I made a gift guide for every employee on your team

If you’re the boss, finding the right gifts for your employees can be fraught with questions: How much do you spend? Should you spend the same amount of money on each person? And if you don’t know someone well, how do you make sure they like the gift while still keeping it professional?

For the record: managers don’t have to give their staff members gifts, but it’s a nice gesture if you want to do it, and in some offices it’s expected. (Although here is your obligatory reminder that because of the power dynamics involved, gifts at work should flow down, not up. Managers should never expect or encourage gifts from employees.)

A while back, New York Magazine asked me to put together a gift guide for bosses buying for employees, and I’ve updated it for 2021. (If it seems a little early, it’s because supply chain issues make it safer to shop early this year.)

You can read it here.

{ 299 comments… read them below }

    1. Allornone*

      Although, going down on the list now. My cat (Catsby) has his own Instagram. I must buy the Organic Cat Grass Growing kit. What? The gifts are supposed to be for others? Eh!

      1. Pikachu*

        Try catnip instead! It’s a perennial, but the grass is only an annual. It’ll be done after a couple weeks. I’m still growing a catnip bush from one of those Petgreens containers I got at Petco last year! It’s in a low planter on the floor and the cats nibble at it all the time.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          I don’t know if it’s just our latitude, but our catnip “dies” and dries up in mid-to-late fall every year, even indoors. It resprouts in the spring (usually, I’ve had more issues with keeping it indoors than outdoors). I keep both types of plant because grass is a good digestive soother, and does grow year-round (indoors), just has about a 5-week life cycle.

          Also, we started keeping grass because our younger cat had *ahem* poop issues when she was a kitten, that our vet could not trace back to any specific medical reason. After two months worth of probiotic supplements didn’t do much, we tried wheatgrass and that finally got her digestive system regular. (She also LOVES nibbling and nesting in the grass, so who am I to deprive her.)

          1. PT*

            I just bought my cats cat grass, because one of them kept sneaking out the back door to eat grass in the yard. (She is indoor and not allowed outside. She is just naughty.)

            They love it. They nibble at it instead of harassing me for food all the time. It’s very handy. The only thing I don’t like, is whatever growth medium the brand they sell at Petsmart is using, grows mold like crazy. It’s basically a brick of mold. It’s nasty.

            1. Hey Nonnie*

              I’ve been using a half-and-half mix of coco coir and worm castings for the potting medium, and it’s been working well. I only get mold if I accidently pre-soak the seeds for too long (more than 8 hours). The coir is airy and provides good drainage, but also holds moisture really well. The worm castings are necessary for nutrients.

    1. Catherine Tilney*

      My boss got us gas cards one year and it was great. As we say, “They have gas, chocolate, coffee, and alcohol. What’s not to love?”

  1. Sunshine's Eschatology*

    Alison’s gift guide is so great, I love the range of price options! I put similar heated gloves and little desk vaccuum on my Amazon wishlist (certain relations have demanded one) from a similar guide Alison put out a few years ago, and they are so handy! The heated gloves are already out this season and will be getting a lot of use!

    1. many bells down*

      Yeah I don’t get cold so much but my HANDS do! I might need a pair of those to keep em toasty.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        I want heated socks. I can solve my cold hands issues by clutching a warm drink but my chronic ice feet are another matter.

    2. Ama*

      I gave the heated gloves one year in our Yankee Swap and the person who got them originally didn’t quite get it (I think maybe when she opened the box she didn’t initially see the cord that plugs them in), but once she figured it out she loved them as she sat in one of the colder areas of our office — which was the reason I thought they’d be a good gift in the first place, in the winter half our office is frigid, especially if it is not a sunny day.

    3. JB (not in Houston)*

      You know what else those small desk vacuums are good for? Puzzle dust. This is a niche issue, but if you do a little jigsaw puzzles, you know that a lot of them leave little bits of puzzle-material dust. These little vacuums are great for picking that up.

      1. germank106*

        They’re also awesome to suck up those little wool fibers you get when you knit your own woolen socks because your feet are always cold and all you got this year is another stupid gift card.

        1. kicking_k*

          I’m now trying to think what gift I would want as a knitter. Yarn gift card? Do coworkers know we knit now that they (often) don’t see us going it in the break room? I have to admit I have knitted on Zoom quite a bit. But usually out of shot.

      2. TootsNYC*

        we used to do jigsaw puzzles in the office as a downtime filler; there was a table that was the perfect height.

  2. Orange You Glad*

    “Although here is your obligatory reminder that because of the power dynamics involved, gifts at work should flow down, not up. Managers should never expect or encourage gifts from employees.”

    I wish there were a good way to ingrain this mentality into the more “old-school” managers out there. My boss bitches every year that no one does anything for him for “Boss Appreciation Day” whatever that is. Our company has an annual “Employee Appreciation Day” which is fun and involves gifts/prizes for everyone but nothing that specifically singles out one type of employee.

    1. CatPerson*

      At a former employer, a co-worker’s direct reports collected money for VERY EXPENSIVE GIFTS! Such as real gold jewelry. The collected the same amount from the secretary as from the senior people. Awful. Don’t do that!

      1. Been there, done that*

        We used to do the same for our former (old school) CEO. She was making 6X more than the lowest paid staff and 3-4X more than most anyone else yet we would collect money to purchase her designer handbags, expensive jewelry and the like. No one was forced to contribute but it was definitely highly encouraged and an implied expectation. It always felt so gross to me and I was bothered that SHE didn’t feel gross about it too.

    2. Meep*

      My aunt decided to move from the West Coast to the East Coast around Christmas time. She will be at her new appointment on Dec 17th. There is quite a scandal for Xmas this year.

      All of us are 21+ this Christmas so my grandma decided she wanted us to do a “Secret Santa” this time around. My mom and her other two daughter-in-laws agreed (to an extent, my mom and one aunt wanted to do $50 max, the other aunt wanted to do $500 minimum presents. lol). Her 60-year-old daughter (my moving aunt in question) threw a hissy fit because as she wanted everyone to send her gifts.

      My 82-year-old grandmother ended up in tears by the end of it. Her sons were nowhere to be found.

      My mom and I are planning to just have a small Christmas with her MIL/my grandmother at this point. I cannot fathom how gift-giving should be this dramatic.

      1. a tester, not a developer*

        I like my husband’s family – the rules are clear:
        – under 13: gifts from a wish list
        – 13 to whenever you have a full time job: cash
        – adults: lottery ticket in a nice card

      2. Mr. Shark*

        We do a $35-$50 Secret Santa, but a lot of people still buy everyone something, but it could be something small ($10-$15), and those that can’t afford it, just have to focus on buying for one person.

        1. kicking_k*

          My blood relations alternate years together and apart, and we don’t gift when we’re not together. When we are, we have a Secret Santa but you won’t be assigned your spouse, sibling or parent as a partner, so you can do as you like for gifts for them. It works pretty well but I am SO glad my sister does the organising.

        2. TootsNYC*

          we switched to the name draw as well. If you participate, you aren’t expected to buy anything else. The dollar amount is $50, and there’s sort of an expectation that you’ll spend all of it. (I’ve gone over by a small amount sometimes)

          If you’re not in the name draw, then we have to get you a present, but it’s something generic and less expensive–olive oil, coffee, a kitchen gadget; something like that.

      3. Panhandlerann*

        I hear you. A few years ago, one of my two brothers enlisted my aid in convincing the other brother to institute a gift exchange amongst the adults. I agreed.. Things blew up. Never again will I get involved in advocating for or against any gift-giving plan for that group.

      1. KHB*

        Unless your employees are struggling to take the PTO they already have – then giving them extra is worse precisely nothing.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          Unless it never expires and can effectively move up my retirement date by a few days.

            1. High Score!*

              Plz take your PTO rather than gifting it back to your employer. You only live once. When you don’t take your PTO, which is part of your pay, you are throwing days of your life away.

