I like to give small gifts at work — am I doing anything wrong?

A reader writes:

I have a question about gift-giving at work. I agree with the idea overall that gifts should flow downward.

That said, I’m the type of person that sometimes shows appreciation by giving someone something small. I suppose you could say my “love language” is gift-giving. I never feel pressured to give a gift, and when it comes to people at work, I generally never give “unsolicited” gifts. I have a crafty hobby, and I love making things for people. I frequently offer to buy people a drink at happy hour as a “thanks for all your help” kind of thing. Mostly it’s with my coworkers on the same level as me (I’m not a manager and have no direct reports). But because I have this hobby, let’s say macrame, I offer to make people things. I can’t fill my house with all the macrame I make, so if there are people who are interested in it, I love making things for them. I enjoy making it, I enjoy giving people a small piece of joy, and they get something fun made specifically for them.

I offer it the same way I offer a drink at happy hour — “Hey! I love to make macrame. If you ever want anything, I’d love to make it for you.” Some people turn me down, and some people take me up on it. I’ve had people ask me to make something that they intend to give as a gift to someone else. And I love it! I never take money because that makes me uncomfortable.

I offer it to pretty much everyone equally, and I guess that’s where my question comes in. I have made things for people at higher levels than me. Not my direct manager (I offered, they declined, that was it), but other managers. My hobby is not expensive, and I have a large stash of supplies that I easily dip into to make things without ever having to purchase anything.

I’m also guilty of small items I’ve purchased for people — a funny mug for my supervisor, a small item that was an inside joke for my director, nothing expensive, not at a holiday or anything, not even wrapped (if that makes a difference). But it is a “hey, I thought you might like this small and inexpensive thing that is attached to a joke between us” kind of thing. Never a “serious” kind of item.

Am I kind of violating the gift-giving rule in an unacceptable way? I feel like my hobby should be pretty safe, as I only ever make something for someone if they request it or I offer and they accept. But for little items, I am a bit more concerned. I just … love making people happy and if I see a $10 mug with a funny saying on it that I think someone would like, if they’re above me in the organizational hierarchy or not, I want to get it for them. Does it make a difference that it’s something small and random? In a way, I don’t think of these things as “gifts” at all. Just … random tokens.

You’re not doing anything outrageous or committing a massive professional sin … but I’d still rein it in somewhat.

If you want to share your macrame hobby, I think that’s fine. It brings you joy and gives you a creative outlet and sounds like it’s been pretty low-key so far.

Do be aware that can sometimes take a turn — people can start putting expectations on it in a way that turns it into a chore for you — but as long as you’d be comfortable saying no if that happened, I’m not terribly worried about it. It’s also true that if your macrame becomes a big thing office-wide, you don’t want to be known more for your macrame than for your awesome data-crunching or public speaking or other professional skills. (It’s the same with stuff like baking. And by the way, it’s no surprise that this mostly only comes up with hobbies that are coded as female. We don’t seem to need to worry about Dave becoming known for how well he can power-wash a deck. But here we are.)

Anyway, as for the other stuff … eh, maybe it’s fine. It depends on how often you’re doing it. If you worked for me and gave me a funny mug once, sure! That’s no problem. Thanks for the funny mug. But if other small gifts followed, I might start to feel a little uneasy. It’s not so much the “no gifting upwards” rule at play here — it’s that it can be uncomfortable when a colleague engages in one-sided gift behavior. Recipients will start worrying about whether they’re expected to be doing something similar, and that can make gifts feel like burdens. Again, not after a single jokey gift. It’s only if it gets repeated.

It also wouldn’t take much for me to feel like … save your money! This third mug is funny but not $10 worth of funny.

But there are exceptions to this. You might have a dynamic with a colleague or a boss where you’re really sure it’s fine, especially if these are jokey items. If you’re good at reading social cues and you’re confident everyone enjoys this as much as you do, it could be fine to carry on.

That said, it’s useful to realize that the joy you get from giving little gifts isn’t necessarily matched by everyone’s joy in receiving them. You said you do this because you like to make people happy, but a lot of people would be made happier by hearing “cool shoes!” or “you killed it in that presentation” than by receiving a mug. Most people will appreciate the spirit of the offering no matter what, but a lot of people also really don’t want to accumulate more stuff. So if the goal is to make people happy, there might be more varied and more effective ways of doing it.

{ 274 comments… read them below }

  1. Don’t give me a gift*

    I agree with Alison that the macrame is probably fine but I’d stop altogether on the other gifting. I know I’m the kind of person who would smile and thank you, but would be incredibly uncomfortable worrying about whether I needed to reciprocate and what to do with the gift later. You leave people worrying “do I need to keep this on my desk now?”

    If you’re looking for that same idea, maybe try sending people an article or a comic that reminds you of them once in a blue moon. (Key here is something free and not a tangible item they might be stuck with even if they don’t care for it.)

    1. jahjahjahaha*

      Agreed. A friend of mine recently moved to a new office. In trying to downsize, she questioned every item anyone ever gave her. Should she keep it, should she get rid of it. It was almost agonizing for her. And she felt bad every time she got rid of one of the items.

      Also, for me personally, receiving gifts feels very uncomfortable for me. I feel caught of guard and constantly wonder if I’m reacting positively or in a way that makes the giver happy.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      Part of my discomfort with unexpected gifts is that manipulative people sometimes do something called “favor sharking,” where they offer something you didn’t ask for, and then later use that as a way to ask for a favor they want, knowing you will feel obliged now. Obviously that’s not what you’re doing, OP, but unfortunately these people might have kind of ruined it for everybody.

      I’d find a different outlet for your love of gifts that isn’t your coworkers; maybe a charity where you buy holiday gifts for families in need. You can always bring in a box of doughnuts or fruit for the whole office, or something.

      1. miro*

        “I’d find a different outlet for your love of gifts that isn’t your coworkers; maybe a charity where you buy holiday gifts for families in need.”

        +1

      2. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

        Ah, yes, favor sharking (not what OP is doing)! Self-Appointed Hall Monitor at ex-job was good at favor sharking.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        thank you for “favour sharking”. That’s my SIL. Everyone goes on about how generous and thoughtful she is, and I’m thinking “but I didn’t want it or ask for it, and now she’s going to make me feel indebted to her and it’s icky”. She doesn’t ask for stuff in return, but you get a litany of “all I’ve done for you” any time you don’t measure up to her standards. Like, she took me to the railway station (so I had to cancel the taxi) and now I have the gall to send emails to her husband behind her back (her husband being my brother).

      4. B.Jellybean*

        Oof, yes this exactly. OP can have the best of intentions, but receiving unexpected gifts can be quite triggering to those of us who have experience with manipulation in the form of favor sharking or “love bombing” (when a narcissistic person showers their target with unmatched interest or praise as a precursor to abusive behavior). I can just imagine if my coworker did this, I wouldn’t be able to stop looking for the “strings” attached….

    3. Artemesia*

      I agree. I think constant gift giving, even small things begins very quickly to feel pathetic or begging for friendship or attention and it also has the implicit message that the recipient needs to buy things for you. You don’t intend that, but gift giving is generally a reciprocal thing and when it flows one way it makes people feel uncomfortable or as if someone is pursuing them for more of a relationship than they want to have.

      The exception is those below you e.g. you can give the admin staff gifts on ‘their’ day and Christmas/End of the year and perhaps occasionally just for the heck of it as a thank you for their good support staff work. But gifts to colleagues or superiors are going to feel ‘off’ lots of places. I would rein it in. A tray of cupcakes for the break room feels different than a cupcake for Anna or Fred to celebrate something. And you quickly become the person who gives people things rather than the crackerjack graphics artist.

      1. KayDeeAye*

        Yes, the thing about gift giving is that it’s supposed to be reciprocal, and in their hearts, all nice people know this, and hearing, “Oh, you don’t have to get me anything!” does NOT change that.

        Anything this one-sided just shouldn’t be happening on a regular basis. It will make almost anybody (anybody who is a good person) feel at least a bit awkward eventually, and “eventually” probably won’t be very long, either.

        So, OP, by all means buy presents for people who are ready and able to reciprocate. But not your coworkers. It’s just Too Much.

    4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I think I’m almost the other way around. I’d be okay regifting the cat mug that my coworker (who forgot that I’m not a cat person) gave me in a pinch, but I’d feel a little like, wtf am I supposed to do with this random macrame wall hanging that I don’t really want and only accepted to be nice and sure don’t know anybody else who would want it? (And I say that as a crafty person myself! But I don’t give my knitting to my coworkers.)

      1. All the cats 4 me*

        Came here to say that I agree giving specific craft products to specific people is an easy way to make unwanted gifts.

        I am one of those people who make Too Much Crafty Stuff. I too like to give it away.

        So I bring it in, put it in an empty cube (yay cube farm), and post on the office wide chat channel that there are

        “*FREE* Kitten Holders in Cube X, help yourself if you want one or more”.

        People in our office also do this to give away extra fruit and vegetables etc from their gardens, so it is also bit of a culture thing.

        I actually did this with the non-medical masks I made and they were very well received! But usually it has a pretty good response and I feel doing it this way lets people who want it take what they want. If they want to use it as gift, I am fine with that. If they don’t want it, they aren’t put ina position of having to accept it and be “grateful”.

        1. Rachel in NYC*

          I think this is a great idea. I love baking but live by myself so I bake for my co-workers. I just leave whatever I’ve made by the kitchen with a sign that sign (this is X.) People can eat it if they want or not.

          The only time I sometimes something specific is at the holidays, I’ll sometimes do little bags of cookies for everyone in my department at my office. It’s a small enough group- especially Christmas week- that I can make a couple dozen cookies so everyone has enough to share with their families without my needing to bake for weeks.

        2. Amethystmoon*

          Great idea. We have a “free shelf” where I work. I think it’s due to ethics rules. We get a lot of product samples due to the nature of the business, so the free shelf is where they are given away. Establishing something like that for giving away crafts might work.

        3. Arts Akimbo*

          Kitten holders!!!! I know this is a hypothetical example, but I am picturing one of those over-the-door shoe holders, only FULL OF KITTENS!!! “mew” “mew” “mew”

        1. MayLou*

          I’m fairly sure macrame was a cover story, like llama grooming and chocolate teapots. Using the actual hobby may be too specific and risk outing the LW.

          1. Eukomos*

            There are vanishingly few hobbies where everyone actually wants one. People usually take gifts in the spirit they were offered and thank you sincerely for your goodwill, but you have to know the person very very well to be able to pick an item for them that won’t be unwanted clutter. Unless OP’s hobby is macrame-ing pieces of legal tender, a goodly portion of her recipients would probably enjoy a warm thanks or that happy hour beer far more than the crafts.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              From what OP wrote, a lot of their macrame (or whatever it is they’re actually doing) is a matter of inviting the general office population to request things from them and then making for those who have asked. That’s just fine, because it confines the gift-giving to people who have self-screened for real interest, rather than just being polite about accepting.

              To whatever extent they are also giving out the products of their craft to people who *didn’t* ask for them, that’s probably not a great idea. It’s not a social sin or anything, OP, but it’s an inconvenience, and if your motive, as you stated, is that you “just love making people happy,” this is unlikely to be a reliably effective way to do that. But offering generally to the office at large to make things for anyone who requests them isn’t a bad way of handling it; and the suggestion a little ways down-thread about taking a photo of the silly mug or whatever and sending them the photo (without buying the mug) to show them you were thinking of them and your shared joke is a very good one.

              So there are still ways to do the things you’re trying to do… but yeah, I’d cut back a bit on some of the specific ones you’ve been using. It’s more likely to frustrate and annoy most people than please them, after one or two times (total, no matter how long you wait between them).

          2. Triplestep*

            WellRed is using “macrame” the same way the LW did, to mean “generic craft”. There just aren’t that many craft hobbies from which people want output. I give a lot of credit to the crafters here who have posted to say they get this. Most of the ones I know do not.

            1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

              So true.
              OTOH, a former coworker at oldjob did fantastic leather field notebooks. Everyone wanted them as they were really nice, sturdy, and very practical; a clear result of knowing your audience! The design was born from frustration with the company-issued kit while still meeting all the safety requirements – the company even sponsored an official test and certification in the accredited testing lab the firm ran in a different branch when the HSE engineer got wind of this.

            1. Arts Akimbo*

              Yeah, macramé is one of those hobbies that cycles in and out of popularity pretty regularly. Like Michael Corleone, just when you think it’s out, it’s back in again!

        2. OP*

          It’s not actually macrame! Just a crafty example for the purposes of anonymity. When I offer to make people something, I also ask them to pick what they want if they say yes. I wouldn’t want to hoist what amounts to random junk on people. I think that also gives the out to people who feel like they need to say yes out of politeness. There’s been a few who say yes and when I say “great! Let me know what you’d like” they never follow up, so I just don’t make them anything.

    5. Working Hypothesis*

      I’m also heavily on the side of Don’t Give Me Stuff. I would accept with a smile because it obviously meant something to the OP to give me that funny mug… but then I’d have one more funny mug that I didn’t want and have noplace to put, and I’d be frustrated. I really try to limit the stuff I own to only that which actively brings me either joy or usefulness or both (preferably both, when I can arrange it), and I live in a small house with four other family members and all *their* stuff.

      So I actively dislike being given “small, non-serious” gifts because they add to the general clutter but I feel like I shouldn’t get rid of them. Usually, I get rid of them anyway, and feel guilty and annoyed at having been put in a position in which I had to feel guilty and go to the trouble of getting rid of another object. Not to mention being acutely aware of how much stupid, pointless stuff piles up and becomes environmentally damaging garbage.

