can we tell our company we want cash instead of a holiday celebration?

A reader writes:

The HR department where I work has been sending out feelers, asking what people want to do this year in lieu of the usual Christmas party. Their suggestions so far include a party over Zoom (logistically difficult) and a fancy gift basket with products from local retailers. Why, oh why, can they not just give us cash? After a year of layoffs, store closures, and constant upheaval, what would make us all feel appreciated more than anything would be MONEY. Some of us are working second jobs, others are still recovering financially from temporary layoffs, and so on.

I’ve expressed this to the local manager who was asking around about what we should do, but he seemed taken aback by my response, like I’d said something unbelievably tacky. I had a brief conversation with my own manager, however, and he agreed with me.

So, is this a situation where coworkers and I could bypass management, go directly to HR and say, “Hey, please just put a little extra in our checks”? It’s becoming one of those situations where nobody is happy but nobody is willing to stick their neck out and say something.

Speak up! Your HR team is asking for input.

“This has been a tough year and we’d really appreciate it if the money that would normally be used on holiday celebrations could instead be used to help with the financial pressures we’re all facing” is a perfectly reasonable thing to say. It’s not tacky or vulgar. (And really, this is work; we are all there because of money. We don’t need to pretend we’re not.)

Some management teams do get hung up on wanting to do something that feels more celebratory to them, and simply giving money might not feel as festive as gifts or parties (which is, of course, awfully out-of-touch when people are struggling to pay their bills). So be explicit that you appreciate the thought, but in this particular year, the biggest gift they could give is some financial breathing room.

And please point out to your coworkers that they’re not “sticking their necks out” by saying this. Your company has asked for input, they benefit from knowing what people really think, and the more of you who speak up, the more likely it is that they’ll listen. You should also point out that if you’re the only one who responds truthfully, HR will figure you’re an outlier and that everyone else would prefer a party.

{ 226 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I know there are many people here who don’t like holiday parties even in the best of years. I want to ask that comments not derail on that and instead focus on advice to the letter-writer. Thank you.

  2. The Original K.*

    I would happily forgo a gift basket from work or a holiday party in favor of cash even in good times. (Second choice would be time off.) In times of struggle, that goes double. Hell yes you should tell them you want cash instead of a gift basket.

    1. Tabby*

      Same. I like holiday work parties somewhat (animal care workers aren’t as stuffy as some) m, but yes– please give me money rather thsn a food basket. Chances are you will get it wrong, otherwise.

      1. The Original K.*

        I’ve been to holiday work parties that I’ve enjoyed. I remember one holiday party that was my department leaving early to go bowling – that was really fun. But if an employer said “Your choices are a party, a gift basket, or cash,” I would take the cash.

      2. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

        Tabby, when you say “animal care workers aren’t as stuffy as some” – do you mean that animal care workers have parties that are more fun (less stuffy)?

  3. Colette*

    I think it’s fine to say that you’d prefer money – but I’d caution that you may find that the price of a gift basket (for a company who is buying many of them) may be less than you think.

    1. MissGirl*

      Yeah, I remember my company had a pizza party the Christmas after layoffs and a lot of people complained they’d want cash or jobs back but it was probably $5 a person.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Yeah, I remember my company had a pizza party the Christmas after layoffs and a lot of people complained they’d want cash or jobs back but it was probably $5 a person.

        Conversely, it can really be that cheap to buoy morale by catering an inexpensive department lunch every few weeks.

        1. Mel_05*

          Or it can infuriate them.

          My former employer did company lunches once a month. It was cheap catered good and forced socializing and about half of us hated it.

          When the company was struggling financially and couldn’t give out raises or give dividends to share holders (50% of which were employees) we hated it even more.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        True – many people don’t know the true value of the things their company pays for, but instead focus on the optics of the thing. And it just doesn’t look good to do anything that can read as celebratory or costs money immediately after people are let go for budgetary reasons.

    2. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      Yup. A $25 gift basket seems more festive to many than the same amount in cash. And I imagine if the company buys in bulk, they can get more bang for their buck.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Yeah, they may have corporate discounts if they order a certain number of things that makes the baskets relatively cheap.

      2. Artemesia*

        There is also a certain charm in actually buying from local small businesses to do this e.g. basket put together by X small business that does event things, but containing things from other local small businesses.

        This is such a tough time for businesses. Several of the places we often shop have gone under in just our neighborhood and several restaurants as well.

        1. yala*

          My Dad is a supporter for the local symphony and because of covid they can’t have in person concerts, so their work-around is putting together nice baskets of wine and cheese and some local goodies for their members to pick up once a month to enjoy while watching the concert online.

          Last month he was busy that night, so he let me have the basket instead. The local goodies were some fresh baguettes, glazed nuts, honey, and pecan oil (which…I am just now realizing was probably intended to make a dip for the bread, but I’m using it for cooking). I’d guess the baskets cost somewhere between $30-$50 to put together. It was just a little thing, but it was nice and festive. The optics of that would probably look more “gift-like” than just tacking an extra $40 into everyone’s paycheck.

          …that said, times being what they are now, I’d much rather the extra $40.

          1. JessaB*

            I have in the recent past had $20 to make up my shopping. Yes I ended up with buck bologna and things like that, but we ate for two weeks on what I managed without having to go to the food bank and get stuff that others who did not have $20 could use. I’d be glad to take a fiver rather than a basket of things that I couldn’t stretch that long. It doesn’t take a lot of money to be able to get things. So even if the baskets don’t cost all that much.

          2. Mongrel*

            This is one of the things that annoy me;
            I barely drink alcohol anymore (nothing ominous, my intake plummeted when I gave up smoking) but even when I did I was a beer drinker, not wine. As for food, a combination of diabetes & reflux issue means I have to be careful with what I eat as most gift basket fare goes into my “Small amounts, infrequently” column.
            It doesn’t help that my best dietary control method is to not have the stiff in the house if I can help it, I have terrible self-control for yummy things.

            1. yala*

              fwiw, there were options with the baskets–when I drove up, they asked a few questions about what I wanted. I don’t remember off-hand if they had non-alcoholic or gluten-free/allergy-free options, but I imagine for the actual members, they probably would. It’s not a huge group, so I’d figure an e-mail or two would be enough to sort things.

              Of course, this is also not an employer rewarding their employees, it’s an artistic institution rewarding it’s backers, so they’re probably more open to making sure everyone is as happy as possible.

              1. Mongrel*

                Apologies, my point may have got lost :)
                A gift basket should either be, IMO, ‘treat’ items, better quality versions of stuff that most people would normally buy or things hat they may not buy for themselves anyway.
                For me, excluding alcohol and calorifically dense foods & treats goes against the point of food in a gift basket.

    3. Picard*

      “you may find that the price of a gift basket (for a company who is buying many of them) may be less than you think.”

      So this. If they are buying in bulk, it could be as little as 5-10 per basket. Is that really going to make a HUGE difference in that year end check?

      1. JessaB*

        In that case you don’t actually put it in the cheque, you stick it in an envelope with a card as cash. Is it technically skirting the law, I’m not sure what the IRS thinks of minimal cash gifts…

    4. Darlingpants*

      Yeah psychology is weird. I’m an essential lab worker and my grand boss gave me a $100 gift certificate to a local coffee shop when I was coming in during our hard shutdown. I was really touched and it felt really generous. A few months later the company gave me a “spot bonus” of $150 that ended up being a weird unexpected $90ish direct deposit and it made me feel like “this is what you think a generous bonus is?” (Some context, I’m multiple 10s of thousands of dollars underpaid according to the recruiters I’ve been talking to).