              1. KHB*

                I know you mean well, but nagging people about this when you don’t know the first thing about their personal situation is not helpful.

                1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  +1. Trust the poor schlep in the fire to do what’s best for themselves. Sometimes PTO does more harm than good.

                2. KHB*

                  To clarify, in case anyone is curious: It’s not that I’m not taking PTO. I’ve been on vacation twice already this year, which is an amount that I’m happy with. Rather, my employer gives SO much PTO (seven weeks, plus holidays, plus the whole week between Christmas and New Year’s, plus various “company holidays” that the CEO likes to declare to show his largesse) that it’s difficult to schedule it all and still get anything resembling “all my work done.” Basically, in my mind, I have effectively unlimited PTO, since the “limit” is so high that it’s never going to be relevant to me.

                  I had a milestone employment anniversary this year, and as part of the “appreciation package,” I got…another 40 hours of PTO. Which, as I said, is worth precisely nothing.

              2. Free Meerkats*

                And you’re essentially working for free. Every hour of PTO you give back is an hour of doing whatever you want vs an hour of doing what they want – for the same amount of money.

                Assuming $5ok/year, every day of PTO you lose is the same as handing your boss $200 cash. Would you do that? Of course not!!!!

                1. CalypsoSummer*

                  Since I’m in a senior position, I get a lot of leave — and then I’m awarded more. (Gee, thanks.) And I can’t always use it. Right now I have critical projects with deadlines that have to be met, and no, given that situation, taking days off to burn leave is not always a good choice.

                  We have the option of donating use-or-lose leave to people who need it — they’ve used up their own hours but still need to be off, usually due to medical reasons — and I like being able to help other people who are in a tough situation. So I do that.

    1. High Score!*

      PTO that employees can actually take or cash. Why do presents so all? Not all employees celebrate gift giving holidays. Reward employees with useable PTO or cash. That’s the most inclusive thing to do.

      1. PT*

        Because not all managers have control over the PTO or compensation/HR policies at their place of employment.

        My last few bosses could have asked for raises, bonuses, or PTO as an end of year gift until the cows came home and they would have not gotten any, because that was not how the companies were structured and it was simply not allowed. So they were stuck buying small giftcards, going to TJMaxx’s “gifty” section, baking muffins, and padding the “staff uniforms” budget so there was money left over to buy everyone a nice logo fleece at the end of the year (respectively.)

        1. High Score!*

          One of my past managers in that situation there us a pizza party (she knew everyone could eat and enjoy pizza) and sent us home early. Pizza is cheap and she picked a day when upper management was too busy too notice the lack of staff.
          She eventually found a better job and her team all left as soon as they found better opportunities.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          Yeah, at my current workplace managers want to give us more PTO but leadership won’t let them (but also are confused about why they have a retention problem, of course!).

          1. Fran Fine*

            My manager gives us a free day after we’ve done a heavy lift at work, and she just tells us not to record it in the timekeeping system. That’s a way to get around bureaucracy, lol.

              1. Fran Fine*

                We’re exempt employees, so that’s not a thing for us as we get paid for the work we do, not the actual time we worked.

      1. Anonnymouse*

        I work on a team of two where we share an assistant/junior. I’d love to give her a raise, but have absolutely no say in that.

        We have been pushing hard to get her a permanent position instead of contract, which she has just been offered, but that was after months of us providing positive feedback to HR and being a bit pushy. But would have done that regardless of the holidays.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      +1000. Early releases are also easy and much appreciated!

      This is gift-adjacent but related: we had a department meeting today and the head person mentioned that they were still trying to figure out the holiday party and how to make it work with mask-mandates and health regulations and whatnot. And in my head I was like, rather than try and figure out how to cram several hundred people in one room safely and inexpensively, why not just let us go home early that day instead? I know I’d feel a lot more holly jolly if they were like “go spend time with your family” rather than give up my evening and make me stress about getting sick.

      1. CalypsoSummer*

        Yes! We’re supposed to have some holly-jolly jingle-and-mingle potluck in a couple of weeks, and I don’t plan on attending. Thanks anyway.

    3. Ms JT*

      this is my first holiday season as a manager

      We are open the day after thanksgiving and I decided to make sure everyone got the day off and I will be covering the department alone. Although they still have to use their PTO, at least the get a 4 day holiday :-)

      but i am still at a lose of what to give my people for Christmas. I normally would give a bottle of wine, but2 people cannot drink (i know why but it doesn’t matter) – maybe nice chocolates. I hate giving/receiving gift cards

  3. Anon-mama*

    All we want is the signed union contract that brings back bereavement leave and allows for sick leave for caregiving, among other humans policies that would’ve come in handy in the middle of a pandemic. (Municipal worker here: no gifts allowed, but sometimes the boss brings in candy.)

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      Yeah, I’m in municipal government and the parameters around gifts are super strict. Make sure you’re sticking to the rules of your office!

  4. PolarVortex*

    Don’t gender your gifts. Had a manager in my company get scented lotions for females and alcohol for the males.

    Also take a moment to think about what your employee will be doing with this gift and if they’d actually use it. Got bath products from my managers once.

    1) I don’t take baths
    2) I don’t want my work thinking about me taking baths
    3) I don’t want to think about work if I ever took a bath

    1. CatPerson*

      Once my grandboss gave everyone gift bags from bed bath and beyond. I hate coconut scented products, and that’s all it was–candle, soap, everything coconut. Gave it all away.

      1. JBS*

        Gifts like this (giving a gift for the sake of giving a gift) are what we get at work. Our company culture is that managers give gifts to anyone who reports to them, but our company culture is also no one really knows each other because we’re just here to work, not to make friends. Last year, I received a religious motivational book and a chakra bracelet thing – I’m an atheist. This went right in the trash as soon as I got home and then I felt guilty about not being appreciative enough. Honestly, I’d rather they just did nothing.

      2. Threeve*

        Reminds me of the “Christmas Candle” song on SNL. “The gift of having a gift to give awaaaay…”

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      I remember once a manager got all the women bracelets from Lia Sophia & small multi-tools for the men. It quickly became clear that we all found the men’s gifts way more desirable.

      1. TiffIf*

        Would totally prefer a tool! I rarely if ever wear jewelry and never ever bracelets, my ears react badly to cheap earrings. Give me a multi-tool any day. A fancy bracelet would immediately go to my re-gifting pile.

      2. Nina*

        I am thrilled to report that my boss’ idea of good end-of-year gifts last year was really nice Leatherman multitools. For everyone, regardless of age, gender, and position in the company. It was awesome.

        1. kicking_k*

          I would love that one, but I’m the colleague who cycles.

          The only time I’ve ever had a Christmas gift from work was last year. I was relatively new and nobody knew much about me, but I had a friend in another department and I knew she had a hand in the choosing, because it was incredibly thoughtful (quality drawing materials – I hadn’t told anyone I draw).

          1. TootsNYC*

            I kind of like the idea of the boss sneaking around and asking colleagues, “What would be a good gift for her? and what about him?”
            Or even if not sneaking (I like the secrets that come with Christmas), even just discreetly making it known that you’re taking gift ideas, since often colleagues have great ideas but can’t really afford to buy stuff for people.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I have already ordered two of those multi-tools for cyclists, for my partner and daughter. I thought of getting one for my son but he is not much into DIY and is more likely to take his bike to be repaired at a shop.

    3. DataGirl*

      A manager once got our whole team a ‘stress -relieving’ bath set and joked it was because she was the source of all our stress. I think we all found it cute, although we are an all female team so IDK if gender dynamics played into that.

      1. Selina Luna*

        Probably. I know a bunch of guys who would secretly love a bath set, but no one actually gets them for men.

        1. Filosofickle*

          My ex loved nothing more than a long bath, so one year I got him bath bombs. He loved them! And appreciated that I gave them to him privately instead of at either family’s gift-opening time :D

          1. Filosofickle*

            It was hard to find scents for him, though! The world is filled with flowers and perfumes and sparkles in bath stuff. I was able to find him some forest-y ones he loved.

