what gifts should we give employees when nothing has universal appeal?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

One of my responsibilities is overseeing the year-end employee gifts — planning, choosing, ordering, delivering, etc. It’s a lot and I’ve struggled to find the best way to go about it. We have about 200 employees scattered over a large regional area, and many are in the field and don’t report to an office. So just the mailing alone has been a big hassle. We can send most items to the local offices for pick-up, but the rest have to be sent to individual homes.

Then there is the question of what kind of gift. Clothing items have been popular, but require us to track down everyone’s preferred size. People are often unresponsive and it is very time-consuming. And there is usually plenty of “mine didn’t fit, can I have a different size?” after the fact. Therefore, I tend to favor a non-sized item, but finding something with universal appeal is difficult.

One year, we let everyone choose from a list of about five different nice items, but that made it five times the work and, again, people are unresponsive, wait until the last minute to order, or wait until after the deadline and miss out and then complain about it.

I like the idea of a gift card — money! But I’ve had people complain that it is taxed. I don’t really understand the problem because even with tax taken out, you are getting a gift of money you didn’t have otherwise. But some people seem offended by it. We do already have a separate merit-based bonus program, but this would be different — everyone receives the same amount as a gift.

How have others approached this — from choosing the gift to delivering to everyone? I do want everyone to feel valued and appreciated at the end of the year with something special, but I also need to find a way to do it that makes sense and isn’t such a time suck every year.

Money and time off are the most universally popular gift, and that’s true even if some people complain about the money being taxed.

But let’s talk about other options. Readers, let’s discuss in the comment section — what you’ve seen go well and/or what you’d like to receive, and anything you’ve seen go spectacularly wrong.

{ 900 comments… read them below }

  1. Shenandoah*

    I have used SnackMagic for events before – you give people a budget, and they fill up their own boxes with snacks and other treats (there are lots of options for different dietary needs). It was very well received and was almost no work on my part!

    1. Dr. Doll*

      Thirding SnackMagic. If people put off choosing, SnackMagic will eventually just send them a goodie box filled with popular items.

    2. Elle*

      I love the idea of snack magic and the shipping boxes are adorable but I find a lot of the snacks to be disgusting. Unless you stick with tea bags a number of the snacks do not taste good.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Don’t taste good to you. I looked through a few of the default options and they are all things I would eat.

        1. Calliope*

          But if the point is to find something a variety of people would like as a gift, someone thinking the snacks are low quality is relevant?

    3. to varying degrees*

      Interesting. Do they ship every where or is it only in areas they have stores or something similar?

      1. GermanCoffeeGirl*

        My department uses Snack Magic to send out litte gift boxes to our worldwide team, so I can confirm that it works internationally (our department lead is in the US and I’m in Europe).

      1. 3DogNight*

        The only thing I’ve ended up liking from SugarWish is the dog treats, my dogs love them! The rest has a weird taste. I didn’t even like the dried bananas, and I’ve never had a bad dried banana slice!

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        I got that as a “thank you” from a vendor for the holidays. It was definitely enjoyable! I have a sweet tooth and did a candy box.

        1. SushiRoll*

          Yeah a vendor keeps sending me these and I just get like gummy bears and “name brand” things like tootsie rolls or starbursts and everything has always been good and fresh.

      3. LB*

        I liked the Sugarwish snacks I got (spicy cajun mix in particular), though they are pretty small, like sample size.

      4. sofar*

        Yes, I LOOOOVE SugarWish. That was the company gift last Xmas, and I just hit the coffee option and received 5 delicious coffees. So, even if people don’t want to do the cookies and treats, they’ve got options.

      5. Sylvia*

        I had a vendor send me a SugarWish gift before. While I didn’t enjoy the cookies I ordered, it was still fun to pick it out and try something new.

    4. Aerin*

      My org covers a specific geographic region, and one of the gifts they sent us was a box of treats made locally in each state we serve. It was a good mix of stuff, like jerky and popcorn and oat bars and a spice blend, so even if you couldn’t eat everything in the box you could at least have something.

    5. Rosyglasses*

      We’ve used Breaktime boxes (I like their snacks and coffee/tea/cocoa options the best so far) and Sugarwish for this as well – it gives some autonomy on ordering but doesn’t require management or running after people to put in their order.

    6. Sunshine's Eschatology*

      Along the same lines, partner’s former employer got employees a gift card or similar deal with Nuts.com, and now we are huge fans of Nuts.com! It is way more than just nuts, although their nuts are good. There is dried fruit, sweet and savory snacks, baking and pantry ingredients, coffee and tea, etc.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        They also have great customer service! They once sent me the wrong flavor of something I’d ordered and sent out a replacement really quickly.

      2. Seaside Gal*

        I’m still devastated that they don’t have the awesome sunflower seeds anymore. I don’t know how they roasted or what kind of salt they used, but I’ve never found any comparable.

      3. Cohort 1*

        Of all the things being suggested, this is the one I would choose if I were on the receiving end. Nuts, sweets, crunchies – perfect.

    7. Wendy*

      Yes, that was also what I popped to the comments to recommend! I’ve had great experiences with Sugarwish for my team, and appreciate that you can even get pet treats. There’s pretty much something for everyone. And, you can choose when or if the gift expires, with reminders generated by Sugarwish — takes away some of the mental load.

    8. Koalafied*

      They also have a small selection of non-food items. I remember things like earbuds and portable USB power banks, the kind of no frills stuff that gets given away as event swag.

    9. DJ Abbott*

      I have a lot of food allergies and very sensitive stomach and I generally can’t eat premade food, even if it’s healthy and non-allergenic. I don’t think snack magic would work for me.
      I think money is good, and no matter what you do there are always people who complain. But they’ll still use the money! ;)

      1. Red Sky*

        Another vote for $ due to same issues. If you do choose a food-based gift service please offer a $ alternative for those with food allergies and intolerances.

        Honestly, if not cash, I’d prefer something I can use or at least regift like funny socks or a nice scarf and mittens.