      OP, none of this is meant to blame you or say you’re a bad person for wanting to give people gifts! It’s just to let you know that you may not be creating the emotional effect in your recipients that you hope to. It’s really much better to confine your gifts to people who have shown an active interest in receiving them… which means that if you express an open invitation for people to request macrame items from you and somebody asks you to make them something, that’s great! Go for it. But you probably should stop giving random stuff like silly mugs or “small items that reference a joke” because that kind of thing can be funny for two seconds when it’s given, but after that, the item is still around and the recipient has to deal with it for as long as it takes to get rid of it. That’s often a lot less pleasant than the two seconds of initial humor is worth.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        yes! I hate being given cheap joke presents. Very often plastic is involved, and I’m trying to get rid of plastic in my life. Yes it’s a tall order, but plastic will be the death of us if Covid and air pollution don’t manage to put an end to humankind.

    6. TootsNYC*

      I’ve taken to taking a photo or a screen grab of the item and sending it.
      Then they don’t have clutter on their desks.
      And you get the same “I thought of you!” vibe.

      I’ve been trying to toss stuff, now that I’m home, and I can’t tell you how my shoulders went up at the mention of the funny mug. I have a office full of stuff that’s still in the office building from when we were all set home, and I could go get it if I wanted (apparently there’s not a huge push at the moment), but I don’t know where the hell I could put it once I got it home!

      1. Sparrow*

        Definitely recommend this! I do it with friends frequently, and it accomplishes a similar goal without clutter. And I’ve had a friend reply to a funny mug picture to ask where I found it because she liked it so much she wanted to buy it – so I just bought it and gifted it to her. We both got a laugh, I got to do something nice that I knew would be appreciated, and she got a mug she actively wanted. Win/win!

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Oh, I really like this idea! They get the shared joke without the present, which is the best of both worlds. And since it’s all digital, there isn’t even a physical photo to deal with where to put or have to dispose of later.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Now that’s a good idea! Just a photo, and you can share with as many people as you like! thank you Toots!

      3. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

        I do this all the time, especially with WhatsApp or similar. Usually it’s enough just to show someone that I saw an item that was amusingly just like that thing we were talking about last week, or what have you.

    7. Sam.*

      I wouldn’t worry about displaying it, but I definitely would worry that they were expecting me to give something in return. And if it’s someone who wants to see you be excited about the gift, I would feel the need to play up my reaction. I do genuinely appreciate the thought, but I’m just not a very excitable person (and honestly I’m probably already thinking about how I’m never going to use the thing). Food is different for me – I’m almost always happy about surprise food, and even if I’m not, it’s temporary.

      I think anything the person has asked for/taken OP up on is different, too – they’ve specifically said they would like the macrame or the drink she’s offered or whatever. I second the idea to send links to articles, etc. that remind you of the person rather than tangible items they haven’t opted into receiving.

  2. Madtown Maven*

    In the world of smartphones, maybe just taking a photo and sharing the image with your colleagues would be enough.

    1. nnn*

      That’s what I was thinking. “Hey, this reminded me of you” is just as effective with a photo or an online link. No need to spend money!

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      Great idea! I do that with my mom! She really doesn’t need any more knick-knacks (and neither do I), but we love sharing pictures of silly things we find while out and about. The sentiment of “I saw this and thought of you” is still there, so you still get that connection.

      1. TootsNYC*

        my mom collected frogs. But she didn’t have space, or anything. So I’d take a picture of a cool one and send it to her.

    3. HailRobonia*

      My mom and her best friend have a “junk of the month club” and would mail each other clippings of things they saw in catalogs that they knew the other person would “appreciate” but not have space for. Thinks like a box of 100 glow-in-the-dark spiders… novelty hats shaped like anvils… hot-dog toasters… you know, the ridiculous junk that you see in the Sky Mall catalog (does that even still exist?)

      1. Gumby*

        If it is particularly great, they can suggest it for Dave Barry’s gift guide. That is my second favorite of the columns he still writes (the top being, of course, the year in review).

      2. Lady Heather*

        I really like this! Most of those items are in the ‘funny but useless’ category – not even the ‘funny, put on a shelf, laugh at time and time again’ kind, but the ‘funny, laugh at when opening, never laugh at again’ kind. It’s the thought, the shared laugh, and maybe the inside joke that matters – and you can have that just as easily with just the clipping.

    4. GammaGirl1908*

      Coming to say this! This is exactly what I’ve started doing. When I see something that makes me think of a friend, I send them a photo of it with a funny comment instead of spending actual money on it. Saves time, money, clutter, suitcase space, obligation, whatever, and the person still knows I’m thinking of them.

      1. Quill*

        My friends do this but they also use the opportunity to roast me… I’m (I guess?) now the person whose theme is bees and owls.

    5. Lily Rowan*

      Wow, that is brilliant. Because you’re (all) right! “I saw this and thought of you” is the whole gift! No one actually needs the tchotchke!

    6. What the What*

      I’m the owner of my business, and I like it much better when an employee texts me a photo saying “Made me think of you!” than if they actually buy me something.

  3. Bend & Snap*

    I hate getting gifts from anyone other than immediate family. It makes me really uncomfortable. I would be irked to get that kind of gift from a colleague.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I dislike nearly all gifts I receive (I am really picky about stuff and I hate having clutter around, which means most gifts fall flat with me, with the exception of gifts from people who know me really well and are good at gift-giving), but would you really be irked to get a small token from a coworker who clearly meant it as a sign of good will/fondness? I am very, very willing to throw away or donate stuff I don’t want (it shocks my husband how quickly I’ll do it but I’d rather deal with it now than have it sit around for six months and do it then), so maybe that’s why I’m not terribly irked, but I think most people recognize “this was a kind gesture” even if they don’t much want the item itself. Do others disagree?

      (I’m betting there’s a correlation between how willing people are to just throw stuff away and how bothered they are though. I’m sometimes annoyed at the waste, but I don’t feel guilty or agonize over tossing something I don’t want. If I did, I’d probably be more irked.)

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Oh I agree that it can be recognized as a kind gesture. Gifts make me feel guilty and like I have to keep them. That doesn’t mean I don’t see the spirit of the gift.

        1. AMT*

          I’m on the same page. When I get an unsolicited gift, I simultaneously recognize that (a) they’re being kind, (b) my annoyance is unreasonable, and (c) I am no less annoyed.

          1. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

            Same here. It’s the social obligation to show enthusiastic appreciation for a “thing” that I actually don’t appreciate and then the obligation to use or consume said thing when I just don’t want to. And knowing all the while that it just encourages the gift-giver to give more things and that I’m unwillingly entering a self-perpetuating cycle.

            It also annoys me that there’s virtually no way, however gentle, to decline a gift or future gifts without causing outrageous offence.

      2. CatCat*

        I also find it easy to get rid of gifts I don’t want. I’ve gotten pretty efficient about it. We open gifts on Christmas Day and create a “donate” pile then and there. Of course, we thank the sender for the gift as they were thoughtful enough to send it! But that doesn’t translate to me keeping it.

      3. Third or Nothing!*

        For me, it depends on my relationship with the gift-giver. I have few qualms about throwing a random useless knick-knack from a coworker in the To Donate pile, but it’s much harder to do so with something my parents or in-laws give me. And the guilt I feel is amplified significantly if I know the giver sacrificed something to give me the thing I really don’t want, regardless of how close I feel to that person.

        I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: A gift is not truly a gift when it’s a burden.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I learned from childhood to graciously accept all gifts and get rid of them quickly afterwards. I come from an upbringing where gifts were usually the random stuff you find at a Dollar Store, I appreciate the thought, I thank the person, then I tuck it into the Donations box in my car trunk.

        I’ve had to work with my partner about his guilt over getting rid of gifts, he comes from a family of hoarders, so it’s ingrained in him not to do that.

      5. Dan*

        “would you really be irked to get a small token from a coworker who clearly meant it as a sign of good will/fondness? ”

        One small token? No. But the way the OP writes, it’s not just one, and that would annoy the heck out of me.

        1. Willis*

          This. One little thing would be totally fine, a pattern of little things is weird. I don’t mind getting rid of stuff so I don’t think I’d be annoyed, but it would hit me as odd and wasteful. I think being a good gift giver is kind of like being a good comedian, in that you have to know your audience or you risk people being less satisfied than if you just kept your gift or joke to yourself. When in doubt, leave it out.

          1. jenkins*

            Mm, I love the Doctor Who mug someone at my old job gave me, and feel warm and fuzzy when I make coffee in it because it was really nice that someone a) registered an interest of mine and b) wanted to make me happy. I don’t have room in my kitchen for multiple new mugs though, it’s the kind of thing you can only do once! I make jewellery and once sent a friend a necklace I’d made that she had admired and I was probably not going to wear myself – but I don’t offer her things regularly because it’s not easy to turn down personal gifts, and I expect she’d like to use most of her jewellery storage for things she chose and bought herself.

            A gift is kind, a continued pattern of one-sided gift-giving does create an imbalance in the relationship – it would inevitably create a sense of obligation for the giftee, even if the gifter genuinely doesn’t intend that.

        2. OP*

          It actually really does amount to one. The only people I’ve ever given more than one thing to are people who have asked me to make multiple items for them. I really did give my supervisor just one funny mug, and that was the only thing they’ve ever received from me. People who I’ve made things for have asked for additional items, which I’ve made, but I truly never give the crafty stuff without someone saying they want it first. And the little tokens really have been limited to a handful of times. I can literally count on my fingers the number of items like that I’ve given to people, and never more than one to the same person.

      6. ThatGirl*

        I tend to recognize it as a sign of kindess/affection/etc but I have had a few coworkers (and a manager) who decided to just give me random doodads – a tiny plastic succulent, a stuffed animal, a tiny vinyl purse from Dollar General and eventually I got a little annoyed at the cheapness and waste of it all.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This is giving me flashbacks to childhood. These are child trinkets. Says the person who has my own plastic succulents, it’s different when you are decorating your space with your own dumb impulse buys.

      7. juliebulie*

        I have a coworker who is also into “macrame” (not macrame really) and is always making macrame tchotchkes and handing them out as gifts to people who don’t especially want or need tchotchkes. I have a serious clutter problem, myself, so it annoys me that I have to keep these things around on display for a while before I can discreetly pitch them.

        At first I thought that in a way this was really more about her wanting to indulge herself because she loves making the tchotchkes, and giving them away justifies the time and money she spends on her hobby. But the flip side of it is that she really is a kind and generous person, and this is her way of expressing that. It’s not wrong for it to give her joy.

        Still, I am pretty sure she wouldn’t like it if she saw people throwing the tchotchkes away. That’s what makes it annoying.

      8. Ace in the Hole*

        Chalk me up in the “very bothered and also throws it away” box.

        There’s a few aspects of gift-receiving that bug me. The biggest is the expectation of “performative gratefulness” Sloan Kittering mentioned in another comment. The giver is theoretically giving me something to make me happy, but I’m now on the hook for the emotional labor of pretending to like the gift (or the just-as-bad social fallout that would happen from an honest response). I’m prepared to do that work at traditionally gifty events like holidays… but even then it’s draining. Having to do it by surprise at work? No thanks!

        Second issue is that receiving a gift I dislike makes me feel worse about my relationship with the giver. I feel like they either don’t know me very well or don’t care enough to choose a more thoughtful gift. Irrational? Yeah. But I still feel that way.

        And finally, I also feel uneasy if I’m getting too many uninvited/unreciprocated favors/gifts/etc from someone. It feels like at best a mismatch of expectations about our relationship, if not something more sinister like favor-sharking or other really unhealthy dynamics.

        None of these are serious problems if the gifts are rare events… but if someone was giving me things frequently, even small tokens, it would bother me.

        1. Bagpuss*

          This is quite similar to how I feel – when i give gifts, I do put a lot of thought into trying to get something which the recipient will like / find useful, based on my knowledge of them, so if I get a gift that is something I don’t like I do tend to feel that the person hasn’t given it much thought or doesn’t know me, and so there is that in the background along with the anxiety about needing to be appropriately grateful / gracious and wondering whether I have to keep it or have it on display before I can ‘lose’ it..

          I wouldn’t be annoyed, and I would thank the giver and accept that they mean well, but it would be in the neutral-to-worrying area for me to receive, in most cases.

          This is all worse if it is someone I am close to – gifts from someone I work with wouldn’t give me anything like the same level of anxiety as I don’t expect colleagues to be close enough that they would know me that well hat they could pick the ‘right’ gift (Although I do get a little tired of cat-themed stuff. Yes, I have cats. Yes, I am very attached to my cats. No, I am not interested in mugs, humorous teatowels or other cat-themed knick-knacks)

          I do find it quite hard to throw away things although I have got much better at it. (although I do tend to have the mind set that I can’t throw it away instantly!)

          So – if someone I work with randomly gives me a ‘funny’ mug I am going to be a bit disconcerted, I will accept it and accept that they are trying to be nice, but I am going to worry that they expect small gifts from me, or that they are expecting something else from me and I don’t know what it is, so it does create some low-level stress. (And if it is from someone junior to me, which is now almost everyone I work with, I was also be worrying that they felt they had to do it, or I have done something to make them feel that they need to placate me , so that’s another level of stress) .

          I would far rather have them e-mail me a jokey image and say they saw it and thought it would amuse me, or mention in the moment that they appreciated my help with the Smith&Jones report, or whatever.

          I think with the craft items, if someone has specifically asked it is fine to make them the thing they have asked for, and if you have surplus, then I think the suggestion put them somewhere accessible and then just send a general e-mail saying you have surplus if anyone wants any. We have people do this with surplus garden produce sometimes, and it works pretty well. With hand crafted items it may make sense to say something like ‘I have xx because I enjoy making them and have all I need now – I will donating the spares but wanted to give anyone here who might find them useful / enjoy them the chance – I’ll be taking them to donate on Friday so if you want one (or more) grab them before then!”which lets people know that there is no expectation that they will be taken and that you have a plan B if they aren’t.

