my employee gave me a hideously awful gift … and more holiday gift questions

Over at New York Magazine today, I answered a bunch of questions from readers about holiday gift-giving at work, including:

  • My boss wants an expensive gift!
  • How can I discourage employees from giving me gifts?
  • What about giving gifts to coworkers?
  • Should I send a gift to a potential employer?
  • Is it appropriate to give my intern a gift?
  • My employee gave me a hideously awful gift

You can read it here.

{ 208 comments… read them below }

  1. WellRed*

    I so want to know what the hideous journal looks like. I also want to punch the boss (and her henchman) in No. 1.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes to both.

      $60/person is insane, a $720 “gift” is insane, and I am DYING to know what the journal looks like.

      Alternately, can OP2’s workplace cancel the collection, fetch the journal from the last letter-writer, give the nicely gift-wrapped journal to the owner, and call it a day?

      1. MK*

        I just realised the gift/extortion money would add up to so much and am floored. (In my country, engagement rings aren’t traditionally a thing, instead each fiance and their family buy the other fiance a piece of jewelry or a watch at that price range. Around 700$ is what a family collectively would spend on the hopefully one-off occassion that they are welcoming a new member-by-marriage into the ranks. For an employer, it’s insane)

    2. Lucette Kensack*

      Right. I honestly can’t imagine how a journal could be so objectively ugly that it generates this much focus.

    3. AdminX2*

      Yes! And why it couldn’t even be donated to a thrift store? Some people like recovering them as new gifts.

  2. Johnny Tarr*

    The bit about not giving lotions surprised me. It has been somewhat common in my employment history to give someone a small, purse-sized tube of fancy lotion – something nice that people wouldn’t usually buy for themselves. As long as scent issues are respected, this seems to me like a thoughtful and not-overly-personal gift to give a coworker.

    1. WellRed*

      I think it’s fine to give a small hand lotion, but I also see why others consider it a no go. So many people have issues with certain formulations, skin issues etc.
      No need for everyone to now post all of their own specific issues.

    2. RussianInTexas*

      Ehh, depends. Also, every woman I know already has hand lotion in her purse/on her desk, so people do buy these for themselves.

      1. Johnny Tarr*

        The “fancy” part was what I was referring to there. If I have lotion in my purse, it’s usually, like, Publix brand. Or Jergens, if I’m feeling extravagant. :-)

        1. fhqwhgads*

          In my experience that’s part of the problem. This is such a personal thing, at least for folks I know/hang out with. They have the kind they like. They don’t necessarily want/care for/would be willing to use another – not just due to potential scent issues. Fancier != better, and the fact that it’s different at all may be enough to make it pointless to the recipient. This isn’t the care with everyone of course, but it’s a big enough risk I’d absolutely not bother gifting lotion or hand cream unless I knew it were the specific kind that person uses.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      I’ve seen people give out small bottles of lotion or body wash from Bath & Body Works or similar. When I worked retail one of my bosses gave one to me in a scent I loved.

      I guess it is kind of risky, though, because what if the person is sensitive to smells or allergic to certain lotions or just doesn’t like the scent you bought them.

      1. TiffIf*

        I hate most scented lotions and most lotions leave a greasy film on my hands. I have two brands that I like (Eucerin and Burt’s Bees Milk and Honey) every other hand lotion I get (including in Christmas gifts) gets discarded. They don’t work for me.

        1. Clorinda*

          Yes, and those brands you like aren’t terribly ‘fancy,’ so if someone decided to upgrade your Eucerin to something more luxe as a gift, that would be a sad waste.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I’m allergic to tons of scents. Either they irritate my skin, or they cause an asthma attack, or they trigger a migraine.

        It makes shopping for things like hair products, skincare products, and deodorant awful. I find a product that works wonderfully but then I can’t breathe, or the scent is fine but now my skin’s all broken out in a rash. It’s fun.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Same here. I never give anything scented, and if I hand out hand sanitizer it’s unscented.

          IMO, food where a person can pick a flavor works pretty well.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      What’s the deal with buying things for people that they wouldn’t buy for themselves?

      I am speaking as someone with adequate disposable income for all the lotion I want, but I do understand that’s a limiting factor for many people. However, if I wanted fancier lotion, I would buy it for myself. I prefer using cetophil or products like that. If you’ve never seen me own anything or use anything, the reason is probably that I don’t want it or don’t care about it enough to prioritize it, not that it’s too luxurious to buy myself.

      1. Dragoning*

        A lot of people feel vaguely guilty “spoiling” themselves with something like fancier lotion they don’t “need.” And getting something that might be a treat for a present is pretty normal, I think.

        1. Johnny Tarr*

          Exactly this. A $15 bottle of purse lotion is something I technically could buy for myself, but I could never justify actually doing it.

          1. Shocked Pikachu*

            I use plain Nivea creme. I used to buy me the 2 oz tube. Then suddenly my local stores wouldn’t have it, just the small round tin (which doesn’t work for me). They must have stopped making the tube because I couldn’t find it online either, just on eBay, with like best deal being 2 for 10. I mean… I just bought the $3 travel silicon tube and fill it from my big $5.99 Nivea jar. As much as I love it, I can’t get myself to spend 10 bucks on 2oz tube. Now if somebody was to gift it to me… I’d be very happy :)

            1. The New Wanderer*

              If you mean Nivea Soft in the 2.6 oz tube (which I also love!), they still carry it at the Fred Meyer near me. So it might be that your stores were temporarily out of stock, or maybe it’s regional? I’m in the US pacific northwest. Hopefully they haven’t discontinued it permanently!

