what to buy your employees for the holidays

My inbox fills up at this time of year with questions about holiday gifts at work: Are you supposed to get your boss a gift? What about your employees? What gifts are appropriate, and how much should you spend? Should you really have to chip in to send your CEO and his family on a luxury ski trip?

Managers don’t have to give their teams gifts, but many do. So when Slate asked me to put together a guide for bosses buying gifts for their employees, I hunted down a bunch of suggestions — with a particular focus on gifts that work well in this weird year. You can read it here.

{ 177 comments… read them below }

        1. I'm new in town*

          I have one at my office and loved it! Everyone would comment on it too, it was quite the conversation starter.

    1. Polyhymnia O'Keefe*

      I have one! One of the first things I invested in for my home office when I started working remotely. I love it.

  1. Littorally*

    My workplace sent out Yetis earlier this year as a covid-year morale gift. I’m really pleased with mine!

    1. Hi there*

      I am pretty tempted by the Yetis. Ooh, it looks like there is free monogramming on the drinkware until tomorrow.

      1. CoveredInBees*

        I got one for commuting (hahahaha!) about a year ago and it has been great. However, if you get the one with the magnetic slider on top, know that it can get bumped out of place fairly easily and does better handwashed. The main part of the yeti has held up flawlessly in the dishwasher.

    2. Zephy*

      I bought one for my husband for Christmas last year. The few times he actually got to use it before COVID happened, it worked great. I bought a white one and wrote “I can’t ESPRESSO how much you BEAN to me” on it, because I’m corny as hell. :)

    3. Maragrita...please*

      My only issue with the 3 yetis I currently have is the cover (rather the rubber around it more specifically) needs to be replaced once a year

      1. Data Nerd*

        Where do you get those? We need a replacement lid for one of ours and I can’t find it on their website or Amazon

        1. Yeti Finder*

          I searched replacement lid yeti in Google and found links to Amazon and Yeti. Reply if yours is a specific type and I will search further.

  2. chocolate lover*

    I’ve always had a thing for nice pens, but haven’t really mentioned it (my family would have laughed at me and said buy a pack of Bics for $1). The office I worked in during m y senior year of college couldn’t figure out what to get me for graduation, so someone picked a pen and hoped for the pen, and to this day, it’s one of my FAVORITE gifts ever! Talk about happy accident. I use it for journaling and other personal writing.

    1. What's in a name?*

      Keep in mind left-handed people hate when pens smear! I swear by zebra pens (specifically F-301) for this reason.

      1. Rachel in NYC*

        I may have to try that. I’ve found the cheap ballpoint ones or the felt tip papermates work really well for me (being left handed.)

        I must have a pressure problem so a lot of pens I just fight with.

        1. Quill*

          Just picked up my favorite pens from work and they’re Pentel liquid gel.

          I’m right handed, so I wouldn’t know about instant smear, but they dry fast and are darn convenient for planners / lab notebooks.

    2. drago cucina*

      I like to give nice pens. I’m a big journal user and one of my welcome aboard gifts for any new department head was a journal and nice pen.

      One of my fondest memories in the Army was when I was promoted the chaplain I worked for gave me a classic Cross pen, engraved with my name. I felt like a grown-up.

    3. OyHiOh*

      I’m right there with you on good pens!

      My office buys the cheapest pens possible (quasi government, grant funded . . . ) so I buy good ones out of pocket for myself. My boss steals mine whenever possible so I also keep them locked in my desk when I’m not there.

    4. All your pens belong to us!*

      Last year for Christmas I gave my wife a 6 month subscription to a type of pen-of-the-month thing. Each month they sent her 3-5 new pens. Some were ok, a few were great. She enjoyed seeing what new pens she would receive each month.
      Was a great gift!

    5. Artemesia*

      my whole career I kept hoping for a great pen and never got one. One time at an award I was giving a box that looked like a pen and I was thrilled and then I opened it and it was an engraved brass bookmark — #1 on my list of utterly useless crap.

      If you personalize don’t do something like give your two favorites – a box of fancy fishing lures and a set of golf balls that you know each will love and then your least favorite a crystal box from the Walmart gift table that show you have no clue about that person. Doesn’t matter if they cost the same — showing one person you know and care and another you don’t leaves a bad taste. I am a fan of the same thing for everyone.

      1. WellRed*

        Sorry the box faked you out, though I have a hard time envisioning a bookmark never being utterly useless ; )
        I love great pens!

        1. Mongrel*

          I find it’s not so much that a bookmark is useless but;
          1) I have enough things I use as bookmarks anyway. After a good clean-out years ago I have stacks of unused cards from Collectible Card Games which I have left in appropriate places. I’ve found most people who read a lot have something set up
          2) I’ve always found metal bookmarks to be unwieldy compared to the above (or a post-it note at a pinch) and on cheaper or older paperbacks can stress the spine.

    6. Researchalatorlady*

      Levenger is the crack, no, the meth for stationery lovers. You will love me and hate me for introducing you to it. It’s the be-all and end-all for your own stuff and the gifts.

  3. Hi there*

    I like that nice pen is first on the list! Each person on my staff received a Retro 51 Tornado pen in their favorite color last year. Right now I have a person partially reassigned to our team (a Covid redeployment) so I got him one for his birthday/welcome to the team over the summer.

