the wallets of destruction, the backpack indignity, and other corporate gifts gone very wrong

On last week’s post about corporate year-end gifts, some readers shared stories of company gifts that went terribly wrong. Here are 10 that made me laugh. (Also, who would have anticipated the surprising enjoyment of umbrellas as a corporate gift that was revealed in that post? But for the record: the only two universally loved gifts are money and time off. MONEY AND TIME OFF.)

1. The wallets of destruction

“I will never forget the ‘space-saver’ wallets our CEO gleefully gave out to all employees one year-as a token of his appreciation for all our hard work.

This wallet was slim, sleek and looked like a little rectangular case with the two sides made of gold-toned metal. It looked expensive. Its size was a little larger than a credit card. And it accordioned out to provide slots for all your credit cards, ID cards, and cash too.

Only there was no visible latch to keep the ends together.

‘Ahh! That’s the best part!” the CEO explained. The ends were magnetized so it will never come apart until you open it.

And yep, more than one person actually loaded up their new gift with their old wallet contents before realizing the harm this fancy gold wallet would do to the magnetic strip on all their credit cards.”

2. The rock

“As far as what doesn’t go well — my hospital just gave every employee a ‘care package’ for mental health awareness. It had a card describing us as all unique, so of course we all got the same gifts. We got a worry stone (literally a rock), an eye cover, a exercise resistance band, and a pack of cards with mental health tips. It has not been popular.”

3. The triple disaster

“For the purposes of entertainment only, don’t do what my company did! This is an org that provides training to a lot of contractors who come to these giant, multi-day conferences (but think super-budget and bare bones, not at all posh). The company issued a gift with all the registration materials at check-in so it was not possible for individuals to decline it.

First year I was there, they gave out backpacks. Identical backpacks to people who were going to spend a week together in an enormous arena. People promptly packed them up and brought them to the conference, and then lost track of which one was theirs. People were stress-crying because they couldn’t find theirs, people accused others of stealing, and a chunk of time had to be taken away from conference activities to get everyone to look inside ‘their’ backpack and make sure it was really theirs. At least two people were dismissed from the event due to what was found inside their backpacks.

Next year: tumblers. Same problem, but with an added gross factor of drinking out of a cup not actually your own. The conference leaders were begging people to label their cups, which nobody did. This even affected the big boss, who took a swig from a cup only to realize it was somebody else’s … and contained butterscotch-flavored alcohol.

Final year before I thankfully got a new job: fleeces. These fleeces were actually nice and came in a wide range of sizes and were good in theory. But because many people had flown in to the conference city, it became one more bulky item to figure out how to transport home at the end. One brilliant person asked if they could coordinate donations of unwanted fleeces but because the jackets were branded, leadership said no. So people just abandoned their jackets in random places in the hotel and conference center on the last day, especially people who were going back to warm climates who weren’t going to wear them again. Some of us lowly staffers from cold climates adopted the fleeces and even 10+ years after being gone from that org, one final fleece from my collection has survived and still hangs in my closet.”

4. The orange soda

“The worst gift I ever got was a six pack of orange soda with my photo on the logo. I worked at a university with orange as one of their colors. It is a public university so getting gifts was unusual, but this was very useless. To make matters worse one of my colleagues received his sodas with the wrong name!”

5. The turkeys

“Worst gift: Frozen turkeys on Thanksgiving … which they received in the morning but didn’t distribute until 3:30 pm, when first and second shift were changing over, so the HR lady and company president could give them out personally. In the meantime, they stored the turkeys in the chemical cold storage, right next to the vat of acrylamide monomer.”

6. The gratitude journals

“Here’s a Don’t Do: a couple years ago, the org sent us all cheaply-printed gratitude journals. In 2020. So we could write all about how grateful we were for the good things in our life. In 2020.”

7. The shocker

“A what-not-to-do: My last job liked to give us lots of gifts, but all the gifts were crappy. They gave us water bottles that LOOKED just like a popular brand of insulated water bottle, but they weren’t insulated and leaked. They gave us wireless earbuds (nice!) that became infamous for shocking people in the ear (not nice!).

Everyone would have much rather had one actually nice gift than five crummy gifts. Most of what they gave us ended up being junk people threw away (I got in the habit of covertly abandoning my swag in the supply cupboard where they kept the spare swag).”

8. The pheasant

“When I was a kid, my dad’s employer had a vendor that would send a gallon metal jug of real maple syrup every year, which was AWESOME. Except one year they decided to change it up, but didn’t tell anyone. Mom got the attempted delivery card from the post office and saw where it was from, so figured she could take her time about going to pick it up. Apparently when she finally did, a couple of weeks later, the post office REEKED and the clerk glared at her while bringing up her package containing … a smoked pheasant. A not very shelf-stable smoked pheasant.”

9. The sabotaging coaster

“For the 100th anniversary of my company, they gave every employee a hard-bound yearbook history of the organization and one single coaster that was hydrophobic so the beads of sweat on any beverage just ran right off it and onto your desk, completely eliminating the point of a coaster.

0/10, do not recommend.”

10. The committee

“I got dragooned against my will onto an ‘appreciation committee’ that had all these fancy plans for how to spend their budget of $50/employee to make people happy. I got myself kicked off the committee by asking, ‘Will anyone like any of this more than they like $50 minus tax?’”

{ 626 comments… read them below }

  1. just another queer reader*

    #10, you’re a hero.

    My former employer gave out $50 grocery gift cards at Thanksgiving and $100 at Christmas (and paid the tax). It was nice. I didn’t really shop at that particular store and so I ended up regifting the gift cards to a nonprofit I volunteered with, so it was a win-win-win.

    1. Momma+Bear*

      I once got a Visa gift card and put it aside…not realizing that not using it would cost me a couple of bucks per month while I waited for something to spend it on. I ended up using it on gas and groceries instead of something fun to stop the bleed.

        1. Edwina*

          Not just that, but in some cases it’s considered “unclaimed money.” Check for “unclaimed money” at your State government’s website (google “unclaimed money + your state name” or something like that). I recently did this, idly, and discovered I actually had some BIG BUCKS coming to me, clicked the links to file to claim them, and received two (2!!) checks for something like $35 each. BIG DOINGS!

          1. H.C.*

            FYI, unclaimed money is usually tied to the individual that is supposed to receive it (and usually tied with some personally identifiable information, like current/previous residential address, date of birth, etc.) As such, the recipient needs to register the gift card to make this happen.

            1. Mike*

              Yeah, I looked up unclaimed funds recently. There was a check for $3.50 from the BMV in a state I last lived 12 years ago, which I could get if I sent them any proof at all I lived at that address 12 years ago. That was…not easy.

          2. mourning mammoths*

            Thanks for the reminder that these things exist. 521 USD is coming my way. This is what happens when you move rather often I guess.

      1. LemonFork*

        I once worked at a government agency that did give us small end of year bonuses on Visa Gift cards (Managers got $50, Staff got $25, reduced to whatever amount minus tax). At the mandatory holiday party, we had to wait in line for 20+ minutes to pick them up, then sign three different forms and waivers acknowledging we’d received them. At the end I didn’t even want to bother.

      2. goddessoftransitory*

        Ugh I HATE those damn gift cards. Whether they work or not at any random place totally depends on the bank issuing it! I’ve had so many people try to buy pizzas from me with them and it’s a crapshoot every single time.

      3. Alcott*

        The trick is to immediately use the Visa gift card to buy a regular gift card of the same value from whatever store/Amazon you want. The store cards don’t generally eat your balance like that and you can save it for something fun. Also saves you the headache of “I have $2.37 remaining on this Visa card that no store can figure out how to apply towards a larger purchase.”

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I always just use them on groceries or whatever and then add the money to my fun budget, since I just didn’t have to spend $whatever on groceries.

          This is also why I love Target gift cards. Even if Target doesn’t sell anything I actually want to buy in particular, they do sell things like ziplock bags and laundry detergent that I need and that are startlingly expensive, and spending the gift card on needs frees up money for wants.

        2. Random Biter*

          Genius! I always dreaded getting these and forgetting about them. I am today old learning how to get around that. Thanks, Alcott!

        3. The yellow dog of workplace happiness*

          I probably get a Visa gift card, usually $100 once every couple of months.

          I avoid the issue of balance monitoring/unusable leftover balances by just immediately dumping the entire balance on a utility bill. Most utilities will let you make a payment of an arbitrary amount any time you like, so that’s what I do and as soon as I’ve confirmed the payment has gone through the card gets tossed. One and done.

          Other times I get an online flexi-gift card that I can redeem for a gift card to a specific company. I use Uber Eats often enough that I always redeem for that. It adds that much credit to my account and it uses that until it runs out and then switches to my normal payment method, again avoiding any leftover unused balance.

      4. JoeS*

        The best day I ever got from work was an additional day off. This was in 2020 (and I work at a hospital) so truly appreciated.

        1. Caroline+Bowman*

          If the gift cannot be a decent amount of money, then this is for sure the next best thing, hands down, as long as it can feasibly be used within a reasonable time frame (say the following 6 months or so). Even a ”you can take an extra half day off between Jan – June” is wonderful. Everyone can use a bit of extra paid time off!

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Even leave-early coupons (Monopoly’s get out of jail free cards?) for a few extra hours of PTO would be a delight for anyone who is not salaried. Bug out at 3 instead of 5 before a holiday weekend? Sleep in after one? Just make sure they can be used, and used without causing scheduling snafus. (ie can’t shut down the Monday after the Super Bowl, and no one will lose theirs for not using it soon enough.)

          2. Admin of Sys*

            idk, after 3 years of getting an extra week of vacation instead of col raises (or any other raises), it is /definitely/ possible to have too much pto. Luckily, that job converted any unused vacation over the max accrual to sick time, which didn’t have a cap, and then the sick time counted against longevity (or could be donated to coworkers in need of it.) But still – I would have /definitely/ rather had a gift card by the 3rd year.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I’m a division director. I throw a party at the end of the year during business hours that isn’t mandatory. You get one dessert goodie box from me with a $50 Amazon gift card at the bottom in a Ziploc bag.

      I’d like to think that’s why I get positive reviews on my anonymous 360 feedback!

      1. Caroline+Bowman*

        I’d have given embarrassingly glowing feedback for an office-hours party, dessert goodies AND a generous gift voucher! :)

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I love that, just as long as people know there is a gift card so they don’t accidentally throw it away!

        I’m always so nervous about that now. I made my sister a flower out of $50 bills for her wedding present and apparently she didn’t realize it was real money and almost threw it away later, but thankfully her husband was like “wait I think that’s real cash” and she reached out to me to confirm.

        (I’m not sure why she thought I would give her a flower made of fake money haha. It was in a picture frame vase so I guess she thought the vase was the whole gift and the flower just part of the presentation)

        I gave another sister a shadow box that had money inside of it for her wedding, and when I gifted it I made sure to spell out very clearly “the real gift is the money inside” lol.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Our previous CEO built a culture where nobody wanted to be the bearer of bad news, so it became more and more standard to talk in circles and euphemisms and put the best light on everything. I just happened to be pretty bad at that and pretty willing to say “No, this can’t work, here’s why”

        1. Lab Boss*

          It felt right. I never got invited to the committee, they just started putting meetings on my calendar. I never got kicked off the committee, they just stopped putting meetings on my calendar.

    3. Maggie Simpson*

      Oh my gosh I will say this is my #1 win at a previous job was convincing the management to switch from giving out turkeys (in 2020!) for Thanksgiving to instead giving out a $50 grocery gift card

      1. Cookies For Breakfast*

        I used to work at a place that does software for employers to send money, and for employees to spend it at whichever large retailers they chose (Amazon was an option). The amount of companies that didn’t want to buy because we didn’t have an option to send pre-set gifts (watch, yearbook, branded objects or whatever) was, in my eyes, staggering.

        Most of the time, when I made the argument that people prefer the money, it fell on deaf ears. I found it discouraging that employers were so disconnected from the world out there, while telling us they wanted a solution that shows employees how valued they are.

        1. Lab Boss*

          It’s got to be related to how badly employers want us to feel like we’re all a family. If I went home for Christmas and my parents gave me an envelope of cash instead of gifts, it would feel impersonal, like they just wanted to check the “gift” box and get it over with. The difference is my family knows me personally and is getting a gift that only *I* have to like- my employer doesn’t know any of us personally and has to get a gift that *everyone* likes. I’m just fine with them going impersonal and just saying “here’s cash, buy yourself something nice.”

          1. Cookies for Breakfast*

            The “family” point makes a lot of sense. I find all the corporate gift-giving that borders on the personal (length of service yearbook, rewards tied to specific life events, etc.) intrusive, and not particularly inclusive either. Like, what if I want to celebrate my birthday or wedding or new baby with my family but not my employer? What if those “life events” are not meaningful to me (e.g. not wanting to get married or have kids), does it mean I’d miss out on a chance to get a reward I might enjoy? And how many anniversary yearbook “special moments” feel like slaps in the face for people quietly suffering at dysfunctional workplaces? And yet, some employers seem to buy into all that without asking those questions.

            More cynically, I know from speaking to former clients that part of it is also a money-saving exercise (at least in some countries, if they give out a specific gift instead of cash, there’s no tax to pay or payroll to process). And don’t get me started on the amount of employers that insisted on getting back unused money – that they had given out as a thank you for someone’s hard work! That’s a subject I could rant about for hours, even now I no longer work in that industry.

            1. Em*

              My employer, instead of the pre-plague corporate party, has switched to a “curated selection” of stuff at a big box electronics store. Five or six items we can have for free (relatively nice — I’m eyeing my stick blender and my google speakers) or some bigger-ticket items where they pay X amoutn and we make up the difference. It’s a nice hybrid. Gives us some choice while still acknowledging that they don’t know us.

    4. Lab Boss*

      I wish I could accept the mantle of “hero,” but it’s more like I just have a very straightforward mind and don’t always do the best job of keeping my mouth shut when I see an obvious idea that nobody else has said.

      I call it a partial victory: what they ended up doing was giving everyone in the department being appreciated a scheduled half-day off on a Friday. There was a party at a local eatery with free food, drinks, games, etc., but people were free to just leave instead (we only asked for RSVPs so we could plan food quantities). Still not as good as the money or more flexible PTO would have been, but I talked the committee off of doing things like “Customized lab coat fashion show” and “extremely expensive and extremely heavy customized seniority pins.”

  2. Red5*

    Okay, for #3, I need to know what was in the backpacks that got two people dismissed from the conference. :)

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

        …weapons might also be an option.

        But I’m also side-eyeing all the people at the conferences — geniuses they are not — handing out bags is pretty common at conferences and I would 1) not immediately transfer any of my valuable to the backpack, even if free and 2) ANYTHING containing my wallet and cell phone etc. wouldn’t leave my sight/possession for a second.

        1. Lexie*

          I was at a conference where they handed out bags (nice ones, 20 years later I’m still using it) and knowing people would be using them during the week they included luggage tags so you had no excuse for not having your name on it.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            This. All it takes is a cheap luggage tag that can take either paper or a business card and the problem solves itself.

        2. Momma Bear*

          I’m wondering how…not very bright…these attendees are to lose their bags and their bottles and cause this much chaos two years in a row.

          1. WellRed*

            Yes drinking bottles are pretty common to hand out. Not sure why this crowd couldn’t handle it ( and why not just pack to bring home instead of trying to use it right away. Did the conference not provide other beverage vessels?)

            1. Triumphant Fox*

              yes…I just can’t imagine drinking straight out of an insulated bottle without washing it? Surely the machining process involves something you do not want to be drinking.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I choose to believe they were tasked with creating a distraction while the rest of their team carried out a heist.

            1. Flash Packet*

              Unfortunately, they stashed the loot in their conference backpacks and then were kicked out when the diamonds and cash were found in the bottom of the Can’t-Tell-Them-Apart backpacks along with cheap pens and sticky note pads branded with the company’s name.

          3. Andy*

            Same here. Bags and cupa as gifts were pretty normal at conferences I was at and there was no chaos. First, only portion of people used them. Second, portion of people marked own. Third, the rest actually managed to keep tract of own bags or cups fairly decently.

            Mine is the one under my chair, on my back or the one that has my sweater sticking out of it.

            1. Nea*

              I go to a lot of conferences where everyone gets the same tote bag. Mine is the one with all the keychains clipped to it and/or the safety orange scarf tied on.

              1. EJ*

                Exactly, I always have a plan to mark my conference tote with some identifier. I also bring a sharpie that gets passed around for all those who didn’t plan as I had and want to put a name on their totes.

              2. Wendy Darling*

                I have consistently worked at places where everyone had one of the same 2-3 models of laptop, and that is why I consistently have some kind of sticker on my laptop. And not just the stickers my workplace hands out, everyone has those, it doesn’t help!

                The first place I worked that was like this we had a bad habit of piling my whole team into a conference room and setting laptops aside to work on things, and then having to turn on all the laptops to figure out whose was whose.

