              Or adopt a Florida panther, a sea turtle, or (whatever the third animal was) just to get a Poster Suitable for Framing, a certificate, and a calendar for each animal – even though the gift arrived in May?

              Or by myself a green glass pear?

              Or a life-sized cast-iron cat?

          2. Ange*

            Two years ago my stepmother bought me a lamp for Christmas. In the shape of a man. Guess where the on/off switch was?
            Fortunately I managed to regift it back to her because she really likes it…

      2. paul*

        my mother has said that to both my brother and myself a few times. I’ve said as much to her and gotten no where, but when she’s complaining about my brother aski8ng for model trains or ammunition because “I don’t think those are appropriate”…ugh.

    2. LizM*

      I agree about alcohol. There are a lot of reasons someone might not drink that they wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with coworkers.

      1. SuzieQED*

        Yes, this goes for scent as well. A lot of allergies are driven by health conditions.

        Asking people to say yes or no to these types of gifts is asking them to disclose facts about themselves they may want to keep private.

        I do not understand why people insist on putting the onus on the gift recipient.

    3. Becky*

      We do a voluntary gift exchange on my team, most participate but a few choose not to, but we have a form to fill out with some of your likes and dislikes. Such as a food or drink you like or a hobby, or favorite restaurant just to give people an idea. This year I am participating in the gift exchange and I drew the name of a guy on my team who likes a lot of sci-fi shows. He’s a Dr Who fan so I bought a Tardis Mug. I appreciate the form! Allows it to be a little more personalized.

  9. BePositive*

    2 years ago I got a bar of soap. It was new soap. But it was a Bar. Of. Soap.

    From a secret santa peer

        1. Amadeo*

          Ah, see, I love handmade bath things (I might be biased because I’ve started to make them), and have always loved receiving them as gifts. Oh the other hand, I remember a lady I worked with once brought the whole clinic each a very neatly done little steel bucket with a bath pouf, soap and a couple other bath items, store bought (think Dial, a toothbrush, a little tube of Vaseline hand lotion), and then get super upset when she had to endure a little bit of good-natured ribbing. Nobody was truly mean, and while she’d obviously put a lot of thought into the gifts and her arrangement, I just wish that she’d gone the ‘fancy’-ish route (a little sample size of fancy or handmade soap, handmade lotion or butter, etc.) instead.

          1. Ismis*

            Yeah… I would be upset if I were her too. I think the “good-natured ribbing” sounds really rude tbh.

    1. Liz2*

      I did as well- it was a very fancy foreign handmade thing gotten on a trip abroad, but I hated the scent and it was still soap. I tossed the soap and used the box to give to a younger female relative- who loved the crystals and ribbons.

    2. The Expendable Redshirt*

      For birthdays, my company gives you a fancy bar of soap in your mail box. I love my fancy soaps! Sorry that your soap did not create such joy in your heart. It was at least a fancy soap bar right?

  10. Beancounter in Texas*

    My current boss keeps semi-joking that we should all put in $20 for her to buy a Star Wars toy she wants. Many of my colleagues are younger than me, so I piped up loudly that gifts, like mud, roll down hill. I’d laugh if I didn’t believe she was serious about getting the cash for the toy.

  11. roisindubh211*

    I have to say I’m grateful our office secret santa always has a £5 limit and it’s kind of expected to get something slightly silly from the pound shop – most people end up with chocolates or a mug or something.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, this post is kind of snowballing (pardon the pun) into all the ways gift giving goes wrong. And I genuinely don’t know what the percentages are, but plenty of times it goes just fine.

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, it’s starting to get into “not everyone can eat sandwiches” territory. It’s important to be conscientious about gift-giving, but wine/chocolate/Starbucks gift cards/Bath & Body Works Cucumber Melon/sweaters aren’t unilaterally terrible. They can be, but anything can potentially be terrible to the wrong person–it’s a matter of using common sense, not of avoiding any possible issue from anyone.

        There is no one perfect answer for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything.

        1. fposte*

          One of the joys of keeping to a low price ceiling is that it keeps the stakes low. At $10-$15 it’s more like giving and getting an elaborate card–it’s not about finding something to be treasured until the recipient dies.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            You mean you’re not going to treasure my peach candle until you die? (sniff)

            (Anyone else see the peach candle video on SNL?)