  4. drago cucina*

    Earlier this year my company gave us all $100 gift cards to Lands End. We were told we did NOT have to buy anything with the company logo and we could buy things others. It was helpful in transitioning my wardrobe from suits and dresses/skirts to business casual.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      That was a very thoughtful gift. I wish my company would give me a gift card to buy clothes! lol

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      You know, I kinda like the idea of a gift card to buy clothes. My company always gifts us truly excellent company-branded clothes – like Nike longsleeves and Patagonia fleeces – but at this point a solid 75% of my ‘nice’ athleisure gear is company branded and I have nothing left to wear to places I do not wish to advertise my employer at lol.

  5. DogBoss*

    This will be my first holiday season as a manager. In my personal life, I LOVE to give gifts and I was striving for the right balance of unique but not so personal it’s weird. I bought them a personalized dog book I saw advertised on Facebook (essentially where’s Waldo with the name/breed of dog) because my direct report loves their dog and talks about her all the time. I’ll likely add a $25 gift card and a few snacks in a gift bag, something cute and festive.

    I suspect that I will have another direct report (a new hire) who will start between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This person did mention their dog during the interview process, but I’m not sure if something so personalized will read as weird for someone I’ve just met. Do I do a similar gift bag but skip the personalized book? Thoughts generally about holiday gifts for brand new hires?

    1. Hi there*

      I tried to give my direct reports roughly the same thing. I do have one long-standing employee I know really well, and I didn’t want her gift to appear more personal or like I was more invested in it. My perusal of the yeti website just now revealed you can monogram dog bowls, I bet they’d both like that! (And then save the book for a birthday or something?)

      1. Smithy*

        I have to second this. For better or worse, I do think that “gift comparisons” can lead to unnecessary tension.

        I get that DogBoss really likes to give gifts, but honestly – I’d lean towards giving everyone the same gift card value and then writing a personal message in a card. For the new hire, it can just be about how excited you are to have them join the team and appreciate their flexibility, understanding, whatever as they onboard during COVID.

        As someone who recently started a job during COVID, onboarding while being full time remote in a job that would not traditionally be full time remote has be a particular challenge in terms of connecting with professional teammates just as friendly colleagues. Being aware that the boss has this relationship where it’s possible to give a personal gift to one colleague and not yourself may not be what you want when bringing on someone new.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I would only beware of starting on too high a note if you think you will someday be managing more people in the same job. Like, if you have 5 reports, will you want to spend $50 on each of them?

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Right. My former manager gave me and my coworker a $50 gift card each last year for Christmas because we were his only direct reports. He has now moved to another team managing two other managers (who themselves have around six direct reports), so I wonder if he’ll carry on the tradition or go lower to also provide gift cards to his sub-reports. (Grandboss gifted everyone in his reporting structure with $25 gift cards because there were over 10 of us for a note of comparison.)

  6. Colorado*

    I just want to say I love your gift ideas this year!! Usually one or two of them works for my hubby. The nice charger it is this year!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I love the fact that Alison’s suggestions fall in line with my company’s gift options for Christmas this year – they gave us a sizable list of items to chose from, and a cashmere throw blanket and fleece jackets/pullovers/vests were the main choices. Since they gave us wool blankets last year (we didn’t get to pick then), I opted for once of the fleece jackets.

      I’m genuinely excited to get mine. The branded jackets were niiiiice.

  7. Portabella*

    “The embrace of a friendly bear” – that had me laughing! What a mental image.

    I think blankets are excellent gifts. They don’t even have to be furry! And as someone with a giant furry dog who makes my home look like the planet Hoth, I would appreciate a non-furry or fleecy blanket. There are tons of options out there that don’t attract pet hair as much. Big chunky knit ones come to mind.

    I’m not dissing the blankets – I think they are a great idea. This is just a suggestion if you have employees that live with furry beasts.

  8. Free Meerkats*

    While I like the Yeti mugs, I find they don’t seal well. My preference is for Contigo travel tumblers, https://www.amazon.com/Contigo-Stainless-Steel-AUTOSEAL-Vacuum-Insulated/dp/B07P9V347K . They are nearly as well insulated, but seal tightly enough that they can be carried upside down.

    What I’ve given the people who work for me for the last couple of years is a bottle of homemade aging eggnog. It’s drinkable when they get it, but gets better over time; I’ve had some 3 months out and it’s heavenly. Now, my new employee doesn’t drink, so I may make a bottle without booze, but she’s going to have to consume it soon.

    1. Not playing your game anymore*

      I love my Contigo travel tumblers. I keep one handy on my night stand for a cold drink in the middle of the night.

    2. Anono-me*

      Another Contigo fan here.

      I love that they are only open when you are pushing the big button. Great for situations where a spill would be bad: by electronics, falling asleep with a book and a tea, people who have hand issues.

      1. EchoGirl*

        I loved mine in college because instead of having to walk to class/ride the bus while carrying it in my hand to keep it upright, I could just throw it in my backpack for the trip and it would be hot and un-spilled when I got there. So much easier than the juggling I was doing with a regular travel mug.

  9. Lynn*

    A fun / cheeky WFH gift might be a pair of house shoes or fun socks “for your long commute from the fridge to your computer”. Normally would not be a good gift but very fitting for a lot of WFHers this year!

    1. Quill*

      Slipper socks get a lot of play in family white elephants, because if nothing else, they’re WARM.

      then again I have one foot that’s always cold…

    2. violet04*

      I love fun socks! Some of my favorites are from BlueQ, but some may not be entirely work appropriate. They also also hand towels and oven mitts – stuff that I would use on a regular basis.

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Yes! I bought a pair of watermelon print socks last Christmas, and they were the chat of the office at the December departmental meeting.