                1. Cohort 1*

                  I just took a plane ride sitting next to someone using his work laptop. The thing was totally covered in stickers to the point where I originally thought it was a cover. It somewhat resembled a computer belonging to a 6th grader, but I’ll bet it never got lost in a pile of coworkers laptops!

            2. ESus4*

              My bag story: I was a freelancer at the beginning of my career, heading for my first national conference for my field. I worked at home with no direct client contact and have never bothered with business-y clothes, and I got really nervous about appearing professional among my colleagues. I decided, instead of the usual canvas bag I carried around, to take a leather portfolio notebook. See where this is going? I arrived to find the swag included a canvas bag, which everyone used. Then to top it off, an unexpected autumn heatwave with no air conditioning sent everyone out to buy t-shirts. And there I was, comfortable amid my people.

          4. idontplaygames*

            This was exactly my thought. I’ve been to a number of conferences where I’ve gotten free water bottle, travel mugs and backpacks and used them while there as did others and I don’t remember there ever being a problem (and if there was one, we wouldn’t have blamed it on the people who gave the gift…).

            Surprised the organizers didn’t realize after the second year that this group was just not capable of handling this.

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

              Surprised the organizers didn’t realize after the second year that this group was just not capable of handling this.
              Actually snorted out loud on this comment. Not even the Big Boss apparently if he didn’t mark his and was just picking up a tumbler and drinking from it; the butterscotch schnapps would definitely have a smell before it hit his mouth…

          5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            I wonder if there were a lot of “get up, move around, and sit down in a new seat determined by [icebreaker pairing thing] for the next 2 minutes talking to your new neighbor about [conversation prompt]/doing [group activity]” type icebreakers/debrief activities. That combined with everyone having identical bags could easily lead to chaos as some people would leave them at their “real” seat, some would bring them with them each time, some would bring them the first time and then forget that they did so, some would forget that they hadn’t brought them and grab someone else’s when they went back to their regular seat, and so on…I’m having trouble imagining a group of (sober) adults who couldn’t mostly keep track of identical bags if they stayed with their bags in the same seats the whole time they were in the room, but I could easily see it if they were constantly doing those little movement mixers. (If most of them were also drinking butterscotch schnapps in out-of-a-tumbler quantities, that would make it even easier.)

        3. Baby Yoda*

          Totally agree on backpacks. I’ve received them at writer’s conferences and they were holding hand-outs and free books, they were not intended for us to load them at that point.

        4. Generic Name*

          Yes! I got a really nice zippered tote at a conference I attended 20 years ago, and I still have it. I believe I used it to carry around the conference program and any swag I picked up during the conference. I heard zero stories of people mixing up their bags.

        5. Sasha*

          This. Conference bags are great, I am still using one from Sonar 2011, and various ASN Kidney Weeks. Good for when you get lost off-site too, just follow the procession of bags back to the conference hotel. These attendees don’t sound too bright.

    1. Zephy*

      I expect the answer is drugs and/or alcohol but I also want it to be something more exciting than that. Snakes, maybe?

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’ve had to kick people out of the library for trying to bring in things like machetes and sledgehammers, so I feel like it could be any number of things.

              1. Sharpie*

                My aunt worked in a library many many moons ago. She really did get a book returned with a rasher of bacon being used as a bookmark. I am unaware whether or not it was cooked.

                1. LikesToSwear*

                  After reading this thread to my husband, who works for a county government that has libraries, he is now planning on asking some of the librarians he knows about some of the crazy they have seen.

      1. Crankypants*

        My company usually just does hoodies or jackets, one year we’re really nice laptop backpacks, another year they got everyone these really good emergency car kits….big red bags, first aid, mylar blankets, tire inflation, reflecting cones, flares, those cut the seat belt tools and more. usually a success, then came the new lady who convinced the partners that $100 gift cards were good.

        you think “no problem” right

        welp…’d be wrong. they came in these big boxes which you’d open to find a hammer and a chunk of concrete that you had to bash your way through to get to your card……which were to things like auto parts stores or cabellas or bass pro shops.

        yeah……that was a loud afternoon followed by a damage assessment cause we had desks smashed up, a ridiculous number of wireless mice destroyed, one guy missed his rock and slammed his cell phone dead center, a broken monitor and 1 dented hood by a guy who figured hurling it off the loading dock would be faster.

        been all hoodies ever since.

        1. Enai*

          Whatever happened to putting the gift card into a cardboard sleeve with “Thank you for attending/being an outstanding employee” written on it, putting the resulting item in an envelope and handing out envelopes? Is that not an option anymore?

    3. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      When I read that one my mind went straight to the folding knife I keep in my purse. When we were still in office I lived in a high crime rate town and the offices weren’t in the best parts of town. Part of the year the block trek to the parking lot was after dark. Growing up in that town you just learned to carry some sort of a weapon with you anywhere. Then you learned to remember to leave it at home when you had to go somewhere with metal detectors.

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      At a conference that I worked, someone stole a medical simulation mannequin worth several thousand dollars from an exhibit booth. So maybe they were stealing from exhibitors or the hotel. In my experience, every big conference has one or two people who will try to steal anything that isn’t nailed down.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        My mind went to theft, yes. Carrying a bag containing one person’s belongings could be a mistake. Carrying a bag containing multiple other people’s belongings … will get you in trouble.

  3. DameB*

    I remember reading a study once that said the best option is to offer your employees a choice: a gift or the cash. Everyone will prefer the cash (except like 4 percent, because humans be weird) but they will be happier than if you’d just given them the cash because it showed you thought about them.

    1. KateM*

      In AAM discussions, it has been said how employers may get more worth for buck when they choose gift, so it would be interesting if it was spelled out for example that the choice is between $X worth of cash or $2X worth of turkey.

      1. Scintillating water*

        My job (university press) offers peer reviewers the choice between $200 worth of cash or $400 worth of our books. The majority choose cash, but at least 25% choose books!

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          That’s like at the used bookstore in my town. You can sell your books for $x cash, or for $2x store credit. I always take the store credit and go in and spend it immediately.

          1. ferrina*

            That’s how they get you!
            You think that you’re there to offload your old books, but really you’re just there to stock up on new books. I always lose money at used bookstores (and I have no regrets about that).

            1. SpaceySteph*

              Think of it more like free refills, you paid once to buy the first set of books and can bring it back for unlimited free refills.

          2. Deborah*

            My local used bookstore does this too but they also have tchotchkes and weird stuff galore, so it’s loads of fun.

        2. academic fibro warrior*

          Now I’m volunteering to be a peer reviewer! I would not be able to decide which to choose.

          I used to go to conferences that gave us bags for swag, and whenever my friend was in charge she’d get us bags that were actually insulated reusable grocery bags. A lot of ppl rolled their eyes but I use them a lot. From bring food to department potlucks, events with food I get to take home (when I was still a grad student), and now that I walk to the grocery store and back twice a week they’re starting to wear out.

          I used to work at a factory that had a safety incident problem. So they organized safety committees and those groups would get $25 Walmart gift cards every quarter (month? I don’t remember). Company paid tax so $25 was $25. After x number of periods with participation in reporting unsafe things and no accident the group would get a $75 gift card.

          These cards basically furnished my home since I got paid so little as an admin. Other people generally used them for gas or groceries and occasionally Christmas gifts. Few people complained (although we would have liked raises and more control over which holidays to take off).

    2. The OTHER other*

      People like to have a choice, even if the vast bulk choose the same option.

      The military puts hot sauce in rations for this reason. Not that many people use it, but everyone likes having the option, and if you don’t, I guess you can barter with the people who love hot sauce.

    3. Grace Poole*

      There’s a new person in charge of our employee appreciation efforts, and with all the pandemic turnover they were unaware that we used to get money or a choice of item for years of service. This year, for my 20th year on the job, I got a plaque with my name on it. I don’t want to be ungrateful, but I’d rather have had a gift card for the amount of whatever was spent on the plaque.

    4. amoeba*

      Eh, depends on the amount of money, but if it’s, like, less than 50 € or so, I’d always go for the gift. I just like surprises and receiving gifts, while, on the other hand, we’re all luckily paid well enough that a 30 € bonus would basically not be noticeable for most of us. Unless there’s a history of shitty gifts, of course.

      (An additional day off, on the other hand, would be a different story! But then I guess that would cost the company a good deal more that 50 €…)

    5. just a random teacher*

      A surprising number of my fellow teachers really like school logo t-shirts as gifts. Possibly this is because it is considering acceptably professional to be wearing anything with our school logo to work (as long as there are no holes in it) and it’s inherently non-controversial as a clothing item since the message is “yay school we work at”, so it makes getting dressed easy and comfortable.

  4. Sarah*

    The magnet story! Did the makers of this magnetic wallet not . . . realize? Also there are wallets that close like this but presumably don’t erase your credit cards right?

    1. Artemesia*

      I have a great trench coat that I use for travel because of its many hidden zipped pockets — it also has magnetic pocket closures. This is how I discovered that the Paris metro/RER tickets are exquisitely sensitive to magnets. I could have been fined 50 Euro on the spot for my not reading ticket but the ticket inspector took pity on me and let me go after explaining the magnetic thing. Now my husband always carries the tickets unless we are using ND passes.

      But the magnetic wallet is a wonderful story. The pheasant was an accident but the wallet was just a genius of dysfunction from its design and then choice.

      1. UKDancer*

        Paris metro tickets are the worst I always wind up erasing them somehow. I used to go regularly on business to Paris and always had a problem on at least one occasion with my ticket.

        1. Imtheone*

          The metro tickets will be phased out and replaced with some kind of card (or virtual card) that can be reloaded.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            Yeah, but if you keep your reloadable pass in the same wallet as your bank card, it’ll mess with the pass, too. So then it’s rush hour or everybody is leaving the bar and there’s a big queue and you’re getting the red X and the big honking “THIS PERSON IS DOING SOMETHING WRONG” sound while everybody watches you.

            Ask me how I know.

    2. kiki*

      I feel like there’s a good chance it was a knock-off of a genuinely functional product. So the makers of the magnetic wallet probably didn’t think much about a lot of aspects of the design. And once the maker did find out their products were defective, they probably didn’t care much because they knew they could sell them at a discount, in-bulk to people who would receive them as corporate gifts and not care enough to return them.

    3. Merci Dee*

      Several years ago I bought myself one of those trim card wallets so that I could carry several cards together in my pocket without worrying about losing any particular one of them, and also not worry about having to carry a purse. The one that I purchased has a top and bottom plate made of metal with a groove etched in the middle along the length of the plates. You put your cards between the two metal plates, and then you use one of two of the wide rubber/silicone bands (about three-quarters of an inch wide) that fits into the etched groove to hold everything together. The “small” band will hold four or five cards inside the metal covers, and the “large” band will hold 10 – 12 cards inside the metal covers. It’s easy to slip the band free, get the card you want, put it back, and replace the band. A bonus of the binding bands is that they provide some resistance against the material of your pocket, so that the metal card wallet doesn’t just slide out any old time.

      I quite like my card wallet. I especially get lots of use out of it when my daughter and I are running errands on the weekend and I don’t feel like lugging a purse around.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        I use a little card wallet when I’m carrying a small clutch purse with a fancy outfit, or when I’m trying to go hands-free (like at a football game or something). But mine is just a little envelope made of leather and cloth. The magnet people overthought this wildly.

    4. thisgirlhere*

      I think it’s an important note that if you have a chip card the magnet won’t hurt it at all. Chips only caught on recently in the US but have been the norm for at least a decade overseas. My guess is the product was made for or designed by Europeans who would not have had this problem.

    5. Tinkerbell*

      It’s actually harder to erase a credit card than you think – this particular wallet design must have been pretty terrible!

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        yeah, my whole wallet is magnet-ed to the back of my phone and I’ve had no problems in the last year-plus.

      2. S*

        Yeah, or it may not have actually been a problem. It has to be a pretty strong magnet to corrupt the card and it wouldn’t surprise me if people panicked unnecessarily.

      3. Koalafied*

        Yes, for credit and debit cards it needs to be a very strong magnet in direct contact with the EMV strip to risk erasing it.

        The main danger is with things like hotel room keys which have a much lower magnetic threshold because they are designed to be repeatedly wiped and reprogrammed – they need to be wipable. Bank cards are designed to resist magnetic wiping because they don’t need to be wiped.

        1. Sally*

          once on a business trip, after having to get a new room card 2 or 3 times because it suddenly didn’t work, the person at the front desk told me not to keep it in the same pocket as my phone. that would have been good information to have when I checked in! I don’t think it’s an issue with hotel room card keys any more, but jeez that was inconvenient!

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I’m so glad more and more hotels are switching to proximity cards that dgaf about magnets. I had a handbag that closed with a magnet and couldn’t figure out why my hotel keycards kept dying until I realized that the pocket I was keeping them in was right behind the magnet.

        2. Wanderer*

          It depends how long ago this happened. I can remember as a teenager that my parents were going away on a trip and left a bank card stuck to the fridge (with a magnet) for us to use in case of emergency. We tried to use it for groceries and discovered it had been erased by the magnet! Was it a super strong magnet, or were cards just weaker back then? Who knows.

    6. Phony Genius*

      In the office, as people began to put their credit cards in the wallet, one lone employee realized what was happening and began running in super-slow motion yelling “Nooooooooooo!!!!!!” in a muffled bass tone.

      1. Annie Moose*

        It’s pretty unlikely a small magnet would actually damage a credit card unless the magnet was coming in direct contact with the strip, actually. (and even then, brief contact wouldn’t be likely to do anything)

    7. Poppy*

      I stayed at a hotel that had key cards for the door. Your cell phone would erase them if they got too close so we ended up having to go to the desk multiple times a day to get new ones. Great plan there.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Same, but with park tickets on a marching band trip to a major theme park. There were many panicked teenagers before it got sorted out. (This was just around the time personal cell phones were becoming a must-have for teenagers, so I think we got really unlucky with the timing- I’m sure they had it solved right quick once the problem made itself known.)

    8. XF1013*

      This reminds me of the time that I was walking into my company’s well-secured office on the first morning after a holiday break. A coworker from IT was excitedly telling me about the fancy extra-secure wallet that his wife bought him for Christmas… until we got to the door of the building and he could no longer just swipe his wallet to enter, since the RFID chip inside his company ID card could not be detected. We had card readers like this on nearly every door of the building and he looked so disappointed upon realizing how many times a day he was going to have to take out that card, or keep it loose in a pocket where it might get bent. Instant regret.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        My GODDAMN WORK BAG thought it was being smart by putting RF protection in all the pockets. Unfortunately all this means is that my phone cannot get a signal from inside my bag???

        I’m not too worried about RF skimmers but if I was I’d get the little individual envelope pocket things for individual cards.

        1. i'm walking here*

          Dang, I bought a security RFID bag for travel and didn’t realize it would block cell signals. Good to know, though.

    9. inkheart*

      Anyone else remembering the Breaking Bad episode where they used giant magnets to erase the hard drive of a confiscated computer full of evidence while it was in the police evidence room? “Yeah, bi*ch, MAGNETS!”

    10. irene adler*

      Back in the day (60’s -70’s), credit cards did not have magnetic strips. It was all a paper system using raised numbers on the card and carbon paper to imprint the cc#. Such cards would have worked just fine with magnets.

      1. NotRealAnonforThis*

        Processing these in the mid nineties was already a nightmare. The large retail store I worked for had house cards, and probably 10-15% of the cards were still in this format. Unfortunately for us barely above minimum wage teenaged peons, the POS software required an authorization code from the house-card-credit verification system if a card was non-swipeable. We were told that it was because fraudulent use and/or use of counterfeits was a thing. I could see that, as we did catch someone trying to snag the CC imprint box out from a register once. (Seriously, WTF?)

        This was a ten minute phone call, typically. This was not a store with 25 open check lanes, these were departmental customer service kiosks with 1, maybe 2 registers on them. These calls required photo identification, typically handing over the phone receiver to the customer two or three times, and a growing impatient line of people. Most often, it would come out on the phone that the person had been issued a new swipeable card and just didn’t want to use it and the store wasn’t going to make them.

        Once upon a very long weekend during November we took stats, and I don’t remember, but there was a distinct alignment between “ornery customers” and “house CC customers who kept using their old ka-chunk machine cards even after new swipeable cards were sent to them”.

        Somehow, the POS software was able to “talk” to the two major CC that were accepted if there was a hand entered card from those brands. They’d either go through or we would get a notice at the register that we couldn’t process with that card.

      2. bratschegirl*

        When kiddo was in elementary school and I volunteered for the book fair, I sent a credit card flying halfway across the room with one of those “ka-chunk” machines. Apparently someone else, in a prior year, had snapped one in half. This was in the 90s, so well into the magnetic strip era, but the book fair didn’t come with that level of tech.

  5. Magenta Sky*

    There’s a special place in my heart for the hydrophobic coaster. That is sheer genius. It isn’t often you see incompetence that profound.

    If you’re going to fail in life, at least excel at it.

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

      In the corporate gift industry, there is A LOT of incompetence that profound — products that aren’t just cheap, useless, break easily…but are actively destructive or dangerous.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        I had to read that twice to be sure “gift” didn’t have an “r” in it. I guess instead of being silent, it’s invisible.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I was literally just getting on here to say this: That is the best worst idea I’ve heard of in a long time.