      9. Fighting the Hoarding Instinct*

        >>I’m betting there’s a correlation between how willing people are to just throw stuff away and how bothered they are though.

        Whoa, I think this is a good insight, and while not universal, it’s definitely applicable to me.

        I have a very hard time tossing things that could be used by others and end up spend a lot of energy finding where I can give them away usefully, so a ten-dollar mug becomes a hundred-(emotional and time)dollar burden.

        1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

          Me too for sure. I have far, far too much stuff, especially clothing, and I’ve been trying to get rid of some of it. But it’s all useable and there’s so much pressure not to just throw things into the landfill, both from my city and the general circles I move in, so I end up storing excess stuff for ages until I can find a place to get rid of it. It’s doubly difficult at the moment since so few places are accepting donations because of coronavirus. Getting cute little gifts is fun and nice but ultimately just adds to the burden of trying to choose between too many items and trying to find ways to dispose of it responsibly when the joke is over.

      10. NotAnotherManager!*

        Irked is not quite the right word, but it would make me uncomfortable because of differences in expectation around reciprocation and that, if this is someone’s way of expressing appreciation, that they would expect the same in return when I want to express mine for them or be disappointed by mere thanks or recognition?

        That said, I do see most things like this as a kindness and assume it was well-intended and thoughtful, but I do have the social-anxiety freeze-up related to what my reciprocal obligations are. My hang-up, not the giver’s.

      11. RussianInTexas*

        Ohh! I am like this too! I hate clutter and very picky. I know you meant well, but I don’t need stuff.
        But I also have zero guilt about throwing stuff and cards away.
        My partner’s former MIL is the worst. She does Christmas stockings every year for every person, and they are filled with teh Dollar Store crap. I am not exaggerating – last Christmas she designated a person for each guest to go buy stocking staffers, at least 5 per person, and no more than $2 per each. She specifically mentioned Dollar Store.
        Unfortunately my partner is more sentimental than me and we have this plastic crap banging around the house for months.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Oops! I’m that person in the family. But I also throw a dollar lottery ticket in, too, and nobody ever complains about that!

      12. ThePear8*

        As others have said, one small gift and the gesture behind it I could appreciate, but when it becomes a lot, it’s a lot. I haven’t had this experience with coworkers but I used to have a friend in high school who definitely was of the gift-giving “love language” and I think she often felt she had to show her friendship by giving small gifts. Sometimes they were inside jokes or nice things that I really appreciated, and I of course appreciated the gesture and the thought behind the gifts, but so many were unsolicited and so unnecessary (and, I feel mean to say, but often useless) and there was of course sometimes that nagging doubt of wondering how much I was expected to reciprocate. Most times in my head I just thought “stop giving me stuff! You’re a great friend and you do that by having wonderful conversations with me and hanging out together, I don’t need you to buy me a pudding at the cafeteria or some other trinket that I didn’t ask for! You don’t need to keep giving me things!” I never felt comfortable telling her that though, because who rejects a gift? Since giving it seemed to matter so much to her, I didn’t want to come off as unappreciative or hurt her feelings or make her think I didn’t value her because I didn’t like her gifts. I also felt bad sometimes because I knew my family is a lot more well-off than hers, and it made me uncomfortable to think she would be spending money on me when she didn’t have to (even when a lot of it was very inexpensive, like a cheap food item or something she happened to find at a garage sale she thought I might like or something, I knew the cost was probably a lot more for her family than it would be for me). But I think really, this was my friend’s way of trying to express to someone else that she valued them as a friend or coworker or what have you, and OP may be the same.

      13. Name of Requirement*

        If I can donate it usefully, yes. Recycle, yes. If I am going throw it away, resentment.

      14. TootsNYC*

        I am very, very willing to throw away or donate stuff I don’t want (it shocks my husband how quickly I’ll do it

        I also like to donate excess gifts right away while they’re still in perfectly fresh condition, and in season, etc.
        I figure the Goodwill will get more money from them.

        I also fight with my husband about gift baskets. He wants to open them and take out the things we might use; I want to leave them in the pretty cellophane and give them away intact; I think they’ll be more appealing and useful to someone else that way.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I agree that they will be more appealing intact but I would be with your husband, if there are items you do like and would use, keep those and make use of them. You don’t have to give away things you do want just to make the bits you don’t want more attractive. (and a lot of thing from a gift basket could be donated individually – food items to a food bank, for instance, or toiletries to a women’s refuge or homeless shelter, even if they no longer make a pretty basket.

          1. TootsNYC*

            generally they aren’t something I particularly want–they’re just the one thing in the basket that I might actually use.

            Believe me, if I really wanted it, I’d take it out. But I have everything I truly need, or I can buy it, and one single bottle of shampoo is not worth the damage it does to the resale-ability of the item.

      15. Eleanor Konik*

        I enjoy giving small, thoughtful, personalized gifts during the winter holidays and have made exceedingly clear to coworkers that I do not expect or require reciprocation. I leave things for people when they aren’t there and don’t bring it up unless the other person does. Most people seem to enjoy it, not everyone thanks me, it’s fine.

        On the other hand, I have a coworker who engages in aggressive “favor sharking” to the point where she will scream and throw fits if you don’t reciprocate something she’s done for you, even if you did not need or want the thing you did for her.

        I think if you’re going to be giving gifts to colleagues you need to make it *abundantly* clear that you do not expect reciprocity… and even then it can get exhausting, because most people *do* expect thanks, and that’s emotional labor that you’re being asked to perform without consenting to the relationship.

      16. Sparrow*

        I think you can genuinely feel both ways. My internal reaction is both, “Oh, that was really nice of them,” AND, “Ugh, now I have to deal with this thing/am I obligated to buy them something now?/I wish they had saved their money.” Actually, the part I like the least is feeling like I’ll be expected to reciprocate, because my feelings about gift giving are completely opposite to OP’s.

        1. allathian*

          Same here. A coworker loves making Christmas cards. I enjoy getting one from her, because I know that she doesn’t expect anything in return. I do thank her sincerely for the card, though, and toss it after Twelfth Night.

          Anything bigger than this, though, and I’d feel uncomfortable or like I’m expected to reciprocate in some way. The only exception is the Christmas gifts my former boss gave to her reports, I recognized that as thanks for a job well done. She usually gave all her reports two movie vouchers. That might have been awkward for people who don’t like going to the movies, but at least in pre-Plague times, all of her reports did enjoy that. One year, all of us went to the movies together.

          I hate shopping in general and especially buying gifts. In my family, we decided to quit buying Christmas presents between adults a few years ago, to the relief of all. Our son does get presents, but most of those are clothes that he needs anyway, and one bigger thing. One year he got a computer and he was happy to have it last spring…

      17. Ellen N.*

        I’m a serious declutterer who has no problem throwing away tcotchkes. However I’m with Bend & Snap in that I dislike receiving gifts from anyone other than my husband, especially coworkers. I have several reasons:

        I don’t celebrate holidays. Invariably I’m cast as a Scrooge when I’m given a gift and don’t reciprocate. In fact, when I and one other coworker declined to participate in an office Secret Santa exchange a coworker said that he was giving us each a gift anyway. They were empty boxes that had been wrapped as gifts to mock us.

        I try to keep my carbon footprint as small as possible.

        Often gift givers check in to see how much one likes and is using the gift. I don’t like to lie so it’s an uncomfortable conversation if I’ve given or thrown the gift away.

        When giving a gift to someone you don’t know well it’s easy to cause offense. An example; I’m an ethical vegetarian. I’ve been given gifts of meat by well meaning coworkers and clients.

      18. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        That doesn’t work for me, I’m agonising over the waste for a very long time.
        I threw away a garden ornament recently – meaning several months ago, it’s that hard for me to let go of stuff – and have been thinking I can’t possibly ever invite the friend who gave it to me over ever again, which is rather awful.

      19. Nela*

        I too dislike most gifts I receive because of my taste, but have a super difficult time getting rid of stuff given to me by people I love. This puts me in an uncomfortable position where I amass clutter (and I have too much of my own already!) because others enjoy giving gifts (like OP), but they were wrong about how I’d feel about this particular gift. I say thanks enthusiastically and smile, they never know I hate the thing. Basically… The gift giver’s perception of how well their gifts are received can be very skewed because it’s impolite to say “I don’t like this”. Recipients often tolerate it in their space until we muster up the mental strength to get rid of it.
        The best gifts I’ve ever received were gift cards. Honestly.

      20. Quinalla*

        Can confirm that people like my husband who feel guilty donating/trashing something someone gave them do not like to get gifts.

        I have zero problem donating/trashing things I don’t want, so I just accept the gift with thanks and if I don’t want it, find a new home for it or if truly is junk throw it away. I also have no issue telling people that I know are shopping for a gift for me for birthday/Christmas some things I’d like.

        I do very occasionally buy a small gift (usually magnets) for someone at work as I love to buy funny/inspirational magnets so sometimes I’ll see one that is perfect for someone. But I’ve done it 3 times with 3 different people over the 6 years I’ve been at my new work which to me seems pretty rare. And I do bring in food to share occasionally at the office too and just put it in the break room and let everyone know so there is no pressure to eat it if they don’t want to.

        I will tell you the best gift I’ve given and received from coworkers is a nice heartfelt handwritten letter or even an email. A thanks for being a mentor, etc. with at least one specific example that really stood out is something I keep FOREVER.

    2. Sloan Kittering*

      Agree. I am really bad at “performative gratefulness” where you open the gift in front of someone and need to act exaggeratedly pleased. Even if I really like the gift I sometimes fail at seeming enthusiastic enough. So I find gifts pretty stressful in general.

    3. Clisby*

      I would definitely think it was strange. Both the mug-type gifts and the macrame offers. Not unethical, just – very odd.

    4. Asenath*

      I think once might be OK, if it was a small object of little or no monetary value. I’ve got a couple little things I was given on my desk now – a mouse someone who was leaving was going to throw out if no one wanted it and a cat a co-worker got me at a thrift shop. But more than that, and I start feeling uneasy that I’m not reciprocating – but I really don’t want to extend my gift-giving to work acquaintances. It just adds complications to my life and anxiety about getting the right thing. I don’t think I’d have someone make something for me either, unless I was sure they were willing (as it sounds like she is) and I gave at least a token return, bought the materials, for example. That’s reciprocity, again. Buying a drink – many groups of friends or co-workers take turns buying the group drinks, but if one person is always doing the buying, that’s awkward too. I’m not sure it’s a gendered issue, though. Sure, you are unlikely to offer deck-washing, but I’ve known men to become the official fixer/repairman/supplier of a truck for moving etc in much the same way women become the official baker or party organizer.

      1. Anonymous at a University*

        +1 I would also feel pressure to reciprocate, and aside from not wanting to and having a limited buying budget, I feel like I don’t know my co-workers well enough to know what small gifts would be welcome. I certainly wouldn’t want to get involved in a silly awkward gift-giving cycle because it was one person’s “love language.”

      2. Amy Sly*

        Yes … this sort of thing definitely happens to men. Heck, my mother-in-law and her male coworkers at a firefighting academy have a years-long and on-going “baked-goods-for-car-and-home-repair” side exchange going on.

        And there’s a reason there’s a bumper sticker that goes: “Yes, I have a truck. No, I won’t help you move.”

    5. The Grey Lady*

      I agree. I’m picky as well, and I don’t like having excess stuff around that doesn’t hold any meaning for me. For that reason, I prefer to get no gifts at all from anyone. The only person who ever managed to give me a knick-knack that I liked enough to keep was my husband–it’s a golden statute of Bastet the Egyptian Cat Goddess, hah. That said, I would recognize that a coworker like OP is just being friendly and generous, but I would still feel obligated to display it on my desk or something, even if I didn’t want to.

      1. Michelenyc*

        Ditto! I have gotten so many useless items from co-workers that thought it was “perfect” for me. Thankfully living in NYC I can leave things out in the lobby of my building and they always find a new home.

    6. Sandi*

      It wouldn’t make me uncomfortable, but I agree that it would irritate me. I grew up around hoarders so dislike clutter and there is no easy way for me to dispose of little gifts other than the garbage as the donation place is quite a distance. And I don’t like throwing things out as our society is so wasteful. So a small trinket would end up giving me extra unwanted work.

      I really like the idea of taking a photo of the thing, and sending that. I have done this too! “Saw this great thing at the store today, and thought I would send you a photo.”

      I think frequency matters a lot. One per lifetime is different from once per month or even year. Years ago I bought an ugly giant hat for a coworker because it was perfect and cheap, but we were on a work trip and doing some team-building events, and the hat was very popular. In that case it made sense that it was part of the week, and would be thrown out at the end. I suspect it probably went home to someone with young kids, or to the coworker, but I had no expectation to ever see it again.

    7. Ohlaurdy*

      It would also make me uncomfortable to receive a random gift from a coworker – particularly a craft gift as I’m super picky (my mother is too scared to buy me gifts and we talk daily) and I would feel incredibly guilty donating or regifting a gift that a coworker had made – it’s really hard to give someone something you’ve made without giving the impression that you labored over something just for them. I also consider gift giving my love language, but it feels way too personal for coworkers!
      OP – I second what another Madtown Maven said in a separate thread; take a photo and send it to your coworker when you’re thinking of them; give them the gift of a genuine smile without the accompanying baggage.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I hate receiving craft gifts in general.
        My tastes run to the finely machined, and often things that are handmade are slightly “coarser” in finish (I’m thinking of the difference between a factory-made cotton thermal blanket, and a handmade afghan–I like things with thinner threads, tighter weaves, etc.)