          1. DJ Abbott*

            Yes, but if the only thing I can do is give it away and the point is to give me something, that doesn’t really work. That happens fairly often already.
            That’s why money is the only good option. With money you or I or anyone else could buy whatever they want. Because there’s no way to choose a gift that will please everyone.
            I have done a lot of temping and everywhere I went I would admire something pretty on someone’s desk, and they would say the company gave it to them and they’d rather have the money. Money is the only thing everyone wants.

          2. MJ*

            So… inn addition to getting the useless or unwanted thing you get the bonus of a new task on your todo list to get rid of said useless or unwanted thing.

            Why not offer everyone the chance to opt for cash instead if they want. Set a deadline and then they get the food box if they don’t request the cash.

            1. Eagle*

              I was thinking the other way around. If you miss the food deadline, you get the cash. Then you could go order the food if you’re bummed about missing out on it, but cash is always king.

    10. Inkognyto*

      What have I received.
      hot/cold metal container for liquids- It’ll keep cold/hot for hours like 5-8.
      high end nylon hammock – I honestly had no need for it, but my camping sister? I re-gifted it to her and she loved it for X-mas.
      Gift card- Amazon
      Company store $ – There’s hundreds of items I could choose from, this also ties into our reward policy. Mgmt and others can gift rewards based on performance, and the type adds some $ to your account to spend. They also gift you some $ every year for your B-day and for your yearly employment date. This allows you to get like $40-50 worth of items each year.
      High quality jacket with company logo – My spouse is the one we sized it for, as I had no need of it. It was hard to find the size (lots of reading the company reviews on who designed it on sizing/styles) to ensure that the $150 jacket would be worth it. This was like 2-3 hrs to size and pick what she wanted, what style etc. It did but that was a lot of work to put on us for a gift even though it’s liked.

      Go for the 80%. You can rarely satisfy the 20%, it’s not worth the hassle, just make it something that isn’t too hard to put into place.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Agreed. There is no 100% satisfaction with that many people.

        I personally appreciate time off, but I don’t know how that would work with your payroll. In the US federal government there’s a 59 minute rule and managers can allow 59 minutes of leave as a reward – so you can head out early or take an extra long lunch. Could something like that be applied across the board?

        1. Kiki is the Most*

          I’ve received the hot/cold liquid container–we got to choose our fave color and have our name on it. If someone doesn’t respond in time then I’m sure a lovely blue would suffice for most people.
          And I LOVE the idea of 59 minutes. Being able to pop in later or head out early would be great.

          Is there a way to send multiple, varied gift cards in America? i.e. a small amount on each of say…Starbucks, Amazon, Chipotle, etc…so that you can either use it or if you don’t like the GC, then regift it?

          1. TheLinguistManager*

            Gift cards are tough. I live in exurbia (not quite rural yet) and basically never visit a Starbucks or a Chipotle (or most chains), and would have to make a special trip just to use them.

            As for Amazon, I know I’m unusual, but I have stopped getting anything from them as a personal choice.

            I do think that a quality thermos or water bottle is as close to a can’t-lose option as you can get. Shame you can only do it one year in a row :)

    11. Tara*

      I just got a snack magic gift box. The presentation was beautiful. I am gluten intolerant which eliminated half the items, but that’s par for the course. I will say that some of what’s left is pretty weird tasting. I’m generally not picky—I love different food and flavors, but don’t know that I’d highly recommend this one. It’s the international flavors option, so maybe a different one would be better.

    12. JT*

      Does anyone know if there’s a similar company that operates in Australia? (I know Snackmagic will distribute in Aus, but the USD to AUD conversion + the international fee makes it pretty pricey, and I like to support local when I can but I love the concept!)

  2. Mrs. Burt Wonderstone*

    I think insulated tumblers are a safe bet. I’ve never heard anyone say “omg this cup sucks”.

    1. R*

      I have…we got around 8 this year between my husband and I. We do not have space to store all of them. On the plus side, the kid keeps losing hers and so now I just send her to school with the branded work ones.

    2. Constance Lloyd*

      Though if you go this route, I would suggest choosing an option that is not branded with the company logo!

        1. Payroll Lady*

          Just a side note – If the item is branded it becomes a tax deduction for the company. We got 24oz Yeti’s from my company. No complaints!! LOL

          In the states, gift cards are no different than cash and must be taxed as earnings. (A total nightmare for your payroll person!)

          Seeing the comments, maybe a choice between SnackMagic, SugarWish and Nuts. com would be a good solution which may put you at 90% employee satisfaction.

          1. DontTellMyBoss*

            I love my yetis so much and would never ever have bought one. Every holiday I hope we get another one!

      1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

        Even if I don’t immediately donate (or trash) a non-dishwasher-safe tumbler, I’ll never actually use it.

        1. Just Another Cog*

          Yeah. One year my company gave us branded KIDS backpacks! Like for elementary school. It was weird and not really a gift.

      2. Petty Betty*

        Anything not dishwasher safe ends up as a pen-holder or a small planter/water catcher. And it stays at the office, because I won’t be bringing it with me when I leave that job.

        1. Lab Boss*

          Ooh, small planter is a great idea! My wife accumulates tumblers and never wants to get rid of them because of whatever event/group they’re from, even though she only uses about 3.

        1. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Same. I have 4 stainless steel versions of one large cup I use for iced coffee, two of the same tumbler with fun H-E-B patterns for iced tea, 2 hot coffee cups, 2 hot tea cups, and two very specific water bottles. (I hate mixing tea and coffee cups because then tea tastes like coffee.) Add in a couple stemless wine glasses, because I’m a klutz, and that is everything I use. I’d find no branded miss or cups valuable. But I love the idea of turning a mug into a small planter!

      1. Mim*

        Yup. I am extremely picky about what I want to use for that kind of thing, and chances are very high that if given one as a gift it would never get used. And assuming it’s branded with the company name and logo, couldn’t be regifted either.

        I have also observed that when an employer gives out dozens or hundreds of identical drinking vessels, it leads to a lot of confusion about ownership at work. Some people put stickers on them. Many don’t. And then you end up with abandoned mugs that nobody takes because they’re not sure who they belong to, and nobody is brave enough to open and empty lest there be weeks or months old curdling half and half in there.