        2. Marillenbaum*

          Thank you, Turtle Candle, for being so sensible and reasonable. It was all getting a bit sandwich-y.

        3. Julia*

          I love turtles. Can I get a candle for Christmas?

          Joking aside, I agree with you, but I think alcohol should be taken off the list of acceptable gifts.

  12. Jesmlet*

    We have a yankee swap later this week at our holiday party and I have no idea which way to go. Knowing the people I work with there’ll probably be a couple gag gifts and the rest serious, and we already said no alcohol. I would opt out (which I think they would be fine with) but I don’t want to seem like a holiday curmudgeon.

    Gift giving is so much better when there’s a specific person that’s getting it. Getting a general gift that might appeal to most people sucks. Ugh

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      People will buy gag gifts even though they know most people are buying nice gifts? Those people are douches.

    2. Lovemyjob...truly!*

      I’m opting out of the Yankee Swap this year. I did it last year. $15 limit. I bought something nice. Everyone else brought scratch tickets or booze. I don’t drink and the scratch tickets sucked because someone put the money into them and then there was no winner. How is that fun?

    3. AMPG*

      My old office used to do a Yankee swap where the gifts wouldn’t always be straight-up gag gifts, but would usually be regifts of some kind. One year I snagged the most popular one, a chip-and-dip set shaped like Hawaiian shirts. My offering that same year was an embroidered vest that was snatched up by our SVP. As long as new people were prepped appropriately, it was a lot of fun (and entirely voluntary, which was key).

    4. Tundra*

      I’ve always had success getting generic “as seen on TV” stuff. You’d think people would hate it, but they always end up being the gifts everyone fights over! One year, it was a Slap Chop. Another time was a Snuggie. Last year’s was a Schticky. People seem to go nutso for those things, go figure.

      1. Emilia Bedelia*

        This is kind of an amazing idea.
        I’ve heard rumors of some kind of gift exchange at work, and I’ve been dreading it because I have no idea what to get. This is a great idea that I might have to use.

    5. Nye*

      Oh man, I love Yankee Swaps at work if you have the right co-workers. Much better than a gift swap, where you don’t necessarily know (or like) the person whose name you pulled. The best ones I’ve been to have had a few things in common:

      1) Low price limit (definitely under $20, and usually under $10)
      2) Mix of items – some homemade, some expensive-but-on-sale (or similar), some middle-of-the-road nice, some full-on ridiculous
      3) Voluntary participation
      4) A good group of co-workers

      Some hotly-traded items in the past have been:
      Hand-knitted scarf
      Commander Troi mug
      Handmade chocolates
      Framed Wham! CD
      Bottle of whiskey (pretty nice, added by the boss)
      Adult-sized Starfleet footie pajamas
      Bottle of wine (always a hit)
      Enormous pair of frilly green underpants (new in package)
      Hip-Hop coloring book
      Mold to cook a fried egg in the shape of an old west-style pistol

      A big part of the fun is the trading and wheeling and dealing involved. The idea isn’t that every gift be appealing to every person. If you’re gonna do that, what’s the point? Part of the fun is not knowing what’s going to be the hot item this year. One former workplace kept a gallery of the “best” (=most ridiculous) gifts on a shelf. Boss would try to swap for them every year.

      But I think this is very workplace-dependant. I am lucky enough to work with fun, collegial people who don’t take things too seriously, so it’s a hoot. I can imagine other workplaces where it wouldn’t work as well.

  13. PNW Jenn*

    Last year both my boss and I were left scrambling because my student assistant, to whom I’d carefully explained the “don’t gift up” rule, surprised both of us with a gift. I believe gifts should stay in the family.

  14. Snow*

    I know there are a couple of non-US commenters on here so I was wondering is this something they find is the same? Especially gifting up. I’m in the UK and admittedly have only worked for two organisations in my career but gifting up seems pretty common where I am. It is on a much smaller scale than some of the stories here – normally we throw in a couple of quid and will buy one present from the team for the manager. And managers will buy something for each team member (in the £10-£20 range usually) most of my friends seem to have this in their offices? Are we weird or is it slightly different over here?