        2. Artemesia*

          ‘fancy’ lotions are the thing I most often see tucked in a work closet or drawer and thrown out when the person leave the job; few people like other people’s taste in scents or lotions. True for elderly people too who often get lotions they can’t use. Lotions are very personal and most people who use them have selected their personal favorite.

          1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            Yeah, this. It’s not a terrible gift, it’s just one that can frequently end up being not that appreciated. I enjoy high-end hand lotion but don’t usually buy it for myself.
            But inevitably when someone gives me lotion as a gift, it’s either a scent I hate or a formulation that makes my skin feel like vellum. The seasonal scent lotions are often the worst offenders, and they’re gifted pretty often.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              I would look at a container of lotion and wonder what the heck I was supposed to do with it. I’m very, very, very picky about what I put on my skin, and I don’t generally use commercial lotions.

          2. Dragoning*

            Lotion is kind of a weird and bad gift, but a fancier version of a thing someone already buys a plainer version of is not, itself, a bad gift idea.

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Generally that’s what adult gifting should be. Nicer gloves, coffee, chocolate, pyjamas (not for a colleague), socks, etc. than the everyday version. Nice new hardback rather than waiting for the paperback.

      2. MK*

        Eh, giving a gift that you would like, but don’t care enough to prioritize buying, is a great gift, in my opinion. I love bath products and quality coffee and now I can and do buy them for myself, but 15 years ago, when I was stil living with my parents and saving, I couldn’t justify dropping 15 euro for a shower gel or 10 for a special blend. It was frankly the best gifts anyone can could have given me. And even if you don’t care at all for the quality of your lotion, you probably will use it and it won’t go to waste.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I think what you said — a gift that you would like — is key. So, my experience is coming from family life where my mother wants to buy things I wouldn’t buy myself in the sense that things she wants me to have, rather than things I want but won’t buy. When I hear “something you wouldn’t buy yourself”, I am hearing something different from the rest of you.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Ah yes. The “you should like this now, and the fact that you don’t only serves to show us how you fail to meet our expectations” gift. I am very familiar.

      3. Rugby*

        “What’s the deal with buying things for people that they wouldn’t buy for themselves?”

        Isn’t that the purpose of gifts? To give something special to show that we value the person? That something special is usually something non-essential, but nice to have. Have I been doing gifts wrong my whole life?

        1. MayLou*

          For me at least, it’s more than I don’t deserve posh hand cream as much as I deserve not to fall behind with my mortgage arrears. When the posh kind is ten or twenty times as expensive as the cheap kind (and especially when it’s not really a necessity to start with, like perfume), it’s not an insignificant chunk of my budget.

          1. Fikly*

            That is totally valid. But are you buying that posh hand cream for someone else? If so, then why not for you? If not, then it really is a budget issue.

      4. ThatGirl*

        I mean, I like getting things I either wouldn’t think to buy for myself or are too “fancy” to justify buying regularly. I do have about 4 tubes/bottles of scented lotion that I am taking years to use, because I mostly stick to unscented, but I like them.

      5. Everdene*

        I call this category of gift giving “luxury essentials” and I use it frequently as a giver and appreciate it as reciever. When I was a student my mum often gifted me make up from a brand I love(d) but was out my student budget. Now I’ll buy my husband a fancy coffee blend that he wouldn’t justify spending on every day but will really enjoy on weekend mornings. Or my dad a shirt from his favourite brand that he couldn’t justify on a regualr basis. For my sister and BiL with young kids, anything just for them is a luxury so it might be an ‘average’ brand but they get new clothes/fav sweets/Blu rays that will never take priority over things for the kids. The reason I think it works well as a gift is that the person needs/uses things of this type but not necessarily at the higher quality level, you are making day to day life a bit more joyful and the item won’t get wasted.

      6. Eukomos*

        If they’d buy it for themselves and want it then they probably already have, and giving someone a gift that’s a duplicate of something they already own can diminish the excitement of getting the gift. If they would buy it for themselves but haven’t, it suggests they don’t want it and that’s a bad gift.

        1. Auntie Social*

          I’ve given a replacement of my assistant’s lipstick and a little two-lipstick holder with mirror. She liked that.

        2. PollyQ*

          There’s a whole swath of things that people theoretically could buy for themselves, but don’t know they exist, or wouldn’t think the pricier version was worth the money. I’ve given gifts like this (extra-nice sheets, which were a revelation to people who’d only ever bought the cheapest percale) and received some (high-quality oven mitts, of all things, which are more insulated, longer lasting, and have grippy silicone stripes).

          There’s almost never a 100% guarantee that something you choose for someone else (rather than off a wish list) is going to be a “good gift”, but I think the “nicer version of something they already use” category is usually pretty safe.

      7. Lily Rowan*

        This is a serious question: what do you think a good present is? The “nice” version of an everyday useful item is a classic “good gift” category, because a lot of people buy (eg) store brand lotion, bulk packs of socks, or use the notebooks in the office supply closet, but would enjoy a fancier version of each of those things. Even if they can afford them on their own!