        All the thumbs up to gift cards.

        1. RB Purchase*

          Same here. I got a really nice Yeti tumbler from my company a few years ago. It’s great and I bet it satisfied almost all of our employees! But I literally never use any tumblers because I only drink iced coffee from glass (No, I’m not picky at all, why would you ask?) so I’ve maybe used it 3x tops when I first received it.

    3. LizB*

      They’re nice… the first couple times. They’ve become such a common swag gift that I now have the maximum number of insulated tumblers I need in my life. Same with mugs and water bottles. My cabinets are only so big! If you’re going to do drinkware, only do it once every five years or so, imo.

      1. SLD*

        We as managers give gifts not the employers. So it’s small and we try to strike a balance between get something you like for yourself and a small thing from us that’s not the end of the world if you don’t like it. It’s about £15 each split into a small gift or sweets for £5 and a choice of vouchers for the rest (amazon, grocery, or a foodbank donation).

      2. 1-800-BrownCow*

        Exactly. They were awesome at first. Now I’m like, “seriously, another tumbler?!?!?” I just got rid of a bunch cluttering up my cupboards.

        1. Le Sigh*

          And also…company branded ones rarely work well, in my experience. They leak, very often I don’t like the lip for sipping or the material, nor do they actually keep anything insulated. And that’s probably because it would get a lot more expensive to buy high-quality tumblers, so I get that! But I just donate them — I have one water bottle and one coffee tumbler that meets my exact needs and I don’t have storage for any others!

          1. Lizzie*

            I think that’s EVERY gift my company has ever given. They’re always the cheapest version of whatever it is. I don’t keep ANY of them for that reason.

            1. Le Sigh*

              My all time favorite was the scratchy synthetic company polo shirt, which for the record, never stopped smelling weird, pilled at the drop of a hat, and came in men’s sizing only so was comically billowy and long. They wanted us to wear it in the middle of 100+ degree summers. I refused and just left it in my desk drawer when I quit.

              1. Aus*

                My boss sent one year 2 chocolates. As in 2 small pieces of store brand chocolate. Shipping must have been the most expensive part of the gift

                1. GammaGirl1908*

                  Ha, I read a memoir once where there was a scene in which a company’s gift to clients was a candy cane taped to a postcard … which they sent by FedEx *facepalm*

    4. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Oh, I have, and TBH I was probably the one saying it. When I get a gratis/promo mug (travel or otherwise) it typically goes right to the donate box. Otherwise, I have 500 different sizes that do/don’t fit into my cabinet and lids that aren’t matched up to their mates. Plus, there are vastly different quality levels in travel mugs.

      1. Lyudie*

        Seconding the quality levels…I have a plastic travel mug from my company that made my coffee taste so awful (even after being thoroughly washed!) I refuse to use it.

    5. ThatGirl*

      I mean, I enjoy a good tumbler, but I also have … let’s see:
      – a contigo tumber from two jobs ago I still use regularly
      – a cork-bottom tumbler from one job ago that has a leaky lid but is nice enough
      – a really nice Yeti tumbler from my current job
      – a nice double-walled see-through tumbler with straw from my current job
      – a Haunted Mansion themed tumbler my SIL gave me for Christmas a few years ago
      – a Corksicle bottle that was also a Christmas gift
      plus assorted sports bottles and travel mugs…

      nope, I don’t need any more cups or tumblers or mugs.

      1. DontTellMyBoss*

        …but if you got a new yeti would you donate one if your less preferred tumblers and be pumped to have 2 nice yetis? Cause I would lol

    6. hamsterpants*

      I will disagree here! I already have way too many. it is also a personal pet peeve how these are sold as environmentally conscious gifts. they are if they are replacing single use Styrofoam, but at least in my house we have multiple cabinets overflowing with unused, unneeded mugs.

        1. Worldwalker*

          If you don’t have enough, you can probably expand your collection at a garage sale. Every one I go to seems to have about half a table full of corporate drinkware of all sizes and descriptions.

          1. Princesss+Sparklepony*

            This is making me want to take unwanted corporate drinkware to garage sales and leaving a few on the table. Everyone wins! :D

          1. Kiki is the Most*

            I DO THIS, TOO
            Every time I get another branded coffee cup (we seem to get them often), it makes it way to the staff room. Y

      1. nora*

        and so many are individually wrapped in plastic!!! (signed, someone who has unwrapped many hundreds of swag gifts in their time)

    7. Mrs. Burt Wonderstone*

      I’m honestly a little surprised but I see everyone’s points. My husband loses ours so quickly that space has never been an issue for us. *facepalm*

      1. Student*

        Might be worth asking your husband if he’s losing them, or “losing” them. I loathe gift cups of any sort because I’ve gotten so many of them.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Nah, my mother constantly loses hers, and genuinely regrets it! She puts them down to do something and just wanders away.

      2. Petty Betty*

        My kids use all of mine and all of us are ADHD. They get lost in lockers, on the bus, in bedrooms, outside, and then my ex is FAMOUS for leaving them in the car with dregs of his last drink in them and waiting until someone else gets in the vehicle and complains about the moldy smell before having a kid come and fish out a couple (and have said kid clean them).

        I now have rules about my travel mugs. Ex gets disposables unless he buys and cleans his own. Nobody else will touch his and if it’s dirty, it stays on the porch outside until HE cleans it or it gets tossed.
        Kids have to clean whatever they use (as they are teens and adults). If they lose one, they get a cheaper one to use. Lose it? They get a disposable until they can bring it back consistently and prove they can find a new way to keep track of their cup.

        1. Tin Cormorant*

          This is why my daughter is only ever allowed to put water in travel beverage containers. If it sits in the car forgotten for two weeks, the worst that will happen is that it tastes a bit stale. I would rather throw away a moldy mug than try to clean it, especially if it has a straw (which she insists that all of them must)

          1. Petty Betty*

            I have straw cleaning gadgets and solutions for that, too.