      If you’d rather have a $25 visa gift card than a food basket then cool, let HR know, but they might be worried it’ll fall flat emotionally. And they might be right.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, and instead of a $25 gift basket, you may end up with $7.50 once company discounts and taxes are taken into account. I don’t think many people will be thrilled with that – many may not even notice.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        While that may not be a “generous bonus”, plenty of people (me, for one), would be incredibly happy to have an extra $90 right now. I’d even rather have an extra $25 than a gift basket of fancy foods I don’t care about and a basket I now have to figure out what to do with.

        1. Darlingpants*

          I’m very aware that the fact that an extra $90 doesn’t change my life at all means I’ve very lucky, especially right now. I’m just trying to point out that I got the same amount of money in two different contexts, and one of them came off a lot better than the other. The company didn’t do anything wrong in either case, and I should feel similarly about the two, and yet I don’t.

      3. Smithy*

        I think this is a real issue that companies are balancing right now. The amount being added to paychecks and taxed may just not be that much.

        Outside the US, I used to work for a nonprofit where a few times a year, we’d get the equivalent of around $30 in cash in an envelope. While not a huge amount, somehow getting cash was both a bit fun as well as one of those nice boosts to spare you from going to the atm quite as soon. Had that amount been added to our paychecks, I don’t know if I would have even noticed. And I was NOT making much money (i.e. small local overseas nonprofit).

    5. anon finance person*

      I work in finance and am involved in the procurement of a company-wide gift in lieu of holiday parties due to COVID. Our executive team really wanted to get everyone a branded gift. Let me tell you, between the gift itself, the ability to send it globally (including a service to collect everyone’s addresses they want it sent to confidentially) and the tax gross-up, it is STUPID expensive. Like you could walk into Target and pick one up for a third of the price (without the company logo, of course). For something that at least half the employees probably won’t care about.

      1. Former Employee*

        Some people resent branded gifts because it makes them feel as if their work life is being connected to their personal life.

        I have a lovely mantel clock which was a work anniversary present. They did good job of not making it obvious – there is a small plaque on the back of the clock with the company name and what is being commemorated.

    6. GothicBee*

      This is why I’ve always hesitated to go all in on the idea of asking for cash instead of a party or gift basket because (in my experience) they’re not blowing tons of money per employee on this stuff. This year due to the pandemic my workplace opted to send us gift cards in place of the normal yearly party (which we do in the summer) and the gift cards were $10 per person.

      That said, with such a low amount, I appreciated that they did a gift card instead of just adding that to my paycheck. I doubt I’d have even noticed $10 on my paycheck, plus on a paycheck it would have been taxed. We got a pretty long list of businesses that the gift cards could come from too, which was nice.

    7. Orange You Glad*

      Came here to say this. A few years ago some folks at my company were grumbling about how much was being spent on the Christmas party and how they’d prefer a raise/bonus instead. The cost of the party was high, but if you divide it out by the number of employees then it was less than $100 per person.

    8. KayDeeAye*

      Yes, the idea of cash instead of a gift basket is very attractive – I mean, most people love money, as do I – but it’s also very possible that a $25 gift basket will look and feel a lot more festive and thoughtful than $25 cash, at least to some employees.

      Also, cash and gift cards are usually considered taxable income, at least according to our controller. Maybe there are ways around this, but she seems to think there aren’t. So we’ve kind of given up on cash presents. We give bonuses – which are not related to Christmas – and those are of course taxed, but you kind of expect that with a bonus.

    9. Anon in Midwest*

      This is so true. I used to help organize events and gifts for our employees when we were in person. They might have seemed extravagant but typically got down to about $30-40 per person in bulk orders and with live events. That’s not much of a holiday check.

    10. Jacqueline*

      What not ask for a gift voucher that way it can help towards the Christmas Shopping and the company still feels it has given you a tangible gift rather than just cash.

    11. ACM*

      Yes, came here to say exactly this, plus the tax issue. A paid day off or even just the same amount (which may well end up being all of about $20 if it’s replacing a party) into your retirement fund would probably be better.

      1. ACM*

        My husband’s company gives everyone gift cards every year, I’m assuming to side-step the bonus tax (though I suppose they might pay taxes on the cards behind the scenes, sort of doubt it though). I have no idea how legal that is in my country, but it is really nice to either offset Christmas expenses or sometimes treat ourselves to something nice, like a new kitchen gadget, in the post-Christmas sales.

        1. BookMom*

          OldJob used to throw a holiday potluck and give all staff Visa gift cards. The next week we all got supplemental paystubs showing a bonus of a slightly larger amount with taxes withheld that netted out to the value of the card. Pro of getting a gift card versus extra $ on a regular paycheck = it was more “fun” and I used it to buy a splurge gift for my husband that totally surprised him because it never saw the charge come through on our bank statement. Con = it’s a hassle having just a few dollars left at the end and finding a retailer who will split a payment. (Tip: most grocery stores can, especially if you know the amount left on the card.)

    12. LQ*

      Yeah, people always scream about wanting cash instead of anything else, but honestly a lot of the times it’s like $5 which …I don’t want the trash gift basket that’s cash. But saying, “Thanks for all your hard work in this terrifyingly exhausting year, here’s five bucks,” doesn’t actually feel good either. If you’re getting so lowly paid that $5 will make a signficant difference to you the company is under paying you entirely and it isn’t likely that they are spending even $5 on your gift.

  4. MissGirl*

    One thing to remember is you’ll have to pay taxes on the cash. So a $50 gift basket can become a $30 gift card.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That’s where my mind went. If the year was that bad, can the company afford cash?

    2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      My company does a holiday gift (we pick our own, up to a specified dollar amount). We owe taxes on that gift – it comes out of our paycheck after we get the gift. They try to target our maximum gift amount so we’ll come out about $50 ahead once taxes are accounted for.

    3. Damn it, Hardison!*

      I worked for an organization that would include the taxes in their calculations and announce the post tax amount, i.e. would say you were getting a $2500.00 bonus and that’s what you would because they calculated and paid the taxes on it.

      1. Luke G*

        That’s definitely the smart move. My company did a company-wide bonus early on in the Pandemic and were very clear that it was for $X into your check- the “real” amount would be higher to offset the taxes coming out. If you’re going to put an asterisk after the amount of the gift make it go in the good direction :)

      2. Danielle*

        Yes! My dad’s company did this one year. Every employee got a holiday bonus and HR did the work so that each employee got the same take-home amount, regardless of their withholding situation.

      3. Megs*

        My company tries to do this as much as possible as well when giving bonus. It’s even nicer they put that thought into it.

      4. nonegiven*

        DH used to get a bonus check at Christmas, 1% of annual pay. The full amount was on the check, then when the last paycheck of the year came out, the taxes on the bonus was taken out of that check, which made it short, so you’d end up having to supplement your normal budget from the bonus.

      5. Glitsy Gus*

        I wish more companies would do that. I mean, I get it that taxes are taxes, and that you really want to put the most optimistic spin on things, but it’s always a bummer to be told that you got a $1500 bonus and then end up with a check for $850.

    4. Eether Eyether*

      Years ago when I worked at a law firm, everyone got an extra weeks’ pay, minus taxes. It was fantastic!

    5. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

      This. This is why my employer doesn’t do cash. We’d love to, honestly, but we know employees would be disappointed if they end up being taxed at their normal amount (plus your usual percentage that goes to retirement, HSA, etc.) and end up with like…$2.

    6. anon finance person*

      Technically someone needs to be paying the taxes on a gift basket (though it is a gray area with the IRS). My company grosses up taxes for employees so they’re not the ones taking the tax hit, but then it increases our cost so decreases what we can buy.

    7. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Agree, but will they be taxed at 100% or more, so they don’t have any of the gift money left? Unlikely! Will a fancy gift basket be something like a handful of overpriced fruit and chocolates at 10x their normal price? Probably!

  5. Nancy Tiller*

    When ever my father in law got a compliment for the work he did, his response was “put it in the paycheck.