    3. metadata+minion*

      There’s a project, I’m utterly blanking on the name, that celebrates items that are [i]almost[/i] useless. Their initial example is a solar-powered flashlight. Not solar-charging, which would be useful and is pretty common. Solar-*powered*, so that it will only work in strong direct sunlight.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      I’d like to to coat the outside of buildings with those things so graffiti would roll right off!

    5. GammaGirl1908*

      I’ve seen several people on social media doing resin art, often making very pretty coasters out of resin. Each time, I’ve wondered if this wouldn’t happen! How does a plastic / hard surface do anything to stop the water just running right off onto the table? It would be one thing if the coaster had a lip or groove to hold the water, but they never do!

      Or, like these absolutely gorgeous rose quartz coasters for sale for $200:

      1. Sally*

        I have four beautiful, green marble-looking coasters. At least the bottoms have cork on them, and thank goodness they do because the condensation creates a sort of vacuum between the glass and the coaster. Every time you pick up the glass, the coaster comes with it for a few seconds until the weight of the coaster causes it to fall off the bottom of the glass and back onto the hopefully-not-glass table. I still use them – but with a napkin between the coaster and the glass.

    6. Bryce*

      I have some photo coasters that are like that, it’s all laminated to protect the picture so it just makes puddles.

      They sit on my bulletin board as a display.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        lol!! I’m a big fan of worry stones, and I usually have at least one with me in a pocket somewhere. Not for “worrying,” necessarily, but they feel nice, and they make excellent fidget toys.

        But the thing is. I *know* that this is a bit on the quirky side! I have one friend who appreciates them as well, and we routinely give each other random rocks as souvenirs from our travels. None of my other friends would understand. And they certainly wouldn’t be a good idea as corporate gifts!

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          I’ve known about worry stones for a long time, but they are definitely not just rocks. And they are nice as just something to handle & keep your hands busy.

          1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

            I used to give river pebbles or dragon tears to my Pre K kids so that the wigglers could sit longer at Circle Time. Something for their fingers to do so their minds can focus. Only once had a kid decided to chuck one at a little buddy. He was given a cotton ball until he re-earned worry stone privileges.

            1. Captain+Swan*

              You could use Calm Strips. Same principle less possibility for physical damage. I believe they have a river rock version.

              Not associated with product just saw their Shark Tank pitch a while back.

              1. Harper the Other One*

                I have bought Calm Strips for my autistic/ADHD child and they’re AMAZING. Highly recommend for anyone who’s been on the fence.

                1. Raw Flour*

                  This is the opposite of what I expected to hear when I saw calm strips advertised (elsewhere)! I am autistic and loathe the texture of sandpaper, emery boards, etc. Are calm strips not a similar texture?

            2. KoiFeeder*

              That’s how we lost the talking stick when I was in third grade (I wasn’t shutting up about dinosaurs and it wasn’t my turn).

        2. Beth*

          One volunteer organization gave out cheap paper bags holding a curated collection of cheesy cheap stuff (including a single marble, a paper clip, a rubber band, a shiny penny, a playing card, a cheap pen), a hilarious inventory of the items (the marble was so you wouldn’t lose all your marbles, the penny was to make you rich, the rubber band was to hold yourself together, etc.) and a Starbucks gift card.

          It’s one of the best appreciation gifts I’ve ever received — just the gift card without the bag of silly rubbish wouldn’t have been as fun. The organization had very little money, and they did make us feel appreciated as well as providing a good laugh (and a couple of cups of coffee).

      2. Emotional support capybara*

        Any stone or crystal can banish negativity if you throw it at the source hard enough.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          Hee hee! Reminds me of the tweet “any wedding can be a fairy tale if you serve porridge and release three angry bears into the reception hall.”

        2. Curmudgeon in California*


          My mom used to joke that the best tool for disciplining kids was to smack their butt with the child psychology book.

    1. Sandangel*

      If they’re what I’m thinking of, the rock is polished smooth with a shallow indent, so when you’re stressed, you fidget the stress away by rubbing it with your thumb.

      1. Heidi*

        I was imagining that you tell your worries to the rock and then throw it into the ocean or something. Like a wishing well, only the opposite.

        1. Merci Dee*

          I’ve actually seen some advertised for just that purpose — tell the rock your worries, and then you throw it into a body of water after some unspecified amount of time, and it’s supposed to carry your worries away. Only problem is, it’s also carrying away that $5 you paid for the worry rock, and the future chance to get rid of more worries without having to buy a new rock!

          Now that I think about it, those things are a racket!

      2. metadata+minion*

        I love worry rocks, but I still wouldn’t want one as an employee gift. Half the point for me is finding a rock out in nature that fits my exact hand shape just right, and then not only do I have a soothingly smooth rock, but I have a memory of a nice place connected with it.

    2. Wisteria*

      It’s basically a fidget toy–something to hold in your hand and fiddle with to relieve pent up anxiety/frustration/what have you.

    3. Zephy*

      Depending on how religious/spiritual you are, it’s somewhere between a fidget toy and a protective amulet. You’re meant to use it as a focus for anxious energy. If you’re a gold-star atheist, then it’s just a pretty rock you can hold while you think about your troubles (or look at, to distract you from those troubles).

      If you have an inclination toward religion and/or spirituality, you might treat it like prayer beads (hold it while praying or meditating, as a token to focus your attention), or use it as a protective talisman. You might pour all your worries into the stone and then yeet it (and by extension, your worries) into the woods/sea/etc, or seal it (and all your worries) away in a box and bury it. Or you might imbue the stone with calming or protective energy and carry it with you, as a more active defense against bad vibes. (Some people find it helpful to hold a piece of the earth as a way to feel more grounded when experiencing feelings of anxiety or overstimulation.)

      NB: I am not a practitioner of any faith that uses these kinds of talismans but I know a surprising number of folks who are. They would all probably decline to use the worry rock they got in a “mental health” “gift” “pack” from work for that purpose, but that would only be because they’ve already made their own.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I grew up in an area with a large Greek American community & have always been under the impression that it’s a common cultural item for them.

      1. Her name was Joanne*

        When I was in 5th grade, the science teacher had a nervous breakdown, so for 2 quarters, science consisted of watching whatever movies the school could get. I saw a film version of The Lottery at the tender age of 10. It gave me nightmares for years!

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, that was a chilling film, but even as a preteen I didn’t really get the full impact. Years later, though, I realized just how much it applies in our society to anyone who ends up literally screwed by the luck of the draw (random occurrences in life.)

          1. Edwina*

            But also, how entire communities can be easily led to go along with atrocities if they’re done with a smile & seem to be “normal”

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              That too. The festive atmosphere around ritualized murder is creepy as hell, but it actually happened during the Jim Crow/Lynching period in the US South.

    4. Anonforhere*

      Like Sandangel said, they’re basically fidget toys from long before people developed terms like “neurotype” and “sensory needs”. Sometimes they’re sold as magic but they work the same way whether you believe or not, although I find that irregular shapes are better for me than smooth pebbles.

      Terrible corporate gift, though– if you don’t want to pay for a shiny crystal one, you can pick them off the ground!

      1. Jay*

        When my kid was 5 and wanted to stop sucking her thumb during the day, we gave her a worry stone to carry in her pocket. It worked perfectly as an alternate self-soothing mechanism. Since her dad is a geologist, we had an endless supply of small pretty smooth stones and she got to pick one every morning. She’s 22 now and still sometimes carries them when life gets stressful.

    5. Student*

      It’s just a specific type of fidget toy, if you don’t buy into woo. I have had a couple in my life and find them quite nice.

      I don’t personally like a lot of the other fidget toys I’ve seen – I don’t want something that will make noise or light, for example. Rocks don’t make noise unless you purposely thunk them into something, and you can buy them in a lot of subtle colors. You can also buy them in a lot of bright colors. They are mostly-flat, smooth, usually with a little dent in one side where you’re meant to rub with your thumb. I also like the texture and durability – I don’t worry about breaking it by being too fidgety, and I rather enjoy the way stone can be either cool or warm, depending on how much you’ve fidgeted with the stone and your environment.

      My current one is lapis lazuli, which is blue rock with some grey streaks. I just like the color. I’m sure the website said it would condition my cat’s chakras or unlock my self-care high score or something else I don’t believe. To me, it’s just a pretty thing to fidget with while I wait for my 5th Zoom meeting of the day to finally end. It stopped me from accidentally getting pen marks on my shirts and pants by fidgeting with those; perhaps they should put that in the advertising copy.

      1. Aldabra*

        Wow, I just learned what that weird rock I have is meant for! I’ve been using it for years to crease papers when folding them. You’d be surprised how useful it’s been for stuffing envelopes, wrapping gifts, and that sort of thing. It’s a thin, vaguely diamond-shaped, piece of quartz with that thumb groove.

      2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        I have been making very tiny quilts — 3″x4″. Sometimes with a few beads or a single charm on them. They make very good, quiet, and soothing talismans in one’s pocket.

        1. Empress Matilda*

          Oh, they sound lovely! Are you on Etsy? (Hoping Alison doesn’t mind if you cross-promote in her comments section!)

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Now that is a cute idea.

          We sometimes make mini pillows that can be used for dolls or a wrist rest.

          Sometimes just having a small, pretty thing can be soothing, no woo needed.

      3. Irish Teacher*

        As far as I know, a lot of the mass produced fidget toys are made by toy companies and stuff, so not all of them are really appropriate for what they are intended for. Fidget spinners, for example, are a nightmare in the classroom and it took about two weeks after they became popular for them to be banned from the school I taught in at the time. While I fidget constantly myself, I think it was the right decision as they were being dropped and causing disruption and students were arguing over who owned which…and honestly, I tried one and for me at least, I didn’t even find it a great fidget. A fun toy, sure, but it requires both hands and you sort of have to watch what you are doing. The point of a fidget is to keep your hand busy while you are doing other things. I couldn’t use it and write, for example.

        I generally use pens and markers as fidget toys and blutack and elastic bands. At home, I use broken chains (like from necklaces and stuff) and those noodle things are pretty good.

        Never used those rocks, but they sound pretty cool too.

        1. Gumby*

          Right now I generally use binder clips as a fidget toy but I absolutely miss the (from a career fair maybe?) Tangle that I used to have that gave up the ghost several years ago. I should just buy a new one but… binder clips are free in the supply closet.

      4. Bryce*

        I use a DVI/VGA adapter. Perfect size for me, interesting contours/textures, and when I started using it you’d get half a dozen any time you bought something with a video hookup so they were dirt cheap.

      5. Azure Jane Lunatic*

        I will never forget the time that teenage-me fell asleep holding my stone of choice (rose quartz), woke up, didn’t realize my arm had also fallen asleep, turned over, and inadvertently YEETED the stone straight into a metal wardrobe. At 3am.


    1. EZ Like Sunday Morning*

      I got that reference.

      As god as my witness, one of the greatest episodes of television ever.

        1. Not your sweetheart*

          my mother and I watch it every Thanksgiving, while wearing the “first annual Turkey Drop” t-shirts (I found them on Amazon, and they’re amazing)

    2. Flash Packet*

      I was 12 when that episode aired. There was a lot of humor on the prime-time comedies that went over my head at that age, but the turkey drop was not one of them. I remember holding my sides while laying on the floor (having slid off the couch) because my abdomen hurt so much from laughter.

  6. Becky S.*

    In 1985 I worked for an HMO, in sales. All our paperwork had to be filled out in black ink so photocopies were readable. The company gave us all very nice pens, possibly Cross brand ….. in blue ink.

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      Ah, but if the pen is a color you can’t use at work, then this is obviously a GIFT pen rather than an office supply they should be providing anyway!

      1. Lexie*

        You get so used to having to use black that it becomes a habit that spills over into your personal life. Years after leaving a job with that requirement, I still will not buy blue pens and will only use one if there isn’t a choice. I can handle my daughter’s “fun” pens better than a plain old blue paper mate.

          1. S k*

            When I worked at a law office we always used blue (courts would take blue or black), but using blue makes it easy to identify the photocopies v. the original.

          1. SpaceySteph*

            I work for the government and for a long time there was a large supply of purple pens. I can only imagine they were a surplus somewhere, but I have notebooks full of notes just in purple.

    2. WellRed*

      My dad was given a cross pen by a grateful client ( he helped her find a job, that was his role ). He carried that pen around forever.

      1. metadata+minion*

        I have a cheap conference swag pen that I’ve kept for years because it has little decorative fuzzy bits on it that are just the perfect fidget. It’s gotten so that I’m trying to figure out if I can replace the ink when it finally dies because I like the silly pen so much.

        1. Indubitably Delicious*

          You might try visiting r/pens on Reddit — they often help folks identify and locate weird pens, including promo pens, or identify the right refill, etc.

        2. inkheart*

          take the cartridge with you to Office Max/Depot and find one that looks the same, especially length and what the non-writing end looks like. One of these places carries mostly Foray (I think) refills, but they write pretty well.

    3. Zan+Shin*

      That’s funny. In many of my health care jobs (RN) we were to use blue pens so that the original could easily be discerned from a black and white photocopy! I still use blue for that reason.

      1. Lurker*

        ^ This is the correct answer. I was told a the same thing when I worked with attorneys — you can tell the difference between the original contract and a copy if it’s signed in blue ink. Although now with color copies being more prevalent, and digital signatures, I’m not sure it matters as much. I’ve always had a penchant for blue — black ink is so harsh!

        1. Flash Packet*

          Right??? Black ink feels like when someone types in all caps. Why are you shouting at me? Why are you so angry??

      2. Flash Packet*

        Yep, we used blue ink in my first office jobs for just that reason.

        I was in my early 20’s, though, and knew that there are a lot more “not black” ink colors than blue, and started doing all of my signing and documenting in purple, lime green, and hot pink.

        My poor bosses.

        1. Wired Wolf*

          When I discovered that someone was forging my signature in the key log at work, I bought a four-color pen with a purple cartridge and started signing in purple. Soon after, I noticed that the forger had given up…

          1. Daisy Avalin*

            I use green, at work, after someone left a note about something and claimed I’d done/not done whatever the issue was… I’m the only one who uses green, so my manager doesn’t even need to check that I’ve actually signed anything, she just looks for the green ink!

            1. Wired Wolf*

              All my manager has to do is look for an ink color that nobody else in the building has access to.

              I used to have an awesome 12-color (yes, 12) pen; every so often I’d switch it up. Mostly to catch lazy people signing my name to stuff they didn’t want to do, but a bonus was I could quickly see who was actually paying attention to notes I left. One week I was signing my name in orange to catch a forger, who gave themselves away when I overheard someone asking where to get an orange pen (to make sure it was the right culprit, a coworker gave them a pen with an orange barrel and told them it wrote in orange…perp was caught when about 5 people heard them complaining that it didn’t write in orange).

    4. Me ... Just Me*

      We received crappy blue pens as an employee gift at our hospital. 1. Only day shift charted in black ink and 2. the pens had caps, whose only purpose is to get lost 3. capless pens caused all sorts of ink stains in our scrub pockets, so you had nurses and CNAs all walking around with stained scrubs, because we certainly weren’t going to buy new ones.

  7. singularity*

    This gives me flashbacks to all the terrible Teacher Appreciation gifts that administration tries to hand out. Every year, the principals and other admin have to come up with gifts to give to all their teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week. They don’t get any extra money for this, so it typically turns into small paper bags of pencils, stickers, hand sanitizer… OR!

    Prepackaged snacks from a vending machine/dollar store (think HoneyBuns or some other Debbie snack cake thing) and cans of soda. Every year. I know they don’t have a budget for it, but I’d rather get nothing than a stale Hostess DingDong and a can of Grape Fanta I’m not going to drink.

    1. Captain+Swan*

      Teacher Appreciation Week used to be the sole occupation of our elementary school PTA for a couple of months every year. Of course we usually did a nice catered lunch one day and chair massages another day for the teachers that week, which were very popular.
      Nevertheless, I hated the never ending discussions about it.

    2. Fledge Mulholland*

      Our administration struggles mightily with Teacher Appreciation. One year we got mouse pads. They do not issue a mouse with our laptops, so we’d have to buy our own in order to use it.

      One year parents threw a breakfast for us, which was lovely. But at the end of the day we got a scathing email from the Vice Principal that we better make sure the food is all cleaned out from the teacher’s room immediately. We had to clean up. Our own appreciation breakfast.

  8. sofar*

    My old company gave everyone a deck of cards with the company logo on it. OK, fine, everyone needs a deck of cards, not the worst gift ever. But then we opened them.

    Instead of the standard, suits and numbers, the cards had the Company Values on them, with symbols corresponding to those values. The top card contained instructions for a go-fish-type game we were meant to play with them. “Do you have any Innovation? Go fish.”

    So basically, the only thing you could do with the cards was play this stupid game. A bunch of us punched holes in our card decks and strung them together and hung them around the office like holiday garlands.

    1. Banana*

      I would have loved handing them to people who came to my desk to ask me questions, and telling them to go fish. Haha!