    4. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree this is a good year for that–it’s like the blanket option for places where the gift budget is very small, or a nice thing to include in a small gift basket type situation. They’re like blankets for your feet!

      As a kid I thought socks were some of the most boring gifts you could get, but as an adult I find they are often among the gifts I get most excited about haha

  10. TootsNYC*

    I always give my team an Amazon gift card.
    But I also like to give something more tangible and concrete. But I don’t want to spend a lot on that, because I’m already forking out for a nice gift card; I try to keep it at $5 or below.

    I’m always stumped, because I don’t want to give them junky stuff that becomes clutter.
    One year I made everyone some correspondence cards with their name printed on, plus envelopes. That went over nicely.

    And lately I’ve taken to just buying some sort of gourmet food thing (last year, I only had one person to buy for; I got him some spray olive oil thing for salads).

    I used to love gadgets; one year I had an extra Tile, so I gave him that. It’s too expensive for other years, though.

    So any ideas for that sort of stuff would be great. This year is going to be harder to get it to him.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I bought fancy jams and hot cocoa mixes this year. And honey. I’m very excited about the jars of flavoured honey.

      1. WellRed*

        I was quite excited the year I got a mustard assortment as opposed to the jams or maple syrup our company typicallly hands out (not knocking any of it, but I really love mustard).

  11. Federal manager*

    Any gift ideas for me to give? I’m a manager in the federal government and not only do we not have any budget for gifts (it’s taxpayer dollars!) I also don’t make any more money that my reports (and in a few cases, I make less than some of my direct reports). I have a few dozen employees under me, not counting contractors. I’m so proud of what my team has been able to do since COVID, and I tell them that all the time. I also provide treats when I can. But, man, I’d love to give them something else! Any ideas?

    1. BubbleTea*

      Either make something edible that is cheap but fun, or give them cards with sincere hand written notes about why you appreciate them. You don’t need to spend your own money, but the sentiment of a card can be treasured.

      1. Paperdill*

        I don’t think this is a good year for making edible gifts. I work for a government department and we have actually been specifically told not to be sharing homemade food among our colleagues.

    2. Anonymanageress*

      I’m also a federal government manager (who makes less than 2 of my direct reports). Early in the WFH Covid days, I sent all my team members a box of 6 Cheryl’s frosted sugar cookies. They were just $10 each and came with a $10 off coupon for their next order. Everyone on my team loves them some cookies and they were very well-received. I do NOT have “a few dozen” employees, though. I have 8 full time permanent direct reports and 2 temporary contractors. If you have “a few dozen,” I’m assuming that these are NOT all direct reports. My boss sends all of her offices a big box of specialty candy from her city. Everyone loves it, and it’s relatively inexpensive. She gets her direct reports (like me) some other small gift as well. You can not expect to be able to send individual gifts to dozens of employees from yourself personally. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna go with the power bank charger thing for my direct reports this year. I think it will go over well. You could send a Thank You email to all of your staff, though, and then when everyone is back in the office (assuming they are not now), send some candy, fruit, or cookies for a “reopening” gift, if you want to give something tangible.

      1. Emmie*

        I second Cheryl and Co. They usually run a semi-late December sale. I signed up for their passport program, which gave me free shipping for $20. They even have single cookies they’ll ship for $6.

    3. TootsNYC*

      Here’s my “not too expensive” gift that I’m in love with; it was not too expensive and also easy to give to lots of people.

      I bought a bunch of blank correspondence cards (flat cards) and matching envelopes. I could get a decent price on them because I was buying a bunch.

      Then I printed created a template that placed their name on the top of the card, centered, and printed out 5 for everybody. I chose a color and font that I thought fit them.

      Most people can use a piece of stationery–thank-you notes, condolence notes, etc. So I wasn’t as worried that they wouldn’t be welcomed.

    4. Portabella*

      I think a hand written card expressing your thanks to them would be nice. Include some specifics about things you thought were awesome. Even when you express your gratitude verbally, sometimes it’s really touching to see it written out. With that many people, I don’t blame you for not wanting to spend much, and this would be very inexpensive, easy to personalize, and would have an impact (and wouldn’t create clutter!).

    5. WellRed*

      I was gonna suggest something like baking small loves of pumpkin or lemon or what have you bread, nicely wrapped, but if you have a few dozen employees that might be too much.

    6. Ugh*

      Does your office believe in the 59 min rule? I’ve been a fed for decades and never expected anything from managers…we all know pay grades! I had a few who would just quietly do the 59 min one Friday afternoon and it was really appreciated.
      If you really want to do a “thing” one manager gave us a really bright LED flashlight that was pocketsized and some handwarmers. Very nice in that climate!

      1. Anonymanageress*

        We do this, too, but it usually comes from above me. (I implement myself from time to time, but around the holidays, it’s pretty much an entire agency thing.)

  12. Blue Eagle*

    The specialty olive oil or salt are my favorites on this list. No additional clutter as they are consumable.

    1. Anonys*

      I agree consumable things are nicest many people might already have blankets, tumblers, etc and don’t want to add loads of stuff! Also, as Alison said, almost literally everyone uses Olive oil and salt, so it’s just a fancier version of something everyone needs.

      Of the non-consumable things, I do love the pens and I think travel mugs are great if you know someone doesn’t already have one they love.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I love the specialty olive oil idea too, especially since the store that sold specialty olive oils in my city closed down late last year.