    Overpriced gift basket while sounding “celebratory, can often miss the mark. think chocolate for the diabetic or wine for an alcoholic or wheat based cookies for the gluten intolerant.

    Money is “one size fits all.

    1. TimeTravlR*

      We once got signed/numbered framed prints for Christmas from the law firm where I worked at the time. It was certainly not everyone’s taste and I suspect it wasn’t a $5 gift even with a bulk purchase discount (not that there is such a thing in the art world, I think!). While appreciated, I really had no place to hang it and it ended up in a garage sale when we moved a few years later.
      I much preferred the company that gave us all extra money in our 401(k) and/or bonus paychecks when they had a good year.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I agree with this too. I have celiac disease, and I remember getting a box of gourmet cookies full of gluten from my division president one year when I worked in insurance. I ended up giving all 30 cookies to my then three-year-old niece (and my brother still hasn’t forgiven me for the sugar high I gave his child, lol).

      I would have greatly preferred a gift card that year or even just a free day off as my holiday present.

    3. Not so fussed*

      Except it really isn’t. While you and your father might prefer a few exits dollars in their paycheque, others prefer gifts that feel differently to them. Id absolutely take $5000 cash over a watch, but if I was getting $5k watches I’d probably have a salary where that wouldn’t be make or break. At my salary I’m more like to get a $5 umbrella (last years gift, although it might have cost double that).

      Personally, I would not notice the monetary value of the gifts my employers have given me over the years. Maybe if they arrived all in one payment while unemployed, but not while I had an income. I do however notice when they stop celebratory functions because a minority of staff complain. Out the free tea and coffee disappears (I don’t even drink it). I also notice and value the small nice signs of recognition that come throughout the year.

      People who don’t like functions, gifts, coffee in the office etc often put forward that money is all inclusive and therefore the best – but emotions exist and many people feel more valued by a Christmas party, or an umbrella or coffee voucher than an equivalent amount of cash.

      OP absolutely state your preference. You’ve been asked, so tell them. But be careful of trying to guilt your colleagues into pushing this option. Tell them what option you requested, just be careful you don’t go down the “I hope nobody asks for a gift, I need that cash to pay my rent/eat” type thing.

  6. Sleepytime Tea*

    The one thing I would say in caution about this is that the money they have set aside for a holiday celebration of whatever kind, once split amongst all the employees, may not be a very large amount. There is something to be said for getting a Christmas “bonus” of sorts of $40. When that happens, some people are more insulted by the dollar amount than appreciative, and that’s something that is a legitimate concern. $40 per person combined can sometimes be a decent party or whatever, whereas being told “we appreciate you $40-worth” feels like a low blow.

    That said, I’m personally on the cash train, because yes, I think financial breathing room in this time is what a lot of people would prefer over a gift basket. But there also needs to be realistic expectations about how much a holiday party or gift basket actually costs and how much per head that ends up being, and people have to understand it’s not a direct reflection of how much the company values them.

    1. Lucette Kensack*

      Yes, this is important. It’s not a reason not to give cash, especially if that’s what employees are asking for, but keep it in mind as you communicate about it. Cash actually isn’t one size fits all (nothing is!); some folks may not even notice an extra $30 in their check while a gift basket would make them feel seen and appreciated.

      1. Not playing your game anymore*

        If you’ve only got say $25-100 a head, give the employee’s something like their choice of a ham/turkey/roast beef and trimmings from a local grocery or restaurant.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          This is a nice idea – it’s one less thing the employee has to worry about buying when grocery shopping.

        2. Lucette Kensack*

          My husband’s company does this — everyone in the US offices is given a turkey for Thanksgiving (or can choose to donate it to a local shelter if they have no need of it themselves). The senior executives literally line up outside the offices and hand them out. (This is a multi-billion-dollar international business.)

          1. Zombeyonce*

            Is there an alternative for vegetarians? I always feel bad for the people that get left out and just have to donate their holiday gift from the company because they happen to not eat meat.

            1. Kat Em*

              My company offers your choice of a turkey, a huge collection of vegetables/fruits/herbs that typically go into a holiday meal, or a $50 donation to the local food pantry in your name. It’s really nice!

              1. A Simple Narwhal*

                Oh that’s great! I used to work for a place that would offer you a turkey, ham, or cheese lasagna. I’m glad they at least offered the option, even if it was kind of a bummer because it’s not really a holiday food, but it was better than another company I used to work for that was just like “oh weird, don’t take the turkey then”. That was the real bummer.

                1. Former Employee*

                  I’m a vegetarian and I would never eat the cheese lasagna as it probably has ingredients that everyone else thinks are vegetarian, but they aren’t. And I’m certain it isn’t kosher.

                  Don’t give people food, give them gift cards so they can buy food they can actually eat.

                2. JustaTech*

                  The first year we started getting “holiday gifts” at work we got gift cards, but apparently our new HR head (who had plenty of industry experience) had wanted to get everyone a Smithfield ham instead. An HR rep suggested that our lower-paid employees would prefer to get the value of that ham (~$50) and go to the grocery store and buy a whole dinner.
                  Very sensible.
                  When my HR rep told me this story I laughed and said it was a good thing we didn’t do ham since some people can’t eat it for religious reasons. My HR rep just stared at me until I explained that hams aren’t kosher or halal or vegetarian. It’s like no one in our whole HR org had even considered that it might be inappropriate.

            2. Lucette Kensack*

              No, and it feels like such an obvious miss — we even have a local “vegan butcher” that makes fun things they could offer. And of course not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving or Christmas, or has use for a turkey that feeds 12 people, and so on. But it’s a nice gesture.

              1. Bagpuss*

                One year, my family wound up with a goose, as my uncle’s employer gave one to all of their employees. My aunt and both of my cousins were vegetarians at the time, so he couldn’t use it

                We enjoyed the goose, but I can’t help feeling that there must have been a fair number of employees who would have ended up with nothing (and while I love goose, it’s not to everyone’s taste, and I don’t know that everyone would want to risk cooking something they may never had done before for Christmas dinner!)

                It feels like the kind of gesture which needs to be carefully thought out .

          2. Ally McBeal*

            My father’s former employer, also a major international corp, used to do this too, but with a Midwestern twist (at least in our area) – employees could sign up to shoot a turkey, like actually shoot one with a gun, but would still get a prepackaged turkey to take home (everyone got a turkey regardless of their willingness to kill one). This is apparently not incredibly rare – some towns do this as a fundraiser and to raise awareness about gun safety and game hunting – but I’m glad my mother never let us go with him to those events.

            1. nonegiven*

              Around here, and plenty of people are willing to shoot one, the Turkey Shoot was a trap shoot with frozen turkeys and other things as prizes. Trap shooting is done with shotguns, taking turns to shoot clay targets that are flung out of a machine.

        3. Zombeyonce*

          Except that right now, the last thing we need is to send more people into grocery stores and restaurants. And unless it’s a small town, people are going to be spread out geographically and a lot won’t be near the locations, so it might be a really inconvenient gift (unless everyone works on-site and it’s next door). I’ve got plenty of gift cards at home that will never be used because the places either aren’t anywhere near my house or just aren’t to my taste. I’d much rather have the cash.

    2. TimeTravlR*

      I was speaking with an employee of a dry cleaning chain (local chain but pretty big). They told me their holiday bonus was $1 for every year they worked there. Now THAT, to me, is just a slap in the face.

      1. Sleepytime Tea*

        My sister got a $0.01 per hour raise once. She had hit the rate cap, so that was that, but she said she would have preferred they give her nothing over a penny an hour.