      1. Empress Matilda*

        Oh yeah, that could go very badly wrong. “Do you have any morale? Company loyalty?” “Nope, go fish!”

        Someone didn’t think this through…

    2. Meep*

      I love this. But then again, I fully acknowledge I am chaotic evil and this is right up my alley if I hated someone.

      I am sorry they did this to you.

      1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

        Boss: Why isn’t the report ready?

        Me: I couldn’t find a pair for “Meets Deadlines”.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Tablet weaving can be done with. ut-down playing cards…now there’s innovation for you.

  9. bluestainedglass*

    I howled with laughter at the pheasant one. I actually thought it was going to end with being sent a LIVE pheasant but somehow the glare over the “not very shelf-stable smoked pheasant” was even better!

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Gotta wonder on that one why the delivery company didn’t try to call them the minute it started smelling, um, off?

      1. Ally McBeal*

        It’s possible the delivery company wasn’t given the phone numbers of the recipients. That’s often an optional field, and whoever was responsible for uploading the shipping info may not have had or wanted to give that info. (I know when I send surprise flowers to someone, I always list my number as the recipient number even though I’m the sender.)

  10. JMidwe*

    I once received a rock with the word trust written on it in sharpie. Morale was particularly bad at the time and management thought “trust rocks” would help. Some rocks were thrown.

    At another place I worked the boss gave out a 10 lb bag of onions every fall.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I can appreciate the onions, because I like to cook with them. But, I’d share with families, being a live alone single

    2. UKDancer*

      I would also strongly prefer the onions. I can do a lot with them including perfecting my French onion soup recipe. I like useful presents as a rule. If I can’t use them them the homeless shelter definitely can.

      1. LimeRoos*

        Oooh, for French Onion Soup – highly recommend adding a little white wine. It adds some lightness and freshness that balances well with the rich flavor of the onions and beef broth (we use a little as part of our base). We tried the French onion soup at Cat Cora’s Taproom in the Detroit airport and it was where we got the idea. It was light and rich at the same time, without the extra sweetness from brandy. I also like adding a little bit of caraway seeds while the onions cook overnight.

        So uh, I guess I’d also like a 10lb bag of onions from work lol

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Co-signed on white wine instead of brandy! I also sometimes include some sliced fennel in addition to onions, which does add a bit of sweetness back in – it started when I got a bunch of fennel from my CSA, and normally I hate licorice-flavored anything, but caramelizing it makes a huge difference.

          1. LimeRoos*

            Fennel sounds lovely and I’m totally going to try that. I love fennel and try and find excuses to use it lol.

          2. inkheart*

            Prosciutto wrapped around shards of fennel, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with fresh ground black pepper – yum!

    3. oranges*

      It’s not a dedicated gift (it’s just a Thing We’ve Always Done), but our office gets a ton of onions each year for folks to claim. Let me tell you, people go NUTS for 10lb bags of free onions!

    4. Nightengale*

      I love onions but it would take me a week to bring 10 lbs of onions home on the bus a few onions at a time. . .

    5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      The onions are useful….yeah, the rocks, um, hopefully there wasn’t to much glass there.

    6. Gumby*

      I used to *bank* at a place that gave out onions every year. Vidalia onions, which are supposedly special in some way but all onions make me gag so I turned down this annual treat.

      1. Loredena*

        They are relatively sweet as onions, that’s what makes them special. They really are good to those who otherwise like onions!

      2. inkheart*

        They used to have printed on their crates, “Vidalia onions – you’ll only cry when they are gone.”

      3. Tin Cormorant*

        The thing in onions that makes you cry is made of sulfur, so if you grow onions in soil that’s very low in sulfur, they’ll be much sweeter. That’s the idea anyway, I almost never see them in my area so I can’t speak from personal experience.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Seriously! My spouse cuts up her onions and freezes them in 8 ounce bags for soups, stews and casseroles. A 10 pound bag would give us a nice supply.

    7. Deborah*

      This thing keeps going around on social media about giving kids the option of candy OR A POTATO at Halloween and a surprising number take the potato. I’d imagine this would work equally well with onions.

  11. CharlieBrown*

    I once got a digital kitchen timer as a Christmas gift when I was working in a factory 20 years ago. (It was a draw-for-gift kind of thing.) Everybody laughed and made sad noises at me for what they presumed was a terrible gift, but it’s still on my refrigerator and I use it all the time.

    Still, I’d take cash or a day off any time!

    1. seeeeeps*

      This reminds me of my first white elephant/yankee swap gift exchange at work at my first job out of college. I thought it was a “bring a gag gift” kind of gift exchange and brought an infomercial microwave pasta cooker someone had given us for a wedding present. As people began opening the gifts, it became very apparent that this was NOT the gag gift kind of exchange, so when the Fasta Pasta got opened, the person who opened it had to play it very cool and pretend like they definitely WANTED a way to cook pasta for their lunch at work. I pretended it wasn’t me who brought it.

  12. Andi*

    Oh, this reminds me of a 50th anniversary party for a mid-size law firm I worked at, where the officious executive director announced that everyone would be receiving a fifty cent coin to celebrate 50 years, but that the partners would receive one from 1968 (the year the firm was founded). But since it was expensive to buy those, everyone else would just get one from a random year.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        It sounds like everyone except partners got 50 cents, and the partners also got 50 cents… just theirs were more expensive since they had to be from a certain year.

        1. Zephy*

          50-cent pieces minted between 1965 and 1970 are also 40% silver. More recently-minted half-dollar coins contain no silver, they’re nickel-plated copper. If the firm had been founded four years earlier, pre-1965 half-dollars are 90% silver and worth well over face value.

        2. nona*

          Right. They spent more money on the partners than they did everyone else. That’s the “eww”.

          And now the partners have a thing that is worth more than 50 cents, whereas everyone else just has…50 cents.

          1. Kit*

            Right? I got a number of half-dollar coins as gifts… from my great-grandfather, when I was a small child. From an employer as an adult? I’d be livid.

    1. Lab Boss*

      That reminds me of my summer camp job, when our annual “Christmas party” in July always featured a parody of “The Night Before Christmas” featuring the line “The Director told us ‘you’ve all earned more pay! This ten-cent raise should brighten your day!'” and then tossing dimes out to the crowd.

      Of course, that was SUPPOSED to be a joke…

  13. Malaclypse*

    I also got a frozen turkey once, also at the start of my shift at a motel. Eight months later, I went to get ice from the ice maker, now much lower in the summer, and that is when I found a rotten turkey that had been slowly decomposing over months while everybody got ice from just above the rotting flesh.

    1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

      Well, this is officially a much scarier thing to happen in a motel than anything Hitchcock could ever come up with.

  14. Unfettered scientist*

    #3, this isn’t meant to be super snarky but I’m honestly surprised adults were unable to keep track of their own backpacks and mugs. You’d think you’d just always bring those with you and not leave them around? I go to conferences for work too and backpacks /tumblers are common swag. I think it’s pretty rare to just up and leave your stuff unattended but maybe that’s just my field.

    1. Work From Homer Simpson*

      Right? Bags and tumblers are totally unremarkable conference swag. I’ve been to dozens of conferences who had these gifts (or similar) and it has never once been a problem because the attendees are adults who can take care of their own belongings or handle a minor mixup without freaking out. What industry is this?

    2. metadata+minion*

      This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest if the venue was at all crowded. You don’t have to leave your stuff unattended to accidentally grab the wrong one at the end of a program in a cramped lecture hall.

      1. Calliope*

        Yeah I could totally see this happening at conferences I’ve been to where people leave their stuff in a big presentation room while they wander around and chat, get a drink, etc. Then they forget where they were sitting and grab the wrong one so the next person thinks theirs must be the one from one seat over and it spirals.

      2. Unfettered scientist*

        I could see it if it’s your first conference, like you’re a student or something. But keeping track of your own stuff is such a basic thing that I’m surprised this group had this issue on a large scale. Sure 1 or 2 people misplacing their stuff can happen no matter what but that doesn’t mean backpacks and tumblers are bad ideas for swag.

    3. Esmeralda*

      Get to conference hall. Stick your bag under your chair so no one trips over it. Person sitting behind you grabs it on their way out.

      Go to lunch in gigantic hall. Set bag on chair. More folks arrive at table. Several other people set their bags on the same chair. At least one person grabs the wrong bag.

      Go into gigantic restroom with many stalls. Hang bag on hook along with purse, coat, scarf, hat. Grab everything in a rush on the way out. Leave bag behind accidentally. Realize when you get to giant conference hall that you left it. Rush back. It’s gone. But someone else has left theirs by the sink…

      This is why I started to use bright pink backpacks. Hello Kitty backpacks are even better , because everyone will recognize you by it, and if you accidentally leave it, someone will bring it to you.

      1. Calliope*

        To say nothing of the afternoon reception when you have to put your stuff somewhere random you juggle a drink plus apps plus needing to shake hands.

      2. Underpaid Non Profit Drone*

        I have a neon green Hello Kitty roller-bag for traveling. It’s awesome. No one wants to steal it because they figure it’s some little kid’s pajamas and Barbies.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I can’t use a purse because Ehlers-Danlos, so I have a toddler’s carp backpack I found on Etsy. It’s less bulletproof because I’m wearing it, but so far I haven’t lost my wallet once since I started using it, and my purse was never so lucky.

        2. Tierrainney*

          I have a Unicorn roller bag I got at Target for the same reason! I get complements every time I use it :)

      3. Relentlessly Socratic*

        My 60-something brother uses a giant pepto-pink suitcase for travel for exactly the same reasons. With his initials scrawled over it in giant sharpie. When he visits on a domestic flight, I can just meet him at baggage claim and grab his bag for him. I emulate him, but with lime green.
        Yes also to: Bright pink laptop bag, Hello Kitty backpacks, and purses with kitties on them.

    4. Manders*

      Years ago I went to a conference in Malmo, Sweden. They gave us backpacks that could also be roller bags to hold all of our conference stuff. My enduring memory of that conference will forever be the sound of 1000+ roller bags going over the cobblestone streets of the downtown area as everyone headed to the convention center.

    5. Workerbee*

      I was thinking this same thing. I have attended huge, crowded conferences where the official swag was always a backpack/tumbler/cool gadgets, and have never heard of an identification crisis. And you’d always hear about issues, so it wasn’t like word wouldn’t have gotten around if someone had the wrong backpack! You keep your backpack on your back while wandering around, you put it on your seat and remember where you’re sitting, etc. Also, you absolutely could deny getting one in the first place. Just because someone wants to hand you something at registration doesn’t mean you have to take it. No one was forced to use these backpacks where I attended, at least…

  15. turquoisecow*

    I forgot about this but many years ago a vendor that my dad worked with gave five pound bags of pistachio nuts to people they worked at the end of the year. Five pounds is a lot of pistachios. We brought them to several family holiday gatherings and barely made a dent in the bag.

    Dad told me that his boss told him a funny pistachio related story. He got the 5lb bag gift, brought it home, and his wife put it in some cabinet, where she found the previous year’s bag, unopened.

    So…don’t give out 5lb bags of nuts.

    1. Jay*

      My dad loved venison. Every year one of his patients would return from a hunting trip with fresh venison for him. Every year Dad would bring it home and give it to Mom, who would exclaim with surprise and gratitude and take it downstairs to the freezer….

      ….where she throw out last year’s venison and replace it. She never cooked it.

    2. RC Rascal*

      Unrelated but how many stories are there about 5lb bags of nuts at work?

      We had an intern who was into bodybuilding and carried around a 5 lb bag of nuts the entire semester. At his desk, meetings, the lunch room—the nuts went everywhere. He was not offered a job at the end of the internship , and had a meltdown. For Reasons we ended up cutting the internship which was a issue because we needed someone to do the work.

      My boss later swore our department NEVER HAD AN INTERNSHIP. We would remind him of the 5 lb bag of nuts and the meltdown and he would give us blank stares.


      Mysteries of the office.

    3. Delta Delta*

      I discovered pistachio frangipane this summer and now the only thing in the world I want to bake is sweet, nutty pistachio paste clouds. Would definitely demolish 5 lbs of pistachios.

  16. Work From Homer Simpson*

    Two good ones (two different companies):
    1) As a reward for hitting some safety metric, they gave us all small fire extinguishers (the kind you might have stashed in your kitchen for emergencies). This was fine, although not very exciting. The problem was that we found out a couple weeks later that the fire extinguishers were faulty and had been recalled. Jokes about the unsafe safety gifts were made for months.

    2) In 2020 our company went fully remote for the pandemic. Mostly their response to the pandemic was great, but they had one tone deaf move. They were considering opening the office back up during the summer of 2020 if the cases in our area dropped below a certain threshold, and intended to require mask usage. Masks were still a little hard to come by at that point in the pandemic, so they promised that they’d provide one re-usable mask per employee. Great! Well, case numbers never dropped low enough so we stayed remote through all of 2020. Christmas rolls around and we all get small packages delivered to our homes. It was the mask they’d already promised us, but repackaged with a Christmas card. Usually we’d get some small item for Christmas (tumblers, speakers, etc.) but apparently someone thought they’d save a few bucks by repurposing the masks for Christmas and no one would remember they’d already promised us the masks anyway. Well, everyone remembered and it did not go over well to find out how miserly the company was being while acting like they were generously giving us a Christmas gift.

    1. Can't think of a funny name*

      Your first one remind me of a gift a client of mine gave out years ago…I don’t remember why but they decided to give everyone those testers to test if your outlets were grounded…so people started testing the outlets around the office…and what do you know…the office outlets weren’t grounded!

    2. Lellow*

      I’d really like a (working, safe!) mini fire extinguisher as a present! It’s something I’d never get around to buying for myself, but I’d appreciate owning one.

    3. Run mad; don't faint*

      Back in 2020, when masks were hard to come by and we were all on lock down, my husband’s company sent care packages to all employees. This included two branded cloth face masks, which wasn’t a terrible idea considering we were all scrambling for masks of almost any kind at that point. One was a knit cloth, passable though not terrific (for the time anyway). The other was made out of football jersey material; you know, the kind with tiny holes all through it to make it breathable. We just started at it and eventually added it to the rag pile. Someone didn’t think that through at all.

  17. KHB*

    One year, my employer rolled out a horrendous new logo “for internal use only” (don’t ask), and to celebrate, gave us all backpacks embroidered with the new logo. Backpacks. For taking out into the world, to meetings and conferences and events that are very much not internal to the company.

    “Fortunately,” the horrendous internal logo was just our regular logo with some extra parts added, so a few minutes with a seam-ripper transformed the horrendous backpack into one I could actually use.

      1. KHB*

        Ask our CEO. And if you can get a sensible answer out of him, please let me know what he says, because I sure as heck don’t have a clue.

    1. frystavirki*

      I’m glad this is slightly better than what I was thinking at first, because what I initially read this as was “the backpacks all said FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY on them” which is, uh. Not the best idea, as a logo.

  18. Dust Bunny*

    Re: Smoked pheasant.

    Gone-off poultry is THE WORST. Some worthless SOB put a frozen turkey in the ceiling of one of our college dorms right before they left for Christmas break. I still wish I had known who it was so I could rat them out–nobody deserved to have to clean that up (except the brat who put it there).

    Also, smoked pheasant would have been awesome.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      I see your rotten bird/pork, and raise you crab legs left in a vehicle for days during the peak of summer heat.

      1. JustAnotherKate*

        My dad left half a corned beef sandwich in my car (not intentionally — he put the doggy bag on the floor and it slipped under the seat and we both forgot it). Thankfully, it only got to “stink” and not to “exploding bag” territory, particularly as he was not in the car when I (a vegetarian) discovered it, so I had to clean it up. It’s been probably 20 years, and 3 cars, since that day and I ALWAYS make anyone who rides with me hold their doggy bag.

        1. Cyn*

          I had a rather nice block of Havarti slide out of my grocery bag in my back seat into the side door pocket. I though I had just left it at the check out when I couldn’t find it. Luckily it was vacuum sealed, but after a week in the Texas heat, we were very close to exploding cheese territory!

          And I only found it because the cheese I bought to replace it the next week did the same thing, but I saw it happen!

    2. GammaGirl1908*

      This is a plot point in an episode of the early 2000s sitcom Sports Night. The show is set at a sports news show’s TV studio, and someone puts a frozen turkey in the light grid to thaw it. This is already a terrible idea, and doubly so when the thawing turkey begins dripping onto the desk during a live broadcast, and — thankfully during a commercial break — slips through the grid and falls to the desk with a splat.

    3. GoryDetails*

      I used to work for a tech company that gifted everybody frozen turkeys for the holidays. I was always pleased with that, but a LOT of the software developers were not into cooking much, if at all. A friend of mine dutifully took his turkey, put it in the trunk of his car, and forgot about it. For months. Given that this was winter in New England it didn’t start to get ripe for quite a while, but once it did… (I think he opted to refuse the turkeys after that, or offer them directly to others; wasn’t going to put one in his car ever again.)