    Secret santa’s are at least opt in though :)

    1. AnonymousAndroid*

      Think this might be office or industry dependent. I’m also in the UK, have worked for a number of different organisations and have never bought / chipped in for a gift for the manager. And I think I’ve only once received an individual gift from my manager. It seems more common in my field for management to pay for some of the drinks at the Christmas meal, if that’s not company-funded. Or they just participate in Secret Santa on the same basis as the rest of us!

      1. Snow*

        I am now wondering if it’s because I (and most of my friends) work in the public sector so there is no company funded anything. Sometimes department management will chip in for the meal/drinks rather than team managers.

      2. Ange*

        I’m in the UK too. A couple of places I’ve worked the bosses would give everyone a bottle of wine, but we never did boss gifts.

    2. Cristina in England*

      I have never been asked to chip in for a gift for a manager. I did an office secret Santa once, and maybe one other time received an end of year thank you, but I have not found gift-giving to be a big deal here.

    3. J*

      When I gift in the office, I gift up. Usually office gifts are small homemade consumables–hot chocolate on a stick, caramels, vanilla extract–so the cost to me is incremental. In that case, “it’s the thought that counts” because I’m actually not spending “real money” on a superior.

      1. Snow*

        Huh – looks like my office is an outlier – I would have been grumpy about this in the past but I have a great boss now so I don’t mind.

    4. He who walks behind the rows*

      Over here in South Africa gift giving at work is something I have never seen, except when someone retires or resigns. Then there is a totally voluntary collection, and they give the employee a gift card or something. But that’s it.
      Most people go on vacation in December, so nobody is there for Christmas anyway. I wouldn’t feel comfortable getting presents from coworkers.

  15. TubbytheHut*

    My office got rid of gift exchanges. Instead everyone who wants to participate buys a toy and we donate to Toys for Tots.
    Much easier and no stress.

  16. Persephone*

    I am so grateful that office gift giving is pretty much non-existent here at the college (at least in my department). My boss is taking my co-worker and I out for a lovely holiday lunch next week. We did discuss gifts in a meeting this morning but what we are doing is giving cards to those who helped us with support and in a few, very few, cases including gift cards to coffee places or a plant. My boss is paying for those.

    However, I decided on my own to make flavored butters for about six people who I work closely with even though they are not in my department. Each one will get a quarter pound (one stick). Easy to make but very welcome.

  17. WellRed*

    Not a gift story, not a big deal, but. My birthday is Christmas eve. Generally speaking at our company, those in your immediate work group may or may not buy cupcakes or whatever (and I don’t really care) but they always pass around a b-day card to sign. Two years ago, the office admin passed around one of our LEFTOVER company Christmas cards from a previous year for my coworkers to sign for me. Not only could she not be bothered to pick up an actual birthday card (on company time), but I had to hand sign 300 of those suckers to be sent to our advertisers the previous year.

    1. Lovemyjob...truly!*

      That’s Awful.
      A friend of mine celebrates her birthday the day before New Years Eve and her son is the day after Christmas. She and I no longer do the gift exchange but for her son he gets two gifts from us, one wrapped in holiday paper and one in birthday paper. It’s not his fault that he was born so close to a major holiday. (I used to do the same for her too!)

    2. Becky*

      I have a cousin who was born on Christmas. He’s not terribly fond of having his birthday on that day!

      And one of my best friends has a birthday that, every sevenish years, coincides with Thanksgiving. Growing up her family would often forget to also prep for her birthday and so would not have cake, and would just substitute pumpkin pie. She hates pumpkin pie.

    3. EddieSherbert*

      That sucks! Holiday birthdays are always tough – my cousin has a Christmas Eve birthday and there’s like three of us in the FAMILY that even remember to wish her Happy Birthday at the Christmas party (let alone getting any gifts!).

    4. Amadeo*

      Heh, my Dad’s birthday is also on Christmas Eve. He gets a nice cheesecake and a shrimp tray every year for it, so there’s small compensation. People in our family do tend to remember to get him both a Christmas and a birthday present too, so it’s worked out well for him.

      I’ve heard of other families though doing ‘half-birthdays’ and celebrating sometime in the summer for the little ones instead. I always thought those seemed like a really neat idea.