      2. LulusPerson*

        Wow. That almost makes me feel grateful for the $25 holiday bonus I got a few years ago. I had started at the beginning of the fourth quarter that year, so that’s what they gave. It was a surprise because it was a new job in the same field and I’d previously had bonuses of $1500-2000. (Everything there was based on seniority and not merit though.)

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        My current workplace, under the old management, gave out holiday bonuses.

        My first year, I’d come straight from a place where I would’ve received a 10% bonus (though not for the holidays, just an annual bonus), so I was surprised to receive a check for $60; but still, sixty dollars is sixty dollars. Second year, $120. Year three, $250. I was very low on disposable income that year and getting an extra $250 was a big deal. Year 4, our bonus was two fortune cookies for each of us, that, instead of the fortunes, had pieces of paper inside with a different company value printed on each. (I promise I’m not making this up.) Apparently the then-CEO was doing a townhall at one of the locations, and, when asked about why the bonuses had been canceled, said something like “eh, it’s not like it was a lot of money anyway”. To him, I’m sure it wasn’t. It was to me and my teammates.

        1. Mel_05*

          At my first professional job I got a $200 bonus the first year, then an extra $100 every year after for the first 3 years. It was a big deal for me.

          Then we suddenly stopped getting bonuses. Then we got quarterly bonuses for half a year… then back to cheap chotzkies.

          Because everyone loves a cheap calander.

    3. Hush42*

      We don’t do holiday celebrations at my company (except on the department level at each departments discretion). Instead we do Fiscal Year Kick off parties. These happen in October typically since our FY ends in September. Last year we did regional kick off where the leadership team travelled to each region, we had out kick off meeting going over the financials for the year and the budget for the year to come with everyone for that region. Then we were taken out for a really nice dinner and drinks- the company always pays for the drinks so it’s basically an open bar even if thats not official (we have a strict policy that, if you’re going to drink you MUST call an Uber or whatever but the company will reimburse you). I went to all 5 of the regional kick off because of my position.

      This year, we obviously couldn’t be asking employees to gather in large groups for any type of meeting or celebration. Instead we did a Virtual Kick-off meeting with all the same content over teams. We did it as a whole company rather than by region since we weren’t gathering anyway. In lieu of the nice dinner and free flowing drinks they sent every employee a surprise package to be opened during the meeting. The package contained a “limited edition” company T-shirt, a bottle of hand sanitizer, a company branded face mask, a weird little touch free door opener (I still can’t figure out how it’s supposed to work), a small bottle of champagne, AND a $50 visa gift card. As you said $50 isn’t a ton but I still appreciated the gesture, I knew that the company wouldn’t be able to do anything huge but $50 is better than nothing. I also thought that including it among other items was a nice balance between the “gift basket” and the just giving money sides. I know some people (including me) don’t drink so couldn’t use the champagne but there were still other things in there. Also the champagne was specifically for after the end of the meeting- the owner wanted everyone to pop the cork on the video call so they could record it as part of the celebration. Whoever bought the champagne didn’t think the plan through though- they were screw off tops. :)

      1. Hush42*

        Also, to be clear, last year the meeting portion of the kick off took place during business hours (2PM-5Pm) and the dinner took place afterward. The meeting was mandatory, the dinner was not.
        This year the Virtual Kick off also took place during business hours and there was nothing after hours at all.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        LOL @ your last line, but I love how your company did that. I would really appreciate a gift package like that too.

        My company will more than likely cancel their holiday party as well since they sent everyone home long before other companies in the U.S. did, but I think it would have been cool to do something virtual since many of us not working from the headquarters could never attend. Oh well – we got to pick our gifts this year, and they had really nice, really pricey branded gear to choose from (man, we’re officially a tech-bro place now, lol).

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Great point! At one of my old non-profit jobs they did a during the day holiday lunch that felt expensive but really wasn’t. They worked closely with a local museum and the population served by the non-profit was basically the topic of the museum (think Asian art museum and Chinese community services org, African-American history museum and Black community empowerment org, etc.) so the cost was deeply discounted. What might have been $100 per attendee was $10 for us, so if they gave us the cost of the party it would be $10 ($8 after taxes)

    5. Half April Ludgate, Half Leslie Knope*

      Exactly – I calculated our normal holiday spending per employee and it was $2.50. That buys a lovely breakfast buffet for employees in normal years, but if I tried giving that in straight cash (after taxes) our employees would be pissed.

      We’re struggling financially, and elected to go way above and beyond our budget and I know employees will still think the gift card they get isn’t enough – but it’s hard to explain to employees how inexpensive a seemingly nice holiday event would normally be compared to a cash bonus.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Is it, though? What if you said “Our usual holiday party costs $x, which is $y per employee. This year we’re skipping the party and giving a gift card for $2x.”

        1. doreen*

          I think how well that works is going to depend on how much the party costs per person- if the party is $100/person and you’re giving a $200 gift card, that’s very different giving a $5 gift card because the usual party costs $2.50 a person

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Did you miss the part where she said they’re going “way above and beyond” their usual budget?

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              $2X was just an example. I’m just saying, it’s not necessarily all that difficult to explain that the annual holiday budget is a lot less than people assume it is.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          Because even if you explain to your employees that yes, that breakfast buffet really did cost $2.50 per person and you are doubling or tripling your entire holiday budget in order to give them something at all, on an emotional level most people are not going to be thrilled with a $5 gift card. Because it’s a $5 gift card.

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            One year we received a $5 gift card to the local drugstore and a company-branded coffee mug. I miss one old workplace that just gave everyone a turkey. You could keep it in the store freezer until you were ready to cook it, those turkeys were big.

          2. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

            If I were an employee, I’d just assume that the cost was higher than $2.50 per person and management were either using creative accounting to flat-out lying.

            1. LQ*

              This is part of why gift instead of cash doesn’t work well. People just assume the amount of money something costs is a lie. People have this idea that a party or a whatever is going to mean thousands of dollars for them personally when they haven’t run the math because you see a big meal and you think this must of have cost thousands, they should have just given me the cash. Except it likely cost less than you think, then you have to take that and divide it by everyone in the company. What people want is the cost of the giant thing for themselves each, which would make a difference to people! But brains aren’t great at doing that calculation, especially when you already feel like the company is treating you poorly and you already feel under paid, and so much worse if you are at a place where the people at the top are getting exponentially more and the thousands is just change to them. You add all that up and it’s a recipe for appropriate anger and resentment.

    6. GothicBee*

      Agreed. I posted about this above, but when my workplace couldn’t do our party, they did a gift card option where you could pick from a list of businesses to get a gift card from. I feel like a gift card kind of splits the difference between the slap in the face low dollar amount and the people who only want cash. You could include a Visa gift card or grocery store/Walmart/Target options for those who want to use the money on more practical stuff.

      And to add to that, I think options are the key to making the most people happy with this kind of thing. And it doesn’t have to be a ton of options to make a difference in how it’s perceived.

      1. H2*

        Remember that Visa GCs have exorbitant fees (well, they’re exorbitant on small amounts; they’re a flat fee).

        I’m not a manager or a person who makes decisions at all, but I have been involved in my kids’ school PTAs for several years. We can cater a nice teacher appreciation lunch for $5-8 a head. The last couple of years the teachers have started complaining that they would rather have gift cards. I get it, I really do…but they think we are spending a LOT more than we are. I pointed it out to one teacher who complained, and asked her if she really wanted at $7 gift card, and to where. She said that they wanted visa GCs, which would literally bring that to $2 (not to mention that in our case we are using donated money, and that’s a pretty poor use of it). It’s really tough to find a place for a $10 GC that pleases everyone. And I can’t speak for workplaces necessarily, but it’s prohibitively time-consuming to give people choices–we tried that one time and it was hours of work to follow up (with 55 teachers and staff) and purchase the GCs.

        1. Anonya*

          No good deed goes unpunished, sheesh. I understand that teachers are underpaid but this is not the place to take that stand.