      8. kittymommy*

        I mean there are a ton of things that I don’t buy for myself that I’d like to get. And yeah it’s more because I feel guilty splurging on it. For example, there was a blush I really wanted but I was like “I’m not spending $30 on blush” so my friend got it for me as a gift. I think there are probably a lot of people like that.

      9. whingedrinking*

        With some things it’s not only about money, it’s also about the difficulty or inconvenience involved in getting the thing. My mother can absolutely afford to buy herself a cute top from an indie boutique in Nearby Big City, and would enjoy having one, but she doesn’t want one badly enough to actually trek out to NBC. I, who live in NBC, am happy to buy her one and take it to her in Hometown as a mark of my general fondness for her as my mom.

    5. a heather*

      I agree, it surprised me. Lotion or perfume/body spray (I’m thinking more Bath and Body Works, not expensive perfume) doesn’t seem “personal” to me at all; clearly you have to know the person well enough to know they don’t have scent issues, but that’s not bad.

      Clothes, yes, especially because of sizing issues, because one size fits all does not actually fit all, and you are unlikely to choose the correct size for your coworkers. I can’t even always choose the correct size for myself on the first try.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        If someone gave me perfume/body spray, I would know that they didn’t know me at all, and got a gift for a stereotype office female. Bleah. I’d re-gift it.

      2. fhqwhgads*

        You have to know them well enough to know they: don’t have scent issues, are not allergic to any of the ingredients in the lotion, are someone who actually ever willingly uses or wants to use lotion. My coworkers are much more likely to correctly guess my t-shirt size than know whether I am a lotion user.

      3. Lea*

        There are scents I don’t like so I kind of get this, but I am giving a nice hand cream to some coworkers that is very lightly/not scented? I think it’s probably fine.

    6. Knitter*

      I’m allergic to most “fancy” lotion. I break out in hives and am uncomfortable for days. Last year I got a very nice package of small hand creams from a colleague. I appreciated the thought but regifted.

      I do try to stay away from food and beauty products when gifting for allergy and preference reasons.

    7. Quill*

      Hand lotions are probably not inappropriate, but they are going to run up against the scented vs unscented and sensitive skin minefield.

      Body lotions, especially fancy ones, can have other connotations that might not be work appropriate.

    8. Asmodeus-ish*

      I got each of my reports a gift set from Lush this year…. and now I”m panicking a little. I hadn’t considered any scent issues or that this might be perceived as overly-personal…WELP.

      1. jz*

        If you’d done that in my office, you would have had two people needing immediate sick leave, one for asthma and one for migraines.

        Not saying it didn’t go well with your current staff, but please keep in mind that heavily scented stuff is a real problem for a lot of people.

    9. The Other Dawn*

      Even though I like scented lotion, I wouldn’t want it as a gift unless it was a scent I like. But 99% of the time that’s not the case. People buy me what they like, not what I like. I like light floral scents, whereas just about every other person I know (it seems) likes vanilla, something with musk or sandalwood, or another heavy scent. My sister-in-law used to buy me lotion or bath products for Christmas and I hated it, because it was always vanilla or something similar.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        The smell of Lush is something I really don’t like. L’Occitane on the other hand would be great.

    10. Half-Caf Latte*

      I think I’ve told this story here before – of the hospital which gifted employees a lotion and body wash set, that no one was thrilled about. So some staff decided to use it on patients (not a great choice, certainly, but this was back when it was bar soap and really slimy lotion as the default, not the more therapeutic/clinical grade options for skin integrity).

      Anyway, a bunch of patients had immediate skin reactions to it. Was still legendary a decade later.

    11. AdminX2*

      To add, I would accept it gracefully but 95% likely chance I’d regift or thrift it. I am super picky on scents and textures.

  3. RussianInTexas*

    I really really want to see that notebook. Because I can’t quiet imagine it to be THAT ugly to bring up that much emotion.

        1. Nanc*

          I just snort-laughed in the office–so unprofessional!

          My thought was it might be a Hermione Grangeresque Homework Planner–don’t wait until later you big second rater!

    1. OrigCassandra*

      Cover made of random fabric scraps! From holiday-themed fabrics! BEDAZZLED!

      … yeah, no, I can’t quite get even this to arrive at “hideous.” I think it’s close, though.

      1. Zephy*

        Let me try.

        50 pages. Double ring bound, but rings are just a little too small, so you have to jimmy it some to get it to open and close properly. The covers are made of thick, clunky cardboard, bedazzled and printed with a vague pastiche of words and imagery – a blurry Eiffel Tower or Arc d’Triomphe here, some scripty-handwritingy words printed backwards for some reason?? over there. Random gems in different sizes stuck all over, so it doesn’t lay flat, despite the ring binding. A generally desaturated peach-and-midtone gray color scheme straight out of 2007. The paper is so flimsy that a Bic pen will bleed through it, and they wanted a fancy deckle edge but the paper is so crappy that it just looks badly-cut. There are Bible verses riddled with typos that take up the bottom 1/5 of every page, and also the whole thing is for some reason shaped like a letter that appears nowhere in OP’s name.

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          I would never USE it, but I would love to display this monstrosity prominently on my desk. XD

        2. BadWolf*

          This sounds terrible and amazing all at once.

          I recently bought a hot pink, cover slightly stained, person’s name written on the front cover journal at a rummage sale because it had great paper in it. At home, I covered it with stickers. Perfect.