  13. TCO*

    Small things I’ve bought and/or appreciated more during covid:

    – Insulated drink tumblers (like the Yeti Alison suggested). Target carries a brand called Zak that I’ve bought several of this year. I’ve used these a lot because I’m doing more socializing outdoors and in BYOB settings, and it’s nice to have portable, durable (glass-free) drinkware.

    – A nice blanket, also as suggested by Alison. I bought myself a waterproof, insulated puffer-type blanket that’s become invaluable to keep socializing outdoors in colder weather.

    – Cozy clothes for home, like socks and slippers, fleeces and hoodies, etc.

    – Things to make my work-from-home setup better: lamps, headphones or headsets, etc.

    – Online entertainment: TV/movie streaming services, Jackbox games, a Zoom subscription if your office doesn’t already provide it

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      The cozy clothes for home thing is on my mind. I’m giving serious consideration to getting those ridiculous “Comfy” sweatshirt-blanket-things for my reports! I have to admit they look incredibly cozy and warm, and I think my reports would enjoy them. I think we all need some comfort this year!

      1. Amber Rose*

        I bought a Cozy for myself and I love it SO much. They’re super cozy and warm, big enough that they should fit just about anyone, and you can tuck your legs up into them and live in fuzzy sweater town if you want. Plus they come in a huge range of great colors.

        As a bonus, when I wear mine my cat is 90% more likely to want hugs from me. xD

      2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I got them for me and my housemate last year, and we both find that they’re almost TOO much cozy and warm. My dog loves mine though.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      In addition, Penzeys is a very socially conscience company. They make their political leanings known and aren’t afraid of losing customers over it. Not jerks about it but simply willing to stand by their principles and support BLM and condemn the atrocities happening near the borner.

  14. Amber Rose*

    I came up with this year’s gifts. This year everyone is getting a little decorative bag with a grocery gift card, a sugar cookie with the company logo on it, an eggnog scented candle and a jar of fancy hot chocolate.

    My theme this year is “comforting.” Instead of one really nice thing (which we usually do) I figured little care package type deals might be nice.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      That sounds really nice! Some practical, some treats, and some of the items are easily re-giftable if the employee doesn’t think they will personally use it. Good choices :)

  15. Anonys*

    I do think most of the suggestions are great except the fleece. I would be mortified to receive any kind of clothing (maybe except funny socks/slippers/Covid face masks) from work. I just think there are too many issues with it, like guessing people’s clothing size (Im slim with a very large chest and friends have tried to gift me clothes and they never fit), making someone feel bad, feeling pressure to wear it. A fleece is not as bad as other clothing items might be, but I don’t love it.

    Maybe I’m weird though, cause I also wouldn’t really like to get a cuddly blanket from my boss and I ALSO think lotion is not that bad as a gift. I got a Rituals gift set in lovely packaging from my boss at a college job once (though we were all women at the office and this was specifically for me when I was out sick – I wouldn’t appreciate this if all women got nice smelling cosmetics and the men got pens for example).

    1. NervousHoolelya*

      I also came in to say be wary of the fleece. Even people who know me very well can’t pick things that fit me correctly. The work-branded things I’ve been asked to wear are even worse — and wind up making me feel both shame about my body and shame that I can’t “blend” in with my colleagues as expected. I know the fleece isn’t work-branded, but the recipient may feel the same sense of pressure to wear it in Zoom meetings or whatever, even if it doesn’t fit or feels uncomfortable.

      Some folks have suggested comfy socks, and I think that might be a better option, although even there, lots of socks wouldn’t fit my large, wide feet…

      1. cat lady*

        same thought about the fleece wariness. most people are straight up terrible at guessing others’ clothing sizes.

    2. Smithy*

      Agree that anything sized gets into tricky territory.

      I once had a new boss of a month or two get me a very nice bracelet for my birthday. It was my style, very attractive, and entirely too small. I really didn’t know her and felt completely obligated to wear the item a few times.

      Certainly not offensive, and in the spirit of “it’s the thought that counts”, it was very appreciated and entirely unexpected. But entirely serves to make things awkward and uncomfortable.

    3. Chinook*

      Good quality hand lotion is not to be knocked, especially if you are in a dry region for winter. Even without all this handwashing and sanitizing, everyone’s hands (especially cuticles) crack here in Alberta from December to March. If you can find something unscented or locally scented, that might work. Even better – moisturizing hand sanitizer – it exists and I have seen it!

    4. nonee*

      I came here to say the same thing. As a plus-size lady, I don’t want anyone guessing my size. Whether too small or too large, I’m humiliated either way. And more than half the time there is no women’s option above an XL, so I get a men’s whatever instead. It’s horrible.

      1. nonee*

        My partner’s work solves this to an extent by having employees keep their sizes up to date in their personnel system (they’re frequent lifters of company merch) but I just don’t want to have to discuss my size with anyone at my workplace.

        1. Lady Heather*

          Even that only kind of works – it’s not just size, it’s body shape, meaning that there can be entire cuts of clothing (often linked to style of clothing or brand or both) that don’t have any size that fits well for a particular person. Things that go on your torso need to fit in the torso length, the waist, the bust, the shoulders, and the arms. (And maybe the hips?) You can be large-waisted and short-armed, or long-armed and short-torsoed and more. And then it’s really about finding cuts and brands that work for you.

          Most people don’t fit in the sizing table – for one measure (e.g. waist) they’re XL and for another (e.g. height/torso length) M and for yet another (e.g. arm length) S and yet one more (e.g. bust) L and it’s ugh and please don’t give me clothes, please.