            Metal straws, reusable plastic straws, disposables…

            Metal lasts longer because the dog doesn’t chew on them.

    8. to varying degrees*

      I donate all the cups/mugs I get (and I get a lot). I don’t use the insulated ones and their generally too big for me anyway.

    9. ZK*

      Sorry, but I’m the person that says, “This cup sucks,” because we already have so many. I literally bought my husband a Yeti cup to replace the branded one from his old company, and two days later his new company gave him a new Yeti, same exact color as the one I gave him, just branded with the new logo. Then a vendor gave him another weird travel mug. Throw in the several old ones we had, but never use, and our cupboard is full.

      I’ll take the taxed gift card, but make it a Visa or MC, that we can use anywhere, rather than for a specific place.

      1. SelinaKyle*

        Sorry as I non US person why do you get taxed on a gift card? It’s a gift? We don’t get taxed on gift cards in the UK, in fact a previous company gave us all a £250 petrol/gas gift card. It was during the pandemic so this actually lasted us 12 months!
        One company have used all a case of wine, I don’t drink, I was the first person they’d come across. I still took it as it was great for taking to dinner parties and used for re-gifting.
        I agree about any drink containers, cabinets are over flowing and some aren’t very well sealed.

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Because we’re a nation of sociopaths, we’ve never seen a law we didn’t try to break. I’m sure at some point some company tried to pay employees minimum wage and pay the rest on gift cards, and claim it was a gift, not pay, so it wasn’t taxable. You can imagine how even normal incentive programs would wind up being a supplement for pay, and so they would be a lot more common if they weren’t taxable.

          1. Rosyglasses*

            “Because we’re a nation of sociopaths, we’ve never seen a law we didn’t try to break.”

            haahaha – I love this answer the best.

        2. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

          The IRS taxes *everything*.

          I learned that the value of a gold medal is taxable for the winner. I was appalled.

          There was a minor brouhaha when years ago Oprah Winfrey gifted a new car to her entire studio audience. That car’s value was taxable for all of them. Suddenly in a new tax bracket, I heard some ppl sold the car to pay the tax.

          I learned that if you are on a game show, like the Price is Right, the value of alllll of those prizes are also taxable.

          The worst I heard was that if you host a garage sale, technically the proceeds of that garage sale were taxable. Which I found absurd. I cannot imagine anyone actually doing that.

          1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

            The money you make from a yard sale is not taxable, as long as it’s less than you paid for the items originally, and you’re not in the regular business of holding such sales.

          2. doreen*

            That’s because you are thinking of “garage sale” as something a person has a couple of times a year where they are selling things they bought for themselves to use that are no longer wanted. Exempt “garage sale” income from taxes altogether and you will find the people selling brand new items or items that they bought specifically to resell out of their garages every day or every week calling them “garage sales” (which is not uncommon where I live) . It’s not that I think they are following the rules now, but I don’t think anyone wants to exempt them simply because they sell out of a garage rather than a storefront.

            1. Hannah Lee*

              Aaaand the flow chart arrow is back to The Cosmic Avengers’s comment:

              “Because we’re a nation of sociopaths, we’ve never seen a law we didn’t try to break.”

            2. Splendid Colors*

              When I was a teenager, we had an elderly neighbor running a second-hand business (and maybe Avon too) out of her garage by calling it a “garage sale” that just happened to be every weekend. Completely violated a lot of city ordinances because nobody liked all the traffic EVERY WEEKEND. Nobody’s guests could park on the street on the weekend and shoppers often blocked driveways. I think they finally reported her to Code Enforcement and/or the sales tax department. (Yes, you’re supposed to have a temporary seller’s permit and collect/remit sales tax for a yard sale in my state. You can do this twice a year before you’re required to get a real seller’s permit. Why? Because of people like her.)

              I believe she was also scooping up anything worth reselling from the local Goodwill, back when prices were low enough that would actually work. (Nowadays, the Goodwills near me sell a lot of stuff donated by Target because it didn’t even sell on clearance… at the full Target price.)

          3. Petty Betty*

            The stuff you *steal* is taxable. So, yeah, the US gov’t really does expect a cut of everything, whether it’s legally earned or not.

            1. AcademiaNut*

              That’s honestly kind of brilliant, though. Someone has a ton of money and can’t explain where it came from? You might not have the evidence to prosecute them of the crimes that obtained it, but you can get them with tax evasion. (Then, of course, that leads to more complicated schemes of money laundering, of course).

        3. Skytext*

          Because it’s not really a “gift” like between friends and family, it is income. The company is writing that off, so the taxes have to be captured on the employees side.

        4. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

          Non-trivial gifts are taxable income, basically to avoid companies paying their executives with “gifts” of cars or even airplanes.

          1. IT Manager*

            I believe this forms a lot of the ongoing will-they/won’t-they question of what to prosecute on the Trump org…. Sooooo many “perks” that weren’t taxed – rent, cars, private schools etc.

        5. KRM*

          Yes, my old company used to give gift card rewards, but they stopped doing it because the contractors couldn’t receive them. The contracting company wasn’t interested in setting up the paperwork necessary for a few card rewards here and there, and they had to be taxed, so the company swapped to a ‘swag’ system. And honestly that was great because a lot of the swag was office supply type stuff that we all used a lot, so grabbing a fun notebook or a few pads of branded post-its was nice, and then we all used them at work since they were nicer than the standard office supplies we regularly used.

        6. SarahKay*

          In the UK you should legally get taxed on gift cards from your work, as they are considered income.
          I’m in the UK and my company offers site ‘vouchers’ for more minor thank you / rewards and they can be swapped for £10 gift cards or the choice of company swag. However, it’s made clear to all recipients that the gift card option is taxable and they will see the deduction in their payslip. Many staff save up their reward vouchers and turn in a batch at once; they’re happy to pay the tax since overall it’s still ‘free’ money.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            We note also that the lower paid you are, the greater the value of the gift, because the gift will be taxed at your top tax rate – a very low earner will pay no tax, a middle earner will pay 20%, a higher earner 40%, etc.