        3. Stabbity Tuesday*

          I think I actually got one just like this, except it had a random cutout in the middle of the cover with a wire and cardboard butterfly glued into it.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Right, lol. Alison’s matter of fact response was what made me laugh out loud though – she treated it so respectfully, like this was a real, actual problem needing advice. I would have been too busy cracking up to write a coherent response.

    3. Turquoisecow*

      I can’t even imagine using the word ugly to describe a notebook so I’m honestly kind of confused.

    4. Shadowbelle*

      There used to be a site called “Regretsy”. It highlighted many truly awful things available for purchase on Etsy. I’m imagining the journal to be just such a thing.

      1. Platypus Enthusiast*

        Not quite the same, but there’s a subreddit called ‘DiWhy’ you might enjoy, and online groups dedicated to strange things found while going thrift shopping!

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          OMG, me too! I still have the made-up Finnish folk tales book from when April did the Finland trip/Regretsy meetup!

    5. Platypus Enthusiast*

      I spent the last 15 minutes googling notebooks to see if I could find something truly hideous. Some were pretty ugly, but not enough that I’d throw it out. Now I’m wondering if my taste is terrible!

      1. AnotherAlison*

        In my googling, I found that they make journal covers. If it was nice paper, that would be the way to go.

      1. Junimo the Hutt*

        Fun fact: this accurately describes the first professional cover my publisher sent me! Yes, I let out a physical scream when I opened that email.

        (I got a better cover eventually)

    6. Jennifer*

      Yeah it definitely sounded a bit melodramatic. I can’t imagine it was really that bad. I’d probably keep it around. I always end up needing something to jot down grocery lists, meal planning, ideas, and other random stuff. For me to throw it away, there would have to be something offensive on the cover like a slur. Beyond that, it’s just paper.

      Maybe the OP has a very particular style.

      1. The Original K.*

        Right! At the end of the day, it’s paper. Rip out the pages and use them as packing materials or wrapping paper. Scrawl grocery lists on them. I cannot imagine being this pressed about sheets of paper.

        I keep a journal and have been given many, and IMO this is not that serious.

      2. NYWeasel*

        My recommendation would be to simply keep it at your desk for to-do lists.

        I tend to approach office gift giving like it’s a scratch-off lottery ticket. Once in a while you get something horrific (like the person who ended up with a can of creamed corn and spaghetti plus a cheap plastic toy in our Yankee Swap bc someone else decided to be extremely juvenile and put in a prank gift), once in a while you end up with something you adore, like the holiday mug I use year round bc it’s simply PERFECT for my coffee, and most of the time it’s *almost* a winner, but not quite. But focus on the fun and amusement—look how much conversation we can have about ugly journals!—rather than getting caught up in why it’s not right for you. And then you can honestly say “OMG, I can’t wait to show this to my family!” lollll

    7. Jay*

      I’m remembering way back in the long long ago when I was in junior high/high school (it was the late ’80s to early ’90s, when dinosaurs and Hair Bands ruled the earth). A very popular (among the students, anyway) series of notebooks featured a full page closeup of a your choice of a man or woman’s butt in a really, really tight pair of jeans.
      I’m picturing something along those lines, perhaps with slightly fewer butts.

    8. Half-Caf Latte*

      If the notebook had been donated to goodwill, then it could be a new burn book for another dysfunctional office!!!

  4. Mediamaven*

    Just adding a comment that I think could be valuable. While you shouldn’t get your boss a gift, if your boss does something really nice for the holidays like buying a nice dinner, hosting a party, providing gifts for everyone, give them a thank you card or a holiday card! It’s a small sentiment but it means a lot. just because a gift comes from your boss doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say thank you for it. It will go a long way.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I give gifts to my team every year. I’m always thanked quite nicely in person, which is completely adequate, and often more than adequate.

      But I do enjoy the thank-you notes.

      And if you REALLY want to do something nice for your boss, tell them in writing why you think they are a good boss. Be a little specific.

      Some of us try really hard to be good bosses: fair, respectful, encouraging, determined to make work as enjoyable as possible, willing to step up to maintain discipline but in an effective and appropriate way…

      And our own bosses don’t often see exactly what we do each day; they leave us to it, and they look at the larger end result. So telling me you think my checklist idea is smart, or that you enjoy working on my projects because you feel your skills are given free reign and that’s fun–those would be things that would absolutely make my Christmas WAY more than any gift or generic “thanks for the gift card” you could do.

    2. Mimi Me*

      Every year I see news stories about how school teachers always get the same generic gifts followed by a “best gifts” list. The thank you note always tops the list. So I started giving a small gift card or box of chocolates with a little note to the teachers or staff that have helped my kids through the year. Two years ago we gave a specific staff member a note with a coffee gift card. My son said that she read the note and cried. He got so mad at me for making her cry, but she assured him that the note was nice and the tears were the happy variety. She even sent me a thank you for the note. My son says that the note is on her desk still. :)
      Never discount the power of a sincere note to say thank you and job well done!

    3. WorkingGirl*

      This is a great point. My boss always takes the team out for a nice dinner and gives us all a small holiday bonus. I was thinking of bringing in cookies for the whole office, and a card for boss this year.