    5. NW Cat Lady*

      Also, I get hot easily, so I *hate* pullover fleeces. I love zip-up hoodies, because they’re easy to put on and take off.

    6. ..Kat..*

      I am a bedside nurse in a hospital. We are not supposed to wear fleece on the job. Fleece does not clean well with respect to infectious diseases. Even after being laundered, fleece can transmit an infectious disease from a previous patient to a current patient.

  16. Anonys*

    One (office appropriate) thing I LOVE for gifts (giving and receiving): fancy advent calendars!!! Obviously you have to give these before December but it’s so great.

    A friend gave ones with fancy spice blends (Germans love spice blends) to her staff last year and also gave me one as well. It was so great, I never would have gotten it for myself and inspired my family to try loads of new recipes during christmas time. There are nice advent calendars for almost every taste – tees, coffee, wine, muesli, rice, candles, you name it. Another fun thing would be to share what everyone got in their advent calender or at least open the first door together with the team on zoom.

    1. Funny Cide*

      They ask so make ones with pet treats and things, if you work with someone who really loves their dog!

    2. Rana*

      I’m Jewish, and would not particularly appreciate an advent calendar – best to skip religious or religious-derived items.

      1. Free Meerkats*

        Or just do what I, an Athiest, did when given one. I immediately opened all the little doors, poured out all the goodies, and gave a cheerful, “Thank you!”

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s fine if you’re cool with it, but it makes a lot of Jews and other non-Christians feel erased. I wouldn’t feel great if I received a religious item like an advent calendar.

          1. Anonys*

            This is true and something I forgot to take into account. I’m so used to all of December being very explicitly about Christmas – even in public/secular spaces like our very international and fairly diverse company many of the festivities are explicitly about Christmas which I assume countries like the US are trying to move away from (at least in liberal areas)

            And the language here is always merry Christmas, happy first of advent, happy St Nicholas day – I think in Germany we haven’t developed an equivalent to the more inclusive “holidays” language. It’s crazy how Christianity is so normalized/commercialized- I’m not Christian myself and I was confused for a second when you said an advent calendar was a religious item! Personally, I still love them but I guess not as work appropriate as I thought.

    3. Ugh*

      I’m an atheist who works with a lot of tribes and would be seriously pissed off if my boss decided to take another opportunity to rub it in that they are part of the oblivious religious majority. Kinda like last year when the freaking HR department of all people decided to put a Christmas tree on the front of their December newsletter & doubled down on it as “secular” when called out by a couple Jewish staff.

      1. Definitely Not Christian*

        I work for a company that has nothing to do with religion…but the family that owns the company is *very* Christian. As in, sends Bible Study emails, has the company pastor (!!!) give Bible lectures, they end our company calls with prayers, and they definitely put “Merry Christmas” on the holiday cards. (We were also sent a letter before the election telling us to not vote for the socialists, so, you know, there’s that.) It’s kind of irritating- I have worked for two institutions that were owned by religious organizations and they did not push religion on us like this company does. I wish this company had an opt-in policy on this type of thing- it’s very exclusionary and weird, in my opinion.

  17. Margali*

    Penzeys Spices can be a good choice — I can’t live without their Vietnamese Cinnamon and Fox Point Spice blend. They have some standard gift boxes, or you can also design your own.

    1. NervousHoolelya*

      I’ve given their smallest gift boxes (which are often on sale around now) as work gifts, and people seemed to really love them.

    2. Joielle*

      I love Penzeys! Their little gift boxes with 4 mini spice jars are a great gift. My all-time favorite spice blend is Tsardust Memories.

  18. AdAgencyChick*

    Did ski trip employee ever send an update? I hope she ended up both not having to chip in and not experiencing any repercussions.

  19. Em*

    The thing I’ve bought myself for my remote office that is just THE BEST and I want all my colleagues to have one, is an electric floor mat. I’m not a big fan of socks and slippers, and it is just a delight to have something warm to put my feet in. It’s got a little pocket and it is cozy as all get out.

    Depending on budget (mine cost me around sixty CAD, plus tax), would highly recommend.

    1. SarahKay*

      I bought myself one of these about a month ago and I’m still singing its praises to anyone who stands still for long enough.
      As the not-so-proud owner of lousy circulation I get cold hands and feet very easily, especially when I’m sat at my desk for a while. A mug of coffee and a heated mouse have been taking care of the cold hands for the last couple of years, but now I have warm feet too!
      Seriously, warm feet! I have warm feet, all the time now at work.
      (My mother, who kindly shared her cold-hands-and-feet genes with me is getting one of these from me for Christmas).
      Did I mention, warm feet!!!

    2. nonprofit director*

      Similar is an electric throw blanket. Not as big and bulky as a full-size blanket and you can wrap it around your feet and stay so cozy. I have purchased these for white elephant gift exchanges at work and they are always stolen the max number of times.

  20. kittymommy*

    I’ve gotten gift cards, blankets (I’m always cold) and kitty cat stuff from co-workers who don’t know me well. I’ve also gotten wine and food stuffs from those who know me a little better.

    One of the things a director in my organization does is she gets a bunch of scratch offs (the $1.00 amount) and then goes around to staff assistants who she interacts with a lot (in and out of her department) and has then select one. One of the assistant won $50.oo once. That seems to be a fairly popular thing though I don’t think she would do it with someone who was against gambling.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      My aunt won $250 on a holiday scratch off from her boss – paid for her trip to see her family out on the East Coast.