    4. Bryce*

      When potatoes age they usually just get dry and shriveled and still fine. Sometimes they get mouldy instead.

      When there’s some water in there though, even a little? They rot. They turn into this brown starchy sludge that is impossible to clean and stinks to high heaven. It’s the only time a smell has made me vomit.

    1. anti social socialite*

      That reminds me (slightly off topic) but when my dad had his second open heart surgery, the hospital gave him a little swag bag. Most of it was medically useful, a thing to test your lung capacity, this special pillow to hug to your chest (I forget the science but it was a Thing) and … an anatomically correct heart stress ball branded with the hospital’s logo.

      He still has it. We bring it out for Halloween because really, what???

      1. to varying degrees*

        I have one of those stress hearts (also from a hospital swag bag) and I have no clue as to what to do with it. It feels weird throwing it out.

        1. Mockingjay*

          I’ve gotten health corp-branded small stress balls and hand squeezies. They’re good to relax stiff fingers after hours of typing. Squeeze and flex. I lost mine and now I want another. Never got a heart, though. Can’t decide if I’d like it or be weirded out.

        2. nona*

          I have one of those anatomically correct heart stress balls…but I also work for a medical device company that makes products associated with the heart.

          It goes along nice with the brain stress ball I got from University Health Services in college.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            I have a little brain stress ball that was in the cupholder in my car for a while. A friend was like, “You have a brain … loose? … in your car?” Me: “It was a freebie?” Friend: “Always good to have a spare, I guess.”

            (I also have a couple of tiny erasers shaped like brains. Mind erasers?)

          2. MagicEyes*

            I went to a meeting that had a table with a pile of stress brains. People went nuts over those little squishy brains, and the whole pile was gone in a flash. It was many years ago, and I still have mine somewhere. Now I need a heart to go with it.

      2. Esmeralda*

        Haha we gave my son’s oncologist a cheap brain toy every year. Wind up hopping brain. Squishy brain stress ball. Plush brain. He was a little confused by the Pinky and the Brain figurines…

        1. GoryDetails*

          Not the same thing at all, but I have an anatomically-correct-heart gelatin mold. (Also one for brains.) Extremely lifelike results, but you could really only squeeze them once {wry grin}.

      3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        I got a set of three wee plushies – an anatomically correct heart, a white blood cell and a red blood cell. (There might have been a plasma cell too, I forget.) The heart is on my desk next to MRSA (who has a cape, because he’s a SUPERBUG!), and the white and red blood cells are named Larry and Barry and tucked into the console of my car, who’s named Nux the Warboy.

        1. Lana Kane*

          A friend of mine had gastric bypass surgery, and he has one of those plushies in the shape of a stomach. Unclear if it has a name :)

      4. JustAnotherKate*

        Was the pillow they gave your dad an anatomically correct (ish) heart? My dad still has his, although my stepmother eventually made him move it out of the living room.

  19. TimeTravlR*

    I missed the previous post with the umbrella comment so may just be piling onto that, but I got a golf umbrella from an employer about 15 years ago that we still use and love because it’s freaking huge! That company did the best swag. When they bought us all logo’d shirts for the anniversary event, they were very careful to pick one that came in sizes for everyone.

    1. kitryan*

      I also missed the umbrella love! At current co, for a few years we received a good quality branded umbrella as a new hire gift, which was great- I had a fine umbrella already but now I could have one at the office and one at home. Since I’m terrible at checking whether it’s supposed to rain, this was great.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        If anyone wants to order umbrellas, make sure they’re good quality. My old job would give out branded umbrellas. I got 3-4 over the years, & they never lasted more than a few uses before breaking.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I always put the swag umbrellas in my car – because invariably that’s where I am when I suddenly need an umbrella. I think I have three in my car right now, because we’ve been in a drought for a while…

    2. Jay*

      One of my previous employers gave excellent Doctor’s Day gifts. I still have the huge golf umbrella from probably 15 years ago, and we regularly use the sports duffel when we travel. I also still have the Cross pen, but never bothered to replace the ink. They’re all branded but I don’t care.

      The best Doctor’s Day gift I ever received was a bobblehead of myself. They took our ID photos and had them made into bobbleheads. It’s hysterical. I love it.

      The next year we had a new medical director. It turns out the medical directors pick the gifts, and this guy was – not as good. I received a glass-topped watch storage box with fitted compartments for 12 watches. I own one watch. I wear it every day. It’s an Apple watch. And the damn thing is engraved with my name and the company’s logo so I can’t even donate it. I haven’t pitched it yet because it’s a nicely made box, but I will eventually.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I also got a great big golf umbrella years ago as a graduation present. It was incredibly popular back when I was in college, and it still works great 20+ years later, though it doesn’t get as much use now that I live in the mountains.

    4. Art3mis*

      It wasn’t a golf umbrella, but my department got really nice umbrellas from a vendor when we signed a contract with them. We ended up hating that vendor and ending the contract early. We all joked that the only thing of value we got from them was the umbrellas. I still use it almost 20 years later.

  20. KofSharp*

    my first job, they started giving out gifts of coffee mugs and hats when we started…
    but only when my wave of people started. Everyone who’d been there longer recieved nothing, no bonus, no raises. Until we all got $10 chik-fil-a gift cards (there was no chik-fil-a nearby and 2/3s of the office refused to eat food from there) and I turned in my notice.

    my next job, to encourage people to come in at least once a week in 2021, we got beach towels, socks, lanyards, and a branded cooler. AND for the holidays we get a yearly bonus and raises announced and a holiday party at a nice restaurant, so I’m much happier here.

    1. KofSharp*

      also funny story: my significant other and I have parents who worked at the same Teapot company, so part of how we bonded was us accidentally bringing the same old Teapot branded food transport thing to a potluck and then comparing our favorite gifts our parents got from Teapot.

      1. Professional Merchandiser, Retired*

        When I worked for P&G they used to send us a huge gift box with assorted P&G products (especially the new items rolling out that year.) It would have everything from Tide Pods to the newest Cover Girl mascara. And always an assortment of Duracell batteries. (great when you have kids with a jillion battery powered toys.) They would also include one large, branded swag, and these were really nice items. One year it was rolling suitcase (actually, I got this two different years. So I have one and my husband has one.) Once it was a turkey platter, and one year it was a lined stadium blanket. I still have and use all of them.
        Before this, I worked for a merchandising company that sent us a gift box every time they signed a new client. It would include all the new company’s products, but extra little happies, like a teddy bear and a Blockbuster gift card among other things. (Yes, this was many years ago!!) The kids caught on after the first box arrived and when one would arrive, they crowded around like vultures. They were nice enough to allow me to open the box and then step back.
        These were the only two companies I ever worked for who knew how to gift right.

        1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Long after my grandmother retired from P&G she still received the holiday goody boxes, and I still have several repro wooden soap boxes that the gifts came in. Literal soapboxes! On which I do not stand. They’ve served as end tables for decades. :)

          1. La Triviata*

            My father’s company sent the best Christmas gifts. Every year, we’d get a big box from a fancy foodstuff company with things like after-dinner mints, smoked oysters, fancy crackers and so on AND a 20-pound frozen turkey.

          2. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

            My mom quit P&G nearly 43 years ago to have me (!) and we still have at least 2 of the soap boxes and one stadium blanket. She loved working there, the gifts, the supply closet of home goods she could raid, the employee stock program. She has lovely stories about her boss taking good care of her and the food cart that would come around. Honestly, she made working for a large corporation not bad. Please note, she quit in 1979 so a lot has changed. :)

        2. Nupalie*

          I worked for CP and they had “freebie Wednesdays”. Every week I’d get a tube of toothpaste, or a 3 pack of Irish Spring, or a bottle of laundry detergent. It took me a decade to use it all up after I left Colgate

        3. KofSharp*

          YES exactly! The P&G gift boxes are still my favorites. I get the hand me downs and extras now that I’ve moved out, but my folks still get the boxes every year.

    2. DataSci*

      Yeah, I think if Hate Chicken was my holiday gift I’d turn in my notice too. That goes beyond clueless into actively hostile. At least with a useless gift I could actually give it away with a clear conscience, and not know that my company decided to give hundreds of dollars to a company that despises me.

      1. S*

        Nah, unless your work in other ways is actively anti-lgbtq, giving Chick fil a gift cards is just clueless. I’m queer so I wouldn’t do it, but I know its really popular in some places with strong allegiance to the dipping sauce or whatever. Maybe at some point oblivion becomes malicious, but that’s not the same thing.

        1. Sad Desk Salad*

          I donno, on the one hand, don’t attribute to malice what can be attributed to incompetence…but on the other, CFA’s hate stance is very well known and you have to be actively, willfully clueless to claim innocence when giving your money to them.

          1. Tom*

            “very well known”

            Only to those who are Very Online and haven’t bothered to actually look at the actual situation.

      2. KofSharp*

        Hate Chicken wasn’t even the only red flag, it was just one of the last red flags in a parade that led to me quitting.

    3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Ugh, yeah I’d decline the chick-fil-a cards too…..but blatantly telling the giver I’m not into food poisoning, thank you.

      Every time I’ve eaten at one of those places (generally because it was my only option seemingly) I’ve gotten sick. So as a gift you want to make me sick????

  21. anti social socialite*

    In another lifetime, I worked for a vet and every year at Christmas, the crematorium we were partnered with would send a smoked ham for all of us to share.

    Not the weirdest thing in the world but I always found it mildly creepy.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      That is perfect humor! Then again, I’m vegetarian so I wouldn’t have to mull over whether I wanted to eat crematory ham.

  22. Shemp*

    Missed the request for these so I will share here. I once worked for a military agency who ordered logo’d stress balls that looked like…. wait for it….
    hand grenades.
    It gets better. It was Domestic Violence awareness month.
    Thankfully, only one box got shipped to the field and that office was told to ship them back immediately!!

    1. Carrots*

      Ooh, I have one of these! And it’s in a desk at my office, haha. I’d better not toss it into anyone’s cube.

      1. Shemp*

        Ah, so some are out there in the wild. I almost expected someone to get fired over that but, you know… govt.

  23. Nurse Jackie*

    During 2020, my hospital was facing both the pandemic and an upcoming union vote. Nurses were leaving left and right. The world was on fire. Morale was in the gutter. And the hospital administration gave us gratitude journals for nurses week. They seemed genuinely shocked when the union was voted in a few months later.

    1. The Original K.*

      2020 was the worst year of my life. I actually do keep a gratitude journal and have since before 2020, but in fall 2020 the entries were, like “everybody who has helped me with all these personal tragedies.” Which … yes, I AM grateful, but I would rather not have had all the personal tragedies.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, 2020 would have been a good year to give stress balls and worry stones, not “gratitude” journals.

  24. jm*

    i empathize so much with 5 crappy gifts LW. my first gift was an umbrella that fell apart after 2 uses. a few years later was a fleece jacket in a very limited range of sizes. and finally a backpack, which they stockpiled in an empty office and kept begging people to pick up.

  25. Dust Bunny*

    One of my supervisors at a vet’s office was not a warm-fuzzy guy but liked us well enough that he panicked when he realized he hadn’t brought anything to hand out at Christmas, so he opened the box of chemical hand-warmers he had in his truck–the kind you squeeze to activate–and handed them out. Nobody minded because it was hilariously on-brand for him and we weren’t a big gifty office, anyway.

    We ended up using them to warm up orphaned kittens, so still a win.

      1. Anonymouse*

        Fleece jackets also make wonderful kitten gifts.
        And kittens love to chase and pounce on stress balls.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          My brother’s office was temporarily shoehorned into a space next to the university gym. The football team changed logos and left behind a big box of old gym towels. Which are now lining cages in the local vet’s office.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Awww! Actually, those are a great idea for kitten warmers, because they don’t get as hot as electric heaters thus don’t risk overheating the kittens.

  26. MCL*

    See, my former employer (a small college) also gave out free turkeys for the holiday season, but everyone got a holiday card with a voucher for a free turkey at the local grocery store, so you could pick it up at a time convenient to you (or give it to someone else). I always liked that gift, but if I had been given an actual turkey on the spot… probably not.

    1. Scarlet Magnolias*

      I’ve told the story before, but back in the 70’s I worked for a food processing company. Very upscale. They did a wonderful holiday party and then gave everyone a fresh turkey. We brought our turkeys home and cooked them promptly. One employee, Jordie (who featured really unfortunate corduroy pants with little foxes embroidered on them) put his turkey in the trunk of his car and………………………………forgot about it for 5 months. When the social isolation began to drive him nuts, he took the car to a gas station, they popped the trunk and there was a large oozing pale green mass. Car was never the same and he had to junk it.
      Ah good times

    2. Lexie*

      That’s a great way to handle it. I had a former employer that handed out turkeys the day before Thanksgiving. I could never accept it because I always got on a plane that evening or the next morning and couldn’t take it with me.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        Even if you’re not travelling, you probably already have a turkey on hand if you had wanted one. So now you have another giant bird that requires hours in the oven. Not so helpful.

    3. Merci Dee*

      My current employer used to give us actual hams for the Christmas holiday. They’d be kept in a freezer truck outside the exit, and when you left at the end of your shift, you’d stop by and sign for your ham in a box. About five years ago, they switched over to gift cards for the company where they used to buy the hams, and people like that much better. You can buy a ham, a turkey, some sides, or some dessert with your gift card instead of being stuck with a piece of meat you might not be able to eat.

    4. HBJ*

      Yea, I’ve worked for a couple places that did this, and this is how they always did it – a voucher at a store and a solid 30-45 day window to pick it up.

    5. Elle Woods*

      My brother used to work at a multinational corporation that had a number of offices in the US. They would give each employee a roughly 12-pound frozen turkey around Thanksgiving. The company did a great job distributing them; they had a whole drive-through line set up in the parking lot. But yeah, if you went to work that day not knowing you were going to be getting a turkey that would weird.

    6. turquoisecow*

      I work for a supermarket and we get frozen turkeys at thanksgiving. Usually an email is sent out a few weeks in advance to tell us the date so everyone can arrange to be at the office. If you don’t want one, you just tell the office manager who’s coordinating and you don’t get one. They don’t keep them at the office because there isn’t space – they’re delivered on a truck and handed out in the parking lot. Most people put them right in their car and take it home and it’s usually cold enough that they don’t worry about it melting in the car during the day (usually they’re handing them out first thing in the morning). I haven’t heard any stories about people forgetting about them in their cars, because people who get them usually want them and are planning to eat them.

    1. Lora*

      It was a company that made those PAGE gel kits before precast ones were a thing. They have since been bought out by another company who presumably gives out better holiday gifts. Back in Ye Olden Days when you poured all your own gels, and got your stuff back out by carefully cracking the glass panes apart with a paint scraper….

      1. Foila*

        Ha, is that not how it’s done anymore? Do you not have to use the paint scraper to trim the little jelly fringe where the comb was either? I feel old.

        1. Nesprin*

          I can confirm I still use a paint scraper- they make some nice whippy steel ones whereas the plastic thermo freebee is way too thick. Even with the precast gels you still have to crack the cartridge and god help you if the plastic cracks before the seal does.

      1. irene adler*

        Here in San Diego, there was a lab tech who hated his boss. So, one morning, he put acrylamide into the boss’s coffee maker. Only the dept secretary got there first. And poured herself a cup of fresh, hot coffee.
        She ended up in the hospital -permanent nerve damage too.
        The boss poured himself a cup as well. but didn’t get the chance to drink much. he ended up okay.
        The lab tech went to prison.

    2. o_gal*

      Yes I can Google it, but this is yet another example where the author needs to tell us what it is, rather than assuming everyone just automatically knows.

  27. Down the rabbit hole*

    I’ve had great gifts like Bose noise cancelling headphones, and a 75$ voucher for an inclusive snack website (it was fun and nice to order something I would actually eat and they had non-food items available too).

    I think the really crummy gifts were a waste of time and money. Top three were: a $100 gift card to a vegan restaurant (95% of staff were not vegan, the restaurant owner was a client of the company, and the restaurant reviews were not good) where dinner for two costs about $200, a knockoff fitness watch (that broke when you tried to get the charging port), and knockoff AirPods (that sparked when you charged them and that I also suspected would shock me if I tried to use them).

  28. Curious*

    #5–I give up — what is actylamide monomer? I googled it and… I took organic chemistry much too long ago to make any sense of what came up :(

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      It’s a precursor to a polymer–basically a proto-plastic that will be turned into a plastic with the addition of more chemicals. It’s also highly toxic, in this case prolonged or repeated or acute exposure to large amounts will cause brain damage.

        1. Student*

          I once worked at a place where they had to include, in our annual safety training, a note that you’re not allowed to store radioactive material in the break-room refrigerator. The note was, sadly, necessary.

          On a related note, I have a personal policy that I never use communal refrigerators in my industry. I instituted this rule about 2 minutes after I got to that slide in the safety briefing, and have never regretted it.

          1. J.B.*

            A previous set of students had made an anaerobic digestor in a glass container. When gases built up guess what happened to the glass container containing C14? Radiation safety loooved that one.