            1. BabyElephantWalk*

              The sparkles are hard to get around, but there’s often fruity and vanilla/spicy scents available.

    4. KHB*

      Not work related, but that reminds me of my late grandmother, who always took pride in showering her large family with Christmas gifts, but didn’t have a lot of money of a lot of patience for shopping, so she’d bunches of the same thing to give to all the men or all the women. One year she got all the men – and none of the women – Maglite flashlights. We’re still puzzling over what’s supposed to be so “masculine” about that.

      1. TechWriter*

        One thing I’m grateful to COVID for: I no longer have to participate in my spouse’s cousins white elephant gift exchange, which was divided by “men’s gift” and “women’s gift”. One year I ended up with a rose gold mirrored box (jewelry box? Coke box? WHO KNOWS) and a hanging scarf organizer. I mean, I have a lot of scarves, and it was better than perfume or whatever the other rando pink things were. But ehh.

        The men basically all traded bottles of booze. Grandma was never impressed (and ruled out stealing; you got what you picked and that was that.)

      2. PolarVortex*

        Totally my grandmother too. Although one time everyone got bathrobes, just different kinds for the different genders. I kinda miss those years.

        Best year was the year all the women got romance novels. Definitely saw some of the aunts laughing over passages later.

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Because she’d already got the bubble bath for the women!
        Anyway, it’s the men who are supposed to go down to the bottom of the garden to investigate weird noises, after all. Women stay indoors and scream. Have you never watched any horror films?

    5. Hey Nonnie*

      Bath products are SUPER tricky things for people you don’t know well. Some people are sensitive to scents (kinda me, though not to the degree that some others are). Some people have sensitive skin (all me). My skin is always about 10 seconds from freaking out during the winter anyway, so any bath set with artificial fragrances is going to be worse than useless to me. (Had a relative that insisted on gifting me cheap, Walmart brand bath sets every winter for YEARS, even though I told them variously to get [inexpensive gift I would actually like] or just spend that 15 bucks on their kids. I had a closet full of kits I could not use and were an albatross to get rid of. I finally just regifted the last one to my mom before I left to go back home so I wouldn’t have to carry it on a plane and find somewhere in my limited storage space to shove it. I guess they finally got the message because I never got a bath kit, or anything else, from them ever again.)

      1. many bells down*

        Yeah I was going to say… please don’t buy random scented lotions or body washes for women. We get tons of those and probably 99% of them get chucked out. I hate almost anything floral, myself.

          1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

            Almost anything scented makes me sneeze my brains out.

            Yankee candles seem to be an exception. But any kind of scented lotion or soap is a no go for me.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          I put a set of bath products in our local “giving box” where people dump what they don’t want and help themselves to whatever they do want, it stayed there for ages.

    6. Not really a Waitress*

      I am sooooo picky about my scents. MY son’s girlfriend is entering her second Christmas season with Bath and Body Works, and I gave them my reminder… I have my preferred body wash/lotion/spray and I am super picky about the scents of my candles. When I announced it last year, my son looked at his GF, shrugged his shoulders, and said “Told you so. “

    7. Cat Tree*

      I’m in a male-dominated industry and am frequently the only woman in my department. Years ago I worked at a place with 7 male engineers, me as the only female engineer, and two women in support/admin roles. Our (male) boss got personal meaningful gifts for all the men, such as clothing with their favorite hockey team or their favorite type of wine. All 3 women got the same generic gift. One year it was a scented candle and one year it was a generic throw blanket. Of course, he knew what the men would like because they had weekly lunches the rest of year. He wouldn’t know what the women wanted because he never talked to us.

      (BTW, this wasn’t even in the top 3 worst experiences of workplace sexism.)

      1. PolarVortex*

        Woof. That’s awful. I fully know the manager with the alcohol/lotion thing definitely is sexist so I was not surprised when I heard what happened. (The alcohol gifts were niiiice gifts.)

      2. CalypsoSummer*

        I would have said, “Thanks, boss — but next year, how about putting me down for a bottle of Black Label? Or what about some Maker’s?”

        (Scented candles, my azz. . . . )

  5. Coenobita*

    My boss is a crafty DIY type and gets really into custom swag for team gifts. One year he used his public library’s “maker space” equipment to etch our team name/logo onto pint glasses. I thought that was a good gift – thoughtful and practical but inexpensive enough that nobody felt weird about him spending money on us.

    1. Murphy*

      Aw, that’s really cool! We usually get branded swag (which is fine!) but nobody personally makes it for us.

    2. DataGirl*

      Someone I worked with did that too, but just with our last name etched on the glass, no reference to work. I still have mine and my kids love to use it.

    3. Xenia*

      My uncle did the same thing with t-shirts for his team—got the project slogan/logo screen printed on the back. My impression was that it was a hit.

    4. 3co*

      I like that! It’s a good level of personalization, too! It’s unique to the team without getting TOO personal for individual team members (I’ve always thought it was a bit presumptuous to assume that you know about everyone’s scented bath product preferences or dietary restrictions).

      And since everyone on the team gets the same thing, so there are no hard feelings because the boss got something thoughtful for the people they’re closest to and something generic for everyone else.

  6. AlexandrinaVictoria*

    I can confirm that the little desk vacuum is awesome! One of the best purchases I’ve made for my home office.

    1. Coenobita*

      I impulse-bought something similar at CVS recently for about $5 – it is shaped like a tiny dustbuster and it’s kind of awesome. It’s perfect for getting the little crumbs and stuff that accumulate in the corners of drawers.

    2. T. Boone Pickens*

      I saw that listed and audibly squealed a little bit. My office building is currently going through a remodel and I’m fighting a losing battle against fine layers of dust I’m finding all in my office.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Personally, I cut out dishcloths from unwanted T-shirts and use them to wipe down all surfaces, I really don’t see the need for a desk vacuum.

  7. ASW*

    I’m a manager and I started getting my employees Visa gift cards a few years ago. My family stopped exchanging gifts years ago, my fiance and I do not exchange gifts and my employees are the only people I have to buy for. I don’t HAVE to but my first year on the job, I didn’t get anyone anything (gifts have never been exchanged at my previous jobs), but everyone else in the department gave gifts to everyone else (including me) and it was embarrassing to be the manager and be the only one who didn’t get anyone anything. It’s too stressful trying to figure out what to get people so I switched to the gift cards. I’d much prefer that we all just not do gifts at all, but I know most of them like to give gifts and would do it anyway and I feel like I have to as long as others are doing it. I have tried to be clear that I do not expect gifts, but it hasn’t stopped anyone.

  8. CatPerson*

    I am retiring on 1/1/2022 and plan to give my manager a small gift (<$20). He's been a great person to work with, though. It's a birdseed wreath from Wild Birds Unlimited.

    1. bureaucratte*

      Congrats on your retirement! I think that giving gifts to bosses when you (or they) are leaving is different, especially if you are retiring! I had a boss who was moving on to her next assignment and I got her a pin that says “Shine Theory” on it from Call Your Girlfriend, with a note explaining Shine theory and how she lived it. I don’t know if she ever wore the pin, but I know she treasured the sentiment!

  9. Gracely*

    I love all of the gift ideas, but I would die of shame if my boss gave me an alarm clock, even a really nice sunrise one like that.

      1. Murphy*

        Not work related, but in my home I have what we call “passive aggressive houseguest fan”. A family asked to stay with us while they were in the area. (We’re friends, but we didn’t invite them specifically. We were doing them a favor while they visited various friends and family in the area.) After the first night, they bought us a fan as a “housewarming present”….and then set it up in the guest room. Because they didn’t want to pay for a hotel room and complained about our guest room being too hot for an entire family a the peak of summer in the southeast.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Oh yeah, we had a friend who stayed for a couple of weeks and bought us a toaster because we didn’t have one. I hardly ever make toast and if I do, I grill my bread in the oven, never saw the need for another appliance.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      Totally agree; although, I love my sunrise alarm clock. It’s really great. I asked for it as a Christmas present from my parents now that I think about it. That’s okay. From boss; weird and worrisome.