    2. Not playing your game anymore*

      I was actually wondering about the scratch offs. We have no budget and cash is a little tight, so it could be fun.

  21. CoffeeCoffeeCoffee*

    My first post-college job was at a very large company and I thought they handled the holiday gift-giving very well. Every employee, including interns, received a choice of a higher-end frozen turkey, a higher-end cheesecake or a vegan apple pie. Especially since I was a junior associate far from my family, it was nice to coordinate with other junior employees and have our own mini christmas dinner together and it allowed for everyone to choose what suited them.

  22. KoiFeeder*

    Misread this as “what to buy your enemies for the holidays” and oh boy. This does make more sense.

      1. F.M.*

        Based on reactions in previous threads, you’d get them a nut-and-bacon cheese log that comes in a large decorative tin with the company logo on it.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I saw a facebook add recently for semi-prank greeting cards that do that thing where they start singing when you open it, but then they don’t stop and if you try to rip it open to make the sound stop then they spill glitter. They looked pretty funny tbh but obviously only for someone with the right sense of humor. Or someone you hate.

    1. SarahKay*

      An assortment of the smallest possible Lego bricks, ideally shipped to their children, if they have them, rather than direct to them.

  23. Mocha Latte*

    My company just gave everyone a 25.00 gift card to the grocery store for Thanksgiving, as they always do. I appreciate it, but this year it annoyed me because HR didn’t think about the fact that probably 75% or more of the company is remote due to the pandemic. Rather than thinking, “Hmm maybe we should mail these out,” they did what they always do: sent them interoffice with instructions for managers to distribute to their teams. But none of us are there, so I either have to drive in (40+ minutes) and mail them out myself or tell team members to go pick them up. The other alternative is to bug someone who’s in the office to mail them to us. Since it’s already late afternoon on Thursday, I’m not sure the cards would get to people in time if they want to use them for Thanksgiving.

    As for what I’m doing for my team, I’m giving them all a free full day of PTO. And since we’re not there in person, I may send an email or a real card thanking them for their hard work, how they specifically contributed to a good year, and other stuff like that.

    1. WellRed*

      Sigh, This is what electronic gift cards are made for. Although I suppose some people might have issues with those, too.

      1. Mocha Latte*

        Agreed–on both counts. We’re happy the company thought of us and everyone usually likes getting the cards, but this particular year we’re all pretty annoyed that we have to do the work to get the cards. I just don’t get why it didn’t occur to *someone*, anyone, that they should either mail them to people’s homes or send them electronically.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Or pick a locally owned store able to hold cards for pickup at the service counter.

          1. Mocha Latte*

            Normally that’s a good idea, but our offices and employees are spread throughout the state. We’re not in one location. It would probably be a pain to arrange that.

  24. employment lawyah*

    My preferences for non-clients:

    a) Sex toys or sex-themed gifts, especially if giftee is opposite sex
    b) Alcohol, large quantities
    c) Anything extraordinarily offensive–if they have a disability or status in a protected class, you should mock it, insult it, and make them feel bad. It’s all in good fun!
    d) You can fire them before the holidays and then offer to hire them back later at a lower salary, thereby “gifting” extra unpaid vacation.
    e) If you can’t give find something satisfactory, there’s always you: Have you considered they may want you as a partner? Maybe even just a one night stand? Why not ask, preferably while drunk?

    ….What are you all complaining about? I’m just trying to keep myself and my employment-lawyer pals in business here!!!

    (Note: This is humor. Do not do those things. They are Very Bad.)


    (Actually, dont.)

    In all seriousness: Fancy Yeti mugs; restaurant gift cards *if you know what they like*; and Amazon cards. Cash and days off are best tho.

  25. Frageelie*

    These are all still so pricy. I have 15 people on my team. I typically dont give gifts. I’m honestly not a gift-y person anyway. In my family, adults don’t give eachother gifts – only the kids and I’m single so no partner to buy for. So I literally have 3 children to buy for for birthdays and Christmas. My friends and I also don’t exchange gifts so…
    I make a decent amount, but am I a scrooge for not giving gifts? Maybe.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I mean, before I started working at my current company, none of my managers across three different industries gave their direct reports Christmas gifts. So you wouldn’t be out of the norm for skipping it, especially given the size of your team.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I don’t think it’s necessary, but you also need to look at the company culture. Do other managers give their team members gifts? If they do and you decide not to, eventually that might be a morale hit to your team. It doesn’t have to be something you go and buy. If you have the power to do so, give them some free time off outside of their regular PTO. That’s what I do every year for my team now that it’s gotten much bigger. I give them a full day off to be used whenever they want (by the end of the year) and they seem to love it.

    3. Paperdill*

      Yeah, these gifts are all very corporate-y and “company is paying for it” sounding.
      I’m a nurse supervising a small team, half of whom are Muslim. Christmas presents in the past for us have been Kmart water bottles, Kmart pens, Kmart tea infusers and little packages of sweets with a card.

  26. Mr. Cajun2core*

    One of the problems we ran into this year is the gift being taxed. I work for a major state university and normally we get gift cards to our university bookstore (which is quite large and sells more than just books). Well, this year we found out that the gift cards would be TAXED! Our Dean didn’t think it was right to give us a gift card and have taxes taken out of our paycheck (rightfully so) so we ended up getting SWAG. It will be a polo-type shirt and I never wear polo shirts (button down only). SWAG is pretty much my least favorite gift. I truly appreciate the thought and at the very least, I may have a shirt to wear for yard work.