          1. Texas Teacher*

            I agree, Anonya. I’m a teacher, and while yes, I’d love to be paid more, I’m ridiculously buoyed by little pick-me-ups in my mailbox like a small bag of popcorn, or a candy bar, on a random Wednesday.

          2. H2*

            Aw, nah, I don’t think the ones who complain honestly have any idea of the reality. And we really do want to show appreciation, and we want to give people what they want most.

        2. snoopythedog*

          I’m so glad someone pointed out that visa gc’s have craaaazy fees. I offered them as a prize option one year and blew my budget because I didn’t realize the fee beforehand (and then I needed mail with tracking for them).. ouch.

      2. Bagpuss*

        I think options are good where they are practical, but it adds a lot to the administration. I think the reality is that no matter what you do, you are never going to please everyone. We’ve tried a lot of different things, including giving each office a per-person budget and free rein to decide how it should be spent, and you still can’t please everyone

        I do think that it is reasonable for LW to suggest to HR that cash or gift cards would be appreciated more than hampers or zoom parties, but she shouldn’t say that it is what everyone wants unless her coworkers have all expressly agreed that that is what they want.

        And it is worth bearing in mind that many companies may be looking to reduce their budget this year and that the amount in cash or gift cards may be pretty small.

  7. Super Admin*

    Sadly here in the UK extra money means extra taxes. I’m guessing this isn’t the case in the US, but here this would definitely be the reason HR would be planning party alternatives instead.

    Gift vouchers (if untaxed) or a food hamper might be good alternatives if money truly isn’t an option – but for things that are actually useful and with no rules on what you do with the vouchers/food. When our summer party was cancelled we got gifted takeaway vouchers – enough to buy the whole family dinner – and the afternoon off. That worked well.

    1. higheredrefugee*

      Nope, it’s taxed here in the US too. The baskets should be taxed too, but some companies ‘forget’ to add that into compensation.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        No, the gift baskets shouldn’t be taxed. They fall under acceptable non-taxable gifts.

        Giftcards are what often don’t get taxed but should be.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            Fair enough. But it’d have to be a crazy ass gift basket, at corporate rates to get popped for tax.

            Frequency is key too. A single gift a year verses places that are dodging taxes by giving out expensive luxury packages on the regular.

      1. Super Admin*

        Ah, good to know! My company is US based, with sites all over the world, and I know any rollout of new bonus schemes or spot-rewards takes forever to reach the non-US sites, purely because of differences in tax rules.

    2. TimeTravlR*

      Bonuses are taxed at a much higher rate than regular pay in the US. Not sure how cash gifts are accounted for or taxed. Could be the same???

      1. Parcae*

        Bonuses are NOT taxed at a higher rate than regular pay in the US. That’s a common misconception. Remember not to confuse taxes withheld with taxes paid.

      2. ThatGirl*

        That’s not really true. They can be taxed at a higher rate as supplemental income, but it evens out in your annual tax return.

  8. Everdene*

    I work for a charity, extra money is not a thing that happens. BUT it was recently announced that all staff would recoeve a one off payment in their December pay check. Everyone is getting the same pre tax amount (pro rata’d) so it will have a far bigger impact for frontline staff than the SMT. It has created a huge amount of goodwill after a difficult year.

  9. Anon this time*

    OP, I FEEL FOR YOU. Unfortunately if your company is anything like mine, they don’t actually want to give you something nice. They want to feel some togetherness despite working from home, and they think the best way to do that is forced socializing plus a tangible gift that’s supposed to remind you of the company every time you look at it. Mine is making us do a craft project on Zoom, for which they’ve sent pricey kits.

    I so, so don’t want to do it. The crafting is going to be messy. There’s a type of painting involved, so I’ll either have to do it in the bathroom, which I don’t want to have my camera on for, or else figure out and create a setup that allows me to do it in my home office without staining the floor. This will take time and ingenuity that I really don’t want to give right now, on top of the fact that the Zoom meeting takes place partly after normal working hours.

    I’m also afraid that if I say this to management, I’ll be “not a team player.”

    1. Quill*

      Last year we went to a mall paint and sip spot but we had boba tea instead of alcohol and there was basically no structure to the painting… it was nice, but there were also six of us. much easier to find something everyone is okay with in that case.

    2. WellRed*

      I’m screaming and cringing in sympathy for you! May I suggest an internet issue that day? A minor illness?

    3. Suzanne*

      Ugh what a stupid idea. I magically have a doctor’s appointment that can only happen at that time. Oh no!

    4. Strawberry Red*

      That sounds absolutely dreadful omg. I’m simultaneously so sorry that you have to do that, and also hoping that nobody from my company is reading this and getting any ideas.

    5. Former Employee*

      That’s nuts. I can’t do craft projects. I have trouble differentiating right from left, if that gives you some idea of how bad it is. There’s an online test for dementia and one part is that you’re supposed to copy a drawing, which is done so that the object looks 3 dimensional. I couldn’t have done that when I was 16, let alone in my 60’s!

      What are they thinking?

  10. agnes*

    Yes! I would be so much more appreciative of $$ than anything else this year. Our management can send a card and a check and they can be assured there would be much celebrating at my house–any amount would be helpful.

    1. Attack Cat*

      Especially since this is a year where a $10 egift card to Target might be the difference between an employee being able to afford basic cleaning supplies. A gift basket doesn’t feel very festive if an employee is thinking about the amount of ramen they could have brought with that money.

  11. Trek*

    One thing to keep in mind, even if the company gives cash it’s not likely to be as much as people expect or think of when asking for cash. This can lead to complaining or negative feedback. My advice is whatever amount is given, say thank you or it’s unlikely to be repeated.

    Also anyone on the accounting side know if it’s easier to write off parties and baskets as a holiday expense vs cash? I always thought that this is why most companies don’t give cash, can’t afford to give large sums and can’t write off the cash gifts.

    1. Bagpuss*

      I’m in the UK – here, parties can be tax deductible if the per-person is under a certain level – I think £75.
      Cash or gift cards count as extra pay so tax & NI have to be paid on them which affects the employee as well as the employer, and for people on low incomes who are claiming means tested benefits or tax credits it can affect the amount they get in that month as well (and there are a lot of lower paid part time workers who do claim tax credits) I *think* but don’t know for sure, that exemption is for ‘entertainment’ so probably sending out hampers or something similar to employees, especially if linked to a virtual party, could come under the exemption.

  12. Caveat*

    My company has been giving us the occasional credit with a well-known rideshare company that delivers food. It’s a great gesture and won’t knock anyone into a higher tax bracket.

    However, it’s also not good value for money, and I feel bad for participating when it means wasting company money. Last time, I already had lunch taken care of and decided to use my credit on a local candy shop. The total cost, to company and me, was ridiculously high. Now, part of that was a large tip I paid out of my own pocket, but with delivery charges, the delivery company’s own cut, and the fact that companies raise prices on their rideshare delivery menu combined to have me getting about $25 worth of candy for $75.

      1. Nessun*

        If it’s the rideshare/food company I’m thinking of, we did something similar for a meeting – everyone got a coupon to use for $X, and the coupon code was only valid during set hours on a set date. It’s a neat idea on the face of it, but I had the same issue – by the time I tipped the driver and paid for delivery, even just a large coffee cost about $12, which is ridiculous.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      People very commonly misunderstand what it means to be in a higher tax bracket. You would only pay higher taxes on the *additional* money, so you are still always getting more money.

      1. Wehaf*

        Being in a higher tax bracket can eliminate eligibility for other tax breaks, though. It is 100% possible for someone to end up with less money total after getting a raise, because he or she is no longer eligible for specific credits.