        2. Usagi*

          My wife used to work in a specimin lab in a hospital (i.e., any biopsies, blood draws, etc. would go through them). There were of course a fridge and freezer for the specimins, but during a particularly busy period, those got full since the lab itself couldn’t keep up with the intake of specimins, and she found a TOE in the food fridge. Properly packaged (or whatever you do with a toe), but STILL. She was very part time (this was while she was in school for her Master’s), and graduated/went to med school/left that job shortly after, so we never found out what happened, who thought it was okay to put that there, or if anything happened to them, consequence-wise.

          Honestly I’m glad it wasn’t me because stuff like that would immediately make me throw up. I got nauseous the first time she told me.

  29. Aepyornis*

    I worked in a nursing home tied to a large international religious charity for 8 years. They gave us an annual gift, which is unusual in my country. There was no need for any gift, it wouldn’t have come off as weird or cheap. But year after year they gifted us fire blankets. The first year I thought this was useful. The second year I wondered if they had forgotten about last year. The third year I wondered if they had just received a massive fire blankets donation they were going through slowly. The fourth year I wondered if they just assumed we regularly set stuff on fire and went through one blanket per year. The fifth year I understood we were trapped in an endless loop. The sixth year I started a blog about it. The seventh year I looked up if there was an aspect of that religion I had overlooked that somehow connected to fire and blankets. The eighth year they finally broke me, and I looked forward to receiving my well-earned blanket, no further questioning of The Blanket.
    I still have 3 of them, 12 years after leaving that position.

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

      This…this is the best/worst one I’ve heard. Fire blankets. You mean the kind you put over a small grease fire to smother it? Hmmm, in third world countries, cooking fires are a big contributor to severe injuries and deaths for children and women … is that the connection?

      1. Aepyornis*

        That’s the kind! Never used any of them but developed a strange attachment to them over the years, hence the three currently in my kitchen, unlikely to ever be called to duty.

      1. Aepyornis*

        It was in French and poorly written during one of my graveyard shift. I don’t think it can be found anywhere anymore.

    2. The Person from the Resume*

      Aepyornis, I laughed and laughed through the progression of the story. You are a storyteller!

    3. Lana Kane*

      It took 8 years to break you – I feel this was a larger experiment they were conducting.

      Or your employer was being strongarmed by Big Blanket.

      1. Aepyornis*

        I should restart the blog to explore all the possible conspiracy theories linked to The Fire Blankets Affair and have the AAM commentariat weigh in on them.

    4. Deborah*

      You should try to find out if they kept doing it, are they still, even now, 20 years later, giving out annual fire blankets.

    5. Francie Foxglove*

      Okay, you probably all know A Christmas Story, and that it’s based on selected stories from “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” by Jean Shepherd. The endless fire blankets remind me of one of the stories that didn’t get into ACS.

      So it’s the 1930s, and people are looking for free or reduced-price stuff, and free or low-priced entertainment, and a movie theater has both. All women attending on Friday nights will get one piece of a 112-piece dinnerware set, free with admission. Huzzah! Fire codes be damned as women crowd the theater every Friday, lured by the shimmer of Depression glass*. First the butter dish, then the bun warmer, the big platter…for a few weeks, it’s like manna at the movies. But the gravy-boat week was the last good week. The following week, it’s gravy boats again, and the week after that, and then the last week. It wasn’t the poor theater owner’s fault! He was shedding bricks over this, and swearing that the patrons could exchange the second (and third) gravy boat for something else. But something else never shows up; someone must have messed up the delivery or at the factory. So week four has him pleading, “Ladies, I give you my *personal guarantee*…” Too late: a barrage of gravy boats fly out of the darkness. Kind of like The Lottery, come to think of it. Next day, the theater is shuttered, and every kitchen in town has about ten pieces of a 112-piece dinnerware set.

      *Which is nothing to scoff at! If these people were real, and even one or two pieces of that incomplete set survived until the turn of the millennium, they’d be worth a chunk of change.

  30. 40 Years In the Hole*

    Former Federal govt worker at our hq. One day, our health & welfare division met everyone as they arrived for work, at several of our buildings across the city. They handed out cheapy branded thumb drives to everyone – thousands of them. Ok, cool, whatever.
    Within minutes the IT directorate went nuclear/apoplectic & flash-blasted the entirety of the hq’s locations, ordering everyone to not even THINK of plugging these drives into our secure systems. Something about, you know, IT security & integrity …

    1. Aepyornis*

      Let me start a conspiracy theory right there: did someone hold a grudge against the IT directorate and got back at them by creating this security mayhem?

      1. 40 Years In the Hole*

        Nah – not these folks; just blatantly clueless. Suspect no one at the decision-making level ever considered the ramifications of potentially crashing an entire Department’s system with a .12c piece of tech.

  31. Anon for this*

    Many years ago, my mother worked for a state agency in our state. Before specific rules about kickbacks etc. were promulgated, every year for Christmas my mom would get a case of Old Original Bookbinders Turtle Soup from a specific vendor. My dad LOVED that soup and would look forward to this all year long. Old Original Bookbinders has been gone for a long time, and he still misses that soup.

    1. Jaid*

      Hell, I miss that soup. I’ve seen recipes for mock turtle soup, but I’ll continue to miss out….especially since the one with the closest texture incorporates calf’s head…

  32. desiree*

    the hospital i work for gave us all coffee mugs that of course had the company logo on them, a blanket thing that was flannel on one side and plasticky material on the other (still haven’t figured out what exactly it was supposed to be used for) also with company logo, and silly putty type stuff to squeeze when we’re aggravated/agitated. i would have preferred something i could really use – a giant sized bottle of ibuprofen.

      1. desiree*

        it was kind of small to be a picnic blanket. i put it under the cat’s litter box – plastic side up of course :)

        1. Darsynia*

          I wonder if it was designed for bleacher sitting! My high school used to sell a branded little blankets and chair cushion that you could buy and the idea was the plastic part with keep your butt from getting wet when you were at the football game. Without instruction, though that would be a very bizarre gift!

  33. Cedrus Libani*

    I once attended a conference where everyone got a blown glass sculpture. An incredibly fragile blown glass sculpture. Throughout the final session, and the bus ride back to our hotel, the sounds of breaking glass could be heard – if it touched anything, it went kaboom. Also, I was flying home the next morning! So I took every article of clothing I had to spare, packed them around the stupid thing as tightly as I could, and hoped for the best. Somehow it survived, but many did not. It was really pretty, and I’m sure it was expensive, but…who thought that was a good idea?

      1. La Triviata*

        At a previous job, the CEO would get, um, inventive with Christmas gifts to staff. One year, it was a few lottery tickets. Another, it was stamps or coins from our birth years. Another, it was a sheet of $2 bills (I ended up cutting them apart and spending them … we did NOT get bonuses at all). Another year, it was three one-ounce mini-ingots of silver (I still have mine). Most of us would have preferred a bonus or the cash equivalent, but he kept getting IDEAS.

  34. Taskmistress*

    In January of 2020 we all got a pack of Emergen-C with a note saying “Bring it on 2020!” (in reference to cold and flu season) and it aged like milk on a summer day.

  35. WellAnon*

    My company has an actual swag making division so we get (cheap) unisex ( re: make) tshirts at the drop if a hat. This year for the 5k, it turns out they are simply giving out the leftovers from last year’s. Luckily they told us in advance. We all said no thanks!

  36. Claritza*

    A principal at a school where I worked handed out coffee mugs which not only had the school’s name misspelled, but in a humorous way!

    1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      This happened with a friend’s workplace! Her employer had “Virginia” in the name. The gifts spelled it “Virgina.”

      …You can imagine the jokes we’ve been making since. (Dunno what happened to her Virgina swag, though. Haven’t seen it in years.)

  37. Lorelai Smith*

    At my former software company’s holiday party (catered affair, guests, etc): For the men: off-brand swiss-army-style gadgets that in addition to the usual blades, scissors, screwdrivers (standard and Phillips) and can openers, had all sorts of additional features including fold-out lenses that made a telescope, a miniature tweezers in a tiny drawer, and a file.

    The gift for the women: a scented candle in a velvet bag.

    There was a mad scramble when many women rushed to swap out their stinky candles for the gadgets.

    And the CEO, who came up with the gift ideas, was totally clueless as to why the women employees were pissed.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      Ewwww. I loathe those scented candles. Since I’m AFAB that’s what certain clueless folks seem to think I’d want, but I’d horribly allergic.

  38. Yoyoyo*

    I once got a “swag bag” which included a stress ball and a branded cloth face mask. The kicker was that the mask didn’t meet the requirements for PPE at my job, so we couldn’t even wear them at work!

  39. Alianne*

    My husband, a middle-school teacher whose school decided to rush headlong back into in-person classes in fall of 2020, was given an “appreciation kit” by his school on the first day of class (as were all the teachers). One tiny bottle of hand sanitizer, two 5-count packets of disinfectant wipes, a T-shirt in the school colors that said “we’re all in this together”, and a booklet with the number and website for the local mental health crisis line.

    Approximately one-quarter of the teaching staff left after the 2020-2021 school year. For some reason.

  40. Radski*

    My senior attorney/owner of the law firm once gave each employee ONE of those electric candle sticks you put in your windows at Christmas. Just one. I think the houses that put one in each window are beautiful at night, but just one would be…. unusual. I think I gifted mine to another coworker so they would have at least two.

    1. Becky S.*

      One of my friends , and her coworkers, were given black tapered candles for Christmas from their department head. After Halloween sale??

  41. Daisy-dog*

    I really feel the sentiment of this was very good and well-intentioned. Context: In 2020, my manager put together a virtual Christmas party for our team. We first shared a favorite Christmas cookie recipe, chose one to make, and then shared them together at the “party” (which was during work hours). This was wonderful and a good experience. (Everyone on the small team celebrates Christmas and does enjoy baking.) I shared the recipe for my grandmother’s tea cakes which I make every year for Christmas. I also made a recipe for different cookies that a co-worker shared. Both were wonderful.

    As a Christmas gift, my boss sent us: cookies. They were fancy cookies from a great local bakery. But I already had 2 batches of cookies from the “party” a few days earlier. And it was 2020, so I wasn’t seeing my family or going to events. They did freeze well, but I always use the majority of my freezer and didn’t have space. I even switched to eating cookies for breakfast for a few days, but I could not eat them all.

    1. Cookies for Breakfast*

      Given my regular username, “I even switched to eating cookies for breakfast for a few days” is the perfect equivalent of “do I hear someone call my name?” here. That would seriously have been my ideal gift! Yes, even and especially including the leftovers from the virtual party :D

  42. Oliver Who Sticks*

    My company’s swag has been up & down over the years — a low point during the pandemic was a water bottle with an actual swear word on it (company logo and a motto proclaiming us “Essential As F***”). Mind you, we see clients in the building. It’s everyday language for the COO, but not for most of the rest of us. The majority of the bottles vanished pretty quickly.

    An unexpected high point last Christmas was a fleecy blanket with the company logo in the corner. The things are pet magnets and super cozy (maybe I should say cozy as f***?). I ended up with two and we use them daily. 10/10 would recommend the fleecy blanket. 0/10 would recommend the sweary water bottle.

    1. Cheesiest 57 ways*

      My cat loves the soft blanket we got with the company logo. I put it on the back of the recliner which is her favorite sleeping spot.

  43. UKDancer*

    I’ve never worked anywhere with corporate gifts. That said I’ve seen a lot of interesting stuff at trade fairs and it seems to go in waves. At the moment hand sanitiser bottles with corporate logos is really popular and I love it because I get through the stuff really fast right now.

    Weirdest are some of the stress balls. I got one shaped to look like an aubergine a few years ago. Obviously that company hadn’t worked out what the aubergine emoji stood for but just picked it because it matched their colours.

    1. just another queer reader*

      I cannot imagine keeping a straight face if I were handed an eggplant stress ball at work.

      The whole point is to squeeze it!!!!

      1. UKDancer*

        Fortunately it was an industry trade fair so I only had to keep my composure until I was out of sight of the stand in question and further down the exhibition hall. I would have struggled to behaved if I’d been in my office.

  44. Really?*

    At least the idea of gift giving was there! My cheap-a$$ former employer is a regional bank in the Midwest and “celebrated” 150 years of being a company (with the same name / not acquired or gobbled up by a big bank. That’s really something I’m banking.) Not one piece of swag came our way. Not ONE. Not even an f’ing coffee mug, which actually would have been appreciated. No cake, no party, no nothing. Incredibly disappointing. Glad to be a former employee!

    1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      I once, completely accidentally, wandered into my bank on the day they were celebrating their 100th birthday. I was the only customer and there was cake and a swag bag and everyone was SUPER excited to see a customer. I went back to the car where my ride was waiting, handed him a piece of cake, and exclaimed, “I LOVE COMING TO THE BANK! I GOT CAKE AND A PEN AND TOTE BAG AND A NEXT YEAR DAY PLANNER!” It’s never happened since, but every time, I think, “Maybe this time there will be cake…”

  45. YarnLife*

    When I was a college student I worked part time at a small retail store. On Christmas Eve the boss/store owner made a point of asking us to gather after closing because he had a gift for the employees. The store sold a huge variety of wares, from clothing to toys to housewares to crafts. So many possibilities. As we left, we were each handed a small box of Queen Anne cordial cherries. Aside from being terrible candy, they were selling for 99 cents, and were on clearance when we returned to work 2 days later. It’s still a family joke decades later.

  46. EPLawyer*

    “(I got in the habit of covertly abandoning my swag in the supply cupboard where they kept the spare swag).”

    Yeah it wasn’t where they kept the spare swag. One person decided to hide their swag there and then everyone assumed it was where the spare swag was kept. it snowballed from there.

    1. #7*

      It was the spare swag cupboard because people kept quitting the office I worked at and not being replaced between when they ordered the swag and when it arrived, so they consistently had too much swag and had to keep it someplace. :(

      I quit a few months ago and my new job is one of those places with branded Yeti mugs and Patagonia jackets.

  47. SMH*

    My prior company gave everyone a small tree and encouraged people to plant it. Now these were small seedlings maybe 2 inches inside of a small cup used by dentists for mouthwash and what not. Upon receiving them we read the name ‘Honey Locusts’. They literally gave us locusts for employee appreciation. They also recommended we plant these on our property or randomly plant them on some one else’s property. These trees grow to be very large and my property couldn’t accommodate. Two weeks later an email went out stating ‘Please do not plant your trees at work, we do not own the property.’

    1. Slow+Gin+Lizz*

      HAHAHA! I think honey locusts are probably lovely trees but it’s hilarious anyway that they gave you locusts. Also: did they not say in the instructions to plant them on someone else’s property? So it would follow that people would naturally think to plant them on the company’s property. SMH indeed.

    2. o_gal*

      They also grow thorns that encircle the trunk, after they get large enough. And I think they also have large seed pods that drop and are a big pain to clean up (but those might be black locust.) A really crappy choice of tree to gift.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        They’re very good for honey bees because they are one of the 1st flowers to bloom in the spring…thus the name.
        And the wood is extremely durable even when waterlogged. But the thorns are an issue for suburban or urban neighborhoods.

  48. Slow+Gin+Lizz*

    #2 is awful. If there ever were workers who really need money and time off, hospital workers are definitely #1 on that list. Talk about tone-deaf, ouch.

  49. CoveredinBees*

    Yeah, in 2020, handing out rocks to “health care heroes” was startlingly popular. Maybe some hospital admins professional association suggested it and they all followed suit? I know multiple nurses who got a rock with something “inspirational” on it and a single slice of pizza when what they needed was PPE.

    1. JelloStapler*

      There seems to have been a lot of

      “What do you guys need?”
      “More staff, more money, more PPE, more time off?”
      “Yes yes yes. What I’m hearing is a rock, pizza and a nice email”.

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

    OP3, by any chance do you work at pharma? Your story sounds like something that happened at my current job, but in our case people were careful to personalize their backpacks with charms and stickers and wrote their names with permanent marker.
    BTW, this year they switched the birthday gift from candies to slippers due to complains from some employees… But the new gifts turned out to be too cheap and they break after a few months of intense use.

  51. LKW*

    I hate swag. I never take it. One year for a work luncheon close to the holidays I joined the planning team. I asked if instead of meaningless baubles or branded stuff, could we use the budget to buy everyone some really nice chocolate and create sugar-free an non-chocolate goody bags just in case.

    I bought $1500 of Vosages chocolates, gave everyone two bars and we bought chocolate-free candies from all over the world for those who couldn’t/didn’t like chocolate. Not a single bar was left behind.

  52. Lizzie*

    #7 reminds me a lot of my company. Throughout the years, every bit of swag has been cheap knockoffs of anything and everything. Bags, travel mugs, etc. I don’t think I’ve kept anything because its all crap.

  53. No Smoked Fowl Please*

    Re: No. 8 — We had a vendor that used to send my office a smoked turkey every year for the holidays. Every day the one guy who actually ate the turkey would pull it out of the fridge and set it out on the table in the breakroom. (We did not have room to store it in the fridge during the day b/c of employee lunches).