  27. 404 Name Not Found*

    Last year my manager gave me a chenille throw and matching slippers. It is one of my favorite gifts, and I use them almost every day now that we are working from home.

  28. daytripper75*

    At our office we can wear jeans for $1 a day or for free when we wear a company branded shirt with them. Each year I buy my staff a new, custom t-shirt that represents our department. Free jeans once a week, all year long.
    I work with a designer so the shirts are super cute and my gift is about $30 per person.

    1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      I had to read this three times and I’m still not sure I understand. Your employees have to pay to wear jeans? Who gets paid? Does someone walk around to collect? What is happening?!

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I presume this is using dress down day as a fundraiser for charity.
        My husband’s very conservative company does this in the summer, without the logo-wear twist.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes, our company does a lot of fundraising for United Way every November/December and the two biggest things were a basket raffle, and jeans days. Usually it was like a $20 donation would get you 30 days of jeans days but then they would throw in a bunch of extra jeans days over the next few months and we often all ended up wearing jeans from December through February which was great because January-February is the busiest time of year for our team and also those being the coldest months and jeans are easier to dress warmly.

          A year or two ago they switched the dress code to letting us wear jeans all the time (this came shortly before a big outsourcing was announced and I think it was a way to try to keep people on after the outsourcing) so then they changed the fundraiser to letting you wear sneakers instead and it was certainly a less popular option.

  29. Gada*

    Lotions and perfumes aren’t OK? What about a female manager giving those to a female employee if the 2 have a good relationship?

    1. F.M.*

      Between skin sensitivities, scent preferences, and the extremely gender-marked nature of it, I wouldn’t; it’s the quintessential “I have no idea what you’re like but I guess chicks like smelly soap, right?” gift one gives to strangers in a gift exchange. UNLESS you know that the employee in question specifically likes that sort of thing, in which case, sure, the same way you might get her a toolkit or cat sweater or new translation of The Odyssey if you know her well enough to be sure that’s what she’d love.

      1. Chinook*

        I would say that this is regional, in some ways. Hand lotion is a must in Alberta in winter and there are unscented brands out there that are feel good (though the scented ones usually have better packaging). I have also seen some moisturizing hand sanitizers, which would be popular during Covid. I do know that I would often have the welders ask for some if they were in the reception area when they saw me lotioning up my hands (usually after filing because paper sucks the moisture out), and there are few professions out there that are more manly than that.

        If you know the other person, I can’t see it being a problem as you can also probably correctly guess their go to work scent. I would stay away from perfume or bath stuff, though, as that seems too personal.

        1. F.M.*

          Unscented hand lotion in a really dry climate does seem like it would be a good universal gift, actually, now that you point it out! (I’ve found that I’m very picky about what hand lotions I use in the dead of winter, but I assume that’s not typical.) It’s more the cheap generic “and now I smell like fake cherry” bath sets that I side-eye. And perfume itself, definitely too intimate to give between people at work.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      If you know them, know they use the item and their general taste in scents do it.

      Don’t second guess when you know someone like that. Strangers on the internet is where you get ideas for people you don’t know well ;) :)

    3. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      I would 100% find lotion and perfume to be weird work gifts. Plus so many people are scent-sensitive, so you really shouldn’t have scented items at work anyway IMHO.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Thank you. Fragrances are a migraine trigger for me.
        (Confirmed by 2020 WFH. The only times I’ve had to take PTO for migraine was when my teen burned scented candles and when she worse a scented lotion she got for Christmas last year. First time in 20 years I won’t use up my sick time.)

  30. Fancy Owl*

    As someone with a mild nut allergy, I love it when people include the recipe or at least a list of ingredients with the baked goods they give out to share. That way I don’t have to track you down and ask what’s in it. It’s been even harder to be allergic to nuts since the rise of alternative flours. You can’t always tell what has nuts and what doesn’t just from looking at it so it’s nice when you can just look at the card.

  31. MEH*

    Thanks for this list, Alison. I’m someone for whom almost everything can be problematic (food, anything scented, alcohol, etc.) and if I worked in a typical office, I would love most of the gifts on this list. I bought one of those faux-fur comforters because you mentioned them last year and it’s the best!

  32. Introvert girl*

    We received budget for a local online store. We could choose what we wanted and it will be send to us. I chose three books I really want to read. For me, this is really a great idea

  33. yokozbornak*

    I have ordered the silver box from See’s as bulk gifts before, and it has gone over well. I also bought everyone a soup mug and added some soup mixes from Harry & David. That was a big hit!

  34. Manager*

    I wrote my direct reports a handwritten note of sincere thanks for their efforts, and got them a joint shout out on Cameo from someone relevant.

    1. ThePear8*

      Ooh, I second cameo! I gifted one of my best friends a cameo from her favorite voice actress and she cried (with happiness!) A lot of big name folks on there are really expensive but most of them are actually surprisingly affordable and it’s definitely a memorable gift.

  35. Deanna Troi*

    The Advent season is the preparation to celebrate Christ’s birthday and also the preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. The first day of Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year and doesn’t always fall on December 1. Many Advent calendars begin on December 1, though, so they can be used for more than one year. Most of them end on December 25, which is celebrated as the birth of Christ.

    I’m somewhat shocked that there are people that don’t realize that this a religious ritual. I don’t mean this a criticism of you personally, Anonys – it just goes to show you how ingrained so many Christian traditions have become in society that people aren’t even aware that they are Christian.