    4. alacrity*

      I keep thank you notes in my desk (along with birthday cards, “just because” cards, get well soon and sympathy cards–it’s basically a card shop) at my desk for this express purpose. The head of the department has a tendency to just put a gift on our chair the night before the last day of work before the holiday and then not be in the office the last day. So I quickly write a note to thank him and put it in his inbox for him to get when he returns in the new year. Since I won’t get an opportunity to thank him in person for well over a week that way I won’t forget.

  5. Drew*

    I really hope the employee who was supposed to cough up $60 for a gift pushed back and got them to back off. My fear is that they said, “Mandatory means mandatory” and somehow docked it from her paycheck, because they sound like the kind of rapacious awful people who would do that.

    1. Lilo*

      That would be illegal. I would bet my buttons this isn’t the only sketchy thing this employer does. If possible, that poor LW needs to find another job.

      1. JM60*

        Unfortunately, I think that’s actually legal in some states so long as docking that pay doesn’t bring the employee below minimum wage. It definitely should be illegal though.

        1. NJ Anon*

          Illegal. You cannot take money out of someone’s paycheck without their permission (except for mandatory taxes).

    2. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      I was in a similar situation with the longest employed office staffer at my last job. It was only $15, but we were all paid well below market rate with the promises of bonuses to make up for it (without mentioning I wouldn’t get one for TWO YEARS). She was a serious bully and made it very clear that contributing to a gift card for the boss was Not Optional. It was a small office and she could make your life miserable by “forgetting” things and playing controversial talk radio programs directly outside your office. Not to mention the gossip. Our boss/business owner was awful and obviously expected his $150-200 gift card for Christmas.
      So no, she couldn’t deduct it from our paychecks, but she and our boss could make us very unhappy with escape hardly viable considering the limited employment opportunities locally.
      I did get out with some other people. That got vicious as well, but it didn’t matter anymore.

    3. Sara without an H*

      Yes, I sincerely hope the OP spends the holidays hunting for another position. Anybody who would shake down employees for a gift is corrupt, crazy, or both.

  6. Lilo*

    That company owner is demanding over $700 from his employees for a gift. That’s incredibly messed up, especially telling an employee who can’t afford it that it is mandatory. Completely insane.

    1. IDK My BFF Jill*

      Seriously. The owner is essentially docking each employee $60 of pay in order to buy herself a gift. That is absurd and beyond unacceptable.

      1. She's One Crazy Diamond*

        If they’re making federal minimum wage in the US, that’s a full day’s worth of pay.

        1. Quill*

          Or more, considering the rash of “we’ll book you for 8 hours and 10 minutes, but with your 15 minute break, that comes out to 7 hours and 5 minutes pay!”

    2. Autumnheart*

      I’m waiting for the update where they just take the $60 out of OP’s paycheck. Although that would give OP a great opportunity to go have a chat with the state DOL, because I bet they’d love to hear about this.

    3. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      Not only is this horrible but bosses should never underestimate the amount of illwill it creates. I will never forget when I worked for a small family company and the owner’s secretary came around demanding a mandatory contribution for the owner’s Christmas gift. I don’t remember the exact amount but at least $20 but maybe $30. I was making $6 an hour so roughly half a day’s pay! But the worst part was, in return we got no Christmas bonus but only a sweatshirt with the company logo worth less than $10. Almost 30 years later I’m still resentful.

    4. WorkIsADarkComedy*

      When I see a terrible boss like this I fantasize about an Employee Rescue Squad. When the boss or their minion does the terrible thing of the day, the squad shows up (wearing costumes of course), and says the tagline, “What the f*** is wrong with you?”, whereupon the audience roars.

      Then the squad schools the person on exactly why they are being so terrible, leaving them whimpering and apologizing to the employee, vowing never to do it again.

  7. Arya Snark*

    Re: #2 – I once worked at job with a similar situation though the amount wasn’t quite as high (but it was over 20 years ago). The owner, Mabel, was a big Elvis fan and whoever was in charge got her an Elvis sculpture with our collected $$$. Mabel Did Not Like the sculpture and made it quite clear when it was given to her. She pouted and talked about just how much she didn’t like it through our entire holiday party. A party that my manager requested that my entire department dress in black for because reasons. Yeah, that was a festive occasion. I loved that manager but hated the company and everyone else there, most of whom were related to Mabel. I quit shortly thereafter.

  8. Peaches*

    It’s hard to imagine a journal being ugly, but I wouldn’t be caught dead using this thing.

    It really is hard to imagine, haha. I’m dying to see it!

    1. Auntie Social*

      What do you say when you’ve been given a purple organizer with glitter and unicorns and flocking? You know that employee is hoping to see her use it. . . .

      1. Jennifer*

        “I visited my niece on vacation and she took such a liking to it and started drawing in it before I could stop her.”

        1. 'Tis Me*

          I was going to say, my 5 year old would be all over that (and the toddler might try to fight her for it)!

    1. RussianInTexas*

      Or turn the page and leave it open (I have my open permanently on my desk as I keep it write messages and phone calls and such).

    2. AnotherAlison*

      Right? I was thinking that’s a great item for one of the charity gift requests for kids. Teen girls like journals, and they sometimes have bad taste.