      1. The Original K.*

        Yep – I asked my mom for it as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. It’s great. It would sting coming from my boss. I am also ruthlessly on time, so I’d wonder why she was giving it to me.

      2. kicking_k*

        Yes, I think it’s fine if you ask for it, but otherwise…

        I’m a night owl and could probably use it, but I would want there to have been a conversation in which I volunteered that I would like one, or at least that I hated dark mornings or whatever.

    2. Anhaga*

      I thought the same thing! That just feels snarky, which is generally not good when aimed at an employee by a manager.

      I do have one of those clocks, though (bought it for myself!), and I love it. It really helps me wake up a little better. The light also works nicely for giving me enough dim light at night to get ready for bed without having my overhead light blazing above me.

    3. Emi*

      I would just drop dead of embarrassment on the spot, even though I’ve wanted a sunrise alarm for years.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        There are some gifts that should only be given if specifically asked for or it’s known for certain that the recipient wants it. (And the recipient knows that the giver knows.)

    4. otherworldling*

      So funny story….. I am the chronically late employee (currently with a job with more flexibility, thank goodness, but it had been a bit of an issue at my previous job). And at my last job, the gift given to all employees who reached the 5 year mark was a very nice engraved clock. When it came my turn to be recognized for 5 years there, my boss came right up to me after and, with great chagrin, assured me that this was the same gift given to everybody and that nothing personal was meant to be implied by it. Honestly, he was sincerely apologetic, so I was more amused by the whole situation than anything.

  10. WonkyStitch*

    How about a thread for those of us who are small business owners, for us to share links and show off our wares for people to buy from us? :)

    1. Fresh Cut Grass*

      Ooh, this would be lovely for a Friday thread! It’d be such a nice way to connect with the commenting community around here, too.

      1. Beth*

        Hear, hear! I just found out that I can’t get the mini-desk vac anywhere else, and I am very sad, because it’s off the list now.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          My search on Google turned up variations from Target & Walmart to Urban Outfitters & Michael’s. (That last is dubbed a glitter vacuum which is priceless.)

    2. Lucien Nova*

      Does it count if one’s technically not got a “business” but still does sell things at a bit more than a hobby level? Because I’d be glad to promote my sewn wares in such a thread if so!

    3. I take tea*

      I would like a thread like that, even if I probably wouldn’t buy anything, because I don’t live in the US. Or could it have sub threads for Europe and UK?

      The scifi author John Scalzi does a thread like this every December on his blog Whatever, or actually several threads, where people can plug stuff, books and other things. I think it’s very generous.

      1. kicking_k*

        I shall hie myself to Whatever then, although I’m in the UK.

        Neil Gaiman had a friend who did a blog like that called the FabuList, which was a wonderful name for it. I’m not sure if I ever bought any of the stuff but there were lots of cool things. It was just the beginning of the maker era at the time.

  11. KHB*

    I know that “gift cultures” vary from place to place, but in my experience, if employees are feeling appreciated, well treated, and fairly paid, then material gifts aren’t necessary – and if they’re not, then no gift could possibly make up for that. (An exception might be if a whole team was being run into the ground by senior management, and the direct boss acknowledged that the situation was crappy but was limited in how much he could directly do – then, a thoughtful gift might help to say “thanks for hanging in there.”)

    The best gift my boss could ever give me is a sincere show of appreciation for my work – praise for what I’m doing well, encouragement for what I’m still working on – that reflects a thorough understanding of what it is that I actually do. If a boss knows their employees well enough to know which knickknack to get them off Amazon, then they should also know their work well enough to be able to do that.

    1. Gracely*

      That exception is sadly the rule for some of us. My boss and grandboss are great and definitely appreciate us, but they’re extremely limited in what they’re able to directly do.

    2. CatPerson*

      Being peer-pressured into giving a group gift to a boss that you absolutely loathe is a horrible, terrible, angry thing to have to endure as well.

    3. Mints*

      I like “gift lunch” a lot – boss does a group order, we order whatever we want, she pays, we eat it together. It’s what I like in real life too, gift of an activity. But random stuff like lotion or office gadgets always make me feel bad. I know they’re just trying to be nice, but I don’t usually like the item, and it’s a waste

  12. Golden*

    I like the bonsai tree kit! It doesn’t seem to have any weird implications about the recipient and probably easy to regift if it’s not their thing. Never seen that before!

    1. Joielle*

      It is super adorable, but as an avid gardener… the chances you could actually grow a bonsai tree from seed are slim to none unless you’re really committed and have the expertise and equipment, and it would take decades (or at least years, if you have a fast-growing variety).

      On the other hand, if someone gave it to me as a gift, I would still appreciate it because it shows they thought of me and my interests and picked out something they genuinely thought I would enjoy. So still not a bad gift even if kind of impractical!

  13. CatPerson*

    Fun story: I discovered Alison’s blog for the first time when I googled “I hate boss’s day” and I have been an avid reader ever since!

    1. ED_anon*

      I googled “boogers on bathroom wall,” and, well, discovered that there are, indeed, worse things.

  14. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    My boss does the perfect-for-our-team-but-maybe-no-one-else gifts. For me, she gives me local, indigenous made soaps. For one co-worker she gets this fig jam from a farmer’s market that the co-worker is addicted to (the market is 50 mi from co-worker). Other co-worker mainlines tea and is always trying new blends, so she gets fancy fair-trade single source tea. Another is a knitting fiend, so he gets a gift certificate to a fancy yarn place. Another is a cook so he gets some fancy-schmancy fair-trade, women-owned-co-op spices. I think it is easier for her because she knows us really well and every year she is spot on with all of us.
    (links to soap, tea, and spices here for those interested. I’ve used them as gifts in the past since I learned about them)

  15. lcsa99*

    Is it ridiculous that I saw the scarf for the employee who sings at her desk and I was thinking “so you can strangle her??”

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      ha. I had to stop on that one too — I was mostly scrolling and not really reading the descriptions (sorry Alison). The one who sings at her desk gets a fluffy pair of socks …so she can shove a sock in it!

  16. Big 4 Denizen*

    I don’t agree with the alarm clock coming from a manager. That could be seen as passive aggressive discipline. Unless you know your employee and they will appreciate it! Then by all means, give the clock.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      Came here to say the same thing… I’ve always been told that it’s rude to give somebody something intended to fix a flaw, unless they’ve specifically requested it.

    2. BabyElephantWalk*

      That was my initial thought. It’s kinda like when my mom gives me unrequested kitchen gadgets or cleaning tools. It feels like a dig. On the other hand, it would totally work in some cases. Know your people and your relationships.

  17. LizM*

    I have to pay for employee gifts out of my pocket, I don’t have a budget for it. I work for a government agency and manage a team of about 30 people.

    Last year, I ended up getting everyone a small bottle of holiday-themed hand sanitizer, and a handwritten card. I got more comments on the card than anything else. If your budget is limited, a personal note expressing why you appreciate an employee goes a long way. Actually, the note goes a long way even if you’re giving a bigger gift.

    Not sure what I’ll do this year. Maybe pre-packaged baked goods or small jars of jam.

    1. Not Your Mother's Principal*

      I’m in the same boat. Even a cheap gift for everyone will put a $200-300 dent in my wallet. Last year I gave bags of homemade caramel corn and wrote a personal note to everyone.
      Which reminds me, I need to start writing notes for this year!

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        Our executive director usually gives people a homemade cupcake and card for the holidays. Sometimes with a very cheap add-on like a mini hand sanitizer bottle. It seems to go over well with everyone so I assume your homemade popcorn does too!