    1. londonedit*

      I know this was meant to be a reply to the discussion about advent calendars above – I really think there’s a huge difference between how these things are viewed in countries like Germany and the UK, and how they’re viewed in the US. It comes up every year and it really is a huge cultural divide – in the UK, chocolate advent calendars are a normal way of counting down to Christmas and for a lot of people they genuinely don’t have a religious significance. Many people here would describe themselves as ‘culturally Church of England’ which means they’ve grown up with broadly C of E traditions but aren’t actually at all religious themselves, and Christmas carols and advent calendars and Christmas celebrations themselves are all part of that. Christmas is genuinely so much broader here than a purely religious celebration. I know plenty of people with Indian/Pakistani/Bangladeshi heritage, for example, who are British and who celebrate Christmas as well as Diwali or Eid. I think it’s something that’s very difficult for people in the USA to understand, as the culture around it all does seem to be so totally different there.

      1. Runaway Shinobi*

        Yep! I’ve just ordered two chocolate calendars and we have a 12 days of Christmas gin calendar, and I’m as atheist as they come!

  36. Generic Name*

    Thank you for these sensible suggestions. So many “what to buy” gift lists are, let’s say, aspirational at best for most people.

  37. Researchalatorlady*

    I like the “five-dollar cake of soap” idea (from Andy Rooney — with the passage of time and inflation, “fifty-dollar cake of soap” might be a more appropriate analogy!) buying someone an upgrade, or the best-of-the-best, of something that they may already use regularly. Other ideas, fwiw…

    – a Knock-Knock “Brain Dump” pad for meeting doodlers
    – the World’s Smallest Toys line (everything from TinkerToys to Rubiks Cubes) for fidgeters, those who collect desk playthings, the “fun one” in the office (you know who they are)
    – A power bank, charging cord, USB extension cord, PopSocket, or similar
    – A super-high-quality (i.e. gaming) mousepad
    – Flavacol popcorn salt, some gourmet popcorn kernels, and a gift certificate for a month of Netflix/Amazon Prime/a Blu-Ray/equivalent (add a roll of dental floss if they have a good sense of humour!)
    – Book tape, for the avid paper-book reader (available at office supply stores or online, like packing tape but thick and acid-free) with a bookstore gift certificate
    – “Stick together” kit – Sugru (which is pricey for people to buy but super useful), Tuck tape, nano tape (great for stainless-steel fridges) and a roll of duct tape in a pleasing pattern
    – Winter Driving – for any drivers parking outdoors in frosty areas, a windshield cover and Snow Joe snow scraper (so much better than a snow brush), a cute note saying “Summer is only X months away”

  38. Grace Less*

    I’ve purchased mini umbrellas in fun patterns because my team overlooks the parking lot and we always comment on how a bright umbrella cheers up a dreary day.

  39. ThePear8*

    It wasn’t for the holidays, but earlier this year a nice gift my company gave everyone as a “we’re thinking of you” while working remotely, were snack boxes. Everyone received a box from SnackNation, which are all healthy snacks and were quite yummy! I think being healthy snacks-focused was a little more considerate of any dietary restrictions too, and it was quite a big box with lots of variety, so there were lots of snacks I liked and any that I didn’t could be easily given away/regifted. It was interestingly a bit of a team bonding experience too since everyone got the same snack box and was talking about it on the slack (“Can’t wait for my snack box to come” “Have you tried the Belgian cookies yet? They’re so good!” “Those organic slim jims were amazing”) Another time they gave us all Grubhub gift cards, which was nice since people can order whatever they want with it.

  40. Lumio*

    I’m not appreciative of gifts from my manager’s paycheck. I don’t need mugs, Amazon gift cards, Netflix gift cards, food or anything else of that order, it’s just a hassle for me to deal with. I have more than enough of everything and don’t do Amazon or Netflix. What I want are bonuses and raises in my pay check coming from the company not from my manager’s paycheck.

    Otherwise give me a day or half off that doesn’t come out of my contingent.

  41. Sally Cat*

    I used to give my employees gift cards for restaurants I know they like. They liked those, but I switched to cash a couple of years ago and they REALLY like the cash.

  42. Paperdill*

    For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere dying at the thought of cozy blankets and fleeces, what would an analogous options be? Pairs of Havaianas? Blow-up pool toys?

  43. I could never get the hang of Thursdays*

    My work has done a couple of gifts this year for various reasons, but mostly they boil down to morale. Some have been better than others.
    -They got Alex & Ani bracelets with our birthstones for the women, and the one man a Swell water bottle. I have never ever seen one of these bracelets worn. Birthstones? Am I twelve?? (Also, we’re not supposed to wear dangly jewelry in our dress code.) And if you’re doing gendered gifts you’re probably on the wrong track.
    -Next was Yedi tumblers, nicely engraved with our logo, to use since we are no longer using communal dishes in the office kitchens. A big hit!
    -Socks, given as a recognition of a “medical professional week”, were liked by the staff that qualified to receive them. However the seed packets given in September for administrative professionals day (rescheduled from April) didn’t land so well since the growing season was over.
    – they cancelled our Christmas party due to covid concerns (thank goodness!) And decided to buy Patagonia jackets instead. On the surface, a nice gift, but several employees have raised concerns MULTIPLE times about buying clothing from a company that does not have inclusive sizing options. But instead of learning the first two or three (or four times) that it doesn’t work and staff are feeling left out and discriminated against, they just keep going back to the same company instead of going to LLBean, with the same (nice!) products in a whole range of size options.
    All of this to say, gift giving can be challenging, and a little extra thought into who the gift is for and how they will be using it can go a long way.

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