  9. Merci Dee*

    This year, I found a collection of adorable little gift bags, about 4 inches square, that were made out of brown craft paper with old-fashioned holiday/winter scenes stamped onto them. I filled each bag with a selection of chocolates and a candy cane, and gave those to my co-workers for gifts this year. For my boss, I also found (on sale, and it was a steal) a fabulous ceramic travel mug; the mug is black, and its stamped in gold, “This might be wine”. She died laughing when she saw what was written on the mug — she said it will come in handy the next time her toddler grandson comes over and starts running and squealing through the house. :)

    I got a number of notes through our messenger program throughout the afternoon thanking me for the chocolates, because they were really helping some folks power through the afternoon after we had a departmental lunch at a fancy Italian restaurant and had all loaded up on carbs.

        1. Merci Dee*

          I didn’t go with terribly expensive candies — I got some Hershey’s kisses, a mix of holiday chocolates with Reece’s peanut butter trees, mini Hershey bars, and York peppermint patties. And then the candy canes. So I was loading folks up with enough sugar to keep them pleasantly vibrating for a few hours. :)

    1. Sara without an H*

      I don’t like gifts in the workplace but, if it’s going to be done, this is the way to do it. Good job, Merci Dee!

      Oh, and I really have to find a place to buy that travel mug.

      1. Merci Dee*

        Of all the places to find a ceramic travel mug, it was in the check-out area at our local Joann fabric/craft store. Hope that helps. :)

    2. CM*

      I really like this idea — it’s a small, inexpensive gift that people can consume (or easily give away if they are anti-sugar). Nice gesture of goodwill without making anybody feel obligated or uncomfortable.

      1. Merci Dee*

        The cute bags I found came in a package of 8, so I was able to work up treats for my 6 co-workers and two other ladies who sit in the cubes immediately surrounding ours — these ladies two other ladies are good work friends, and we work together a few times a month on small things, so I didn’t want them to feel left out when I was distributing chocolates. I think it took me about 5 minutes total to fill the bags with treats and put a little piece of tape on the top to keep the candy from spilling out.

        Of course, once again, I managed to bring candies for everyone else in the department, but forgot to pack a ziplock bag of treats for myself . . . . sigh.

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      I’ve done:

      -homemade vanilla extract
      -individual bottles of hot sauce (for both of these the glass jars was the biggest expense)
      -gussied-up chex mix in a nice container
      -homemade hot cocoa mix, once with homemade marshmallows

      My FIL does homemade mustard, and his coworkers have started hinting around Thanksgiving that they’re out of last year’s mustard.

  10. Jedi Squirrel*

    Well, now I may just have to create hideous journals to sell on Etsy for people to give their bosses.

    1. texan in exile*

      I like the notebook I found and sent to a friend: The cover says, “This meeting is bullshit.”

    2. Curmudgeon in California*

      Redbubble. You do the artwork, upload it, and they can print stickers, mugs, t-shirts and notebooks.

  11. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    I am astounded at the last LW! Seriously, from the headline and her reaction, I expected that she opened the box to find a severed finger or bloody heart or something. It’s just a notebook but “too hideous to even have in her house”? Wow. It may not be the LW’s taste, but that doesn’t make it objectively “hideous”. Think about it: somebody designed and created it, another person chose that design to manufacture into a salable product. A retail company’s buyer chose that journal to carry in their inventory, and finally someone purchased it. That’s four people right there that not only didn’t think it was hideous but liked it and by their actions thought others would like it as well.

    1. Kelly L.*

      And it has pages in it, which can surely be used for something. I have no room to talk, because I’m infamous for buying journals and not using them, but in LW’s shoes I’d probably just give it a boring purpose and use it up. Grocery lists? Mileage?

      1. valentine*

        Why should they work so hard to preserve something that’s entirely negative for them? Trashing it ASAP is the best response that doesn’t involve fire.

    2. Mediamaven*

      Like, what were you hoping to hear? The gift giver gets put on a PIP to learn how to give more attractive gifts? IDK.

    3. RussianInTexas*

      Well, some things are objectively hideous, but I at a loss trying to imagine a notebook described as such.

    4. Shadowbelle*

      Not necessarily four people. Possibly only one or two. It could be a handmade that one person made and one person bought, or it could be handmade by the gift-giver. I’ve made journals. I’ve even made paper and then made journals from the handmade paper. The basics are pretty easy.

    5. yala*

      I’m kind of inclined to agree. I was thinking something awful like that Captain Awkward letter where her brother and SIL just got her, like, a bunch of scratched up thrift store DVDs

    6. fhqwhgads*

      It just begs so many questions…was it maybe poor word choice? I’m not trying to pick on the word choice, but specifically “ugly” and “hideous” give me a different frame of what to try to imagine than if this notebook were somehow otherwise visually unsuitable. Like if it were extremely juvenile, or Adult and therefore inappropriate for work, OK I can see the not usable aspect, but if I’m limiting to only that which would be strictly ugly or hideous…I don’t know what that leaves. Are we talking something gruesome or gory? Or what?

  12. CatCat*

    I had never seen the “peach candle from SNL” video that the last OP references. I am glad I have my own office with the door shut because I am DYYYYING! I have been both giver and recipient of things of the peach candle’s ilk. OMG, it unifies us all. :-D

    1. Say My Name*

      I used to work someplace where the newest person to be hired was “gifted” a cross-stitch rooster that’d been mounted into a little cast iron skillet as a frame.

      Wonder what ever happened to it?

    2. Half-Caf Latte*

      Same. My town does a buy-nothing secret santa exchange, and the only info I’ve gotten about my recipient is she’s gluten free, and her child is vegan, with no context about whether there are other children or ages. My gifts are extremely generic.