        But I KNOW how much work went into it, and I feel horribly guilty for not valuing it because of that. In fact, I end up rebounding into resentment (all kept secret, of course).

  4. Anonymous1*

    Any of these things individually I would not have batted an eye at, but buying a drink, picking up a mug or other item, and also doing a craft is a lot of offers for one to make. When the writer’s team notices, even if one team member isn’t the recipient of every gesture, they’ll think that amount of offering/giving is indicative of something. Need for validation? Overly-keen on being liked like the previously posted coworker today? Compensating for a perceived or real shortcoming? I’d agree with Alison that there is a gender component of this, unfortunately. It sounds like macramé would be the thing to keep since the write loves it, but I’d pass on buying gifts or offering of buy drinks when possible.

    1. Washi*

      Yeah, any one of these avenues of gift-giving would be fine as long as the OP is sensitive to social cues and doesn’t too it too frequently. I know there is a strong anti-gift/office socialization contingent here, but I will raise my hand as someone who has been touched by little gifts from coworkers, even if I didn’t end up hanging on to the thing itself. But yeah, all of it seems like a lot for a workplace, and would be better off directed at OP’s social circle.

  5. Build Trust*

    As the wife of the gift recipient I really struggled with this recently. My husband has a (female) colleague who was giving him small gifts, buying beers, etc. In and of themselves they weren’t a big deal, but cumulatively they were a big red flag about her judgement in the workplace and he really didn’t know how to turn it off (red flag about his judgement, I get it). After things began to be MAILED to our house in early COVID lockdown it came to an uncomfortable head and he told her to stop (at my insistance).

    Let me be clear that there was not ever any indication of unfaithfulness on his part; I do concede that I was always concerned that she had a crush on him. I’ve met her many times, and have not gelled with her. She is one of those super awkward people who elicits a lot of sympathy and excuses for behaviors that most people would know better than to do (e.g. drinking a beer on a work zoom call mid day). It is a cliquey office and there is a lot of weird behavior in general, I’ve let that ship kinda sail.

    In my frustrations about this situation I did a lot of on-line researching and one thing always stuck out to me about workplace gift giving advice, that the gift-giver should really reflect on what other people outside the situation will think. Would they raise an eyebrow? Would it be weird? Would they ask themselves if something more was going on between those people? Gift givers really want to see their actions as benign. But enacting your “love language” in the workplace really just seems inappropriate. If someone said that to me, once again I’d be questioning their judgement.

      1. Jennifer*

        I also found that a bit off-putting. I don’t really care about the love languages of my coworkers, unless we’re really friends in real life. I just care that we get along and work well together.

        1. allathian*

          This, so much this! I get it that some people really like giving gifts. I’m not one of those, but I’m reasonably comfortable accepting them when I know there’s no need for reciprocity, such as when my boss gives a couple of movie tickets as a Christmas present.

          At my work, people also celebrate birthdays and other life events. I’ll happily participate by paying a couple euros and signing the card, but please ask someone else to actually buy the gifts. I did that cheerfully once for a former coworker who left to go on maternity leave, but she was my closest coworker and a work friend so I was happy to do it.

    1. juliebulie*

      I forgot about the “love language” part of the letter. I know it’s not necessarily how it sounds, but just the same I’d prefer we didn’t speak love languages in the office.

      1. Lady Heather*

        I think a new book by the same author speaks about the languages of appreciation in the workplace, which might feel better?

        I don’t know how I feel about the love languages theory – I strongly oppose the person who wrote the book for paragraphs that go like “And when she started offering fellatio every other day, he felt appreciated and stopped hitting her”, and I have trouble separating the author’s misogyny and victim-blaming from his theory.

          1. Lady Heather*

            Yeah. I wish I was joking.

            One thing that I do like about his book is – and this is where it’s often misinterpreted, actually – according to Chapman, the importance of love languages is not in how you express love (or appreciation, or whatever) but in how you receive it. For example, if my love language (does anyone else doubt the validity of a person having one singular love language?? or whether an act of love can be neatly allocated a category – is picking up a coffee for someone a gift or an act of service?) were to be ‘gifts’ and my sibling’s were to be ‘acts of service’, then that means that if I want to show my sister my appreciation, I should vacuum their house, and if my sibling wants to show me their appreciation, they should buy me a vacuum cleaner.
            It does not mean ‘my love language is gifts, so I bought my sibling a vacuum cleaner’. That will not lead to your sibling feeling appreciated – they might not even notice that was intended to be a gesture of appreciation.
            And that is a thought I do agree with. Intent does not equal impact, and all that.

            Mixing the two up can get toxic fast – for example, I have a relative who I believe sincerely believes loves me, but I don’t think they actually do. They are the ‘I love you so I lie awake worrying about you’ type and I am the ‘people who love me respect my boundaries’ type.
            I’ve been in the ‘see what I sacrifice for you!’ situation a couple of times: where someone thinks sacrificing for me – time, sleep, effort, feeling bad for me, feeling guilty, etc – negates past wrongs, or negates the need for actual consideration.
            It’s not a great place to be in.

            1. Obelia*

              Absolutely this!

              What matters most is whether the *recipient’s* love language (or appreciation language) is gifts, not the giver’s.

          1. Lady Heather*

            The link just a few inches above has the quotes. It wasn’t as literal as that – the woman came to Chapman because her husband wasn’t treating her well (how is not specified), Chapman told her to have sex with him twice a week, she says she doesn’t want to, he says she should just lie back and think of Jesus, she does, it works, and they lived happily ever after*.

            *Well – I’m not so sure about the ‘happy’ part, Chapman is more focused on getting couples to stay together – usually through having the wife do more things to fill her husband’s ‘love tank’ so he’ll be more inclined to be loving (or, y’know, decent) to her – than on marital happiness and satisfaction.
            (Dan Savage – who I do like – says something like “Why do we consider it a successful marriage when, after thirty years of abuse, you’re fed up and are killed in a car crash on the way to the divorce lawyer – and a failed marriage when, after ten or twenty happy and okay years, there’s an amicable split?” I don’t think Chapman has ever read/listened to Savage, so he probably hasn’t considered that question, but he should.)

        1. Taniwha Girl*

          There is no mention of anyone hitting anyone in the quote you shared?
          I still think the actual quote and advice is problematic and unhelpful, but your summary mischaracterizes it there.

  6. Anonymous at a University*

    I mean, if you’re cool with someone refusing the gifts, it might be okay. I know I would find it weird and feel pressured to accept it when I really don’t have any use for a silly mug or a random token. Also, while I hope you’re not doing this, the work people in the past who’ve given me things like that were the type to follow up on it. “How do you like the mug? I notice you’re not using it every day, why not? Don’t you like the mug???” If you are doing this, PLEASE STOP. That takes it from “random token of affection” to “I take this way too personally.”

    Also, honestly, on the macrame front, I wouldn’t have any use for something like that, either. How often are you asking people? If it’s once and a refusal is fine, again, okay. If it’s constant, and you’re asking people who’ve refused once, please step back.

    1. AGD*

      Agreed. I am a gift giver and I overtly try not to follow up even a little bit, because I don’t want anyone feeling any pressure to use or like anything I send! The one time someone did it to me, I got really ticked off. I don’t want my gifts to come with strings attached (one of many reasons I don’t do macramé).

  7. HailRobonia*

    In “The Before Times” I had a “hobby” of gluing googly eyes on rocks and putting them on my coworker’s desks as a “you rock!” message. But I am conscious of people’s clutter so I am clear that they are welcome to re-gift them.

    I also would stash them around campus just to make people’s day a little more surreal.

    1. cmcinnyc*

      See, this is in the category of Wonderfully Stupid that I would be totally fine with. I would laugh, I would appreciate it, I might ask you down the line if I could pass on your You Rock to someone else who rocks.

      BUT–I have a coworker who is lovely and a charm but will. not. stop. with the little gifts! I am uncomfortable with someone buying me something, even little somethings. I feel obligated to reciprocate, and then a whole cycle of obligation starts and I hate it. I have told her directly to please not give me gifts, but she loves to so sometimes she does anyway. Argh!

    2. LunaLena*

      Ha, I used to do something like this too! I would keep a sharpie in my bag and sometimes doodle things on random rocks for people to find, like googly eyes. I had plans to draw googly eyes on a bunch of rocks and then line them up facing a bench or something, but at the time I lived in a place with few rocks, fewer parks, and even fewer pedestrians, so it never happened. I might have to resurrect that idea now that I live in an area with lots of rocks and hikers.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Do it! I’m always finding those painted rocks that people love to make and hide outdoors while on my hikes and runs. They never fail to bring a smile to my face, even though I don’t pick them up to re-hide them like you’re supposed to.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      This is exactly the kind of small, silly, inexpensive thing I’d totally keep and haul around from job to job. It’s almost like the low effort silly things that are just to put a smile on your face and clearly can be thrown out without any guilt whatsoever are much easier to accept as a recipient.

    4. AthenaC*

      Okay now I totally want to plant googly-eyed rocks in my neighbors’ gardens and see how long it takes the neighborhood rumor mill to start churning.

      Thanks for the idea! :D

      1. Gumby*

        I once be-gnomed the office plants and I do not think anyone noticed at all. Except maybe the person who watered them.

    5. NotAnotherManager!*

      This would also make an amazing pass-around gift – you tell someone they “rock”, they hand the rock off to the next person who does something great for them, and you know whomever has the rocks at any given time did something nice for a coworker.

      1. londonedit*

        If anyone else has ever seen the Muppet Family Christmas, you’ll know that this is exactly how Fraggle gift-giving works!

    6. Sleepless*

      I actually really love this. My job is still in-person and has been astoundingly difficult the past few months, and my staff is rising to the occasion really well. They handled a couple of particularly hard tasks fabulously well the other day. Now I want to make them all You Rocks.

    7. Dumpster Fire*

      That’s funny! I actually have a package of fairly large (1-inch dia) stick-on googly eyes and I stick them in places that will (hopefully) make people laugh – the department fridge, the copier, etc. I don’t think anyone has figured out yet that it’s me doing it.

    8. Idril Celebrindal*

      This reminds me of my ex-job where we had a really derpy looking parrot hand puppet with pink fur and googly eyes that got passed around the office. Whenever someone did something really well or was going through a hard time and needed a smile, they’d come in the next morning and the parrot would be draped over the top of their monitor and looking at them all cross-eyed and goofy. It made us all smile and really confused new people until someone explained it.

  8. Not Australian*

    I too have a creative hobby – patchwork/quilting – where I soon ran out of people to give things to. Then I found a charity that would take all the quilts I could make, and distribute them to people who would appreciate them. (Project Linus, if anyone’s interested.) I get to experiment with patterns to my heart’s content, and every few months I drop off another batch of quilts to my local organiser in the knowledge that they’re going to a really good home.

    I’d really urge the OP to look around for a charity that could make use of their craft skills and large stash of supplies, rather than making gifts to co-workers which could lead to all sorts of unwanted complications. ‘Gift out’ – rather than ‘gifting in’ – if you like.

    1. Hotdog not dog*

      I crochet afghans for Project Linus for the same reason. Everyone in my circle already has more than enough blankets to keep them warm even if we go through another ice age (and the way this year is going I can’t rule anything out!) but crochet is a great stress reliever for me.

    2. LunaLena*

      This, or I was going to suggest that the OP start an Etsy shop. That’s what I did (my hobby is art, so I sell things like stickers and magnets), and it gives me the satisfaction of knowing that I made something that someone else liked and that it made someone happy. I don’t make a lot of money on it since I price my items towards the lower end of the scale, but it’s enough to cover supplies and earn me a few extra bucks so I can indulge in buying silly gifts once in a while.

    3. old curmudgeon*

      I do a variation on that theme, since my hobby (wheel-thrown pottery) isn’t something that most charities need or want directly. And it will fill my house up in no time if I don’t find homes for my pots.

      What I do is let it be known that I am happy to give away my pots in return for the recipient throwing $10 or so to a charity of their choice. I don’t need or want the money, and I sure don’t have room for hundreds of bowls and mugs and vases in my house, so it really is a win all the way around.

      I’ve had situations where someone wanted to commission a bigger project, which I am also happy to do. We talk through what it will entail, decide together on a charity, arrive at a dollar amount that we both think is reasonable, I have the fun of throwing pots, they get pots they like, and whichever charity we decide on gets a donation.

      1. The Spinning Arrow*

        I absolutely love this idea. I dabble in a ton of creative hobbies that I might someday turn into a side hustle, and if I do I’m going to think about a way to incorporate this into that plan. Thank you for sharing!

      2. whingedrinking*

        This year I did a Facebook fundraiser for an LGBTQ+ charity, and as a thank you for donating I made people woven bracelets in their choice of Pride flag. (Most people went for the basic rainbow, but I also made a straight ally design and a chevron design in the bi flag colours). I enjoy making the bracelets, but they’re inexpensive and simple to make, so no one has to feel like they’re throwing away something super valuable if they mislay it or just don’t use it, or indeed if they wear it until it frays and breaks.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I’m going to suggest your idea to my husband. Currently our garage is full of clay, ceramics, a kiln(!) and we’ve given enough stuff to friends and family by now.

    4. allathian*

      This is a truly great suggestion! It should work for people who are enthusiastic about making people happy by giving them things they actually need rather than who live for the more or less sincere thanks they get from recipients.