    2. Pop*

      I actually think that everyone (or almost everyone) who buys holiday gifts for their employees does it out of their pocket! But that could just be the case at my last few jobs and not representative of a wider trend.

      1. LizM*

        I’ve definitely worked at places where the higher level managers had a budget, and bought team gifts in bulk on the company card, but I’ve been in government so long, I couldn’t speak to private sector trends at this point.

        We’re not even able to use government funds to purchase coffee or snacks for meetings, so all of that comes out of a manager’s pocket if they decide to provide it.

        1. Fran Fine*

          I’ve worked in private sector companies for 11 years now, and if manager’s gave Christmas gifts, the money came out of their own pocket – even if the company could theoretically afford it. Because of this, most of my managers never gave gifts. They’d probably take us to lunch (or have it catered in) or bring in snacks, but that was about it.

      2. bishbah*

        My company budgets for office parties (usually a happy hour on company time) and/or team lunches. But individual gifts are out-of-pocket for managers. We also have to take a training every November on our vendor gift policy reminding us not to give or receive inappropriate or expensive gifts.

        I work with two teams in two offices and there are years I get double gifts/parties and years I’m skipped entirely. But I’m just thrilled to work somewhere finally that gives bonuses!

    3. Jenna Webster*

      Same situation – 30 people on the team – I buy pretty containers – wood or ceramic for my direct reports and put candy in them and then I buy those cheap stockings for the rest and put in a lottery scratch card, candy cane, and some Hershey’s kisses. I agree about the notes – one year I wrote personalized cards talking about what each person brings to the team, and some of them still have those posted at their desks 10 years later. May be time to do that again.

      1. Captain Naismith*

        Does everyone on your team celebrate Xmas?
        Because for me, getting stuff in a stocking means that the person giving it has paid no attention at all: I practice a minority religion, and I do not celebrate Xmas at all, even in the attenuated, “it’s not religious” sorts of ways; no wreaths, no tree, no stockings, and I avoid the ubiquitous carols as much as possible.

    4. High Score!*

      There’s no reason to pay out of pocket employee gifts, I don’t think anyone expects that. The card is great tho – very thoughtful & appreciated. If you wanted to include a small gift with it, sending them home even an hour early wouldn’t come out of your pocket and they’d be grateful.

    5. Someone On-Line*

      State government here and no budget. I have given out fun socks the past few years. Not too expensive, pretty generic, and if someone doesn’t actually like the sock no one will cry if it gets donated. But if you like it – hey! socks!

    6. allathian*

      I work for a government agency (not in the US) as well, and my manager has 20 reports. Last year, our then-manager sent us some Fair Trade organic chocolate (the one who’s allergic to chocolate got licorice instead), and a lovely handwritten personal note expressing her appreciation for our work. The chocolate was soon eaten, but I still have the note stuck on the wall of my home office. It’s always nice to be appreciated as an employee and seen as a person.

    7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      I’d keep going with the notes, whatever you buy!
      But you’ll need to write something different to last year… this is how teachers feel writing school reports!

    1. NYC Taxi*

      Agree. I’m very utilitarian and would never buy gifts like that. I do some form of gift card – either gas cards or visa gift cards. I don’t want to saddle people with junk from their manager.

    2. TootsNYC*

      those are not always something a boss can provide, however. They’re often constrained by corporate policy.

      And for me, the gifts I give my people are from me personally, not the company.
      I’ve gone with gift cards every time (the first few years, they were bookstore cards because I knew they were readers and we worked above a very nice one), plus some token gift.

      But they’re from me personally. Out of my personal budget, not a company fund. And I can’t give people a raise, a bonus, or official time off.

  18. Kiwiapple*

    For Alison:
    I’m wondering if buying something from the list means you would get commission on it? Thanks :)

    1. RagingADHD*

      They are certainly tagged as affiliate links, and there’s an affiliate disclosure at the top of the article that “Things you buy through our links may earn New York a commission.”

      If Alison were receiving a cut of the affiliate money for writing and promoting the post, I (as NAL but a paranoid writer) would think the FTC disclosure rules would still apply. I’d err on the side of caution there, and I expect Alison would, too.

      So in the absence of disclosure, I’d assume all the commission goes to NYMag.

    2. Beth*

      When Alison does the book links on this blog, she always specifically states that they’re affiliate links and she gets a commission.

      It’s really very nice to be able to think with confidence, “She didn’t say so, and so I can trust that is not so, because she would have said.”

  19. Choggy*

    My former boss always bought me wine, which would have been fine if she ever asked me what kind I liked! Well, I guess I can roll out the Chardonnay (euw!) for my guests to drink. Not expecting anything from my new boss, and would prefer that my managers don’t give me anything.

      1. kicking_k*

        I’ve been thinking that about the gas cards mentioned – check that people drive! Yes, most people do, but if you don’t, it can be pretty irritating to have it assumed.

    1. Hex Libris*

      Oh, this reminds me of the time an elderly neighbor thanked my dad for fixing his mailbox… with the gift of a JUG of vodka! I have no idea what happened to it — Dad never drank anything stronger than beer in my presence.

      1. Ace in the Hole*

        I turned a bottle of gifted vodka into some very nice cooking extracts (vanilla, mint, aniseed, etc). I’m sure it’s not what they imagined but no one in my household drinks!

    2. bishbah*

      Early on in my current job, my boss took the team to a fancy holiday lunch, ordered a cocktail and made it clear that we could, too. A few days after, he gave me a holiday gift—a very nice bottle of my liquor of choice! That genius was taking notes…

  20. Eether, Either*

    I’ve worked with my current bosses for quite awhile and I don’t need a gift, even though they have been very generous in the past. I tell them if they feel very strongly about giving me something to either send a monetary contribution to their favorite charity, or to one that has special meaning to me. I leave all the decision-making up to them and it works well for us. I also do this with close friends.

  21. SteelersGal*

    I have received many different gifts from my employer – tote bags, fleece zip-ups, candy baskets, coffee gift cards, cocktail-in-a-box kits, personalized MnMs, cheese, scarves, plants, fuzzy socks, and while they have all been lovely, nothing has ever made me feel happier or more appreciated than a plain old VISA gift card. Money can be especially tight at the end of the year and that extra bit of purchasing freedom meant so much to me.

    1. SteelersGal*

      I’ll add that every gift my husband has ever received from his company is a poor-quality piece of promotional swag with the company’s logo on it – beach towels, backpacks, a clunky multi-tool, a nylon outdoor sit-upon, etc etc. They are always in ugly colors that are not the company’s colors and every item has gone directly into the donation bin.

      One time, they had a great quarter and at the all-staff meeting, the boss handed everyone a 100.00 bill on the way out of the room. Now THAT really made an impact! I’m sure this is not frequently feasible, but if anyone’s looking for a dramatic way to excite people…

    2. Sarah*

      Some companies don’t allow folks to purchase gift cards on the company dime. I work for a very large, well-known employer and while our gift budget for our teams is generous, we sadly can’t do Visa gift cards.

      1. allathian*

        That’s because gift cards that can be used to buy anything, rather than a specific item, are taxable income in the US, no matter how small the amount is.

        One option to get around this would be, I suppose, to gift specific items, but include the receipt, so the recipient can exchange an unsuitable gift for something else.

  22. Not really a Waitress*

    This is timely as my boss announced in our meeting yesterday that his birthday is Monday. He was originally scheduled to be out on Monday so I thought I was dodging a bullet. But he will be here, and he went super overboard for my birthday. Need to repeat “No gifting up”

    1. coffee*

      If you feel like it, perhaps decorating his desk with signs and streamers (or equivalent), plus doing a card, would be a good way of celebrating it without gifting up?

      Finding a nice “Happy Birthday” image and printing it out (or printing a couple) then putting up them on their desk is free and has been very well received by people I’ve worked with.