  13. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    So, in good years I plan a fancy x-mas party at work for about 400 guests and manage to do so at a cost of $20-$25 per person. People seem to like it – it’s totally optional (for real, not fake optional) and lots of people attend and say they enjoy it, and send me appreciative messages after the fact.

    I would be surprised if anyone got an effusive thank-you for the ~$12 extra on their paycheque they would get instead.

    So I’m not sure cash is actually feasible for a lot of places.

    For info, this year we are doing nothing.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      This is the problem.

      I get small gifts for my team each year and we do a dirty santa swap with those gifts. (Best of both worlds… fun game and it largely avoids the “I bought a great thing and I got crap in return” complaints. I’m sure at least one person would rather have the cash, but A- it’s coming out of my pocket and B- no trust me the time investment in finding the gifts is where the value is, most are $10-15

  14. pleaset cheap rolls*

    “The HR department where I work has been sending out feelers, asking what people want to do this year in lieu of the usual Christmas party.”

    Tell them what you want.

  15. Just Another Zebra*

    Since your HR is asking for input, OP, I’d be honest and tell them.

    My company HR gave us 3 choices, since a traditional party is out of the question:
    1. roll it over into next years holiday party
    2. PTO hours
    3. cash/ gift card

    We were asked to rank them in order of preference.

    They’re announcing what they’re doing after Thanksgiving, but even if they don’t go with my “choice”, I feel like I had a say (and IMO all the options are decent – there isn’t one that I would hate to get)

    1. allathian*

      PTO hours, definitely! At least if I was working in the US. That said, the company needs to ensure that taking time off doesn’t mean more work before and/or more work afterwards, or else the gesture may backfire…

  16. Lily Rowan*

    My job just gave everyone free time off at the end of the year, which I think people are really appreciating. (We will also have various Zoom “parties” for free.)

    1. Parcae*

      I like this approach, assuming the company budget won’t allow for cash bonuses of a meaningful amount. Instead of a holiday party this year, give everyone the three hours (or whatever) they otherwise would have spent at the party to do whatever they want. Rewatching my favorite movie at home in my pajamas feels pretty festive to me.

  17. Conspiracy-Industrial Complex*

    Does anybody else feel that the “what do you want this year?” question may be a trap? (Maybe the higher-ups have a “correct” answer in mind and plan to punish those who don’t request it.)

    1. Parcae*

      Eh, I wouldn’t assume that, unless the company was in the habit of asking “gotcha” questions.

      My manager has been asking us throughout the pandemic what she can do in lieu of our usual low-key celebrations with snacks. I know her well enough to say the question is genuine, but we haven’t come up with a satisfying answer. We have no budget for grand gestures and there’s no real substitute for hanging out with your coworkers in person. We’re going to do something on Zoom for our holiday party, and although I don’t love it, I can’t complain. It’s a pandemic. Some things are just going to be worse for awhile.

    2. HS Teacher*

      I could see that, but only because I once worked at an organization where that would totally be happening. I still have some PTSD from that job, and I’ve been gone for about 6 years.

    3. Not Australian*

      Well, yes, but it’s not particular to this case. *Whatever* information a company/workplace elicits about its staff can always be used to the staff’s disadvantage, if the employer’s so inclined.

      And vice-versa, of course.

      Not everything is a trap, in other words, but if it *is* a trap you can bet your backside it won’t be the only one.

    4. Aggretsuko*

      I thought the same thing. Just because someone ASKS doesn’t always mean that in their culture, they want an honest answer. If I were the OP I’d base it entirely off whether or not the org actually “means it” in their experience.

      1. pleaset cheap rolls*

        What CIC asked goes beyond asking and not really wanting an honest answer – they wrote about a trap to punish people. Do you think that’s likely?

    5. pleaset cheap rolls*

      “Does anybody else feel that the “what do you want this year?” question may be a trap? ”


      I suppose it’s possible, but I wonder about these companies that have so much spare time to do crazy stuff like this. Setting up traps so they can punish people? It can’t be common – the competitive pressures of the world wouldn’t allow it.

  18. Crazy cat lady T*

    This may not be a normal thing but I know at a company I used to work for they received gifts from vendors and then gave those out to the employees. There of course would be some items the company would buy but a good chunk of the items were nothing out of pocket. So I could picture a company wanting to do gift baskets instead of money since you may not really get anything cashwise if they went that route. Oh in case you were wondering, the vendors do know that those items would go to the employees. So there were gift cards and tools and random items the vendors would buy besides the normal “swag” you get with their names on it.

    1. The Rural Juror*

      I work for a very small company and one of our holiday perks is getting to split the gifts we receive from vendors. Last year we had an awesome haul! One vendor sent 2 honey hams from a local shop, which luckily were spiral-cut and easy to divvy up. Another had sent a gift basket of cheese from a local smoke shop. Another sent a box of cupcakes from a local bakery. I spent a while in our kitchenette making goodie bags out of all the groceries we were sent! Plus, I appreciated that they were locally-sourced.

      It ended up being a godsend the weekend before Christmas. I was baking quite a bit for the holiday and nibbled on the ham and cheese for sustenance!

      1. Luke G*

        Dang, what industry do you work in? We’ve got to go to trade shows to get the good swag, and even then the “good swag” is the rare plush microbe or some lunch-box-sized silverware. Of course, I work in food safety, so giving out food always triggers the question “wait, which fridge was this in?” :D

      2. JustaTech*

        A couple of years ago, in a January, I got an email from a vendor asking how we’d liked the chocolates.
        What chocolates?
        Turns out that they had sent us a box of chocolates, but addressed it to the head of another group (who also used their stuff). The head of the other group had just eaten all the chocolates himself, didn’t even share with his team. Turns out he’d done this the year before too.
        So I emailed back “Oh, “Bob” said the chocolates were very good!”

  19. Laura*

    I saw at least one comment where someone pointed out that for cash/gift card you would have to pay taxes. My division got around this by getting grocery gift certificates for everyone which I guess gets around the tax issue? They are through Butterball turkey but are supposedly good on turkey products “or any other grocery products.” Haven’t tried to spend it yet so have no idea how easy or hard it will be to actually use.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      My employer sends a voucher for a turkey or ham every year around Hallowe’en, similar conceptually to the year-end bonus/gift. I’ve always found my local grocer honors it just like a normal coupon.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      A company I used to work for did this, and the coupon worked just fine at my local chain grocery store. I gave it to my mom so she could buy her Thanksgiving turkey (since I don’t like turkey, but she does) and the only thing she ended up having to pay for out of pocket was a ham for me and our side dishes.

    3. Dave*

      My office did something like this where you got a $30 coupon good for a turkey, ham, or fresh veggies to use at most chain grocery stores. Sure veggies were more there then where I prefer to shop but it was still free money basically without the tax mess. It also good for like 5 months so I didn’t have to use to right away. (Because in non pandemic times I thankfully am rarely in charge the big family meal.)

    4. KaciHall*

      We got ten dollars on a butterball check at my last job. I felt very Clark Griswoldesque that day. (Not to mention, it’s run through the register like a check, so you need to have both a valid ID and be able to write a check at that retailer – that combination with where I worked meant not a lot of the factory was going to be able to use it.)

  20. Introvert girl*

    Every year my company gives gift cards that can be redeemed in all grocery stores (as well as a big Christmas party). The amount is small (50 dollars) but it’s appreciated. If extra money would be taxed too high, I would suggest a gift card like this, but for a higher amount (around 200-300 dollars). That way people can use it to buy food, something everyone wants and needs. Accompanied by a letter from the company.

    1. Koala Bob*

      $200-$300 per employee is way more than I expect has ever been spent by my employers for a Christmas celebration. Honestly, if the company has had to lay people off (even temporarily) to get through, I would be surprised if that’s in their budget.