  9. Booksnbooks*

    Talking about hobbies turning into chores turning into issues: I know someone who used to make baby blankets for all the new babies in their spouse’s office. There weren’t that many babies, maybe 2-3 babies over the course of a couple years. The first 5-6 people loved them and were very excited (they said, at least). Then it become expected and a couple things happened in pretty quick succession: 1/someone got angry that another colleague’s baby blanket was nicer and more expensive looking than the one they got, 2/someone wanted to return the blanket so another could be made in a different color, and 3/at the pregnancy announcement someone directed the color and type of yarn that had to be used or they didn’t want one at all. That was the end of the baby blankets as gifts. (Additional data, if it makes a difference: The blankets were all either white or multi-colored and made using baby yarn–which is very soft, but does come in different weights. It took about 40 hours to make one blanket.)

    1. Me*

      Yes to the hours it takes people to make a lot of these crafts. Many people don’t realize and will never appreciate the time and care that actually goes into something “small”. Or that they can buy mass market for 10$.

      1. Ohlaurdy*

        I’m not terribly crafty but several people I love are, so I’d have to guess there are also many people who do realize the time and care and expense that goes into these gifts and just don’t want something that takes so much time and effort from a coworker! I really like all of my coworkers but I’d be a uncomfortable accepting a gift that one of them spent a full work week making something for me if I wouldn’t be willing to put in the same effort for them.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          Yup. Lots of knitters talk about who is “knitworthy” and who is not. Knitworthy people understand about human labor. Not knitworthy folks truly don’t see the difference between the sweater I made by hand and the one they bought for $40 in a store. Not even the difference in materials! (I find I give more knitted gifts to other knitters than to anyone else.)

      2. TootsNYC*

        the requirement to “appreciate the time and care” is exactly why I don’t like to receive such handmade gifts.

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      ^ this right here is why I don’t make baby blankets for 99% of colleagues. If I happen to like them deeply as a person, in that I would have already gotten them a baby gift as a friend, sure thing. Generic colleague who I’m just friendly *at*? They can get a nice card.

      I knit for you if I love you. If I don’t love you, chances are you’re going to have to pay for the item, and you’re probably going to be very surprised at the price because it’s very rare that non-crafty-people think about the time & skill that go into a handmade item like that… and I don’t want to hear about how you can get that “exact thing” (no) at Target for like $15 (then go to Target).

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I’ve legitimately had people tell me that.

          *sees shawl I’m wearing, asks where I got it, omg you made it, the normal precursors*

          OPTION 1
          “Do you sell them???”

          Yes, I do. I design the patterns, and generally sell the samples after all photography is done.

          “Oh my gawd, that’s awesome, can I buy one except in {not the color of the shawl that already exists}?”

          Sure. I do commissions from time to time. This will take me about a month, this is knit in a wool blend, if you like that yarn I can find a color for you to approve. I do 50% up front, and the total cost is (3x cost of yarn).

          “…..I was expecting like $30….”

          Yep. That’s the yarn it takes to make it, doesn’t include my time or skill.

          [either horrified look or incredibly confused look]

          OPTION 2

          “You should sell those! I bet you’d get at *least* $30 a piece!”

          [laughs in crafty sadness]

          1. jenkins*

            I had this often when I ran a stall at a city centre craft market – lots of people breezing past on their way somewhere, stopping to look and recoiling at the prices. “I can get the same thing for £5 in Primark!” I mean… go and do that then? If having a one-off or small-run handmade item isn’t worth the extra money to that particular person, no one is making them seek those products out – but if they do want it, it’s not rocket science to understand that labour costs money. There’s a widely held perception that if you enjoy your craft then of course you’ll do commissions at or below cost, and be grateful to make the sale at all.

            (Of course a lot of the mass produced stuff is only that cheap because it was produced by underpaid workers in horrible conditions, but…yeah.)

            1. Environmental Compliance*

              It’s even sadder to me when I’m in a knitting group on Facebook and all these people – who craft! – are griping about how us “younger people” are asking for Too Much and isn’t it best to give these items for $5 or free or whatever because ~the love of the craft~? No, Linda, it’s payment for time and skill. If *you* want to do that for your family, go for it, but you can’t tell a person running a business to run themselves into the ground because ~passion~.

              Often IME it is the same people who then bitch and moan about [random obscure relative] not immediately fawning over the baby blanket the person sent them and sending back 2304938 pictures of the baby with blanket…. maybe the person is busy, as a new parent, you know, with a new baby? Maybe they don’t have your phone number to text it? Maybe they didn’t want that baby blanket because they have a vague idea that it’s handmade = heirloom = terrified to use it? Maybe don’t give gifts with strings attached?

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Ahhh your last paragraph is so spot on! Few people realize the time and effort most handcrafted items take. It’s why I never balk at paying $35 for the teeny tiny vegan cake that I order for my birthday every year even though it only lasts two days between our family of 3. And why I never give any crap to artists when I ask for a quote and it’s beyond my budget. A simple “oh that’s more than I can afford right now, but if I save up for it and you still have it available I’ll definitely snatch it up!” suffices to convey both appreciation and the constraints of my own financial limitations.

        Back when my office had 5 people in it and I was still single, I took great delight in baking favorite treats to bring in for coworkers’ birthdays. Cooking/baking is my creative outlet, and at the time I had no one else to make things for so it was a joy. Now I’m married and have a toddler and the office has expanded to be about 15 or so people (give or take a couple salespeople who only come in from time to time) and it was just too much so I had to quit. Thankfully no one griped, although I do still overhear wistful comments from time to time about my pumpkin muffins and how much they enjoyed them.

    3. Hotdog not dog*

      This is why only close friends and family get afghans as gifts, and the rest get donated! I don’t need anyone to tell me what color or style to make. Good yarn is expensive, I’ll pick out what I feel like touching for hours on end AND is in my budget, thank you very much.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The last baby blanket should have read “And This Is Why We Can’t Have Anything Nice.”

      This is the tale as old as time. I’ve heard this crap from so many of my crafting friends. It only takes one jackhole to unravel the whole dang thing. Same with cooking and suddenly people are putting special orders, like someone gives a flying piglet about their “requests”.

      Some people are greedy and you have to learn to laugh at them, in their face, loudly.

    5. SafetyOfficer*

      I had a neighbor who made small, simple quilts out of used jeans (well, one side was from a patchwork of used jeans), and normally she made them and donated them to charity, because she was retired and it gave her something meaningful to do. I offered to buy one because I thought it would make a beautiful Christmas gift for my nephew. She got extremely uncomfortable when she mentioned the cost of the materials (close to $80, because decent used jeans are surprisingly expensive at the used clothing stores, not to mention the batting, etc). I said, “And I fully expect you to charge me appropriately for your time, as well. If I wanted to pay Chinese labor wages, I’d go to Walmart.” She was much less uncomfortable after this. I later learned that when people offered to buy the quilts from her, at most they were usually willing to pay was about $50.

    6. theguvnah*

      The Mad men-era component of a spouse making these for an office is what should have ended the practice…highly uncomfortable.

  10. F as in Frank*

    The thing about love languages (for personal relationships) is that it is important to consider the other person’s love language. Just because my love language is gift giving doesn’t mean it is a reason for me to give gifts to everyone I know.
    In a work context it is important to consider Alison’s advise about your professional reputation. I had an engineering coop student working for me who had worked for our organization before. She was known to all the trades guys as the one who brought in baking and this reputation preceded her joining my team.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Right. I thought the message from “Love Languages” was about learning other people’s preferred love language so you can do the things they appreciate. Not so you can foist your own preference on to others so that you feel good.

      1. Courageous cat*

        Yes! That’s part of why this feels off to me. It feels like the gift giver is pandering more to themselves than to anyone else, in a way.

    2. Koala dreams*

      I think that’s a good rule in general. A bit like the platinum rule: treat others as they would like to be treated (within reason, of course).

      Many people appreciate kind words and positive feedback over gifts, or after work drinks.

  11. Me*

    I crochet so I get the more than you ever need part but I would never offer to make stuff for coworkers. I keep a nice line between personal and private and this crosses it albeit in a nice well intended way.

    I’d reign it all way the heck in to not at all.

    1. introverted af*

      Same. At most, I might consider posting to a community bulletin board around holidays that I could take commissions if people are interested, but I wouldn’t be offering to make people things in passing conversations. Not at work, like this.

  12. Kira*

    My take on this seems to be a bit different than what other people have shared so far. I’ve worked remotely for several years, but the majority of my coworkers are in the same office. I know that many of them share little token gifts, go out to eat together, and otherwise demonstrate friendliness similar to OP in this letter. And while I know that’s one of the prices of working remotely, it always makes me feel a little sad (lonely?) when I hear about it and the reminders that they bond in ways that I don’t have access to.

    I get that my situation is pretty specific, but I wonder whether you guys think that’s a legit consideration — how is the gift giving perceived by the peers who don’t receive the gifts?

    1. Bookartist*

      Yes. We recently went to all-remote and Workplace formalized checkins and casual comms by having us use five15, so everyone is on the same playing field and no one is advantaged because they’re in the office with their supervisor and peers. Our remote And FL colleagues has said explicitly that they feel more “in” at work because of it.

    2. Washi*

      This is actually the reason I don’t really do gifts in the office! I’m somewhat similar to the OP in my personal life with my friends and I do tend to make real friends at my jobs that I stay in touch with and see even after I’ve left. Sometimes I’m tempted to do the little gift thing with work friends, but I don’t really want there to be a physical reminder out on someone’s desk that I’m more friendly with one person than another! I actually try to keep any developing work friendships on the DL in general because it can get awkward if you’re part of a larger team. I might buy a coffee for a work friend on their birthday, but that’s about it.

  13. SaffyTaffy*

    I feel you so hard, OP. I love embroidery and I seem to do a better job when I’m making something for an intended recipient. And I see my colleagues every day, so of course I think of things I’d like to make for them.

  14. Former call centre worker*

    As a crafter I sympathise with the problem of what to do with all your crafted items to stop them taking over your home. I think it’s worth remembering, though, that other people also don’t have enough room for all their stuff! If you’re doing this as a way to enjoy your hobbies without taking up space in your house, have you tried making things that take longer to make so you end up with fewer? For example an embroidery or cross stitch with the background fully filled in takes absolutely ages.

    1. Deliliah*

      Also – set up an etsy shop and sell your stuff! I started one this year and have so far sold 10 items. It’s not making me any appreciable amount of money, but it has so far paid for my supplies.

      1. Metadata minion*

        That’s not for everyone, though. People keep saying I should set up an Etsy store for my knitting and for me, that would add a whole boatload of stuff I hate on top of something I love.

  15. Keyboard Cowboy*

    I knit, and twice now a coworker has announced an impending child and I’ve offered (and been accepted!) to knit a baby blanket for them. A new human is a big event, and it saves me from having to, I don’t know, buy diapers or participate in cash drives – I enjoy knitting a lot more than I enjoy either of those things. But I’m not sure I would offer to knit in general for a coworker. “Would you like a baby blanket/knitted wedding gift for your big life event” is very different from “would you like a water bottle coozie/wall hanging/coaster just for being you” – I think one is professionally acceptable and the other is maybe a little extra, and now that I type it, I think it’s because “for event” is different from “for you”. Is it possible to frame your macrame gifts in the form of Big Life Event gifts? Or maybe in celebration of milestones at work (product launches, big sales, I don’t know)?

    1. Keyboard Cowboy*

      There’s so many crafters replying that now I want an AAM open thread crafting meetup. I never read the open thread, is there one already?

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I would like this too as I don’t recall seeing it on the Open Thread! Hi, fellow knitter!

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Occasionally! Not quite as consistent from week to week as, say, the gardening/books/writing/gaming threads, but we pop up sometimes :)

        1. Venus*

          Alison is taking up knitting (mentioned it last week) so a thread would likely be welcome.

  16. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Man, I love to give gifts and more so cards with genuine heartfelt messages. For Christmas i got something for my 2 reports (both got a pin of a meme they like), a close work friend (corgi pin) and my boss (a mug that said “tears of my staff”…. we had that kind of rapport). Aside from that, the major effort I put in is into cards and writing personalized messages—that I’ve found is harder to do being work appropriate but worth it.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I have a large team and, for staff appreciation, we put together a small gift bag that everyone gets, but their supervisor writes them each a personal note to go with it. It gets a positive response every year, and many people have remarked on how much it meant, especially on larger or on-to-the-next-fire paced teams, that they were individually recognized and that their supervisor knew enough about their work to offer personalized praise and appreciation.

  17. DQ*

    To me, there’s a big difference between something consumable (food, drinks, etc.) and something tangible. I think you get a wider berth for consumables (“heading to the vending machine…bag of skittles on me?” or “I love to bake but don’t want this stuff hanging around so there’s an assortment of cookies in the breakroom. Have at it”) than for tangible items. So, I’d say you’re fine with offering to buy a round at happy hour but maybe dial back the mugs and things. As for the macrame, can you de-personalize the items and then just make them generally available instead of “here, I made this for you”?

    All of that said, I once received the BEST office gift ever. At the holidays, a co-worker dug around in the supply closet and pulled out a whole brand new box of my absolute favorite pens, wrapped it up and gave it to me. It was the perfect blend of “hey, I see you, I know you, I know you’ll appreciate this and yet it cost me zero dollars and the company was going to buy the darn pens anyway.” That was about 15 years ago and I *still* tell people that story.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree with you on consumables!

      The thing that will always stick out to me was when a report left me a “fancy” chocolate [local chocolate shop right down the block that she went to for her own cravings] and a note card saying “Happy Birthday” and a heart felt note. It cost probably $2, she was already there and she thought to share with me on my birthday, so it wasn’t anything uncomfortable to say the least.

      I gave themed food gifts or brought in specialty coffee on occasion, along with just buying people the darn office supplies they like instead of the cheapest ones possible. It doesn’t take that much to really show you see someone, you appreciate them.