  13. Amber Rose*

    My boss gets upset when I try to buy her a coffee (like, she insists on giving me all the change in her pocket to pay for it), so I’m not gonna bother with gifts. I was thinking I might make macaroons though. They are easy to make gluten free, and then everyone can have some including my boss.

  14. No real name here*

    OMG, LW #1. My spouse and I don’t even spend $60 on each other. The only people I spend more than that amount on are my children. This owner is so, so vile.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, come to think of it, I have only ever bought gifts worth more than $60 for my children. And that was only after we became financially comfortable. First couple of years in the US, each kid had a $25 limit. Then things improved somewhat and for the next several years, it became a $50 limit.

  15. Say My Name*

    In my last job, the plate was passed each year to collect funds for a gift our boss. He made $240k, his wife was retired from a Fortune 500 company, and they had a second home *with its own guest house*.

    Our staff team was small (think under half a dozen) and the person organizing the gift was only looking at items over $100, including a Ring doorbell. For his second home.

    I couldn’t find a way to get out of it and begrudgingly contributed 2 years in a row. My plan for this year (before I got laid off… yay!) was to make a contribution before Thanksgiving to a nonprofit I already support and to let the team know it was made in their honor.

    2 birds
    1 stone
    $0 contributed to someone who didn’t really need anything from Brookstone

    1. Shocked Pikachu*

      This just reminded me of Just Shoot Me episode in which rich kids were selling cookies to fundraise a new chandelier for their private school dining room. I mean, would you like to contribute to buy your boss $100+ doorbell for his second house ? LOL, that would fit right into a sitcom.

      1. corporate engineering layoff woo*

        An expensive, corporate-1984-interfaced-to-the-police “doorbell” with camera.

    2. Shadowbelle*

      How about contributing a single coin?

      “Throw a nickel on the drum,
      Save another [greedy] bum!”

  16. AnotherAlison*

    It should be noted that if you do give a prospective employer a gift, it should always be a framed photo and a cake.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          I don’t remember if it was a letter or an open thread about weirdest resumes, but there was a framed photo with a full length glamour shot with I believe a parrot on the shoulder, sent to the hiring manager.
          And I think there was a separate one (there are at least two!) with a potential employee sending a cake and a framed photo of themselves to the hiring manager.

  17. RussianInTexas*

    The ugly notebook letter is creating a great juxtaposition with the earlier question of today about personalized gifts to the underlings.

  18. Fikly*

    I have to give my company props for the way they’re handling gifts this season. Everyone on my team gets a randomly assigned team member to write an appreciative note to and to give a gift to, a set budget, and the funds are provided by the company.

    1. Scout Finch*

      Perfect! Sometimes in the work world, we need to pause and name coworkers’ behaviors that contribute to the team’s success.

    2. 'Tis Me*

      I got the new girl in my team’s Secret Santa… She has been there 2 weeks I think now. If I’d had to write a note it would literally have been a pretty generic welcoming note and I would have felt guilty about it.

      (I got her a little Christmasy bracelet and a snowman magnet. As she put the bracelet on, hopefully she likes it, and she’s relocated for the job so hopefully a magnet will be useful.)

      1. 'Tis Me*

        And even though I think she’s about a decade younger than me, she is of course an adult rather than a girl…

      2. Fikly*

        I guess that depends on the size of your team, too, plus who you interact with. My team is roughly 16 people. There are two brand new hires who’ve been here less than a month. One I could definitely write a note for, because our shifts overlap and I’ve been helping train her. The other? I gave one training and then no overlap, but on the other hand, I am super excited to have her on board, so I feel like I could figure out things to say.

  19. Employment Lawyer*

    I dread trying for nuance because of all the horror stories, but: Sometimes gifting up is OK.

    If you have a very good relationship, it can be more courteous to allow an employee the social benefits of exchanging tiny gifts, which can also include a feeling of equality, and politeness. (And personally, I actually think buying gifts is fun, but perhaps I’m odd.) It just needs to be very, very, VERY limited, and clearly so.

    To illustrate what I mean by “limited”, my associate and I have exchanged gifts. She got a week off. I got something akin to a nicely wrapped coupon for two espresso drinks at my local shop. We were both happy.

    1. Mediamaven*

      I agree. It’s ok to give a small token if you have a great boss or a great relationship with your boss.

  20. Fish*

    Socks! I get my TA team Christmas socks from FatFace every year. They come in so many designs and I choose one that I think each of them would like. Everyone always seems happy with them. Highly recommend!

  21. AnonEMoose*

    I navigate the minefield of gifts to coworkers by baking a variety of cookies and bringing them to work for folks to partake, or not, as their individual situations dictate.

    I’m always happy to answer questions about ingredients, etc., and I never get upset if someone doesn’t partake, or ask about their reasons.

    People seem to enjoy it, and usually about November, I get questions about whether I’m making cookies this year. So it goes over well. And since I’d bake cookies for other things anyway, I’m not really spending more on ingredients and such than I would anyway.

    I even found a recipe for meringue-based cookies that doesn’t include any wheat flour. My kitchen is not gluten free, so I do warn people about cross contamination, so they can make an informed decision. Even better is that the cookies are tasty!

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I make homemade jam and hand out 1/2 pint jars. I have two or three flavors, and let people pick. I just wish they’d give me back the jars when they are done. I will disclose ingredients (usually fruit, fruit juice, lemon juice, sugar, low sugar pectin) on request.