  18. kc89*

    This year I’m doing secret santa at work plus giving gifts to two of my co-workers who are more like friends. I’m giving them the gifts in private and will mention something about keeping it quiet at work because I don’t want others to get hurt feelings.

    1. kc89*

      Oh also this is my first holiday season with this company, at my last job I always liked to give holiday cards and a cookie to all the people I worked with, haven’t decided if I will do that or not this year.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Ooh, definitely a know-the-culture thing. One year, I had a temp working for me who had a handmade card hobby. I felt really awkward as a recipient of a holiday card, since I am not someone who exchanges gifts or cards with even my years-long work friends. This sounds horrible, but my thought was that the best gift would just be to follow the directions I gave on her work.

  19. Cranky Pants*

    At Horrible Job many years ago, we were required to contribute toward a gift for the owner of the company and we were judged as to whether or not she found it acceptable. Not only that, but we were also required to attend the office “party” which consisted of really, really bad food in an old, dingy Holiday Inn. If you didn’t go to the party, you had to either take vacation time or stay and work.

    At the last party I attended, per my manager’s request, our entire department dressed in black as a form of protest against the gift, the “party” itself and the general atmosphere at work (there were so many things wrong with that place it was ridiculous). All of us sat at the same table, dressed for a funeral, barely eating a thing and not talking. The funds we contributed had been given to a long-standing EE who purchased an Elvis sculpture. The owner adore him but did not like the sculpture so we never received so much as a thank you and she even talked about how disappointed she was in the gift.

    I quit 3 months later.

    1. Marisol*

      this has a very surreal vibe to it to me, as if what you are describing was something you dreamed, rather than something that actually happened. glad you got out of there.

  20. Tundra*

    I’m curious what people’s thoughts are on one department head giving gifts to her direct reports if no one else in the company will be receiving gifts. Does that have the chance to backfire in any way? I’d love to give a present to the 6 people who report to me (they deserve it!), but everyone else in the company (about 10 people) reports directly to the COO and I KNOW she won’t be giving gifts to anyone… so I’m not sure if it would be best to just do nothing.

    1. Undine*

      Can you take everyone out for a nice lunch or something? That seems less likely to be political. Nothing tangible, just “team-building”, and a chance to tell everyone how much you appreciate them.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        I am in the same situation and did exactly that this year. I did it Thanksgiving week and framed it as a Thank-you for their contributions to our collective success. I figured that everyone likes Thanksgiving, but I have a very ethnically diverse team so religious holidays can be tougher, plus travel schedules in December are all over the place. It went over very well.

  21. Brett*

    Have two questions relative to my new position this year, so I’ll do two separate comments.

    I’m a lead for two teams now. I don’t technically hire/fire/set pay, but the reality is that I am directly responsible for the work of both teams and I have heavy influence on personnel decisions other than pay. We all (including me) are considered part of a larger team and report to one boss. That said, everyone on both of my teams makes more than me. Just a quirk of me coming from a low pay public sector job while everyone else came from a consulting background.

    My two teams make up 1/3rd of the larger team. The larger team frequently works together within and across the smaller technical teams. So if I do get any gifts for my team members, they might be the only ones on the larger team to receive anything.

    That said, should I get small gifts ($5-$10 ea) for my team members? I would prefer to, but not sure if it would inappropriate in this context.

    1. Brett*

      (Also, our entire department did not exist last year, so we don’t have an established office culture for holidays.)

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      My younger, more optimistic, less cynical side would like say “yes Brett, buy your immediate team members small $5 or $10 gifts.” However, my more experienced, much more cynical side would not do that now……strictly on the basis of pay. If all of these people make more money than you, they can buy their own gift. Perhaps that sounds mean, but that’s my view. If you want to show your appreciation for the team as a whole, your people or the larger team, you could always bring in some cupcakes/cookies/edible arrangement, etc. along with a nice note near it saying how much you appreciate the contributions of everyone on the team and that they’re a joy to work with. Appreciation that isn’t over the top and doesn’t leave anyone out.

    3. fposte*

      If it’s not a descent into scheduling hell, that seems like more of a “treat you to lunch” situation. That’s less fraught and less likely to start a cascade of expectation.

      1. Brett*

        We’re good at that kind of logistics. We have a full team lunch every other Friday with 20+ people :)
        So that might be the way to go.