  21. Rose*

    This was a conversation in our organization this year. Fortunately, my manager and some other higher ups were able to get us an alternative – no bonuses, but we now get the week between Christmas and New Year’s off at full pay as company holidays. I’d much rather have that than an uncomfortable Zoom or socially distanced party!

    1. yala*

      I would love for that to be the case. We’re off regardless, but everything that isn’t a state holiday comes out of our leave. I’d like to shore some leave up for an eventual Disney trip when All This Is Over.

  22. Sara without an H*

    Here at Lilliput University, the administration cancelled the annual staff appreciation lunch/holiday party, rather to everyone’s relief. Instead, staff received gift cards and some extra PTO, to be taken after January 1.

    While I understand commenters who prefer cash to gift baskets, if cash is not a realistic possibility, PTO might be an option. Nobody objects to PTO.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      But I already have so much vacation time that I have to take some before the end of the year or lose it! What is extra PTO going to do for meeeee?????

      1. Dave*

        If only I had that problem ….
        I think a company even giving everyone an extra hour or two of PTO (a small cash equivalent of what they would spend on a party or gift basket) that could really help morale.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Lol, wouldn’t it be the “jam of the month club membership” level of evil if everyone got a PTO day for Christmas that was a “use it by 1/1 or lose it”? Bonus points is the year end if a busy time with a vacation freeze.

        I think “to be taken after January 1” would work great, though. (Assuming 1/1 is everyone’s PTO rollover date.)

        1. yala*

          lol, considering that every year they take ~40+ hours (this year more than 40) out of our annual leave to cover the time that our building is closed, but the overall business we work for isn’t (essentially whatever isn’t considered a State Holiday)…I’d be fine with that.

      3. SomebodyElse*

        haha… I’m that person :)

        Actually it’s most people in my company this year. Mandate at about mid year saying that we weren’t allowed to roll over anything. A lot of people have been scrambling to use up their time while still getting their work done.

        1. H2*

          It’s funny because I was thinking, why not close early one Friday afternoon in the next month, or do that on some kind of rolling basis if you can’t close down entirely. It seems to me that it would be the most win-win solution.

          But then I remembered that we did that and I rolled my eyes–I work at a university, and they sent us an email last week making a big deal about how hard we’d worked and how we deserved a reward. They were so amazingly kind and generous (according to them) and we’re going to be closed the whole week of Thanksgiving (when we faculty are going to be busting our tails grading and getting ready for finals whether we’re “open” or not) and the whole week of Christmas (when we faculty don’t have anything to do anyway). I would never, ever complain because it’s pretty sweet to have so much time off in December, and I’m glad for our admin who get to share in that real down time, but it’s for sure not a gift to me. It seems like that may be true for a lot of salaried people, in general.

        2. londonedit*

          Most of us are in the same boat, too. We couldn’t really go anywhere or do anything between the middle of March and the end of June, and even when travel did start to open up there are plenty of countries where you have to do a 14-day quarantine on your return to the UK. So despite all the pleas from management asking people to use their holiday (we get 25 days plus standard English public holidays) pretty much no one did. We’re always allowed to take over up to 5 days which must be used before the end of March the following year, but even so, people are now finding themselves with tons of holiday that they need to use before Christmas.

  23. Georgina Fredrika*

    I can understand the impulse to give a thing rather than money – $40 worth of fancy snacks often looks and feels more impressive than $40. I guess how much I’d really push it would depend on the amount of money – if it were anything under $100 I wouldn’t even bother spending social capital on that (if that’s what’s going on – if HR is asking you, it’s seemingly fine?).

    I also get it from the other side, in terms of a human feeling thing – I recently offered my friends pizza & beer to help me move, which took forever to follow through on b/c of our schedules, but if they had just asked me for the equivalent cash it would have felt weird – the pizza party was more to acknowledge their help and friendship, not to be a true “here’s the dollar number I put on your labor” thing.

    1. Sue D. O'Nym*

      I feel like the “pizza & beer to help move” should, ideally, be while the moving is taking place. Get the truck unloaded, take a pizza break, then finish moving everything to the correct spot or unpacking.

      1. Tiny Kong*

        Yes, I thought it was traditionally “reward ourselves after we work, my treat”, not “I’ll buy you a drink sometime in exchange”…

      2. Luke G*

        Generally I’d agree- but I’ve dealt with moves that were so rushed it was basically “hit the ground running, get the truck full, go go go” for a full day. My beers came later after the poor souls were unpacked with their heads on straight.

      3. Georgina Fredrika*

        haha that was the original plan but I am a single person & was moving otherwise by myself – so when I took the moving van from A to B, they took a break and had pizza already. And there was so much stuff that my living room was just boxes of stuff so they would have had to eat it (after already having had pizza earlier in the day) on the floor or something.

        My point here wasn’t to open myself up to multiple pizza critiques, though, just to say gestures aren’t necessarily exchangeable with cash.

  24. Caterpie*

    That’s a good thing to keep in mind! Another thing (if relevant to your industry/company) is that there may be legal issues surrounding cash gifts for people with certain visas or other international work statuses.

    My workplace typically gets around that by giving out prepaid gift cards, but some years they’ve had to go with physical gifts instead.

  25. Indie*

    I just wanted to mention that there may be legitimate reasons why a company wouldn’t want to just put extra cash on the paychecks. As a self-employed (in Canada) my own company (think Indie Inc) would count both a gift and a cash bonus as “expense” (different types of expenses with different tax implications though). On the employee side (think Indie the person) would see the cash bonus as a taxable benefit (just like the group insurance and depending on the tax bracket see it eaten up by the tax man). While they shouldn’t see the gift as such. So please give your employers a bit of credit too – they may not want to give bonuses for your own good (especially if we are talking about a few hundred dollars in a gift basket as opposed to a few thousand in bonuses).

  26. Anon Anon*

    In lieu of our holiday party this year, everyone got an extra paid day of off. I think we’d all prefer cash, but an extra paid day off is a good second choice.

  27. jbn*

    We are doing Visa gift cards in lieu of the big holiday parties we usually have, but I’m also coordinating a (completely optional) virtual party complete with a DJ/emcee & prizes to give away. Due to the size of our company & the fact that the DJ is a very reasonable flat rate, foregoing the cost of the DJ would only be an extra $2 on each gift card so we’re doing both. The people who don’t want to attend will still get the visa card & the people who do attend will have the best virtual party I can come up with… and then hopefully we never have to make these choices again.

  28. Dutch person*

    What is quite common around here is that an employer contracts a service that then allows you to pick your own gift from a selection, with options generally including a charity donation (I think a shortlist is common) or a gift card. For example, the gifts have a retail value around 35 euro, but you can also get a 25 euro gift card or a 50 euro charity donation.

    Pre-digital age, you got a booklet with 40 or 50 gifts that you could choose from. The past decade, it’s usually done digitally and there can be a hundred options or more – and sometimes you can choose two or three smaller gifts instead of one bigger one. I’ve been very impressed with the selection: it usually includes things I want but don’t want to spend money on, like kitchen appliances or storage containers (that do get a seal and do not break every few months) or basic tools like a screwdriver set.
    There’s usually also bestsellers, magazine subscriptions, beauty products, food hampers on there, but that’s not my jam.

    I quite like that. As a teetotaler with food allergies, my experiences with Christmas hampers hasn’t been great – I’m lucky if I can eat 1/5th of what’s in them, and one memorable time, you could choose your ‘hamper’: a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white wine, and a bottle of freakin’ water. (But it came in a wine bottle!)

    1. Ashley*

      I had a family member who worked for place that did something like this and ended up getting new sheets. It was a very odd assortment of what you can pick, but at least they let their employees pick what they wanted.