    Man, that thing smelled–even when it was “fresh” and right out of the wrapping. You could smell it from across the office. After about five days of this someone would (mercifully) throw out the almost-entirely-uneaten turkey.

    Smoked fowl does not make good office gifts. We were all very grateful when the vendor decided to switch to a more-shelf stable holiday gift.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Yeah, I absolutely love smoked poultry, but that stuff has a stank on it that I would never dream of inflicting on the unwary (or sending through the MAIL! Ugh…)

  54. Alldogsarepuppies*

    My fiancé’s company was having their annual all-hands meeting remote for COVID reasons so sent care packages in preparation to attend. It include A. A post card with the information of the event B. A single-serving package of pirate booty C. a company branded golf towel? and D. a single wrapped Oreo (like the kind you get in mass to give out on Halloween). I stole the Oreo – which we all know was the best part of this package.

  55. Seashell*

    One time, I came into work to discover sample sizes of soap and deodorant on my desk, which seemed a little odd. (This was pre-pandemic, so it wouldn’t be like the soap was to help with Covid prevention.) My co-worker came in shortly after to tell me they were freebies that were passed out to everyone, not an indication that I smelled bad or was unclean.

  56. Prudence X*

    One company I worked for decided to order branded t-shirts with the company’s logo. For some reason, they decided to order classic/“men’s” t-shirts but v-neck fitted/“women’s” shirts.

    I was in charge of ordering. The mock-ups sent to me by the screen printing company placed the logo on the upper left chest of the classic t-shirt, but the logo was too large to fit in that space on the v-neck, so it had been placed lower down. I flagged that the placement should be adjusted for the decision makers, but they overruled me.

    Fast-forward two weeks, and a bunch of our staff and clients were given fitted v-neck shirts with a large company logo over the left breast, like a particularly unfortunate pasty.

    1. A librarian who wishes to remain unidentified*

      It’s late and I doubt anybody will see this, but I have to share.

      One of my previous libraries created a website that would recommend books for library customers. They called the website “Gimme,” as in, give me a good recommendation. For the launch, we were all given t-shirts to wear that said “Gimme” in large letters, right across the boobs.

      1. Bryce*

        My hometown celebrated surviving a forest fire with shirts branded “no better place” right over the chest.

      2. Ev*

        God, I have received so many library tshirts (mostly for summer reading programs) over the years that were clearly designed by people who have never even thought about the fact that our staff is something like 85% female.

        At least we were able to catch this year’s shirt, which would have featured Unfortunately Located radishes, in the design phase, rather than after they were all printed.

      3. Anon VW fan*

        Our local Volkswagen dealership did custom T shirts with an artist’s rendition of VW Beetle front and back. One guess where the headlights turned up.
        (Extra disappointing because it was otherwise so beautiful.)

    2. Still working*

      I’m laughing because while I was reading this thread (but away from my desk for a few minutes), a black T-shirt with the company logo showed up on my chair.

  57. Frankie Bergstein*

    Gosh – the environmental impact of these “gifts” is awful — especially in this time of runaway climate change!

  58. Octopus*

    I would have appreciated a gratitude journal in 2020. Finding one small thing – even if it was “only cried for 10 minutes today” – was huge when everything was awful and horrible. And usually it was something good, even for that.

    1. Lisa*

      Yeah, this might be an unpopular opinion but I actually don’t think the gratitude journal gift is that bad, especially if it was well-intentioned. I feel like writing in a gratitude journal is intended for tough times in the first place.

  59. DrFresh*

    #5 — Two jobs ago, my hospital gave out frozen turkeys. But these were not normal sized, but the 13+ pounders that supermarkets have trouble offloading. So we showed up to pick up these enormous birds… and put them in a plastic checkout bag (provided). While I appreciated the turkey, my 70 year old co-worker ended up breaking her foot when the bag ripped.

    The next year they gave out gift certificates. This was awesome as post-holidays hams/turkeys were dirt cheap per pound and you could get something on sale.

    1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

      Having a foot broken from a gifted work turkey…that’s one for the injured-at-work hall of fame >.<

  60. SMH*

    On #3, how did it come about that everyone was using these backpacks?

    The commenter said, “The company issued a gift with all the registration materials at check-in so it was not possible for individuals to decline it.”

    Then in the next paragraph: “People promptly packed them up and brought them to the conference.”

    So was check-in the day before, and everyone decided to use these backpacks, and none of their normal luggage for a weeklong trip? Or was check-in the same day, and everyone moved their belongings to one of these backpacks, then never noticed they were putting theirs into a pile with other identical backpacks? So strange……

    1. Asenath*

      When I’ve been at conferences where I got an nice sturdy bag, we used to put all the other stuff we got at registration – paper schedules, booklets full of descriptions of all the sessions and glossy ads for supporting companies, the obligatory pen, etc. – in said bag, and then, overnight, having decided not to carry two bags for the next days’ sessions, moved what personal stuff we had into our bag that we got at registration, and went off carrying the same type bag as everyone else. I don’t recall too many people getting confused over ownership, but we usually had them over our shoulders or on the floor next to our seats. They were excellent bags. I guess it all got expensive and of course digital schedules on an app are better (and probably cheaper) than paper schedules and a bag to put them in. I was cleaning out an office one day, and found a bag from a long-ago conference that the owner must have used for personal items as well, because there were things like toothpaste and a toothbrush in it.

  61. annon House Mouse*

    Being anounmous for this one, just in case. But this sort of falls into this.

    This happened years ago before I was here. Being a state university, there are very strict rules about using the university logo and needing permission, and only approved vendors can use the logo. Our director asked the communications team to help create a logo for our department. Wanted to create some swag for an event or something. They went through purchasing to buy items, got the design approved, etc everything went right. Even ordered the iron on patches to put on Tshirts to hand out to folx. My director, being relatively new to the org thought everything was fine. Until after the event she was told that they did not have permission for the swag. No one told her. She spoke to 3 different people, all of who should at some point had asked, did you get X approval for clothing swag? This was before the clear-cut system we have now. She got a bit of a scolding from business services in which she replied, but I talked to MULTIPLE people all of who are supposed to check that this is approved. No one told me NO. Some of the longer term staff members still have the “illegal” swag.

  62. Sad Desk Salad*

    I must be pretty fortunate to work in the industry I’m in (tech adjacent), because I’ve only ever gotten great gifts. The vast majority of jackets I wear are corporate gifts, although I should probably take a seam ripper to the logos since I don’t work at the companies listed on most of them anymore. And while they’re very obviously from the “corporate gift collection,” they are legitimate items from Patagonia, North Face, etc., and I do actually wear them when sportsing in cold weather. They also all fit really well. One company even gave us branded Converse, which I still have and wear regularly. One company gave us a rolly bag that was awful, but I still use it frequently, and an insulated mug that, while the logo is slowly peeling off after many years of abuse, manages to keep coffee searing hot for six hours.

    In the interest of keeping with the theme, I’ll share a story from a former employer’s department admin. We all really liked her and she was awesome, fun and great at her job. So two other employees and I put together a daily gift for her for Admin Professionals Week (or day? I forget, but we made it a weeklong thing). We printed out cute photos of her from her facebook page and pasted it over the labels of bottles of wine for her and added it to a gift basket full of flowers, food, etc. We decorated her cube. One woman gave her tiny bottles of booze dressed up to look like flowers and gave it to her as a “boozequet.” She was so well liked, we put a lot of effort into making her feel appreciated.

    All of this effort apparently flew under the radar of her boss, apparently, who seemed to have forgotten the day. After several days of being showered with gifts from her appreciative coworkers, her boss finally noticed and gave her a single square of Ghirardelli chocolate with a “happy admin day” post-it note.

    So she got some wine, some other booze, candy, flowers, etc….and a great story.

      1. Sad Desk Salad*

        Not that being inconsiderate has a gender or anything, but it’s almost worse that the boss was a woman. Knowing the propensity for admin roles to be pinkwashed, you’d think she’d have a bit more awareness, but no.

  63. Laura*

    This year we’ll get fluffy hoodies in neutral + unobtrusive company colours. We can chose from unisex sizes XS to 6XL. Which is OK as company gifts go, most people can always use another hoodie. (We also get paid well.)

    However, rumour has it that corporate will lower room temperature in the offices in winter to 65°F to save energy, which makes those hoodies a somewhat ominous gift…

    I’d like a heated mouse.

  64. Karen, but not that kind of Karen*

    My org once had a plan for giving out some branded coasters that touted our Quality Mindset, but they said “Qualtiy Mindset” instead.

    1. Lab Boss*

      There’s an old Dilbert storyline about the company releasing keyboards missing the letter Q. I’m not even a huge fan of the strip, but I still use the punchline “The U stands for Quality” when something really dumb happens at work.

  65. Rachael*

    One of my jobs was at a bank and they must have opened a long unused closet because they found a bunch of mens embroidered (with the bank logo) fleeces. It would have been an okay gift if we were, you know, men….but most of us weren’t. To top it all off they went person by person on a list and assigned us one of the sizes without asking what size we wanted. So, imagine a fuller lady who is trying to trim down being told that they have been assigned an XL men’s fleece? It cause chaos! LOL. I got the XL fleece and it was HUGE on me. The whole debacle was just ridiculous because they could afford to get us something but just didn’t want to do it. The previous year was normal, give certificate for….I think $75….(can’t remember) and a breakfast served by the executives with a expresso bar. Nothing too fancy, but I loved it every year. The next year we were merging with another bank so I think they just felt that they didn’t have to do it to retain employees anymore and stiffed us. Very disheartening, especially for those like me who worked hard the last 10 years to be basically told that we didn’t matter, lol.

  66. Underpaid Non Profit Drone*

    After reading these stories, I am so glad my company is too poor to give any sort of tangible holiday present to us employees! They do every so often give us an extra day off, which is REALLY appreciated.

  67. RJ*

    OP 10, I so agree with you. Several companies ago, I was briefly asked to be a part of a similar committee and got out as soon as I could. They were nicknamed Waste Management for how badly they managed to waste money on stuff no one in the office wanted, needed or asked for.

  68. GiGi*

    Years ago, I was hired as a big hot-shot tech startup, and one of the first things I was told was to help myself to any swag I saw in the supply closets. They were overflowing with water bottles, fancy journals, stationary, fleeces, vests, you name it and they had it. Real high quality stuff, too. From what I could tell, they had ordered way too much and kept it around for staff to grab whenever they wanted.

    A few months back, they tanked hard and shut down due to, at least in part, lack of funds. Not surprised. [I do still use the journals though!]

  69. Numbat*

    We were given branded Monopoly sets, which people didn’t think much of until they realised they could be sold on ebay to collectors!

  70. Challenge Coins*

    Can we all agree that the trend of “challenge coins” for gifts is awful? I work in healthcare and it started in the pandemic with punchy “survived the storm” type stuff and is still going strong. Nothing says thanks for your work like a useless coin that reminds you of the terrible thing you had to endure.

    I also have a buddy in healthcare that got an appreciation rock with the hospital logo laser engraved on it. It came with a California prop 65 (warning about possible hazardous chemicals) label. We named it the cancer rock.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Yeah, corporate challenge coins are profoundly cringy. The military tradition grew organically and is an expression of a very deep level of connection and comradery. Then companies looked at that happening and said “ah yes, challenge coins cause morale.”

  71. LT*

    Worked at a sporting goods store in high school, the staff was mostly made up of high school and college students. They gave us turkeys the day before Thanksgiving. No notice or anything, just handed them out to those who worked that day, called anyone who was not working to come get them that day. Nice but like some of these stories, not well thought out.

    1. LT*

      One more, the hospital I work for now gave everyone Bomba socks as a thank you for being a healthcare hero gift early in the pandemic. Seems kind of random, but I do love those socks.

  72. Art3mis*

    For employee appreciation day my previous employer had a raffle that everyone was automatically entered into. Out of about 700 employees you had a chance to win one of five cheap prizes. I did not feel appreciated. That’s not why I left though.

    1. Deborah*

      At one Christmas party they gave out gifts by raffle/drawing. There were gifts for everyone but some were way better than others. The problem was that there were WELL over 100 gifts to be given so it took FOREVER. And you had to be present to win (with the grand prize being a trip to Hawaii for 4 so not too shabby!) But that just meant everyone was trickling out as they got their gift.

  73. Art3mis*

    Oh I forgot about this one… I had a manager that gave everyone on the team a gift card to a movie theater chain that didn’t have any locations within 25 miles of our office and all of his employees lived in the opposite direction of the nearest location, basically rendering the gift cards useless. I think we all ended up selling them to people who lived near those theaters.

  74. Anne Wentworth*

    Reminds me of the swag from the LexisNexis booth one year at the AALL conference, in the early days of iPods. They gave out little radios that looked almost exactly like the white first gen iPods but picked up nothing but static. Not a single station. Thanks for adding to the landfills, LexisNexis.

    1. CatCat*

      Westlaw seemed to always have way better swag. I got a computer case from them I used for years and a folio that I still use!

      1. KuklaRed*

        I have gotten some great swag and some not so great swag at Legal Week in NYC over the years. My favorite goofy item is a little blue robot who does a little dance when you wind him up. My favorite practical gift was a little set of blue tooth speakers in a little case. I still use it, and the set of computer repair tools I got from another vendor.

    2. Lizzie*

      That’s exactly the type of gifts my company tends to give. While it may LOOK like the more expensive version, its not, and usually falls apart or breaks quickly.

  75. Aphrodite*

    I work for a community college that is big on “rah rah” events. The latest one was during the third week in August, just before school starts and it was there that they decided everyone could have a free tee shirt and they wanted us to all wear them on Thursdays to show our … whatever they called it.

    My supervisor who was going to the event asked me if I wanted one. I didn’t but to be polite I said if she could get the largest size they carried, men’s or women’s, I’d take it. She did and surprisingly it was so large that I, at 5’2″, could wear it as a tee shirt dress. Then I took it home and washed it, as I do all new bedding and clothing, in hot water and then put into a hot dryer. Took it out and hung it up, thinking I’d use it as a nightshirt. (I don’t do branded/logo’d items ever.) When I took it out to wear it a few nights later I was stunned to see the thing had shrunk to the point I could barely get it on; it shrunk at least two sizes and made me feel like I had a shrink-wrapped chest. I ended up offering it back to her and she took it.

  76. Sales Geek*

    I’ll add a story from the “no good deed goes unpunished” side of the tracks. For context I worked in technical sales (paid on commission but had to actually make things work).

    In 1998 we had a pretty dang good year since customers were buying to upgrade/update/improve their systems in preparation for possible Y2K issues. The executive in charge of North American Sales decided to give us a big thanks with a week in San Diego that included harbor tours (lots of free liquor on a two hour cruise). They even rented out Miramar (yes, the “Top Gun” Miramar) for an evening shindig.

    The best thing we got as part of this recognition was a really, really nice leather jacket. I think it’s actually lambskin but regardless it is still one of the few pieces of swag I keep from 30 years in the business. At the time my brother-in-law worked for a company that specialized in corporate branded SWAG and it turns out that it was his company that sold my employer the jackets. He told me that these jackets were $300 each (that’s what my employer paid for them). They were custom made with a soft liner and the company logo stamped on the top right of jacket’s front and embroidered on the liner. My BIL said these jackets (sans logo) would retail for $500 easily.

    Rumor has it that this kind of largess cost my employer north of $60,000,000 (yes, sixty million dollars!). Senior management wasn’t happy at the tab. The sales executive in charge of this was shortly sidelined into a position where he could “do no harm” and without any real responsibilities. Needless to say he moved on to bigger and better things working for our competitors.

    I still love that jacket. And it’s a damned nice jacket regardless of whose logo is stamped on it. Almost all my peers from the time still have theirs, too.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      I think my VP just copied from your company’s playbook. We also had a San Diego trip and leather jackets for a stellar sales year.

  77. PotsPansTeapots*

    I used to work with a moving broker. The most popular gifts were from a company around Philly who would always send us Tasty-Kakes (which you couldn’t get in our region).

    Those were meh for me, but a company in Florida sent us oranges and grapefruit. Very few people took any, so I’d take 6 or 7 pieces of fruit home.

    1. Heffalump*

      I grew up 50 miles north of Philly and remember Tasty-Kakes. Actually I was fonder of their Butterscotch Krimpets. Decades later I found a package of Krimpets on the West Coast, and it was a case of “you can’t go home again.”

      I don’t suppose they’ve invented a way to make shelf-stable Philly cheese steaks?

  78. Chickaletta*

    Imagine being the EA having to process the invoices for all these crappy gifts and knowing exactly how much the company spends on them and knowing that the execs truly believe they’re lifting everyone’s spirits. Oh, but they give themselves retention bonuses because only they are motivated by money, the rest of us are motivated by corporate branded stress balls…

    1. ENFP in Texas*

      Some of us don’t have to imagine, because we were in charge of ordering said swag that was chosen by senior management. Ugh.

      They should’ve gone with the cash option…

  79. xl*

    Not a “gift” per se, but I work in a government agency and for every 5 years of service we get a service pin and an 8 x 11 paper certificate thanking us for X number of years of government service.