  22. Papyrus*

    My old department did a Secret Santa, which I liked, because you only had to shop for one person. Whoever organized it had a little template where you’d write your name, hobbies/interests, favorite colors/scents, and space to write a few gift ideas, so even if you didn’t know the person very well, you’d at least have a few ideas on what to buy.

    1. SuzieQED*

      Did they have an “I’m allergic to X” part as well?

      That would eliminate buying scented candles for someone with an allergy.

  23. Brett*

    Question #2
    Same situation as above, but for Christmas cards.
    I have always given Christmas cards to my coworkers and direct manager in the past. Previous job, I worked in a unit of 8. Now, I am part of two teams of ~8 total, but also a larger team of around 20 people (who could all be considered my peers). I have a couple of other employees who are also peer team leads to me, though not on my teams.

    I am thinking I should just give cards to co-workers on my two teams and not worry about my current manager or peer team leads. Giving cards to the entire larger team seems excessive, and I don’t want to give out cards to just my manager/team lead peers while leaving out their direct reports who I work with regularly on the larger team.

    Last part of this… I worked at former job for 8 years and it was normal for retired employees to continue to exchange cards. I think I was the first employee to leave other than retirement in over two decades. Should I follow the model of retired employees and continue to send cards? Or would that maybe seem to0 weird and awkward since I actually resigned instead of retiring?

    1. J*

      Co-workers, vendors, and managers get digital cards from me :)

      I just screencap the image when I’m building it on the card site and send that around. The cards are too expensive for me to actually want to order enough to cover that quantity, and because we do a family photo it’s really just a brag opportunity about my adorable child is.

      1. Liz2*

        I actually applaud you for your honesty. That’s exactly what I have always seen those “cards” as and your admittance is refreshing and efficient!

  24. Punkin*

    We had a Dirty Santa swap at my former job. It was bring a usable (not necessarily new) wrapped item. An item could be “stolen” 3 times. One year, the most popular item was a (new) set of flannel pjs that the women went nuts over. Another year, 2 double rolls of wallpaper (apparently, makes good shelf liner). Most of the gifts were really decent, but not expensive. One poor (tall & lanky) guy did end up with a VHS of Richard Simmons’ “Sweating To The Oldies” .

    The best gift I ever got from Dirty Santa was a working Staples “Easy” button.

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      AH! I bought one of those for our old secretary at work She liked it. Thought it was cute.

  25. RadioGirl*

    A few years back, I worked for a very evil man who like to make trouble among his employees. One Christmas, an older woman gave everyone but me a jar of homemade jam. I didn’t care about the jam, but I was crushed. It was months before I learned the lie he had told about me. I guess it still rankles.

    1. fposte*

      Wait, she didn’t give you jam because he told her a lie about you? That’s bizarre on several levels.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Presumably he told a lie that made her sound like a horrible person (“RadioGirl runs over puppies on purpose”) or claimed she’d done something to that coworker (“RadioGirl is the one who dinged your car in the parking lot”) so the coworker left her off her gift list, not realizing it was a lie.

        1. fposte*

          I know, but it’s such a pro forma gift that it’s likely to be either overreacting or underreacting (unless it was a jam-specific offense). It’s just kind of absurd–it makes me think of The West Wing and “She denied me cider.”

          1. the gold digger*

            My husband questioned why I was sending my homemade jam (we have a pear tree and I learned to make jam just so all the fruit wouldn’t go to waste) with him to give to his ex mother in law but wouldn’t give any to his own mother. I told him that homemade jam is a personal gift you give to people who have been nice to you.

            (Primo remained very close to his ex MIL, visiting her every time he went to California, and is still very close with his two stepdaughters.)

            (But RadioGirl, your co-worker didn’t do it right! At work, it either goes to everyone or to nobody. And my MIL, Doris, did not know I was giving jam to Primo’s ex MIL.)

            1. Marillenbaum*

              It’s akin to being knitworthy. I knit, and I will knit for people, but only if I really, really love them. So I’ll knit for my nephews, but not for my father. I will also never knit for a guy I’m dating, because that is a guaranteed way to end a relationship.

              1. the gold digger*

                Exactly! I used to knit and friends would offer to pay me to make something. I always told them no – they could not afford to pay me what it really costs. I would do it only for friendship.