      2. The Prettiest Curse*

        Didn’t there used to be some issue with people having to pay a fee to keep their balances active on Visa or MC gift cards? I seem to remember it was something ridiculous like having to pay a $3 fee on a $25 balance.

        As far as gifts go, my current employer gave everyone a (taxable) £1000 cost of living payment this year, which was helpful.

        1. irritable vowel*

          Yeah, and even if there’s no fee, those cards are essentially still moneymakers for the issuers because so many people who receive them will not spend down the balance to $0.

          1. KRM*

            And the card company deliberately makes it difficult to use if you have a balance of something like $5.74 left, because you (at least previously) had to make your order come out to 5.74 before you could use that balance.
            I use them to buy gift cards to Amazon or Target, using the whole balance immediately. Then those branded GC are for somewhere I already shop, and the rules for their usage are much easier.

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              Learning that I can put the leftover value of a Visa / MC gift card on my Amazon account has been a total game changer for me.

        2. Rock Lobster*

          I think that might be illegal now, or they have to wait for X months of inactivity before they can do that, and never for more than the balance of the card.

      3. Koalafied*

        My employer went on a streak several years in a row of getting everyone company branded Patagonia fleeces. To their credit they were getting different styles every year, and the first two were especially exciting to receive, but by the time I saw the order form for the fourth year going around again, I turned to my colleague and said, “I never would have thought I’d be hearing myself say this, but I have enough Patagonia fleeces!”

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Presumably this week’s news about Patagonia has pleased you as much as it pleased me!

    10. DisneyChannelThis*

      Everyone at my current job loves tumblers. Inevitably you lose some travel mugs due to leaving it on transit or forgetting to rinse it out before two weeks out of office mildew forms or breaking the lids. Plus their easy to regift or donate if you already have too many. Or repurpose – new pencil cup etc.

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        Everyone?? Are you sure? I’m pretty sure there’s at least one person at your current job who doesn’t want the reputation as the complainer and just graciously says thanks for the new tumbler and quietly grumbles to themselves about yet another tumbler they really don’t want or need. If by chance you and I work together, I’m that one person.

    11. Lacey*

      I have received some truly horrible ones. Plus, they take up a lot of space and… I don’t use them! They eventually just get donated.

    12. Love to WFH*

      My husband and I have so many logo-ed water bottles and insulated mugs that we wince every time another one arrives.

      It just feels like such a waste of money to buy and ship them to us. They are always a part of our periodic donation to the charity thrift store.

    13. Wilbur*

      My work sent me two last year that are too wide to fit in any kind of cup holder and are hand wash only. Kind of hit or miss.

      1. This Old House*

        What is WITH the new wide bottomed ones that don’t fit in cup holders? Those are the ones we keep getting from work/vendors, so despite the abundance of them in our cabinets I had to go out and buy my husband and I new travel mugs because using the freebies just meant precariously balancing them near the cup holders and inevitably spilling coffee on something.

        1. Never Boring*

          I use one like that during WFH (because otherwise my cat loves to stick her head into my water glass), and I use them when traveling, at the beach, etc. and I want to have more than 16 oz. of water with me. We really don’t spend a lot of time in the car, so cupholder size is pretty irrelevant. And when I do commute, it’s on public transportation.

    14. Essess*

      Interesting, because I’ve never heard anyone say they could use a tumbler and every person I’ve worked with threw theirs away after receiving.

    15. I'm Done*

      Please, no. That’s something I pick up at conferences, were I even interested in these cups, which I’m not. I definitely wouldn’t consider this a gift.

    16. danmei kid*

      We have two dozen tumblers from events, gifts, etc spilling out of our closet and keep having to throw more out. Please, no more.

    17. Sambal*

      I think it’s safe to assume most people already have one of these. And if you don’t, you can go to a thrift shop or TJ Maxx and get one for cheap.

    18. Mothman's Uber*

      Oh man, absolutely no to tumblers. I’ve gotten one from every job I’ve had they go directly to Goodwill. They’re a waster and I’ve never actually seen anyone use their branded one, save for the bosses.

      1. Chris too*

        I have received a Yeti mug that I just love, and I think it was a great gift, but the non high end tumblers and mugs are just clutter.

    19. Ashloo*

      No thanks, we have plenty and I use my favorite every day for years. I’m really never going to need another stainless insulated tumbler, and they’ll just be instantly donated because we have like 4 already.

    20. Hats+Are+Great*

      instead of insulated tumblers, what about soup mugs? they’re giant mugs that hold like 20 oz and are a little more towards a bowl shape, and basically you can make a can of Campbell soup in them in the microwave. or ramen, or a bunch of other things, or you can just put an ungodly amount of coffee in it. everybody likes soup mugs, and hardly anybody has one.

      1. LikesToSwear*

        My husband and I would both love soup mugs, though we’d prefer 24 oz; then you have room for crackers. Sadly, it’s harder to find 24 oz soup mugs.

  3. Anonym*

    My company uses a points-based service where you can pick your own gift, including gift cards for a huge number of stores. I think this works really well. You want to give gifts that really add value to people’s lives, I assume, and letting them choose ensures that.

    I always, always pick Amazon gift cards. I’d much rather be able to buy the cat litter I need than have another useless, probably branded kick-knack!

    1. High Score!*

      My employer does this and I don’t like it. I have to go to a catalog and browse items I wouldn’t buy normally or select a gift card when I’d rather have cash. We get taxed on the gifted amount whether we use it or not.
      Cash or time off with an opt out option would be ideal.

      1. Hen in a Windstorm*

        Yeah, and the items in the catalogue are over-priced crap. I have done searches of the items online and seen very poor reviews, heard co-workers complain they fell apart quickly, etc. I always picked gift cards, but they were never to Amazon or just a Visa gift card, they were like Cabelas and Macys and other stores I wouldn’t normally shop at.