      And I fancy myself a “gift giver” like the OP. So I totally understand the urges but yeah, work is where you tame it waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down.

    2. Sled dog mama*

      This would make my day!
      Especially because my company doesn’t provide pens I like only cheap ones that I find hard to write with, mind you my favorite isn’t super expensive, like $1 compared to the $0.10 ones the office provides. I bring my own pens and someone giving me just one of those would be amazing, a whole box I might faint.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I have literally crushed so many cheap pens with my vice-like grip. That right there was enough to prove that being cheap with pens isn’t actually cost effective at all. If I crush 10 pens before I find one that can withstand my grasp, then you know, I already just ate $1 of supplies.

  18. Jennifer*

    It’s unfortunate, but when I start getting a lot of gifts from someone I’m not very close to, I start either feeling pressured to give them a gift in return, or wondering what they want from me. Plus, and I don’t want to be unkind, I don’t know if your coworkers have much of a use for the things you’re giving them. Gifts like this that I receive usually end up collecting dust in my closet or (sorry!) in the trash.

    If you were a great baker and bringing in cookies all the time, it would be a little different because no one is required to store anything anywhere and if the treats are yummy, they usually end up getting eaten. I’d rein it in a bit if I were you.

    I admit, I’m not very crafty, so this is something I don’t really understand.

  19. Gymmie*

    After reading Alison’s last paragraph, it is important to note that while YOUR love language is gifts, many people’s aren’t. I actually had this convo with friends recently. Every single one of us listed receiving gifts as the least important thing.
    I think the one-off thing when it’s really funny or specific is fine, I would start to feel weird about constant gifts, especially because I don’t like “stuff”. I’m more of a “buy me concert tickets” type of person.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah, I’d much rather have an experience like a trip than receiving a gift. Though thoughtful gifts are nice too. The thing is if this is just a coworker and not someone I’m friends with outside of work, they don’t really know me well enough to give me a thoughtful gift.

    2. Sleepless*

      My dear, late MIL’s love language was gifts, and she was completely incapable of understanding that everybody wasn’t the same way. She gifted people with all kinds of well-meaning junk over the years. I’m not a “stuff” person. My favorite gifts of all time have either been experiences, or sometimes a really small well thought out thing. My parents gave us a family membership to our city’s museum of natural history when my kids were young. I’m not sure we would have ever gone there otherwise. I can’t tell you how much pleasure we got out of trips to the natural history museum, for years, because we re-upped our membership every year.

  20. Amber Rose*

    I do think gifts should roll down, but that’s a general rule not a strict one. I gave my boss a unicorn head stress ball once, because she loves unicorns and I won two at an arcade (the other lives on my desk). So it wasn’t like I spent money on it and if it ended in the trash or with one of her kids, eh. Whatever.

    One small gift can be fun. A bunch of them, or even a bunch of nice ones, would get tiresome pretty fast I think.

  21. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I think that you should try to keep this within your social circles instead. This is because workplaces can be full of people that you simply don’t know enough.

    You could start an Etsy store or something to have an outlet for you crafting. I’d feel super awkward if someone gave me their handmade materials and I’m a sucker for a handmade gift from a friend/family/child.

    Trinket gifts should be used sparingly. I would say literally for a birthday or celebration of some kind.

    1. Resin crystals for days*

      Hm. This is interesting. I’m the crafty gal in the office so I’ve given out small soap samples and resin items, mostly out of surplus. I just made a friend in the office a friendship bracelet (we text and hang outside work and are pretty close). Reading this makes me a little self-conscious now.

      1. juliebulie*

        No, soap samples would be awesome. For one thing, they’re consumable.

        And it’s maybe less awkward if you just put them on a table for people to take. If you hand them out like you’re the Soap Fairy, that makes it more of a thing. (Though, again, I’d always welcome a visit from the Soap Fairy. I was once a Soap Fairy myself.)

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Soap I’m down for, it’s up there with you can also continue to bring food to share too ;)

        But be leery because of allergies you may or may not know about. Right now you know everyone, it’s probably 100% cool. But if a new person comes in, they could be sensitive and they could be shy about it because you know, they’re new :(

        IDK what resin items are, so I can’t comment on those. But a google of it, it could be very much something that’d be seen as clutter or too much by some.

        If you weren’t close with your office friend, a bracelet would be pretty out of step. But you’re friends, so that’s totally not a problem! What I gift my friends, even “work” friends is different than what I do with all my other colleagues.

      3. Pennyworth*

        I trained my family to understand that I really do enjoy receiving soap as a gift. When I was young, soap was just something you gave your aunt, but I treasure good quality soap. My favorite is from Aleppo in Syria, made with olive oil, packed in a simple cardboard box, and so dense a bar lasts for months. And it smells so good I store it amongst my clothes.

      4. allathian*

        Soap samples are good, if they’re small enough and don’t have a strong scent. I’m sensitive to scents, so I steer clear of places like Lush for that reason. And why oh why do so many department stores have the cosmetics department right by the main entrance? Or why can’t Ikea tuck away their scented candles in a corner somewhere rather than by the warehouse entrance so that everybody has to walk past them?

  22. Pidgeot*

    Sometimes a good compromise is to take a photo of the item you see and show it to the other person, saying, “I saw this and thought of you!” That way you’re getting the shared camaraderie of the joke/thoughtfulness, but without the expense. And the other person doesn’t end up with an unwanted trinket.

  23. Tyche*

    I’m the recipient of my office version of the letter writer. A coworker is well versed in a feminine craft and she likes to gift us with the results of every new experiment. Add to that, she likes to give small gifts all around the year. I have to admit that while I think she’s very kind, I find all this gift giving a little awkward because I don’t know how to reciprocate. If it were a single gift, I’d thank her and stop here, but if the gifts are somewhat recurring I’d be pressured to give something back.

  24. Admininja*

    Yes to so much of this. I fight the urge to give gifts all the time. Alison’s advice/explanations are exactly why I fight it. I’m crafty & enjoy seeing people be happy, but there are other ways that are far more effective & appropriate in the workplace. One note on the gender thing, though: it’s important to note that men do become known for their hobbies when they bring them to work. Being able to power wash well seems equivalent to being able to vacuum well & is unlikely to even be known at the office beyond a ‘how was your weekend’ conversation. The guy who modifies his car in the office parking lot on a regular basis, though, will certainly become known for that. I’m a woman working in a male-dominated field, & a switch happened when I took this job. I could no longer wear the jewelry I made to the office (safety hazard). In a previous job, it had been something people commented on. Now, they ask about my motorcycle because that’s the hobby that’s more visible. I have definitely felt the stigma difference, though- the jewelry hobby wasn’t respected, but the motorcycle hobby is.

    1. Dan*

      Yeah… in non-COVID times, my travels are noted because I’ll usually take my month-long vacations all at once. People will ask where I’ve gone for that period of time. Word has also gotten out that I do my travels via frequent flyer miles, so I do get people who are interested in that discussing it with me.

      Some people will drop off “sweets from abroad” when they return, but that’s just not my thing.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve seen guys turn into shop “car guys” and “landscape” guys over the years. We aren’t in the car or lawn business, lol. So many “Jimmy can just bring his tools over and do this for us.” kind of stuff when something breaks down or the landscaper misses something.

  25. Jennifer*

    “I figured I could throw it away now, or I could keep it for a couple of months and then throw it away. I mean, it was really nice of Pam to make them, but what am I going to do with a gold medal made of paper clips and an old yogurt lid?”
    Ryan Howard, The Office

  26. Etcalledme*

    Yes to what Alison said!!!! This would drive me crazy and stress me out if I were receiving the gifts. I’d feel the need to reciprocate and would be worried that I’d just become caught up in a gifting arms race if it continued.

  27. Anita Brayke*

    I totally agree with not baking too much, and not gifting laterally or upward too much, but I have a question… Does anyone wonder whether men are disproportionally viewed as the office “movers” “technicians (for hooking things up,)” and I. T. staff? I sometimes do.

    1. Jennifer*

      I think it would be a nice gesture to bring in baked goods for someone that actually performs a service for you like that, especially when they really had to go above and beyond.

    2. MajorityWomenOffice*

      Great question! In my area we have tech savvy people of all genders, and our IT staff is very diverse. I don’t think men are mentally “assigned” those duties at my office, but we’re a university and perhaps a bit more progressive as far as gender biases. I’m curious to hear about other workplaces.

      We are, however, guilty of disproportionately expecting the men to replace the 5 gallon jug of water at the water cooler. This does bother me, particularly because we are a majority women department (who all happen to be petite in height too, which makes the job more difficult) and the task generally falls to a select few men. Sometimes we will grab a friend and tag-team the jug of water, but it takes some choreography.

      1. allathian*

        Maybe it would be easier if you just considered the fact that you’re all petite? If you don’t normally lift 5 gallon water jugs or the equivalent weights, I don’t think it would be inappropriate to ask a guy to do it, as long as he’s actually physically capable of doing it. Worst case scenario, a petite woman gets hurt at work lifting a 5 gallon jug and then it’s worker’s comp time. If you had a 6 ft female bodybuilder on your staff, I doubt it would feel unfair to ask her to replace the 5 gallon jug rather than asking a 5 ft 2 in, 100 lbs woman to do it? Or even several.

    3. Gumby*

      My father was the only male teacher at the elementary school he taught at lo these many years ago. Guess who spent his summers repairing things around the school. And painting – there seemed to have been a lot of painting involved. But I’m fairly sure he got paid extra to take on some of those tasks.

      He was slightly less happy a few years ago when he was asked to build something for one of his grandkids’ classes. He did it – but he made the school pay for supplies. This is the downside when your grandkids brag that “Grandpa can build anything!”

    4. Squidhead*

      I work in healthcare and male nurses & techs are definitely called upon to handle obstreperous or violent patients, not to mention mobilizing heavy patients and moving equipment. No one (almost) even bats an eye at this gendered expectation. Bedside caregivers are all at high risk for back injuries, but we’re not always good at taking care of ourselves or each other.

  28. Picard*

    This is so so gendered in so many people/places. And I hate the say this but it so so not helpful to 99% of women in the workplace. I really wish it would stop. Work is not a love location – you dont need to be speaking a love language, period. Please do NOT be that person.

  29. WantonSeedStitch*

    I think that an even more meaningful way of thanking someone for doing excellent work or helping you out at work is to send a note to their manager to say, “Hey, I just thought you should know that Jane took the time to explain the teapot-painting process to me today, and it was incredibly informative. I’ve wanted to know more about that part of the business for ages, and she made it really clear. I feel like I can do a better job working with the teapot painters now, knowing more about their work. I’m really grateful for her help.” As a manager, I LOVE when I get messages like that! I share them with the person who’s being praised and thanked, add my own thanks for their collaborative attitude and willingness to help their fellow employees, and I keep them on file to refer to at review time.

    1. Old dog*

      Yes! There are more meaningful ways of acknowledging appreciation in a workplace setting – that are actually related to one’s job. I would find it odd and awkward if someone in the office was occasionally giving gifts to employees. It feels performative and icky to me and boundary pushing.

    2. Cat Meowmy Admin*

      Yes! Over the years, I have done / still do exactly this ~ acknowledge the helpful efforts or good work of others. This is my go-to “love language” (!?!) in social and work settings. You simply cannot go wrong here. It’s one of the kindest things to do for someone, and the feeling you get inside your heart is indescribable. A truly valuable “gift” for both the recipient and for the giver. A sincere acknowledgment is well-received by the person’s manager(s) as well (and can be a refreshing novelty sometimes lol).
      When you do this, it has a positive ripple effect that encourages others. Showing appreciation is one of the best gifts ever and it doesn’t cost a thing. :)

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Ripple effect is right! My experience has been that it helps build a culture of recognition and appreciation in the office overall, which is amazing for morale.

    3. allathian*

      Yes, this! I’m always very happy when my manager forwards positive feedback she’s received from our internal clients to me. That said, I do get positive feedback directly as well, it’s one of the great things about our office culture.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes! Once I was browsing a forum for my profession and saw someone asking about the best software for a particular task. There were various answers but the consensus was that the best was something developed by my colleague. I sent him a link, and watched his face light up as he read it. Then I pointed out that I had copied it to his boss, he was overjoyed.

  30. No Gifts, Thanks*

    As someone who’s love language is arguably gifts (hey, they make me feel appreciated), I never know quite what to do with gifts from people from work. Either I feel bad that I haven’t gotten them anything, or now I feel a sense of obligation to get them something — even though their gesture was made with the best intentions.

    I had a coworker who had the most junior role and got everyone a gift and no one else ended up exchanging anything. She also threw showers and parties for people a few rungs higher up on the ladder. Knowing this person, I know the thought and effort was genuine. It just is something where more often than not, it doesn’t land as intended.

  31. RussianInTexas*

    It would be so weird to me. To receive a random unsolicited gift from a coworker.
    You are creating a “I must give something back” loop, regardless of if you actually want it or not.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I am terrible at gift giving with my family already. I don’t need a stress like this with a coworker.

  32. Taylor*

    Here’s why I wouldn’t be into the macrame: Saying “Let me know if you want me to make anything” puts the burden back on me to both think of something and then think of things like “Is that too complicated? Is it too big? Do I need to make something for him/her now?” I also don’t want to feel like I’m putting in a free order at an Etsy shop, especially if I’m, say, a Director and you’re a Manager. If you said “I thought of you and made you this thing because of our inside joke,” that might be slightly more acceptable, but I still wouldn’t go overboard with it or do things like pass that stuff out on a traditionally gift-giving holiday, like Christmas or birthdays.

    1. WellRed*

      I don’t even know what to suggest with macrame? Although I have vague 70s memories of hanging plant holders.