    2. RadioGirl*

      The lie he told was that my title and position were not as high up in the station as I was portraying them to be. He hired me to be a manager, but told everyone else I didn’t really have that title but was pretending to have it. I didn’t find out until my last week on the job.

      Why would anyone do that? Do what he did, and what he said I did?

  26. Kristine*

    This is my first year where a gift for my boss are required (as in, literally everyone else in our 5-person office gives him one so I have to as well). Thankfully he loves candy so I’m just going to drop $10 on a nice candy box and call it a day. But everyone else buys gifts for everyone valued at $20-25 each, so it’s an expense I wasn’t planning for.

  27. SuzieQED*

    Also, remember that a LOT of people have allergies or triggers, so do NOT get something like perfume or candles.

    I also know several people with animal fiber issues, so wool or cashmere would both be an issue.

    1. fposte*

      I get that this is an issue for you and you want to make sure it’s represented, but there’s no gift that everybody likes (not everybody likes cash, people who want to say “cash”), and it’s not the end of the world for a gift from a coworker to be something that doesn’t work for you, whether it would make you sick or it just don’t like it.

      1. Cristina in England*

        Thank you for this very reasonable response, fposte. I hate scented stuff but when I receive it I just immediately donate it somewhere and then feel good about having done so (especially if it is nicely packaged).

        1. SuzieQED*

          Again, are you allergic? If not, great.

          This isn’t a matter of saying that people should not regift what they can’t use. Of course they should.

          This is specifically to warn people that these allergies are a lot more common than people here seem to think, becoming increasingly so, and can be really easy to trigger with a scented “gift.”

          Given that they are so easy to avoid in giving a gift (e.g., coffee mugs), I don’t see why there is such pushback.

          Also, we really need to discuss WHY we have these exchanges at work. A lot of the issue stems with taking what is a personal tradition into the office space where there are professional, impersonal relationships.

          For my friend, let’s call her Tianna, all her friends know she’s allergic. No one at work does outside of HR. They make accommodations where they can. This year, they said “no scented items” for the gift exchange. You would not believe the blow-back.

          They had to cancel the whole thing rather than out her as being allergic and having the whole office ask her a bunch of medical questions that were really no one’s business.

          It’s not a matter of people not liking gifts. It’s not a matter of asking people as a one-off.

          People are often not reasonable or rational when asked to adjust what they want to give so everyone can enjoy the process.

          Personally, I say don’t do these exchanges. Usually some one ends up with their feelings hurt or a crappy gift. Sometimes, people end up with something sexualized or dangerous to their health.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            This is now in “not everyone can have sandwiches” territory, as anther commenter pointed out. SuzieQED, you’ve made your point and I think we can move on from this.

          2. fposte*

            At my office, we have these exchanges because we like each other and we want to keep people from spending money on gifts for every single co-worker. With our price point nobody’s getting a traditionally “good” gift, so it’s hard to say what would be a crappy one. We know who has epi-pens and for what, so we’re pretty much good to go here.

          3. Cristina in England*

            Since you asked, I spent a lot of time in the emergency room as a child because of allergies to normal household things, many of them because of their scents. So speaking from experience, I will just shrug it off if I get something I am allergic to.

      2. SuzieQED*

        It’s not an issue of not working for me or not. I’m not allergic.

        I do have a close friend who is.

        Scent allergies can be like peanut allergies or bee stings. It’s simply not “doesn’t work”, it’s “could send to hospital if close proximity.”

        Should she have to run around telling everyone “I have a rare condition that causes me to be allergic to scent and fragrance”?

        Or should we maybe start to realize that once 10-20% of the population has an issue with something, maybe we ought to start including that in our gift calculus.

        I personally never give anything nut based, scent based, or animal based b/c of this.

        To me, that’s just being decent.

        “coworker to be something that doesn’t work for you, whether it would make you sick or it just don’t like it.”

        Do you really mean to say it’s ok to give a gift to someone that would make them sick? That’s how this reads. I don’t think that’s what you mean.

        Scent can be like peanuts. Mere exposure is enough. I may be ok with you having a peanut, but not touching it myself. Similarly, my friend is ok with you wearing perfume, but if it’s close to her or she touches it, game over.

        This is a LOT more common than you think.