        1. Aerin*

          See, the catalog DayJob uses is really nice, name-brand stuff. I picked out a Cuisinart smoker for my last anniversary gift and it’s great. So if OP wants to go that route they should shop around for one that’s going to be worth the money and not just cheap crap.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          A visa or MasterCard gift card is ideal! I could buy groceries with it. Or clothes or shoes. I wouldn’t have to shop at one particular place, Amazon or anywhere else.
          Please believe me when I say I do not shop at most of these mainstream or trendy places. I would not be able to use a gift card for chain restaurants or most corporate stores. I buy a lot of my clothes at thrift stores – especially now, since the people who make new clothes have decided we all have to wear tents. The so-called extra small sizes in regular stores are twice as wide as I am. I’m not wearing that! I’m shopping at thrift stores until this changes.
          So that lets out clothing stores, and with my food and stomach issues I also don’t do chain restaurants. Most of them put soybean oil in everything anyway.
          Luckily I live in a major metro area where there are real independent restaurants with good food. I doubt they offer gift cards though.
          I would eventually use up an Amazon gift card but it would be more convenient to save the grocery money and buy something else with it. With a department store card I might eventually find something to buy, but I don’t normally shop at those. Just give me cash, Visa, or MasterCard and I won’t have to do any extra shopping to use it. :)

          1. DontTellMyBoss*

            Where are these tent sized extra smalls you speak of? The plus sized population would love to know!

      2. Never Boring*

        My favorite was when I got a catalog at a former job to choose a gift for my 5-year anniversary. One of the choices was a chainsaw. I still don’t know what kind of message they were trying to send there.

    2. Sangamo Girl*

      This. I don’t go to work because I love you like a “family.” I exchange my labor for money. If you want to show you appreciate me–give me more money. If you want to give options, let me choose between cash or time off.

      1. Warrior Princess Xena*

        The one our company uses lets you save the points up for larger things. It also gives all managers a discretionary amount to give out. So if a team does a really good job with something, managers are encouraged to award them some points & a nice email.

        While I get that this system isn’t everyone’s thing, I will say that a side effect of it is that it provides managers with a ready made positive feedback mechanism. My own direct manager has mentioned that it’s nice to have something she can give out that is unambiguously positive and likely to please everyone

    3. Liisa*

      My last company did this and it was a nightmare. The catalog had no search function, the ONLY way to use it was to browse every single category. The selection was so limited that there wasn’t a single thing that I wanted. The gift cards they offered were only for US retailers and I was an international employee so I couldn’t even use that. There might be better points services than that one (I can’t imagine any being worse) but they’re not great.

    4. PinkCandyfloss*

      Ours does this too. OC Tanner is our vendor that manages the awards points and the catalog of rewards. We can award them to each other peer to peer (we get 100 per year to allocate as we see fit), or the company/management can award them to project teams for successful work (up to 500 per person on a team at one time). There’s other programs like Kazoo, Nectar, Motovosity …. the list goes on. You exchange the points for gifts from the catalog you actually want. Recently I got some outdoor solar lights for our sidewalk as a small reward, but in the past I’ve gotten high end luggage, a treadmill and even a flat screen TV (I have been on some killer projects lol). The key is I get to pick what I want.

    5. Lab Boss*

      This is what we went to for milestone anniversaries. One of my colleagues and I, without talking beforehand, both got a card to the same home improvement big box store, went within a week of each other, and got the same really good sale price on the same small cordless drill. I thank my company more every time I drive a screw than I ever have for another tumbler or t-shirt.

    6. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      My company has a service like this that works really well. In addition to the normal catalog offered by the service, the company has added company specific perks (like extra PTO, discounts on the services we offer, and gift cards to places that weren’t already offered by the service, but some employee wanted it and was able to request it). It’s actually a really great system for us. I can understand if it’s not well managed that it might not work for every company, but being able to poll employees about what other gift/rewards to add has been pretty successful.

    7. Rara+Avis*

      We have a rewards catalog through our wellness program. It’s how I keep my kid in the electronics I could not otherwise afford.

    8. periwinkle*

      Mine does this as well. We (occasionally!) receive points in recognition for our work, and the points can be redeemed for a broad range of items including lots of brand name stuff. If the value is 1 point = 1 dollar then yes, many items are overpriced. Still, it works out to free to me so I’m not complaining. Gift cards are an option and I’ve redeemed plenty of points for Amazon and Starbucks cards.

      Best thing I ever got was a Dyson handheld vacuum using a bunch of points awarded for my 5-year anniversary here. I use that thing every dang day (and am approaching year 9 here).

      If the most sensible option is gift cards, people should be allowed to choose the type of card. Plenty of people avoid certain popular retailers/restaurants for whatever reason. Half of my paycheck goes to Petsmart anyway so I’d certainly enjoy a gift card. Well, our cats would.

      1. Captain+Swan*

        My husband’s company does the points based catalogue. Last time he had an opportunity to choose, we picked a 49 inch HD Android TV. Which came just in time for us to start using it for streaming during COVID lockdowns.

    9. Megan*

      My company uses YouEarnedIt to let us give each other points and I really like it–it’s a nice way to send appreciation to someone who helped you out and stuff. We get the equivalent of $25 in points to hand out every quarter. You can also get points for exercising, donating blood, volunteering, or completing a training module early (we have a lot of HIPAA training). You can use your points for a huge variety of gift cards, charities, tickets for events, and general stuff (electronics, big/small appliances, fashion, baby/kid stuff, discounts on travel, etc.). I save mine up for Sephora gift cards; I haven’t had to buy makeup with my own money in ages lol

    10. RB Purchase*

      My husband’s employer does something like this and he really likes it. I am pretty sure he can order things directly from Amazon.

    11. Ellie*

      Mine does this too, for all of the ‘x years service’ you get a certain level of points, and can go to a website to select the gift cards you want. Still, I always pick the supermarket ones, so that I can mentally set aside the cash to use on whatever I want. If they had a Visa gift card or a cash option, I’d take that instead.