  33. Khatul Madame*

    Individual gifts, even to people on the same level, can still land wrong because in many cultures reciprocity or gifts or favors is very important.
    Even when you do things for the entire team, it’s a slippery slope for a woman to become the pantry mother/baker/knitter/quilter/macrameer, as amply illustrated by past AAM letters. Translate your gift-giving intention into praise – verbal or email.

  34. LogicalOne*

    I would like to add that when people find out you’re handing out gifts, some like to compare gifts and see what each person got and then they analyze things. Maybe giving everyone the same thing would keep things neutral. As a manager, when I give my employees gifts throughout the year, they like to gather around for a few minutes and be like “And what did you get?” It’s normal to be curious but there may be those over inquisitive minds that wonder why they got the gift they got and why others got what they got. Not saying you’ll taint any relationships but you never know. I like to give everyone the same thing, something neutral that says they are all equal.

  35. Amtelope*

    I think the macrame is fine, but the rest of it can so easily get annoying. We had one person in the office for a while who would leave everyone little presents for every conceivable calendar holiday, or just randomly (cards, candy, erasers, cheerful little notes — she was coming out of an elementary school classroom, and it all had that tone). It felt like trying to make frequent gift-giving A Thing in the office, when no one else wanted it to be.

  36. CatPerson*

    Every time someone gives me one of those silly mugs that they are sure I will like I thank them graciously and bring it home before I throw it out. I like to pick out my own mugs, and just because it has something about cats on it doesn’t mean I would like it myself. Why do so many people think that people who love cats have poor taste in accessories, housewares, etc.?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Because some of us really don’t mind it, lol. And people are often not putting that much thought into the process, they see it, say “Jane likes cats! I like Jane! I’ll get this for Jane!” and think nothing else of it.

      But it’s also because people view mugs as something you can use. I don’t personally match my housewares because I don’t care that much about it, they’re just for drinking out of in the end. I only care if it’s dishwasher safe, what I hate is something that’s molded and shaped like a cat’s head, the ears are gonna get chipped. My mom got me a unicorn mug and I use it for my jewelry because you can’t ever actually use that for what it’s supposedly for, lol.

      I however feel weird gifting people things unless I know for a fact that it’s going to be a slam dunk. So unless I know you collect “cat stuff”, I’m not going to contribute.

      And I’m all too aware of the age old story of “I don’t even collect cat stuff…Brenda got me a cat cookie jar as a prank and everyone thought it meant I loved cats and started getting me cat cookie jars for every special occasion…” So seriously, gifting is all about knowing your audience.

      Hell, I’ve ran across people who got angry about getting a gift card before. You just never can please everyone D:

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Yes, but now I have literally 6 coffee mugs of various “funny” in my cabinet. Plus 3 on my desk. Plus boyfriend has 4.
        We have a moratorium in my family on the mugs as gifts.
        My favorite one is still I got for myself – the mug with best Shakespearean insults.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          I don’t have an issue with 6 mugs because I use a new one each day, lol. Then run a dishwasher every few day. I have a cupboard dedicated to mugs.

          I have matching dishes but that’s only because they’re my passed down from my family =X

    2. RussianInTexas*

      Slightly off-topic, but still on – my step-mother once bought two matching figurines of cats. Just because those particular figurines were calling to her.
      Since then everyone decided she likes cat figurines and she has so many! But she doesn’t! She liked that particular pair!

    3. Sleepless*

      I grew up on a dairy farm, and people gave me kitschy cow-themed stuff for years. I do love actual cows, but I do not like country kitsch, not one bit, and never ever indicated I wanted anything of the sort.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        When my cousin was young she really loved watching I Love Lucy. Somehow our grandparents got in their mind that all the gifts they got for her should be I Love Lucy-themed. Then the aunts and cousins started…and by the time she was 16 she had an entire wall-length shelf in her bedroom with all the stuff she had to display because her family had gotten her those gifts. That was the year she confessed to me that she hated all that stuff, she just didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. And then she discovered Ebay and sold all of it off before she went to college, so that worked out well for her.

        My sister-in-law, who loves gifts, kind of did the same thing to me. I had a Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster in college. I did like that movie, but the poster was vintage-looking and I bought it because I liked the colors. Well, for 5 Christmases after that everything my sister-in-law got me was Breakfast at Tiffany’s-themed.

    4. ...*

      A silly mug doesn’t need to meet my design standards to like it I guess. Its just a mug. I guess I wouldn’t throw it away because its a useful item and I drink coffee and tea daily so I’ll certainly put it to use. I have a totally tacky mug from an old boss and it makes me smile, like “oh this is so tacky but so sweet” and I use it all the time!

  37. Ari*

    Alison’s advice is spot on.

    I just want to add that I am a person who does macrame, knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery, cross stitching, etc. OP, I get the joy that creating an item and using your hands gives you. That’s totally fine! But if you’re worried that you’re giving too many gifts, especially hand-made ones, maybe it would help to join a charity group for crafting for specific communities in need. For example, a knitting group that makes hats for people with cancer or for NICU babies. I’m not sure if there’s a similar group for macrame, but it’s worth checking out. You’ll still get the joy of making and giving something without putting all that energy onto your coworkers.

    I don’t have much advice for the non-homemade gifts. But I think an occasional thank you note, offer to buy coffee/treat to a meal would be fine. Even better would probably be to just vocalize your appreciation to specific coworkers. That way you’re still being appreciative without overwhelming them with stuff they may not want.

  38. CastIrony*

    I work in a dollar store, and my manager would buy me drinks (esp. a bottle of MT Dew) from the store or small gifts. He even got me this lite-brtire thing once to cheer me up!

    It was awkward, and I always wanted to reciprocate, but it was a small part of me believing in the existence of good managers, and wouldn’t mind if he stopped because he does a great job.

    What does this have to do with anything? I think OP should respect people’s “no thanks”, but if done right, it could help build relationships! I especially love the sharing pictures idea for this.

    Good luck!
    Sincerely, a fellow person who loves getting close people their favorite things and gifts

  39. Polling at 1%*

    My org has yearly evaluations, and it’s the kind where to ‘preserve the integrity’ of the process, only so many “good” evals can be given out. Most of us are prior service, so we’re used to this. X number of people can be overall exceptional, or above average, and everyone else is meets standards or substandard. So there is a round table once a year of all the team leads talking to big boss about why our reports deserve to be one of the ‘exceptional’ evals. Last year, Team Lead Todd was talking about Exceptional Report Barb and and Team Lead Steve asked “is that the one who always brings in cakes on someone’s birthday?” And Big Boss turned purple and screamed “I don’t give a shit about her cooking, I want to hear about her work!” (Stressful time, and language/raised voices not uncommon for us). As the only female team lead, I spoke to the times Barb had assisted my team, while also advocating for my own reports, but she ended up receiving a lower evaluation than I felt she deserved.

    In my experience, being known for anything other than your work, ESPECIALLY something domestic like baking or crafting, colors how others perceive you. It’s not fair, but for my industry it’s a fact. I would personally stop with the gift giving and the macrame. Because right now you might not be “OP who kicks ass at this job” to some people, to them you might be “OP who does macrame”

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You know this but I’m going to say it as an outsider. Your organization and your industry sucks. Any place that restricts evaluation ratings is doing it all wrong and are ran by scumbags.

  40. Policy Wonk*

    In the government, gifts to a supervisor are capped at $5.00 (and even then it’s frowned upon) unless it is a rare event such as a wedding or birth of a child. So the mugs and the like would probably exceed the amount.

    As for the things you’ve made, I would still avoid giving them to superiors – I think the suggestion someone made above about finding a charity that would welcome things like blankets is a good one. And I agree with the person who noted that consumables (baked goods, a beer at happy hour) are in a different category and are largely OK.

  41. Essess*

    I really really dislike it when a coworker gives me a gift. Now I’m obligated to do the same thing. Even if the coworker claims that there’s no obligation, there actually is a societal obligation to return gift-giving. I resent being put under that pressure of feeling like I either have to go out and buy something that I don’t want to buy, or else I end up feeling the pressure of being rude. So whenever I see the gift giver in the future, I end up with feelings of resentment and irritation and I try to avoid the person so that the situation doesn’t occur again. This has a negative impact on my work interactions with them.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s an extreme over reaction and should be spoke about with a mental health professional.

      You absorb your own idea of societal obligation, that’s in your own mind and you should learn to let it go.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I am not that extreme, but I hate gift picking with a passion. It stresses me out.

      2. Essess*

        I don’t think your response is very kind or helpful. No, I don’t need to speak to a mental health professional. When I grew up, we had a bookcase of etiquette books and I read them religiously. A gift needs to be reciprocated. The workplace is not a gift-giving environment and it’s not appropriate per etiquette rules and someone who tries to force me to break basic manners that I grew up with will cause reasonable irritation.

    2. Pennyworth*

      I feel the same way, but not as strongly. Last year I had a temporary job before Christmas, and to my embarrassment I was given a whole lot of small gifts on the last day that I just wasn’t expecting from people I would never choose to exchange gifts with. They were clearly bought ‘because, Christmas’, and I took them to a charity shop, but I still feel very awkward. I hate waste and unnecessary stuff, which is why I usually give consumables.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I do those Christmas themed hot cocoa or chocolate sets. Even if the gift receiver doesn’t use them, they can be re-gifted and someone else will use them.

        1. Ellen N.*

          I have been the recipient of Christmas themed hot cocoa/chocolate sets. They put me in an uncomfortable position. My taste in chocolate is particular. I don’t celebrate Christmas, so I don’t re-gift Christmas themed gifts. Also, I don’t like to give away consumables that I wouldn’t eat/drink. I try to keep my carbon footprint as small as possible so I don’t like to throw gifts away.

  42. Courageous cat*

    I don’t think someone’s “love language” should ever be coming into play at work. I get that you don’t mean it in an inappropriate sense, but showing affection isn’t something you should have to worry about expressing, regardless of whether or not you want to.

  43. Eukomos*

    I’m a gift giving love language person too, and one of the things I’ve noticed in paying very close attention to my loved ones in order to get them the perfect gift is that the vast majority of people want consumables. Lasting stuff is generally junk unless you heard them say “gosh it would be so fun to have a telescope/plant growing light/insulated cocktail shaker” and then buy them that exact thing. People like food, drink, maybe cosmetics and bath&body stuff. Anything else sends them into the Gift Guilt Spiral of “it was so sweet of her to get me that gift but I don’t actually want to look at this every day for the rest of my life but I’d feel bad giving it away, and if I don’t use it and maybe put it where she can see it will she ask me how I liked it and be hurt never got around to it or gave it away?” If there is ANY level of difficulty in using it, it will not be used, even if it’s just dumping water in the cake mix and putting it in the oven.

    What I’m saying is we give gifts to try to spread joy, but it’s our affection that creates the joy, not the object. The object is more than likely to end up as a burden. And that’s without even touching on the obligation inherent in giving gifts. People are happy when you give them stuff because they’re happy you wanted to do something kind for them, and you can achieve that goal with the happy hour drinks. Sell your crafts on Etsy or something if you want to get rid of them, when people buy stuff you know for sure they want it.

    1. jenkins*

      This is good advice, I think. As much as I like trinkets and cute things (and I do!), I live in a house with three other people and we are practically knee deep in everyone’s crap. The mug drawer is rammed, every spot where a knick-knack could sit is already occupied, and we have to rotate books in and out of the loft because we’ve put up all the shelves we can and it’s not enough. However sweet and kindly meant, I wouldn’t know what to do with another object – but if it’s something consumable, I can use it and enjoy it and then it’s done (or I can easily pass it on to someone who’ll appreciate it, as with every bottle of sparkling wine I’ve ever been given).

  44. Will's Mom*

    I am also a member of the I dislike getting cheap dollar store tokens club. I do gracefully accept them and give a genuine thank you to the giver. I am retired now, but my former employer routinely gave out cheap dollar store stuff to employees for holidays and to show appreciation. I would discretely dispose of such items.
    Having said that, I make miniature items from polymer clay. I started out by giving my co workers realistic miniature cakes on their birthdays. They all seemed to enjoy them. After that, I would make miniature items that had a special meaning to them on their birthdays. One lady loved cats, so I made her a miniature Bastet statue (the Egyptian cat goddess) and I made my Alabama football fan co worker an Alabama Elephant with the Alabama A on the saddle. (I really love that co worker… I am a HUGE Tennessee fan. Lol) anyway, whenever I give my minis to someone, I always tell them to feel free to toss them or give them away.
    The way I see it, the minis don’t take up a lot of real estate, so if people choose to keep them, they don’t have to sacrifice much space. I always offer to glue a magnet on the minis so my recipients can use them as refrigerator or file cabinet magnets.

  45. Roxie Hart*

    It makes me uncomfortable to receive multiple gifts from coworkers, at some point it starts to get weird and can cause resentment from other coworkers.

    This past Christmas my direct manager, along with our other team lead, gave their boss (in a different office location) a nice Dallas Cowboys ugly sweater. I only knew they did so because I could hear them whispering. To the rest of our team? My manager gave us Amazon gift cards and the other team lead brought bagels for “breakfast” (after strolling in at 10:30 when we were getting catered lunch at 11:30). These two team members where the ones I referred to in the previous “try-hard coworker” post. I thank my lucky stars I don’t have to deal with them anymore.

  46. mreasy*

    Strongly believe that anything non-consumable should not be given to colleagues outside of the context of, say, Secret Santa, or everyone pitching in for a baby gift. Cup of coffee, home-baked goods, chocolate from another country? Sure. Anything else is too much pressure for that type of relationship.