    Normally we get them about 1 to 2 years after reaching said service time…I got my 5-year pin and certificate after 7 years, but my 10-year one surprised me and came in during my 11th year.

    Anyway, my story is about a co-worker of mine who was receiving his 35 year certificate. When he got it, both his first and last name were misspelled on it.

    Thank you for your service!

    1. Lab Boss*

      I have an admittedly weird sense of humor, but I would absolutely treasure the double-misspelled certificate. Probably frame it.

    2. Jaid*

      My agency stopped giving us the pin… We get plaques, though.

      My BFF occasionally has bonfires and eventually that’s where they’ll go.

  80. Zaq*

    One year, I received a $50 gift card to use in the internal company merch store, in theory to buy something that they usually gave us for free in previous years

  81. just some guy*

    One of my favourite styles of corp gift is “these people are professionals in X, so let’s give them a tool for doing X… and let’s get the cheapest worst one we can find. What do you mean they don’t want to use it?”

  82. Knitting Cat Lady*

    A few years ago my employer achieved a major milestone for a very big project.

    I work in the energy sector.

    So everyone got branded USB chargers. Since the EU has standardised charging ports for phones it was actually a good idea in theory.


    First we were told to not use them with company devices due to malware concerns.

    Second they told us to only use the chargers under observation as they could get a bit warm.

    And lastly they told us not to use the chargers at all as they turned out to be a fucking fire hazard!

  83. Pdweasel*

    Worst corporate gifts: those metal water bottles that are too tall for a messenger bag bottle slot and make an unholy racket when dropped or knocked over. I have so many of them from various hospitals from residency and fellowship. I keep one in my office to water the plants, and the others live in a cabinet I can’t easily reach.

    Best corporate gifts: my former boss-turned-peer and Great Grandboss got my coworkers and I monogrammed hoodie jackets and mugs when we finished our fellowships and got promoted. The jackets are amazing because our building is notoriously freezing, and the more mugs, the merrier!

  84. Brian*

    I worked as an English teacher overseas. The day before I went home for a month for Christmas, I got one of those fruit bouquets, where they carve up the fruit and it goes bad a lot faster. My neighbor enjoyed it.

    1. Esmeralda*

      I got one from a student once. I shared it with the office that day, took it home and made fruit salad for dinner, froze the leftovers — outstanding smoothies!

      Seemed like a thoughtful gift to me.

      1. Veggies*

        My husband got one from coworkers when his dad died. The fruit was meh but I made a good soup with the decorative kale.

  85. LittleMarshmallow*

    Two of my favorite ones gone wrong at my workplace were actually “customer highlights” where they would hand out things that our products went into. Mostly this was fine. They are mainstream things most people have in their homes and are mostly consumables so they get used. The two that stick in my mind are 1) popular brand of air freshener which was mostly fine but the extras contributed to the air freshener wars of whatever year that was. People would zip tie the trigger and just toss them in offices and close the door or rig up complicated booby traps for people to walk into and get air freshenered. 2) popular brand of ice cream toppings, again mostly fine, but the excess went to contests of who could eat an entire container fastest with betting and shinnanegans… it’s surprisingly gross watching someone down an entire jar of chocolate sauce in one sitting. Manufacturing is different than typical office environments…

  86. Heffalump*

    Some years ago the most humane employer I’ve ever worked for (his picture should have been in the dictionary under mensch died of stomach cancer at 45. I didn’t really expect his surviving partner to measure up to him in that regard (that would have been a very high bar), but the surviving partner was a real disappointment, and he hired a real sociopathic bitch to manage the grunts. A real soap opera, but I’m trying to keep this concise. At one point I said to a coworker, “The company I went to work for no longer exists.” The company, which had been very successful in years past, was now in trouble, and a year or so later, the surviving partner sold it. A very sad end to once great company to work for.

    Christmas came around, and he called us into the office individually and said, “We can’t afford bonuses this year, but I am giving you something,” and gave us each a sweatshirt with the name and logo of the company on it. I would have been OK, if not thrilled, with this, absent the sociopathic manager’s abusive treatment of us.

    I wasted no time giving my sweatshirt to an organization that collected clothes for the homeless. It would have been a hoot if the owner or manager had seen the ultimate recipient of the shirt wearing it around town.

  87. Waving not Drowning*

    My workplace recently changed its years of service gift – used to be branded wine glasses, which was meh, and most made their way to the office tea room . Now, its a small wooden box – unbranded – about watch box size. Not really handy for anything, apart from using as a paperclip holder – but, we are now paperless, so no need for paperclips…..

    The running joke is, its filled with your hopes and dreams…

  88. Maisie*

    At one place I worked they decided to send us all water pistols during the first lockdown. I have no idea why. They were small and cheaply made so didn’t work well at all anyway and I don’t have kids so mine went straight into the thrift store bag. For staff members who did have kids, it was a chance to take awkward staged pictures of their kids “having fun” with the toys and post them on the company intranet (complete with mushy-gushy commentary on how much the employee loves the company).

  89. Cookies For Breakfast*

    #7 – I did the same so many times! Better back in office storage than gathering dust at home.

    The one thing I kept from my old workplace is in fact the reusable water bottle they gave us. I still take it everywhere, even though has the company logo on it, because even though I generally dislike branded gifts, this was the one that was actually useful.

    1. ThatGuy*

      Hmmm, this is one of the few times I’m clearly in the minority here, but… I think in general, employees tend to care way too much about the gifts their company gives them. Unless it’s harmful, offensive, or burdensome, maybe just recognize a gift for what it is–a token gesture–let it go, and save that emotional energy for our personal relationships?

      I’ve served on the committees tasked with choosing gifts for the entire staff, and you wouldn’t believe how petty the reactions can be. We learned quickly that some contingent of the staff always interprets “Here’s a generic free thing” as “This generic free thing is the sun total of what you, individually, mean to the company. Does it meet your every need, expectation, and preference?”

      And yes, that includes a gift of money or time off. The complaints then just become “It should have been MORE money/time off.” Really, it’s not a gift problem. It’s a human nature problem.

  90. Martha Eggert*

    At my former hospital job, one year the “gift” to staff nurses for Nurses’ Week was a yardstick with “Happy Nurses’ Week” imprinted on it. The different shifts secretly collected the yardsticks and they were deposited outside the Director of Nursing’s office during the night shift. Yes, nothing says “thank you for your health care service” like a….yardstick.

    1. Enai*

      I could see that as a gift in a fabric store, if I squinted really hard. But in a hospital? What were you supposed to do with that? Beat unruly patients and coworkers? Measure treatment progress? Make a jolly little bonfire and roast youselves some marshmallows?

    1. Nope*

      As someone who got a dollar-store mug this year, I don’t want to read about the awesome gifts other people may have gotten!

  91. Wilkomorph*

    A few years ago, I was working in a telecoms company. This was before ‘smart’ phones were a thing – and to transfer your contacts from one device to another, you needed to manually copy them to your SIM card, then insert your old SIM into your new phone, transfer them to the new phone, and then finally put your new SIM card into the new phone – a complete pain to do!

    One year, as part of an employee ‘Christmas stocking’ – full of otherwise unobjectionable things, the company gave us a handy little device to help automate this transfer. You put your old SIM card in one end, and the new one in the other and voila! contacts transferred. Except this thing did not work. At all. What it did instead was wipe your old SIM card of all information – so that could be hundreds of contacts completely lost – and this was from a time when people didn’t back up their contacts (and some phones didn’t let you copy contacts – only move them, so the contacts were lost from the old phone too). Needless to say – this didn’t generate much Christmas cheer…

  92. Ellis Bell*

    I love how #2 and #6 are mental health awareness gifts, but they just reveal that the company are hopeless on the topic of mental health, and that they have zero awareness. It reminds me of my partner’s workplace. One of the most annoying things his management do is to nag him very crossly if he forgets to wear his mental health awareness pin. That is literally all they have done for mental health, btw – provided people with a pin.

  93. A Tired Queer*

    About twice a year, my department will give us gift cards for Panera. The amount on the card gets smaller every time, and so does the window in which to use it. That’s right: we get not even a full meal on a gift card that expires two weeks from distribution. It’s such a waste of money.

    1. Annosaurus Rex*

      Regular, sized off-white coffee mug with single color company logo and name. Basically the cheapest possible mug they could have ordered. We figured out they would have cost $1.09 each.

      I worked at a remote site and the psychopath VP was visiting a lot. Dude started talking up the ‘appreciation’ gift he was going to bring – just needed room in his luggage allowance.

      We have a big meeting and he brings out the mugs. And passed them out. Gleefully. Expecting us to be appreciative. Many more stories from that place. Including the year they purchased turkey and ham for the people working shift on Christmas Day and came back bragging about the amazing deal and how much $ they saved over previous manager. Shockingly large raw turkey is waaaay cheaper than the cooked, catered option you order in advance…..

  94. Civil Servant*

    In 2020 I got a $7 Amazon gift card from my (government) employer because that was the lunch budget for the event that had to be remote. $7! But not unwelcome!

  95. CRISPR*

    My company also gives frozen turkeys for Thanksgiving although their method of doing so is by giving out coupons we can redeem at our convenience at the big chain grocery store. Work doesn’t have to worry about storing them, no downsides to forgetting to pick up your gift besides missing out on it, and you aren’t saddled with a humongous bird before you’ve had the chance to clear space in your freezer. It’d probably be a pretty cool gift but unfortunately I am a vegetarian.

  96. QAPeon*

    Oooh, unusable coasters. Our org gave me a set of 4 glass coasters etched with scenes around campus. GLASS coasters. Depending on the shape of the cup you’re drinking from, the condensation can create a weak bond between the cup and coaster so that when you take a drink, the coaster follows the cup for a second before crashing to the desk as the bond gives way. So useless and potentially dangerous in one go. Brilliant. Since my husband works for the same org, we have 8!

    1. SpaceySteph*

      My husband and I worked for the same employer for 9 years, up until this summer, so we also have 2x of every useless corporate gift.

  97. Bob-White of the Glen*

    “and contained butterscotch-flavored alcohol.”

    I’m usually opposed to drinking at work, but I’d try this if offered.

    1. Jackalope*

      Tried it once, but it was impossibly sweet. Which might work just fine for you; I don’t know your sweet tolerance. But I couldn’t do it more than a time or two.

  98. Sharon*

    My company last year let us choose our holiday gift from a website that specializes in doing this sort of thing for corporations. There was a fairly extensive list of options, most of them standard stuff like coasters, nice glassware, small electronics, etc. But one of the items was, I kid you not, a machete. We all actually had the option of getting a machete from our employer for the holidays. (I ended up going with a bedside phone charger. But the machete did look nice!)

  99. NotRealAnonforThis*

    Slightly different than a mass corporate gift, but at OldJob, we used to get annual recognition gifts on our anniversary of employment. Because they were sent from corporate HR, they were mailed to your home address.

    I received my Year 5 recognition certificate and gift card three months after I quit.

    1. Lizzie*

      We have the same setup, and I had my 20th anniversary during lockdown. So while we weren’t in the office, I got my certificate and stuff to order my gift in the mail. I looked at all my options for WEEKS as nothing really tickled my fancy. anything I liked I already had or had a lot of (bags).
      I finally ended up with a watch the looks very similar to 3 others I own, and don’t wear as I wear my Apple watch daily. the only good thing is its solar, so no batteries to wear out.

  100. Nomic*

    “‘Will anyone like any of this more than they like $50 minus tax?”

    I have gotten fussed at for saying this a multiple of ways at multiple jobs. NOTHING is better than cash. NOTHING. EVER.

    If you insist on tax-free, then make it an Amazon Gift Card so I can buy exactly what I want when I want.

  101. b*

    I don’t understand the backpack/tumbler one. Why weren’t people keeping track of their own items? I would never confuse my bag for anyone else’s bc I would keep it with me. Although I’d never use a BACKPACK for a work function. Sorry but they’re for children IMO.

    1. SpaceySteph*

      I had a job for 13 years where I would be 1/3 of the time at an alternate work location than my desk (a shift at a desk which had to be staffed 24/7, an all day training event, business travel, etc.) and I carried my whole life around in my bag (laptop, computer charger, headset, phone charger, snacks, tea bags, lunch box, tampons, money for the vending machine, pens, water bottle, hot beverage container, …)

      A backpack is a far superior mode of carrying all that stuff than a shoulder bag- more roomy and better ergonomics. For a conference I absolutely would bring a backpack, but I never would have swapped out for the shitty conference bag because it would have taken too long to move all that crap over and wouldn’t have had as many good pockets to hide all my stuff.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Or for those of us old timers who have survived back and shoulder injuries and don’t want to do it again.

  102. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

    Here’s a story a colleague told me, mainly because I ordered all the X-mas gifts.
    Three of them had been at different conferences but ran into each other at a major metropolitan airport. And what were they wearing? Their branded polo shirts. They were also wearing their branded fleece vests. And carrying their branded duffel bags. And as all three made their way to baggage claim, in the words of one of them “we looked like we belonged to a cult”. I personally found it hilarious and was heartened to know that they were all using the things I ordered from Lands End.

  103. Ollie*

    #1 reminded me of a very old story from when I worked in fast food. Our store got brand new computerized cash registers. We had several magnetic comment card holders around the store. One day someone decided to put it on the new cash register and slide it across. Took the whole store down.

  104. SpaceySteph*

    Ah the fleeces! I live in the US South and hate cold weather gifts. Several years ago my job got tumultuously taken over by a new company based in the northeast. The company seemed like a downgrade in every way: they converted us at the same salaries but the benefits, PTO, etc. were all worse. And they also had an HR that seemed very ill-equipped to have gained so many new employees (for example, my first maternity leave was with that company and that’s a whole other story but it was a hot mess on multiple fronts).
    Anyway, to add insult to injury, when December rolls around they gave us blankets as a year end gift. Blankets. In a city where the average temperature in December is about 80 degrees. We were all pretty salty about it. I put my blanket in the dog crate.

  105. Millenniaa*

    A couple stories on company gifts:

    1. I work on a creative team in the marketing department, so when our big boss wants to send out holiday gifts to her minions, including us – we have to design all the packaging and ghostwrite her thank-you card. It’s a lot of work at a busy time of year… to thank ourselves. She’s also a very picky client who, last year, at the eleventh hour swapped out my coworker’s thoughtful and gift-relevant message for a quote from a historical figure. So we all got a cheap off-brand tech trinket apparently endorsed by Mahatma Gandhi.

    2. At a previous job, during the busy season, everyone salaried was required to work a certain amount of weekly unpaid overtime, maybe 10-12 hours. In “gratitude,” the company owners would periodically PARADE through the office handing out small gifts. Very small, cheap gifts – once it was a packet of off brand tortilla chips and a shelf-stable container of “nacho cheese.” During this little parade (owners and their assistants, toting a Bluetooth speaker blaring music), we workers were expected to drop whatever we were doing to CHEER for the owners as they benevolently handed out cheap snacks, like aristocrats handing pennies to the peasants.

  106. Laseca*

    oh my gosh, I just remembered one. At my last job, I received my 5-year recognition plaque in the mail. Weird, I thought, because I’d only ever seen these handed out in person by someone’s manager. Mine even came with a little brochure with instructions on how to present it – tell a personal anecdote about something they did well! Take a photo for your company’s social media! So weird. I examine the packaging and realize – hey – it was sent to my home because our clunky HR system had mistakenly listed me as my own boss.

  107. That Other Teacher*

    For Teacher Appreciation Week, we all received from our administration, a fun-sized KitKat with a typed note reading “You deserve a break.” That is all.

  108. Lemoncake*

    Man, this just makes me think of an old boss who thought giving everyone $20 worth of scratch cards is a great holiday gift.

    Why not just… give me $20? Yeah it can be kind of fun to do a scratch card every once in a while, but I’d rather just buy myself a couple of dollar ones and have the rest of the money to actually *do* something with (especially cause my luck is always bad with these kinds of things, so my “gift” always ended up a net value of $0 lol).

  109. Jenny Islander*

    Long, long, ago, I worked for a company that gave out wonderful gifts. We once went on a “business meeting” that for reasons had to be held somewhere warm, touristy, and pedestrian friendly, and we had multiple free days at the hotel after the “meeting” to “get over our jet lag” at company expense. I received crystal bowls every Christmas. They even paid for a wardrobe upgrade when they wanted me to dress up super-fancy for a thing and I pointed out that the amount they wanted me to spend on clothes I would only ever wear at that shindig or at somebody else’s wedding was about a quarter of my paycheck.

    They also routinely did things like getting my address completely wrong–mailing my paycheck to a town where they didn’t even have a branch–and failing to pay me on time. Not to mention expecting me to do two and a half jobs.

  110. Here for the Comments*

    When working at an insurance agency many decades ago, we had a really profitable year. The grandboss was trying to figure out a standard gift to buy for all the employees. He finally asked the accounting clerk if they thought the employees would be offended by a $100 bill. Nope. Everyone was delighted with cash, especially since they didn’t have to mention it to their significant other if they didn’t want to.

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