  23. Not A Girl Boss*

    Haha oh noooooo! When I saw this heading, I thought that this was going to be a letter about someone who had gone around and given everyone on her team a list of acceptable gifts to purchase for her. Phew. This is much better.

  24. JustMyImagination*

    Totally read that headline wrong and thought it said “I made a gift guide for all of my employees” and it was potential for really bad manager. I’m glad I read it wrong!

  25. Shiba Dad*

    If you are giving gift cards, keep it simple and make them something everyone can use, like a Visa gift card. Don’t buy retailer specific ones.

    At an old job one of our owners did that. He was based in Big City office and we were in the Small Town office. He brought a variety of retailer and restaurant gift cards. Many of these places didn’t have locations anywhere near us. He also put them all in a central location and it was “pick the one you want”. We often joked about ending up with the Cheesecake Factory gift card, which happened to me once.

    1. Meep*

      OMG. So much this.

      My SIL always gifts me Bed, Bath, & Beyond gift cards since I asked one time for something very specific from there. And usually, it is like $100 worth of gift cards. It always makes me cringe as no offense but it is expensive and the quality is crap over there… I could go, but I don’t need $20 towels that will fall apart after a handful of washes. :X

      1. Shiba Dad*

        I used to get family members retailer-specific cards. I don’t think my sister appreciated me getting her husband Gamestop gift cards every year :)

    2. Anonnymouse*

      I work at a law firm, and they do gift cards for everyone. A few months before Christmas they put out a survey with four different options, and each employee gets to select what they would like. In general, they include Amazon, a major grocery chain, etc.

      This might not work in every situation, but for bigger places, this is great.

  26. Steggy Saurus*

    Grrr. Can we stop with the idea that using a backpack for lugging all your work crap around is unprofessional? It’s ten times better for my back than a one-shoulder laptop bag, easier to put on, and more comfortable for my chest and neck than any messenger bag.

    1. Threeve*

      I think the idea is to give someone an alternative to what they carry around the office, not to and from, since it’s a padfolio and not a briefcase or messenger bag.

  27. anonymous73*

    Treat me well, help me grow and learn and don’t buy me any random crap for Christmas. Seriously. I don’t even exchange gifts with the majority of my close friends. Spending time with them means more to me, and if I happen to see something I know they will love in July, I buy it for them. I’m not a fan of receiving gifts out of obligation, and unless you’re close to someone at work, that’s basically what it is. I swear I’m not a Grinch (I actually love Christmas and finding those perfect presents for the ones I love)…I’m just not a fan of unnecessary material exchange.

  28. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

    Does anyone have a suggestion for what to give student workers? I gave my last student worker gift cards to a restaurant she always had take-out from, but I haven’t been able to figure it out so easily for my new one.

    1. Shiba Dad*

      Assuming college students, gift card to the campus book store would work. As I mentioned above, you can’t really go wrong with a Visa gift card.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        As someone who works at a university — my experience is that the students would rather NOT get a campus bookstore gift card. The stuff is very often overpriced and not everyone wants a multitude of items with school logos or colors — one or two t-shirts or a coffee tumbler maybe…

        Students want cash, and would probably appreciate a thoughtful personal card.

        1. Gumby*

          Are students not able to buy their textbooks at the campus book store? I mean, sure, maybe you could get some of them cheaper online (though my campus book store was not any more expensive than what I could find online), but there are still course readers. I would have adored a gift card to the campus book store. Especially if it was timed for just before the start of a quarter when I was buying course textbooks.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Depends on the campus. Where I went to grad school, the bookstore also had a very nice gift shop of local items, general bookstore, & coffee shop. It was a very small town in a remote location & the University bookstore was one of the nicer stores in town.

          2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            Textbooks!? How much are you giving as a gift? They cost way more than the average gift amount that a casual acquaintance or work supervisor would normally give.

            1. Spotted Kitty*

              It would go towards the cost of the textbook. So a $25 gift card that could be applied to a $200 textbook.

          3. Fresh Cut Grass*

            At the book store at my school, at least, you could not use gift cards on the books. (I know because I worked there.) I dunno how widespread that policy is, but it’s true in at least one place.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I don’t know what it’s like now, but when I was in college eons ago, I didn’t buy most of my books at the campus bookstore (I bought them used). And I sure didn’t buy much else ther.e

          Now with textbook rental, and internet purchasing, I think a campus bookstore would be less helpful.

    2. Mints*

      Doordash? It’s a splurge, but you can write something like “treat yourself after finals!” (also, you can order Doordash for pickup which is cheaper, so it’s just a food gift card)

  29. Meep*

    Ick. Tis the season, again?

    Every year, our absolutely horrible VP thinks fuzzy socks, a $5 Xmas bauble, and a $10 Starbucks gift card is adequate enough to cover the terror she instilled the other 364 days of the year. I think we just need to forgo office gift giving unless it is in the form of Xmas bonuses, honestly.

  30. Ali*

    I gifted my dad Death Wish Coffee last Christmas because he loathes weak coffee. It was such a hit! He opened the wrapping and started laughing so hard he had to just hold it up in answer to the “what did you get?” questions at his reaction. Apparently it tastes great as well, so definitely a great gift rec!

  31. RagingADHD*

    I tried to play an edition of “Sherlock Homes Consulting Detective,” and I feel like it needs a bit more of a heads up for casual mystery or board-game fans.

    I’m a lifelong Holmes and mystery fan. I love deep-dive research. I enjoy D&D and have dungeonmastered a little bit. My board game crowd enjoys puzzle games and complex escape-room type scenarios.

    This game was way, way, way too complicated to be fun for me or the people I was playing with. And (at least the edition we tried) was written by someone who was trying really hard to sound Victorian but didn’t actually have the ear or the familiarity with Conan Doyle to pull it off. I don’t know if the story was particularly complex or not, because the game mechanics were just a huge slog.

    We put in two hard, uphill hours, got about a quarter of the way through the first case, and bailed. Upside, if you do get into it there’s plenty of material there to keep you busy for many in-depth sessions.

    1. Profreader*

      I had the same thing happen with that game — a friend had assembled a small group for a game night. I’d say we were all decently experienced with board games and role playing games. We downloaded the associated app and gave it our best try — but it was just too much for our brains.

    2. Hannahnannah*

      Thanks for the heads-up! We bought a version as well, several years ago, and were going to plan a weekend with some gaming friends of ours to play it. But, knowing the difficulty level, maybe we should have a backup plan just in case it is “work” rather than “fun”!

  32. All Het Up About It*

    Any recs for discouraging gifting up in a kind way?
    I love giving my peeps things, but I don’t want them to see it as a quid pro quo situation. Or that they would even have to give each other items.

    1. Charlotte Lucas*

      Issue a gifting flow chart showing the should flow down but not up? Your team would need the right sense of humor.

    2. Mints*

      I think the best way, which is to ask for something really easy/cheap. Like “Please don’t get me anything, but if you must, I love dark chocolate!” or “Seriously no need for gifts, but if you have to, I am forever losing my lip balms”

      So the person who “has” to get something can get it for $5, and that also establishes a cost ballpark for other gifts.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I just told them, sometime in the second week of December: “I just want to make it clear that I believe gifts shouldn’t flow up the org chart. I may give you a gift, but yoy shouldn’t give me one. It gets awkward. You make me look good all year long, so I’m allowed, though.”

  33. Choggy*

    Can we expand this to ideas for the grab bag gift for the holiday party? What would you want to get ($25 limit)?

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      After years of doing a yankee swap with some very picky family members, I’ve found that the big winners that appeal to a wide range of ages and interests have been:
      -dunkin donuts/starbucks/amazon gift cards, either in a mug or taped to a candy bar so it’s not just a loose card
      -scratch tickets (potentially also attached to something small/silly so it’s not just a loose piece of paper)
      -local sports team paraphernalia (but that’s a huge thing in our area, so it may be less universal)

      You never know what’s going to be the random hit gift that everyone fights for each year, but no one was ever disappointed to end up with one of those things, especially the first two. I look forward to this being discussed further in the open thread tomorrow!