  47. JMR*

    For me, I think it would depend on how far out of the way you went to give me the gift. If you are baking meringues anyway, and you scaled up your recipe and brought me some, cool. If I mentioned one day that I love meringues and you brought me some the next week, and I knew you went out of your way to research a recipe and try it out specifically for me, I’d be a little more uncomfortable with it. (Or maybe I’d be touched! It very much depends on the relationship, but it’s more likely to make me feel a bit uncomfortable.) Same with crafts. If you were making a ton of, I dunno, ceramic coasters or whatever, because you just learned how to make ceramic coasters and now you have two dozen of them, I’d happily take some, because I always need coasters. If you asked me if I wanted coasters and then you made them specifically for me, it has a bit of a different feeling to it.

  48. Heidi*

    This type of non-occasion gift-giving would be fine within my family, but I think people would perceive it as odd in my workplace. This is in part because there are so many of us that it’s hard to give gifts equitably. Now, one could argue that there’s no need to be equitable in this type of gifting since no one should expect everyone to be equally friendly with everyone. However, workplaces can be weird in that preferential treatment, even among people at the same level, can be felt as a slight to others. If your workplace is into holiday gift exchanging, you can save up all the the little gifts throughout the year and give something to everyone once a year. I also don’t find that there’s any meaningful distinction between a “random token” and a “gift.”

  49. Alex*

    I have a coworker like this. I would say that we are even casual friends–we’ve hung out a few times outside of work, but aren’t super close or anything like that.

    But she is REALLY into gifts, and sometimes it just feels like….she’s trying to make our relationship closer than I feel comfortable with, and that ends up having the opposite effect. No one likes to feel that they are in an unbalanced relationship, and even though *you* don’t care that someone doesn’t return gifts, and you like giving them anyway, one-sided gift giving doesn’t always have the effect of “making people happy.”

    I find myself avoiding this friend sometimes just because I can’t deal with the deluge of giving all the time.

  50. Cake Sniffer*

    I’d make sure that you’re actually making them happy, if that’s your goal, as Alison eluded to. I’m not a trinket person, I only like gifts that have significant meaning behind them (like a bowl from Hong Kong given by a friend who lived there for several years, a blanket from Sumatra from an exchange student, etc), but something picked up at a chain store by an aquaintance feels burdonsome to me: I have to prentend to like it even if I don’t, find a place in my house to put it or stash it to regift later, and eventually after a few years bag it down to the goodwill. Plus, I try to be conciencious of the conservation of resources and not exploit cheap labor, yadda yadda yadda, so aquiring material bric-a-brac creates an moralistic burdon on my concious – ie, those types of things don’t make me happy. Of course, for some people they do! In other words, the key here is to know your audience.

    1. Anon for this*

      I once did a big favor for a colleague in early or mid winter, and at the end, she left a snow globe of a decorated Christmassy church in my work mailbox. Which was cute, to be fair. But it made me realize I’d never told her that I’m Jewish (nothing gives it away: I look generically white, my names are not very ethnic, and religion doesn’t come up much at my job). I said nothing but ended up quietly never inviting her over to my place again because I was worried she’d ask where the snow globe was, and I didn’t want to embarrass her!

  51. ...*

    Well I guess count me as the only one who this wouldn’t bother. It seems happy and fun and who couldn’t use an extra mug or whatever. I love the tacky quote mug from my old boss!

  52. Boss boss*

    Agree with so much of the above! I’m a supervisor and I have explicitly and somewhat awkwardly told folks who report directly to me “no gifts” around beg of December. That said, I do live in an unusual cultural area of the US so I generally bring back snacks for my supervisor peers as well as my direct reports, and they are always excited and generally quickly inhale them. Similarly, I do enjoy if someone travels somewhere and brings back a local treat or snack – and don’t find it too awkward. Somehow delicious consumables get a pass in all directions in my eyes!

    1. Bagpuss*

      I think snacks and consumables are a bit different – no one has to keep them or remember they got a gift, and there’s also a strong cultural bias in favour of sharing food in most cultures so it doesn’t feel so ‘off’.

      Also, if it is something like bringing in some sweets or treats when you have been away then it is normally something that everyone does so you don’t get the issue of one lopsided giving. Even of one person goes somewhere fancy and exotic and brings back unfamiliar foreign candy and another goes to visit family in the next town over and brings in local candy, it’s still the same things – you’ve both been away and both brought treats to share when you got back.

      And it’s easy for anyone who doesn’t like that kind of candy to opt out of taking any, without it being a Big Thing.

  53. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    I had a colleague who did cross-stitch embroidery and she’d embroider birthday cards and all sorts of things for all sorts of occasions. I then felt bad that I didn’t do something similar in return. But she was child-free and I was a young mother being pulled in all directions and only just keeping my head above water. I managed to set a rule of no presents at work, partly because the boss was starting to join in and I didn’t want to have to get her a birthday present.

  54. Laure001*

    Interesting issue, interesting debate! OP, I volunteer at a foundation where we have someone like you, let’s call her Eva. Eva gives little gifts to people all the time… Not valuable ones, but, as you said… A funny mug, a plate decorated with playing cards to someone who loves card games, etc.

    Clearly, there are two sets of reactions. I’d say half the people love it, half the people are politely and silently irked by it. :) The woman who received the plate with the playing cards ADORES it. She loves that Eva thought of her, she feels “recognised” by Eva, each time she looks at the plate, she feels warm feelings about Eva. I think that is your intention LW, and that is what you are trying to achieve.

    On the other side, a lot of people, including me, feel awkward. Did I thank Eva enough? Does she intend me to reciprocate? (I don’t want to!) What am I going to do with that “funny” zombie mug and how soon can I throw it away… And will Eva notice that I did?

    So my advice would be, don’t stop giving, but choose your targets. ;) You must learn to recognise the people who actually like gifts as a langage of affection and spot the people who really really don’t. You can’t ask them directly, that won’t work. Of course people will tell you they appreciate your gifts if you ask.

    I’d say a good test to see if they really like gift giving is what happens after.

    – Do they thank you warmly on the moment (or do they thank you awkwardly on the moment) and never speak about the gift again? They didn’t care for it and they were just being polite. Giving objects don’t work on them. But buying a beer to create a pleasant interaction works on almost everyone! A lot of people prefer a warm conversion to a gift, I know I do. Buy me a beer anytime, LW, I’d love to chat. :)

    – Do they thank you warmly and then bring up the gift in conversation after? “Look, Eva, I’m drinking coffee in your zombie mug!” “Eva, do you know I use your playing cards plate every morning at breakfast!?” etc. Ok, they REALLY liked your gift, and gift giving is a langage of love they understand.

    Some points to consider:
    – Eva is a hoarder. She cannot get rid of anything and hate throwing things away – honestly, she CANNOT throw things away.
    In my experience, it happens a lot with chronic gift givers. Be careful!
    – Eva hates when people ask her to stop giving them gifts. Some people try to unclutter their homes or are just naturally not in gift receiving… Like me. Some of them just owned it and asked very amiably Eva to stop. She reacted amiably on the moment…. But the truth is, she was offended and hurt and now these people are not her friends anymore. And now the others don’t dare telling her to stop the giving because we don’t want to hurt her /be on her black list.

    Don’t be an Eva! :) :)

  55. Yep, I study this stuff*

    In anthropology, there is an area of study that focuses on gifts and exchange. In general, gifts are used (with varied cultural inflections) to establish or to strengthen relationships. Some scholars have focused on the necessity for reciprocity in these gift-giving relationships, others have focused on the gendered nature of gifts, and still others have examined the operations of hierarchy in gift-giving.

    One constant seems to be the way that gifts work in relationships — to create them, to intensify them, or even to change their nature. (When a gift — like a large, expensive, or unexpected one — clearly conveys the giver’s desire to change the nature of a relationship, this is a bold move that can either break a relationship (“Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly accept), or successfully move the relationship to another level (Why, I had no idea you thought of me in that way, Penelope!”), but the success or failure of the attempt depends entirely upon the recipient’s response.)

    This is one aspect of gifts that I think the OP should try to understand a bit more deeply. When gifts are received and not reciprocated in a timely way, an imbalance is created in the relationship, even if only in the mind of the recipient. Frequent gift-givers like the OP who explicitly state that they do not want something in return have (perhaps unwittingly) created a relational imbalance that becomes extremely difficult to ever properly address and rebalance.

    In short, that’s some anthropological insight into why this kind of frequent small gift-giving is not a good workplace practice.

  56. Vox Experientia*

    I’m just adding my voice to the others saying gifts in the office tend to make people more uncomfortable than happy. every time I’ve received one “here’s a funny shot glass from my vegas trip!” i cringe. a one time, thoughtful, specific to the user, from someone you truly have a close relationship with, gift can be appreciated (“I remember you said you love crocheted drink coasters and youre a dallas cowboy fan, so I made you …”). But it still makes the person feel like they should reciprocate and weird. better to just say a kind word and go about your business. I’ve made in clear to my direct reports that they’re not to give me gifts ever (gifts flowing downward rule being law), but occasionally a random one of their reports still does it. and I do hate it.

  57. dedicated1776*

    It depends so much on the person and your relationship with them. I don’t think you can do it willy-nilly. One time in my career I gave my direct supervisor a small gift (almost a gag gift) for boss’s day and he loved it. He had it when I left the job a couple years later. At that same job, there were a lot of ladies who had been at the company for 15+ years and they were always buying or making people little things. For instance, I got a new dog and one of the clerks in my department (I was a supervisor) knitted her a blanket, which we still have. It wasn’t weird for either of us because we knew each other and our relationship.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      My boss at a former job used to make this face when he was acting disappointed by trying to be funny. He was able to frown in a way that made him look like Grumpy Cat! It was pretty awesome! I was in a bookstore one day and there was a Grumpy Cat book with all these photos and Grumpy Cat photoshoped in saying “NOPE.” It was less than $10 so I got it for my boss. He had it propped up on a bookshelf in his office and sometimes I could hear him chuckling as I walked by his door and would see him looking at the photos. He was like a big kid.

  58. Armchair Advisor*

    There are some great comments and suggestions, and I wanted to add that skimming the “5 languages of workplace appreciation” (by the 5 love languages guy) was really eye-opening for me a while back. I had effusively praised someone in a work meeting and they seemed totally embarrassed, rather than pleased. I realized that just because I am a “words of affirmation” person, that doesn’t mean that others feel the same way!

    And I remember reading that gift giving was one of the less common appreciation preferences–so it’s probably safe to assume that while some people truly like receiving random gifts, for most people your gestures aren’t landing the way you’re intending (to be clear, this is for the specific gifts–not the macrame. I think that is really cool!) No matter how friendly your work friendships are, at the end of the day they are colleagues, not close friends. I think if you give a gift more than once it’s going to come across as seeing the relationship as more personal than professional and insert some unnecessary weirdness.

    1. Kira*

      Oh neat, I might like to read that! A couple commenters seemed bothered that OP used the phrase “love language” but I kind of interpreted it as a more generalized – “I found this piece that really helped me understand myself better and they used this terminology.”

      I think my boss is a effusive-praiser (and I’m sooooo not) so I’m never sure if she’s genuinely over-the-moon or if she’s just trying to make me feel seen and appreciated.

  59. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

    This letter reminded me of a funny story with my boss. I’ve definitely taken the “no gifts flowing upward” advice to heart at my jobs. But last Christmas I was ordering some items from a website that makes funny Texas-themed apparel (I live in Texas…and Texans love Texas, so this website is pretty popular). I was ordering a couple of different things – a Tshirt for me, a gift for my friend’s holiday party gift exchange, and a funny sticker for my brother’s truck. I only needed to spend like another $5 to get free shipping…so I was going to buy another sticker for me, but then saw a hat that my boss would just love. It’s a particular style of hat that has a kind of old-school ranchy vibe. I’m pretty sure I had seen a photo of my boss’s dad from the 80s wearing a hat pretty similar to this one. It was in the clearance section on the website and would get me to the free shipping quota, so a no-brainer.

    When it arrived at my house I debated on whether to put it in a gift bag. Yes, it was Christmastime…but I didn’t want it to seem like a Christmas gift to my boss (because of no gifts flowing upward). So instead I just took it with me to work unwrapped and set it on my desk planning to give it to him pretty casually when we met later in the day. I went to lunch and came back to find the hat had disappeared!

    I spent about an hour worried about where the heck the hat had gone! I had a scheduled meeting with my boss, which is when I had planned to give it to him. I went to the meeting kind of annoyed about the missing hat, but walked into his office to find it sitting on his desk! The first thing he said was, “Oh, hey! Sorry, I meant to put this back before you got back from lunch but got held up. I wanted to look at the tag and see where you go this. It’s awesome and I really want to get one, too. I’m pretty sure my dad had one of these…” I just burst out laughing. He was like, “What?” and I told him it was for him. “I got that for you because I knew you would love it. I was going to give it to you in this meeting, but you already stole it. I’m glad you like it!”

    He was so embarrassed! We could hardly get through the meeting because he would look over at it and just start laughing. He stole his gift from my desk before I could give it to him. Geez! He usually wears it on Fridays :)

  60. moneypenny*

    My mom always says, “don’t spend good money on a joke” and I think that’s accurate. To my knowledge, gift-GIVING isn’t a love language, gift receiving is. So presuming other people have their own languages, random gifts may fall flat with them and in this case it’s good to really know your audience. Don’t give people things you want them to have, give people things they’ve mentioned they want or could use. Because even a gift given innocently can come with strings of either obligation, an uneven relationship, or some kind of expectation for the future. And definitely don’t gift up.

  61. E Liz*

    If nothing else, I would try to limit it to one of the things you mentioned – either making crafts or giving funny gifts or buying drinks. I would stick with making crafts since it’s your hobby anyway, so that will probably feel different to people. But doing all 3 is too much.

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