        Again, there are tons of choices that are scent free. This is why coffee mug gifts were invented.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          “Or should we maybe start to realize that once 10-20% of the population has an issue with something, maybe we ought to start including that in our gift calculus.”

          To me, this just means that we shouldn’t give gifts to people we don’t know personally. (I’m not really in favor of the gift exchanges with coworkers anyway, and if you start restricting it to no peanuts, no gluten, no animal products, no scents, nothing sized, nothing political etc., it’s really waayyy more trouble than it is worth for my casual acquaintance coworkers.) For the love of all things holy, the last thing I need is another coffee mug.

        2. fposte*

          Yes, of course it’s okay to give a gift that could make somebody sick, if you give it without knowing that’s the case (presuming an adult recipient). Otherwise nobody would give anything at all!

          I have Crohn’s; there are gifts people have recommended that would make me sick, including your coffee mug gift. I’ve gotten them. I pass them on to somebody else. Crohn’s is pretty common these days too, but I don’t think it’s a big deal to give chocolates (and when I’m in form I’m happy to get them).

          You’ve made this comment so often on this post that it really seems like a disproportionate response to me, given the many things that can cause difficulty for a recipient.

    2. caledonia*

      @ suzy. I think you have made your point from your multiple posts in the thread.

      There is no “one” magical gift that fits all people and all situations.

  28. agmat*

    We’re gifting up and I feel sort of eh about it. I have a great boss and he is a newly-promoted manager this year, and we’re also a newly formed team due to internal restructuring. My group’s lead suggested we do a gift card and that I organize it (since I’m organizing the potluck). There are about 15 of us under our boss’s management.

    I suppose I could have just said no right then and there, but group lead explained that they used to do it with their old boss (who was current-boss’s then-boss before promotion). So I agreed, but in my email I said it was a thank for *this year* and that it was completely optional. Most are chipping in between $10-20, so it adds up fast. A few have not responded, which is totally fine – I’m not going to ever tell anyone that they didn’t chip in.

    If it’s suggested to me again next year, I’m going to say I really believe gifts should go down, and suggest something like White Elephant instead.

  29. dragocucina*

    After reading many of the comments I just wanted to remind everyone not to gift someone a sandwich–Because not everyone eats sandwiches.
    Sorry, sorry, feeling snarky this afternoon.

      1. dragocucina*

        Thank you. Mind reading goes well with my talent for snide remarks and eye rolling. It’s why they hide me in the back.

    1. Chriama*

      I literally got a sandwich last year. I mean, it was a prepackaged one from the cafeteria and there was also a $10 giftcard in there too ($15 limit), so it was given in good fun – and it was stolen from me so it must have been compelling. But yeah, I don’t like sandwiches, but they are still regiftable lol.

      *Side note: I actually ended up with a really crappy gift that I think was meant to be a joke but there was no explanation, so one of the managers swapped his with me. I was still ticked off about it though.

  30. Anna*

    We do a low pressure Secret Santa every year. All voluntary, with a total spent of $20 max. Managers and directors and staff all participate and nobody thinks it’s weird. I tried to suggest managers and directors exchange with themselves and staff amongst themselves so there wouldn’t be any gifting up, but that got shot down and I think it’s all right. I’ve never had anyone complain and if someone participates one year but not the next, nobody cares.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, that’s pretty much ours (I think our max is lower but I’m usually creating something anyway). For me it’s not so much my undying need to give presents at the holidays as it is a way to channel that impulse into an organized policy with a low bar to entry, so as to avoid the “OMG I have to give presents to 20 people/OMG I don’t even know if I’m supposed to give presents to people” dilemmas.

  31. Blue Anne*

    My new office has everyone put down 3 cheap ideas for things they’d like on the slips of paper we draw out of the hat. It seems like a really good idea to me. People aren’t super specific about it (I put down beer, chocolate or yarn, my giftee put down tea, bath stuff or a movie), and it definitely makes it easier.

    1. fposte*

      If you use Elfster for a gift draw, it allows you to provide hints, too. (Just beware of giving Elfster your birthday, because it will pester your friends about it.)

  32. Garland Not Andrews*

    This time of year I am soooooo glad I work for Big Government and the rules for gifts are extremely rigid. Very low dollar limits and especially in our office if there is a voluntary gift exchange there is NO pressure to join if you don’t want to.