      1. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

        I love things like that – we had a system at one job where you got points to spend from internal kudos and a set amount you got annually for your years of service. I saved mine to get a massive gift card to a home improvement store, but I know plenty of other people who got practical things like towels, cutlery sets, even a standing desk for their WFH setup. I like the freedom to pick something fun or practical.

    2. allathian*

      My husband’s company also does things like this. One memorable year we got a set of steel saucepans. Very useful they were, because we had just upgraded to an induction stove. He’s received wine and cheese, a set of bedclothes, a set of really expensive towels made out of linen terrycloth, and one year a humongous box of chocolates (I think it was 1 kilo or slightly over 2 lbs).

  29. Sarah N*

    I wonder if it would help to frame it as a “holiday bonus” instead of “cash.” Only because bonuses are a normal thing that lots of companies do, so it might feel more comfortable to the higher ups, where “handing out cash” does not sound as “normal.”

    1. Colette*

      I think that would likely cause more problems than it solved. Assuming that the company is planning to spend the amount a gift basket costs and no more (and they have to take taxes off), it could end up with people getting “bonuses” of $10. They’d probably be better off doing nothing, because that will be a big hit to morale.

  30. Anon33*

    I don’t think it’s tacky at all. I manage a small team and always ask if they prefer a bigger gift card or smaller gift card + dinner out as a team as my yearly holiday gift. Surprisingly, everyone always picks the latter.

  31. A Simple Narwhal*

    Another good option if cash isn’t a thing, how about some extra time off? It doesn’t even have to be a large amount. If my company said “instead of the party this year we’re closing the office at 2pm” I’d be thrilled. Super easy, and everyone enjoys an early release.

  32. JustKnope*

    I see a lot of commenters saying that the gift equivalent might not be “that much money,” but OP says a lot of people are having to take a second job to get by. For them, $40 extra in the paycheck means filling up the gas tank without having to worry about groceries for a week, or a little extra breathing room for a holiday meal. For a lot of people, especially this year, let’s not underestimate the power of $40 extra.

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I think people are saying that it probably won’t be $40 and would be something much less than that. I planned a holiday party for my office once, my budget was ~$15 a head.

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      I don’t think the point is that it definitely shouldn’t be done because it’s so little money, more that OP should be careful of their expectations of how much they are likely to actually get. The equivalent cost per head of a basic holiday party or gift basket might be a lot less than $40 – as you say, every little helps, but basically OP just needs to be sure they will actually be fine with it if their management is like “I know it’s been an awful year, you guys have worked so hard, some of you are picking up second jobs, we really appreciate everything you all do… here’s $15 minus tax, Merry Christmas”.

  33. Aphrodite*

    I wonder if this might be too much work or difficult to do or maybe, just maybe, it would work.

    If the company did a gift basket but instead of buying a pre-made one determined what could be included and let people fill out a created form. Everything would be listed along with their price or a sub like stars, knowing they can spend a certain amount of stars or $, checking off what they like up to a pre-determined amount. Among the choices could be consumables at a store (turkey, ham, steaks, chocolate, coffee, fruits, dairy, cheeses, crackers, breads, etc.), wine and beer, gift card to clothing store and/or bookstores, practical things like you’d find at a drugstore or a hardware store. Each basket would be custom chosen within company parameters.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      That’s a really nice idea (and something I’d love), but it’s probably impractical depending on the size of the company. My company has about 4,000 employees – no way could they keep up with everyone’s basket lists.

  34. BellaDiva*

    The firm I work at sent out a questionnaire with three options for everyone to choose between: 1) a trio of books (one fiction, one non-fiction, and one children’s book); 2) a cozy blanket with a selection of teas; and 3) the option to donate the funds to the daily bread foodbank.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Ooohhh, I’d so take option 2. I’m sitting with the really nice wool blanket my company sent me for Christmas last year right now!

  35. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Give me cash or a gift card to a grocery store. A real grocery store with real food. I won a gift card to my local grocery store and it was the best thing ever.

  36. FreakInTheExcelSheets*

    Things like this always make me think that the proper response to “why do you want to work for this company?” is some variant of “you’re going to pay me” whether that’s more than their current job or hoping it’s a less stressful environment where they can earn at least the same amount. When will people realize that money isn’t tacky? We all need it to live, we need to have honest discussions about how much we need, and it’s the perfect gift because I’m not 5 years old anymore making a list of toys I want from Santa. Even on a personal level I struggle with this every year – my grandmother would prefer I give her a wishlist for my birthday/Christmas (they’re less than a month apart) but realistically I just want the money so I can buy practical things. We finally hit a compromise where I set up a housewarming registry so she can buy me house things where I’d normally go for the economic option.

  37. Tired of Covid-and People*

    To anyone planning holiday activities this year, please just give money with a little extra to cover tax liability. OP, make your preference known!

    1. LDF*

      This seems overly-broad. There’s nothing wrong with trying to foster team-building even if it’s virtual. There’s nothing wrong with money or time off either but it’s not bad to hold virtual events.

  38. Junipher*

    I work as an admin assistant who has been asked with arranging ~something~ for our department for the holidays. Due to our status, the tax paperwork of giving 60+ people gift cards and things are a nightmare so its probably going basket route. Searching around here for better ideas!

  39. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Companies use “people would rather have cash” as an excuse to get rid of the holiday party. You’re better off just enjoying the free food – when companies I’ve worked for took away the holiday party, the summer family picnic, etc, they just kept the money they saved.

    1. allathian*

      Oh, I don’t know. At least not in a pandemic. I’m not seeing very many suggestions here to get rid of company events altogether, just opinions about alternative solutions when in-person parties are (or at least should be) off the table this year.

  40. MH*

    Definitely support the cash. My old company was the little engine that could and they would rent out space at a bar to hold a party. Toward the end of my time there, we had to pay to come to our own party. I think I stayed for only an hour.

    1. CoveredInBees*

      Having to pay to attend an office holiday party (beyond bringing something for a potluck) would make me so resentful if I was pressured to go.

  41. WS*

    This may or may not work for you depending where you’re located, but our local council gave each of their employees a $25 gift voucher that could be used at any local business. It wasn’t exactly cash, but it was no strings attached and supported local businesses who were suffering under lockdown.

  42. Teonna*

    Sometimes giving employees cash means that cash gets taxed, so do you still want the additional cash if it means being reduced by taxes? Another idea could be asking for a food basket for the holidays.

  43. RCB*

    I am in charge of arranging this for my office this year, and we’re an organization that just doesn’t do cash gifts because we’re a nonprofit and it just doesn’t feel right for us to do that, but I am putting together gift baskets for everyone and ordering everything from local companies, because I know how much businesses are hurting right now. So this becomes a gift to the staff to say thanks, but also pumps vital dollars into our community, so it’s a win there too. I know people would always prefer cash, but this year of all years I hope people see the bigger picture and realize that multiple birds can be killed with one stone. We are giving to our staff by supporting to the community, and to me that is very important.

    1. allathian*

      This sounds good. I just hope that the gift baskets are useful to the recipients. Gifting food and drink is always a bit risky and it’s hard to find stuff that everyone would appreciate, but if there’s at least something for everyone to like, that’s something.

  44. Claire Davies*

    You could compromise and see if they would be happy giving you gift cards? I’m based in the U.K. and our company is giving gift cards for a large supermarket chain over here. The idea is that people can purchase groceries, clothing, housewares, alcohol, toys, Christmas gifts for their family – whatever they want. The thinking is that this seems more “gift like” than cash but can be helpful for people who might be struggling at the moment.

    1. CoveredInBees*

      Yes. I was about to post the same. It can get tricky if people aren’t all in the same area, but gift cards from local stores (that sell stuff people need day to day) are a double win.

  45. R2D2*

    My workplace used the annual party budget to give every employee a $500 gift card a few weeks ago. It’s been awesome, especially with all the early Black Friday sales!

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