      Cash and extra time off are the best gifts of all, and always will be. If you want to add a personal touch, a card with a heartfelt message in it, containing cash, surely covers both options? If you really can’t do that, then please pick something useful. Food, petrol vouchers, maybe gym, yoga or Pilates classes, or general health/wellness checks? I appreciate my complementary flu shot and annual skin cancer check, which are arranged in an empty meeting room at my worksite. They’re convenient and give the impression that my employer cares about whether I get sick or not. My company also once paid for a masseuse to come in and give everyone shoulder massages, which was nice.

      I’m probably one of the few people who quite likes the company branded t-shirts as well, mainly because its an excuse to wear jeans to work, and it saves my other clothes.

  4. Justin*

    If I’m well paid at a job, I like fun things (like tickets to things), but what’s fun for me is not useful for everyone. So give them money and the people who say it’s taxed will be okay.

    1. Berin*

      I agree with this wholeheartedly. If I’m not mistaken, all monetary gifts are taxed the same way – using made up numbers, can you provide a monetary gift of $150 per person and then tell your employees that each person is getting $100 (or whatever the post-tax amount is)?

      You could also preemptively create an templated response for people who complain, so you can just copy and paste that response if you do have folks who complain to you about free money.

      1. doreen*

        I wouldn’t complain about paying taxes on a cash gift or bonus ( I’d rather get $100 minus taxes rather than nothing) but it’s not really possible to give everyone a cash gift of a certain amount and say that each person is getting a certain post-tax amount unless you want to do a whole lot of calculating. Because everyone’s taxes don’t work out the same, so giving me $150 may result in me getting $100 after taxes, but someone else may get $140 after taxes and he same goes in reverse ( you would have to start off giving me and that other person different amounts for both of us to net $100)

      2. Lab Boss*

        One way around this is phrasing. If you tell everyone “you get a gift of $100! But tax gets taken out!” then they feel like their gift is diminished. If you tell everyone “you get a gift of $75, post-tax!” and just set the pre-tax amount higher to balance it out, they feel like they’re getting what they were promised.

        1. KRM*

          That is a paperwork nightmare for accounting though. People just need to accept that taxes are taken out of things, and at the end of it, you still have more $$ than you did previously.

          1. Coverage Associate*

            Not just a paperwork nightmare, actually a paperwork impossibility. I can’t calculate my exact marginal tax rate until all our medical bills come in for the year. My employer never knows my exact tax rate.

          2. DisgruntledPelican*

            As the accountant at my office who does care of this…is no more of a nightmare than anything else I do.

      3. Rara+Avis*

        That’s how my company does year-end bonuses — gives us the even number but on the books adds in the tax.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          That’s how we used to always get our bonuses of $100 per year of service. The taxes had always been figured on the back end so that we ended up with checks in even $100 increments.

    2. londonedit*

      Yeah, I will admit to having a private moan about the fact that any extra cash in my pay cheque pushes up my tax/NI/student loan deductions, but at the end of the day you always end up with more than you would have done, so I just try to ignore the gross number and concentrate on the net! It’s always nice to have a bit of extra money before Christmas.

      1. ferrina*

        Agree- folks will always complain about taxes (it’s a universal pastime), but at the end of the day, money is generally helpful

        1. Hannah Lee*

          We’ve got one employee* who complains about working overtime because, he says “by the time I work and taxes are taken out, I wind up taking home LESS money than if I just worked my standard hours.”

          There are valid reasons to not want to work overtime, but that isn’t really a sensible one. I process payroll, and review the tax withholding; This is absolutely NOT the case.

          *He’s also the employee who is most likely to work the edges of benefit programs and policies so that he’s using them in ways they weren’t intended. Anytime we’re writing or updating policies, I always have to give a “how would Randolph apply this policy to some random circumstance I’ve never seen in my 20+ years in the workplace” read through before finalizing anything. It annoys the CEO; he’s a “keep it short and to the point, isn’t the intent obvious to everyone?” communicator, and me adding an extra paragraph defining the boundaries of the policy, or thinking through all the ways a “rules lawyer” could game the policy is overthinking things. But I figure “overthinking things” ahead of time is part of what he pays me for. It’s my job to point out the risks and ways to minimize them; he can decide if he wants to ignore them (within the bounds of the law, and doing the right thing … we’re both on the same page as far as that’s concerned, thankfully)

  5. calvin blick*

    What about backpacks, luggage, etc? I think nearly everyone would have a use for those. Depending on your budget earpods, smart watches, etc might be good as well.

    1. Beans*

      Those are still the kind of things that people often either already have or have very specific wants out of. Backpacks aren’t one-size-fits-all (both in terms of utility and body compatibility). Neither are headphones – although at least if the company is gifting non-branded Apple Watches or Airpods, there’s a resale market.

        1. Anallamadingdong*

          Unfortunately, this comment section just proves that no matter what you pick, many people will be unhappy about it.
          Maybe they could be given the choice between a gift or a cash option.

          1. ShanShan*

            I mean, that was the information this person specifically wrote in to ask us for.

            I don’t think most of us would be this critical in an actual social situation. We’re just trying to be helpful since the poster asked for our help.

        1. D*

          I got a welcome gift from my current company of a branded North Face backpack. It’s extremely nice and sturdy–but I use to haul my computer and work junk back and forth from the office and nowhere else.

          And I have like ten backpacks at home I don’t need more of.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            We recently got North Face backpacks at work, and I see a lot of people using them for commuting. I use mine for outdoor events with my kid’s scout troop.

            That’s not the only name brand item I’ve received from companies over the years. When we travel, we are still using the LL Bean toiletries bag I received well over a decade ago, and it’s held up beautifully.

            I also never would have paid for a Yeti tumbler, but my company gave them to us, and they are pretty nice.

        2. Tau*

          Depends. My current company gives people a very nice backpack as an onboarding gift. I’d say the majority of people I see in the office are using it, to the point where larger company events get genuinely risky for your personal items because there are several dozen of the exact same bag lying about. I met with a former coworker the other week and she was still using the thing!

          Makes more sense for onboarding than Christmas, though.

        3. Hannah L*

          The company I work for gave out backpacks at our annual party and they were really nice. Sturdy and had all the things one wants in a work backpack. Yes it was branded, but just the small logo so it’s not too obnoxious and theoretically you could cover it if you wanted.