  33. Garland Not Andrews*

    I have been know to leave little bags of Snowman poop (mini marshmallows) on all the desks in the office! Along with the little rhyme “You’ve been bad! Here’s the scoop. All you get is Snowman Poop!” Giggles all around!

    1. dragocucina*

      My oldest son and I started a joke that he was too bad for coal. He would get dead fish (Swedish fish), snowman poop, and switches (licorice whips). He loved it and my youngest son was thrilled when he became a “bad teen” and could get the bad boy gifts. I used a variation for my “horrible” employees at our staff training day. Everyone received something. Giggles indeed!

  34. Rebecca*

    I saw this post, and asked my new coworkers what, if any, Christmas activities are forthcoming. I framed it as, since I’m new, I don’t want to arrive on a random day and everyone is decorating, or having some sort of activity because they always do something on the second Wednesday of December, something like that.

    I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there are no gift exchanges or secret Santa activities. It was our manager’s birthday today, and someone did get a card from all of us, but that was it.

    Whew. The one thing we are doing is a charitable thing to help 3 families, but there is no pressure to participate. It’s strictly voluntary. This is such a pleasant and welcome change from my previous job.

  35. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

    How timely – one of my team leads sent around an opt-in for Secret Santa… and the other went around person by person asking if we were participating. I said “no thanks.” He asked why; I said “I don’t really have much money” and he looked really offended and taken aback. (I make low $30s in an expensive city, I’m a temp who may not be employed much longer, and he knows both these things damn well.)

    Guess I’m just Not a Team Player. :-/

  36. Maxwell Edison*

    Holiday bonuses and gifts were gradually phased out over the years back at ToxicJob. I think the last gift I got from my manager was a candy apple; one of those ones so encrusted with nuts and frosting that you have to hack through all that to get to the apple. I ended up tossing it in the trash.

    1. Liz2*

      I know, those always look so incredible and then I think about having to actually eat it and think “I’d rather just have a candy bar.”

  37. Audiophile*

    This is timely. I’m in a new-ish job and they do Secret Santa, so everyone takes a name and the limit is $15.
    The person I got will likely end up with DD gift card or Chipotle, since we’ve discussed those things. Nothing wilder than that.

  38. Wren*

    Late to the party, but it’s frustrating to see scented hand lotion gifts considered in the “not everyone can eat sandwiches” category. It’s not about receiving something scented as a gift- I can regift, donate or trash it, not a big deal. I’m not expecting a meaningful, useful gift from a boss or coworker. It’s that 4 out of 5 of my co-workers will keep said lotion in their cube and apply throughout the day. The gift that keeps on giving, unfortunately.

  39. Edie Beale*

    I work in an academic department so we have a “Book Swap” at our annual holiday party. It’s wholly voluntary and if you participate, you have to bring a recently published (or new) book under $20.00 to “swap.” We’ve had good results with it in the past and everyone gets a book (because we’re all book fiends) and no one goes home with some absolute garbage. In terms of actual gifts, I’m the department’s administrator, so I have a pretty steady parade of people bringing me things and they’re always well-considered (this year I got a “Nasty Woman” mug). However, one of the adjuncts always re-gifts me things like a three year-old candle from Anthropologie and a bookmark or white cashmere gloves (!!!) that she clearly just didn’t want cluttering-up her million dollar brownstone, which makes me really uncomfortable because she clearly thinks she’s doing me some great act of charity. One year she gave my assistant, who is very subdued and not flashy, this absolutely gaudy starfish and pearl necklace that was so utterly thoughtless. Not as terrible as my friend’s boss at another university who had her assistant break down her fruit basket, reuse gift bags and gelt, and re-distribute the fruit basket to her employees.

  40. Intern*

    Just used these to convince my husband (he’s the intern) not to get his supervisor a box of chocolates to go with his thank you note. I’m pretty sure he’d be the only person to give a gift so thank you Alison! Awkwardness avoided!

  41. Lylla*

    I can’t help but think back to that cringe-worthy episode of The Office where Michael hates the oven mitt Phyllis gave to him, so he turns the Secret Santa into a Yankee Swap instead. So, sooo painful

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