    2. Amethyst*

      I make my own extracts & I’m planning on wrapping up a couple bottles of my Madagascar Vanilla & maybe my orange or lemon extracts for my work’s gift swap next Friday. I’m not sure how well that’ll go over. Hopefully pretty well, lol. There’s a $25 limit & I have exactly $0 to spend.

      1. Half-Caf Latte*

        Commented upthread but I’ve done vanilla and hotsauce in years past, and FIL does mustard, and people have made a point of hint dropping about all of them, so my anecdata is that it can be well received!

    3. yala*


      One of my friends recently was diagnosed with celiac, and since I usually bake gingerbread for my friends, I’ve been trying to suss out what to make her instead. Her husband is also diabetic, so my usual second go-to of very-rich peanutbutter fudge seemed like a no-go as well. Not sure if meringue cookies will work for him, but at least they’re an option for her.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        I found a recipe for double chocolate meringue cookies via Google that was pretty easy and SO YUMMY, so those might be worth a look.

  22. cmcinnyc*

    My lovely coworker who is truly a nice person and has the worst boundaries just gave me a gift AGAIN after being a) asked not to give gifts in the office, followed by being TOLD not to give gifts in the office and I couldn’t even say thank you. The honest reaction that came out of my mouth was UGH, WHAT? NO! In other circumstances, in other contexts, this would be a lovely (and very small and inexpensive) gesture BUT DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT!

    Just to say, if you’re told no gifts please don’t figure out a clever way to give gifts anyway. Especially if there is a valid reason that everyone else has accepted except YOU. Entertain the thought that perhaps you lovely giving instinct is misplaced, and put that cash toward a gift where it’s wanted and appropriate.

  23. Mahnahnahmous*

    Each Christmas, “Camilla,” my suck-up coworker, took it upon herself to round up the staff in our department, ask us for gift ideas for the boss, nix all of them, and then tell us what we were doing instead. After Camilla purchased the item she’d already selected, she would inform us how much we owed. Now, if it’s inappropriate to gift your coworkers lotion or other personal items, how about giving your boss a large, ornate jewelry armoire for her bedroom? Yes, that was our gift to the boss my first Christmas with this company. It cost all of us about $40 each. That was the year I suggested buying the boss a sterling silver bell, handmade by a local jeweler, like the one in “Polar Express,” because our boss had said it was her favorite Christmas movie. I might as well have suggested going out to the parking lot and wrapping up a rock. It would have been about $5 each, which was more than enough if we had to gift up. The boss made sure to thank Camilla profusely for the gift. It was the most ridiculous display I’ve ever seen in office gift-giving.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I think this is one of those situations where you can safely say, “I didn’t agree to that, so I owe you nothing.” I understand the social pressure to just go along with it, but no thanks to coworkers thinking they get to spend my money for me.

      And your boss was kind of a jerk for going along with it too if she didn’t immediately follow it up with “Oh this is too much, please don’t feel you need to do this ever again.”

  24. Arts Akimbo*

    For #6, take that ugly journal and use it proudly! It’s not just about the physical item, it’s the thought behind it, and what you do with it on some level speaks to how much you value your employee’s thoughtfulness (and, by extension, your employee).

    There’s a story in one of Miss Manners’ books about treating gifts from one’s employees as sacrosanct, because they are the ones who make your life easier. Specifically, she recounted having tea with a lady whose home furnishings were tasteful and impeccable in every way, except for this ugly painted plastic light-up replica of the Sphinx on her coffee table in pride of place. Her butler had brought it back from Egypt as a gift for her, and her displaying it proudly was a way of showing that she valued him. I thought that was really classy! Plus it made me really, really want an ugly painted plastic light-up replica of the Sphinx.

    1. CM*

      “Her butler had brought it back from Egypt…”

      Sorry, Miss Manners, it’s hard to relate to that story. Can’t imagine having a butler, let alone paying him enough to go to Egypt, but I would take the light-up sphinx!

  25. KatieHR*

    I am on a team within HR. Our whole HR dept does this gift exchange. You purchase a $20 gift, draw a number, and chose a gift going in order. Each gift can be stolen twice, etc, etc. For the past 3 years I have gotten horrible gifts. First year it was these overly sweet drink mixes that a college student would like (I was 37). Second year I got horrible cheap chocolate. Third year was the kicker…..I got a usb plug in fan! I told my manager that I was done and not participating this year. Our new VP decided to change things up this year and the gift must be something from your house that is usable. I am still on the fence if I want to participate. I am still quite bitter after 3 years of crap.

  26. Pantalaimon*

    Alison says not to give coworkers gifts for the body, and I agree based on experience.

    I started my first job out of school in the middle of December. I’m a man, I was working a part-time evening shift at the time, and the other person hired at the same time was a woman working a part-time day shift. We were hired after Secret Santa assignments had been handed out and so were assigned each other. We never met before the holiday party because we worked opposite shifts.

    She brought me a can of Gillette shaving cream and a razor. I keep a beard tried to hide my offense at being given grooming tools by a total stranger. I gave her a gift card that she never thanked me for. Another woman at the firm brought a teddy (lingerie) for her secret Santa person, who was openly offended, and the rest of the office mocked the recipient for being offended. That place was pretty toxic.

Comments are closed.