    2. Please....no*

      How about NO gift grab bag? That’s actually a lot of money for some people! (Make it something for $1, then I’m in.) stopped participating in them long ago b/c I never wound up with anything I liked. One group reached to spend $35 on a gift swap… That’s more than I spend on my spouse’s gift!

    3. Sammy Keyes*

      My boss a couple years ago got all of her reports those cute little Baggu collapsible bags, each of us got a different pattern. Not the most fancy gift but it’s great quality and honestly I use it all the time, and the pattern selection made it feel somewhat personalized!

      1. TootsNYC*

        I have a smaller size of those Baggu bags (the Baby Baggu) that I carry in my purse–it’s amazing how much it will hold, especially for a “quick errand” sort of stop on the way home. And it’s only $10.

  34. raincoaster*

    Is there a post rounding up terrible office gifts?

    I’m still bitter about the year all my friends git MP3 players from their bosses and I got reindeer slipper socks from mine. And that was 20 years ago!

    1. Sabina*

      I got a candle one year. It was from the dollar store and still had the “2 for $1.00” price tag on it. I don’t know who got the second candle..

    2. Software Dev*

      I got a weird reindeer candelabra that is still in the office. The—early years of my company, when it was a tiny company, were very strange.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think that’s the problem with people calling it a white elephant. Because to many of us, “white elephant” means “useless present.” And even if your office doesn’t label it a white elephant, other people may think that’s what it’s supposed to be.

    3. TootsNYC*

      there was the year that my boss gave all her other direct reports things like the sweater they’d been pining over, or earrings, etc. And everyone else in the unit who didn’t directly report to her, even the other department’s intern*, funky socks.

      And the day before the Christmas break stopped by my office to give me a little stocking-stuffer sized candle tin with Santa on it.

      *I think she should give the intern a present in that situation; they shouldn’t be left out. But considering that it wasn’t a staffer and wasn’t someone in her direct line, the comparison was more than sketch.

  35. Full Time Lurker*

    I’m amused that half the comments on the site are asking if the article is an Amazon ad, and a few are griping about the whole Secret Santa concept.

  36. Love WFH*

    I honestly don’t like getting gifts. If I want something, I pick out the one that suits me best, and buy it. Most things I get as gifts end up in the pile to go to Goodwill. Am I unique in this?

    1. Spotted Kitty*

      I know there are others out there like you, but man, getting (and giving) gifts is my love language and I’d be really bummed out to not be able to give or receive gifts at the holidays. My boyfriend and I have a rule that we can’t buy each other non-necessary items between November 1-December 25. If one of us sees something cool that we want, we mention it to the other. I also keep an Amazon wish list updated throughout the year with things I would like to have, but don’t necessarily want to buy for myself.

      1. kicking_k*

        I’m like you, Spotted Kitty, but I am married to a “no gifts please” person. It’s taken some years to accept that he just… doesn’t need stuff and finds it a burden on the whole. He feels uneasy giving things to others because “obviously” they don’t really want it either.

        We also do wish lists. His never has anything on it!

    2. allathian*

      I’m the same. My family decided to stop giving each other gifts a few years ago, and it’s such a relief. The stress of trying to find nice gifts for the people I love far, far, far outweighs the pleasure I get from opening even a very much wanted gift. So first we started with wish lists, and then we decided that buying stuff for someone who’ll only go to a similar store to buy something for me was too much of a hassle.

      Now we stick to exchanging Christmas flowers and candy. The main point for us is enjoying each other’s company and not stressing too much about the arrangements.

      We continued with the gifts for as long as we did, so that our son wouldn’t be the only person getting gifts. But now that he’s 12, it’s getting hard to figure out what he wants for his birthday and Christmas. All he seems to want is cash, most of which he saves, and Google gift cards for buying stuff in mobile games, and he’s absolutely fine with getting the clothes he needs anyway as gifts.

      Gifts are definitely not my love language. Usually I don’t even remember who gave me a particular gift, unless it was exceptionally wonderful. I guess I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never received a truly horrible gift. I’ve even regifted at least one unsuitable gift to the original giver by mistake, because I’ve forgotten who gave it to me. But that time it worked out, because they’d bought me something they really liked themselves, but wasn’t at all suitable for our home. I only held the item in storage for a few years…

      1. Software Dev*

        My family and friends now just tell each other what we want or give a list of a few things. Some people are naturally good at remembering/knowing what other people like. I am not that person.

  37. Warrant Officer Georgiana Breakspear-Goldfinch*

    I realize that this would not get New York magazine any of that sweet sweet Amazon affiliate cash, but I really wanted this article to be GIVE PEOPLE MONEY in 96px font, repeated a dozen times.

    1. TootsNYC*

      speaking as a boss: I do not have the ability to give the people who work for me any extra money in their salary or as a bonus.

      Me, I give gift cards, which is pretty much the same as money, but I also like to give something that say I see them. So I try to find smaller things to go along with the gift card.
      The purpose of gifts is to create closeness between people. Gift cards on their own don’t always do that.

  38. B Wayne*

    I clicked over and the first thing I see just below the headline and opening paragraph is an ad for Johnny Walker. I thought, “Perfect gift! Especially this year.”

  39. Aphrodite*

    Yesterday, the VP announced a party coming up on December 17. People are to bring food to share (there’s a sign-up list), wear a fun seasonal sweater (there’s a prize), and bring a gift for the white elephant gift exchange (any amount up to $20).

    I am thinking about making some flavored butters for the exchange. One pound of butter can make four different flavors and it’s well within the price limit. Also, it’s likely most people will like it even if they have never had it before. At least I hope so.

    Would you like this from a co-worker?

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      That would depend greatly on my access to ice or a refrigerator between the gifting and arriving home. But I could see it being a pleasant gift to receive.

    2. Lalaith*

      Perishables don’t seem like a great idea for a gift exchange. You have to worry about refrigeration both before and after the exchange, plus how soon the recipient will be able to get home after work. I had an hour+ commute in the before times. That said, I’d probably love flavored butters as a gift if you brought them to my house :)

    3. A Simple Narwhal*

      Hmm, it’s a cool thing but I’m not sure I’d want it in a white elephant swap with coworkers. But a big part of that is that my commute is long and I wouldn’t feel good about it being unrefrigerated for that long. The other part is I’d be nervous about taking food made by someone else at home, which was (presumably) unrefrigerated for an unknown amount of time that day. But that’s just me, the potluck portion of the holiday party makes me pretty nervous too. It would be a cool gift from a friend or family member though!

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        All of this. Great gift from a close friend or family member who brings it to my house (and if I know they have the same cleanliness standards as me). At work, kind of iffy.

    4. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      Does the office have a fridge?

      If so, I’d recommend getting a box large enough to hold the butter (preferably with some insulation, if you have any from shipping). Leave the butter outside of the box and put a note/card inside saying, “Check the fridge for your gift!”

      Leave the butter in the fridge, with maybe a layer or two of tissue paper so it’s not easily identified by someone casually opening the fridge. The butter can stay in the fridge until whoever wins it is ready to head out.

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Oh, in case it wasn’t obvious: Put the box with the card inside in the pile of gifts to represent the butter.

    5. Sarah*

      I’d honestly throw it away or let another coworker have it. Not eating food from someone’s house I haven’t been to. I have no guarantee of your cleanliness standards. I also don’t do potlucks except store bought food

  40. dmoney*

    I recently gave my manager a gift card to a local chain that I knew they’d appreciate. They’d been having a tough work week, a tough personal week with their partner’s health, and things in our department have been a little cuckoo in general this year. They are a very sweet person and we have a good relationship, so I didn’t feel there was anything inappropriate about this “upward-flow” gesture. It was in the middle of October, too, so didn’t feel like a holiday gift.
    I did this once also for a colleague in another department who was really over-worked and had gotten up early to assist on a couple of my team’s webinars. With all of us being remote and me not having much rank in the organization, a mini gift card gesture just feels like a thoughtful and non-fraught way to say thanks.

  41. Lalaith*

    Don’t those salt lamps have a reputation for catching fire? Maybe they’ve improved in the past few years, but I’d still be leery.

    1. Pikachu*

      I put an LED bulb in mine. I never turn it off and it doesn’t get hot at all. I think it’s the incandescent bulbs that will burn the house down.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I thought it was just one popular brand that was recalled for a fire risk. Most of what I see on those is the mess that all of them seem to make — sometimes they drip water — but all gifts have the potential to end up having manufacturer defects; the charging station, USB hand warmers, Keurig…

  42. Spotted Kitty*

    My last manager got me one of the best holiday gifts ever. We both drank way too much seltzer, and he’d often carry a bottle of seltzer over to my desk to talk about something and leave it there. He did it so often that I started writing little ransom notes on them and then sending a picture via Slack to him.

    A few Christmases ago, he gave me two star-shaped ornaments that were made from the alumnimum of Polar seltzer cans. It was hilarious, cheap and perfect.

    1. Camelid coordinator*

      Before LaCroix was everywhere my coworker once gave me a tower of LaCroix (a stack of 4 different flavors) for my birthday. It was amazing!

  43. Sabina*

    I know some people dislike gift cards but I loves dem. Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Starbucks, See’s Candy, Macy’s etc. gift cards will never disappoint me.

  44. Scmill*

    One Very Large company I worked for allowed those who couldn’t take all their very generous PTO in a year to donate some of their excess to employees who needed more for illnesses and other catastrophic events etc. You had to decide by a certain date in November if you were going to donate some.

    The donations were anonymous, you didn’t know who got your donation and you never knew if your donation was used. One of the HR departments handled the process of verifying and tracking a requests to make sure they were legitimate.

    It took a little of the sting out of losing some PTO to know someone else would benefit.

  45. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    Whatever you get, go ahead and get it now! Supply chain and staffing issues means that everything is going to take much longer than usual this year.

    Where I work, we’re already scheduling orders for ship dates in mid-December.

  46. Lately I've Been Late*

    The alarm clock for the person who is always late seems very passive aggressive and shame-y to me, particularly coming from the recipient’s manager. People who are chronically late already receive a ton of flack for it, even when being “late” has no impact on the thing we’re late for. And keep in mind that many chronic late folks have ADHD-related “time blindness” so even only being 5 min late probably took a hereculean amount of effort. So, don’t shame us further for something we’ve already experienced a lot of shame for over the years. Please be cautious when proceeding with that gift.

      1. Lately I've Been Late*

        Absolutely! I actually use one already and it is essential, even though I still tend to be late and have trouble waking up. So for me it would be embarrassing, shame-inducing, and redundant to receive this as a gift.

  47. Grumpy Old Sailor*

    I would go so far as to say that anyone in a leadership position (an NCO, a manager, a team lead) should actively discourage their subordinates giving them gifts, as the optics are usually going to be bad to anyone from the outside looking in. It goes to that whole ‘one must not only be pure, but one must be seen to be pure’ thing.

  48. the girl from marketing*

    Our boss doesn’t buy us gifts usually beyond just a bottle of wine, but our office does a £20 limit secret santa that most people participate in (unless they’re away on holiday during the party). Because we couldn’t exchange in person last year due to the pandemic, the regional manager/leftover budget gave each of us £20 to buy something of our choice for ourselves–but then we had a cute zoom meeting show-and-tell party where we all got to say how we spent it. Seeing what everyone chose was fun and interesting, and some people chose charity or bought gifts for their kids with it, which was also super nice to hear. I kind of wish our manager could do that every year now! Just giving everyone a bit of extra cash was easy, and we got to learn about our colleagues’ actual interests and hobbies when they were showing what they bought. (every other secret santa for three years I have been gifted a coffee thermos…I like coffee, but I do have other interests)

  49. Roo*

    That list is amazing! It contains two things that are perfect for my brother and my niece. Thank you Alison! x

  50. TootsNYC*

    The first year I had subordinates I could buy presents for, I decided that I wanted to give them gift cards to a bookstore. (we work in publishing; I knew they were readers, and the bookstore was in the ground floor of our building–RIP, Coliseum Books)

    But that seemed un-fun, and so I decided that everyone should get a toy for Christmas. But I didn’t want to eat up my gift budget with something silly. Fortunately, Lego had these Pods that were about $5, so I bought them each one of those.

    They really liked them–put them together, displayed them, compared “which did you get?”

    So ever since, I will give a gift card and then try to find something tangible to go with it. Lately it’s been food–a spray bottle of olive oil for salads, or a little jar of artichoke spread (the guy who works for me is not that playful a person, so I don’t think he’d like Lego). Or a gadget (one year I had an extra Tile, which is not cheap but it was a sunk cost).

    But the best gift one year, when I had a large team, was to buy a whole bunch of blank correspondence cards and envelopes. And then print out people’s name on the top of 5 cards, and pack them together with the envelopes. It was cheap, it was personalized. I spent some time choosing fonts and colors for them.
    They seemed to really like it.

  51. Strawberry Secrets*

    I know the rule is not to gift up but I’ve always loved how my group does holiday gifts. We aren’t a very big group, about 12 and usually we all gift each other equally. Like some might make candies or treats or get mugs or other small gifts and give them to each person of the the group equally, even our manager and boss, so we all get equal gifts amongst each other. And the manager and boss participate with us the same. Getting each of us a small gift or treats equally. There’s no obligation and some members don’t participate in giving gifts and so far nobody has felt pressured to give to any one at all or have had bad feelings to people who choose not to participate. Manager and boss definitely participate every year but coworkers sometimes do or don’t. We just quietly leave our gifts on everyone’s desk and not make a big event out of it. I know this wouldn’t work in all teams but for ours it’s worked well for years. It’s been bonding actually when we all treat the whole team equally and fairly.

  52. npoqueen*

    Okay, but that bonsai plant package is a great idea. My coworker has a green thumb and my thumb is dead black, so I know nothing about plants. This seems like it would travel well to her house and also provide some variety? I appreciate you Alison!

  53. raida7*

    For the most part I think this is a good list, however I’d add as a general rule: don’t give people decor.

    also I disagree on the tea drinker and the nice desk ones:
    Beautiful Workspace –
    Here’s some decor. You’re great at it, I thought I could ‘help’ or ‘improve’ it and I expect to see this on your desk.
    That already looks good. As it is. Without this extra stuff. That maybe doesn’t match. Yay me.

    Tea drinker –
    I don’t know what you use for tea, but isn’t this nice? I’m sure it’s both useful and something you want.
    Oh you don’t like tall bottles? Oh you specifically buy bottles with drinking lips? Oh you don’t like pastel? Oh you use teabags not loose leaf? Oh you don’t like this brand for ethical reasons and avoid them? Oh you have three already…?
    (yes I’m a tea drinker and well-meaning but ignorant gifts are annoying. Just have a conversation about what they like and get a gift card where they already shop if you don’t want to go into specifics on items they do/don’t use/want/covet)
    I would suggest for a tea drinker, if you want to go a bit more left-field than that, some baking recipes with tea in them and hot toddy recipes. These have gone over really well from experience, and having earl-grey infused iced vanilla cupcakes is a delight, so is getting a photo of a hot spicy alcoholic tea in winter from a mate. Or the best one: a custom blended tea that was popular enough with the testers they added it to their store’s menu permanently and the person receiving it got to name it.

  54. Mona*

    So weird that a fleece vest with the company logo isn’t one of the gifts … (sarcasm. I’m still bristling about that being the gift our management plans to send everyone as “Thanks” for the year. I politely declined since it’s not my style in any way shape or form, so I guess no gift for me, at all.)

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