          Anyway all this to say, it depends on how much your company is willing to spend.

        4. LZ*

          The only gift I have ever gotten from an employer and *not* given away was a Jack Spade company-branded messenger bag. I’ve had it for 4 years, it’s extremely well made, the company branding is subtle, and I use it all the time. It’s actually high quality though, which is part of why I like it and use it. I’ve gotten other company bags that were all crap and I got rid of immediately.

        5. Curmudgeon in California*

          At $job-2 they really wanted us to accept the open plan hell-pit that they moved us in to, off campus and with a worse commute. So they gave us branded laptop backpacks and duffel bags (we were already issued with laptops and there was an on-site gym.) The backpacks were sturdy and well made, which was good because we often had to haul multiple laptops back and forth – our real mac, then a locked-down windows (oxymoron, I know) box for “secure” access to production. I managed to score a spare backpack for my wife, too, from someone who didn’t want theirs (already had too many).

          I’ve also worked places where they gave out swag that I would have ditched at a trade show – like those flimsy string-strapped non-woven “backpacks” that last about ten uses, or two if used by a kid.

          I used to try to give my coworkers little, < $5 tchotchkes for the holidays. They weren't well received. Then I started making jam for the holidays, several flavors. I would then take a couple flats of half pint jars of it to work and let people pick the flavor they wanted. That was a hit, for about the same price.

      1. Siege*

        Yeah, not to be all sandwiches about it, but I can’t use earbuds or anything like that. It’s a case where that’s a great option to have if it’s truly an option and not the only gift. Otherwise it’s the time a former employer gave us cheap branded sunglasses that you couldn’t use if you wire glasses, which about half the company did.

    2. Lady_Lessa*

      And being the outlier, nothing on your list sounds worth the money to me.

      I personally prefer some variation on money; i.e. gift cards -Amazon or Visa or check.

    3. EPLawyer*

      Not everyone travels. And those that do, have stuff they already like. Ditto with earpods and smart watches.

      There is no one size fits all of an actual item to gift. That’s why MONEY is the best option. Because money is good to get what you ACTUALLY want.

      1. Wilbur*

        The problem with bigger companies is usually:
        1. The budget is usually too small
        2. The easy thing is to go through the pre approved corporate catalog. Where everything cheaply made and selected to check a box.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          If the company doesn’t want to give cash or gift cards, might be better not to do it at all. Offering gifts that aren’t wanted seems to me to be worse than none at all.
          Maybe have a holiday party instead, or an extra day off?

      2. Lime green Pacer*

        I used to be a community leader with the forum for a major for-profit travel website. As volunteers, the community leaders were acknowledged with a mystery gift every year. Some of the gifts were: computer backpack, laptop bag, drink cooler (a pop-up thing), travel wallet, gym / overnight bag. All were pretty decent quality (but not well-known brands), and were generally appreciated.

        You would think travel-related gifts to a travel-focused group would lead to a lot of duplication, and there certainly was some, but it worked well enough for them to repeat it every year.

        1. SarahKay*

          Or you work with polite people.
          Because I would not want any of those things, however good the quality – if I need one, I already have one and if I don’t need one….well, I don’t need one and I already have enough stuff.
          If they were put into my hands I would say thank you nicely and then they would either be offered up within the family, or just given straight to a charity shop. If they were all in a pile and ‘pick one up on your way out’ I just wouldn’t pick one up.

    4. Temperance*

      These are always SO cheaply made. The strap came off of the one my husband’s org gave him after 4 or 5 uses.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        One of the hard things about the places that source this stuff is that there usually no way for the person doing the buying to get samples of what the actual thing is; they are just working off a catalogue. Even when buying brand names the quality, fit, finish can vary widely and price isn’t always an indicator of relative quality. And often the budgets for this kind of stuff is not super realistic either. “We want to buy nice fleece vests for all employees! 100 people … $1500 bucks should cover it”

    5. Worldwalker*

      But HOW MANY?

      I have three day-pack type backpacks, for different purposes. One for carrying my laptop and a ton of stuff around conventions. One with specialized, padded compartments for camera gear. One lightweight one that I use for actual hiking. Oh, and one with a mesh compartment for a cat — think a wearable kitty carrier — which I used when Mac was a kitten. So four.

      And that is the entirety of backpacks that I need. That I will ever need. I do not need five, or six, or another one per year for the next decade.

      I’m also adequately supplied with luggage. I’m wearing an Apple Watch as I type this, and I have a nice set of EarPods within arm’s reach. Also a set of cheap wireless earbuds from a discount store that I wear anywhere I’m afraid to lose the EarPods, which is everywhere.

      Pretty much everything they sell in the National Pen Company catalog or equivalent I either already have it or don’t want it. The things I don’t have and do want are generally weird, esoteric, and not to be found in the catalog of a company that sells “corporate gifts” at exorbitant prices.

      Just give me a week’s bonus pay. Or don’t give me anything, and instead of doing something one day a year, focus on making the workplace better 365 days a year.

      1. Anon4this*

        I get the overall point of your post, but as someone who’s still low on the pay scale…sheesh, not everyone can afford all that!!

        I personally would love some high-end luggage/headphones/etc. from a brand I can usually only window-shop at. But that’s just me.

    6. Betty*

      Yeah, my company switched from branded fleece jackets (which I loved and wore all the time) to a high-end leather laptop backback last year as a holiday gift, and it got donated w tags still on because I have a work tote bag I like more and it was too small to be useful for real travel.

    7. Betty*

      My spouse received a soft sided backpack cooler that I love. It is very useful and I don’t think many people would have it. The general purpose bags or computer bags I have received have not been used.

    8. Peeklay*

      My company used to give us a branded Christmas gift and my favorite was the gym bag they gave us one year. it’s well made and I still use it every week almost a decade later. My runner up favorite was a 9×13 pyrex dish with a lid and branded insolated carrier but that one wasn’t universally loved.

      Gifts from other years that I never used include: a branded backpack (it was made so poorly that is broke immediately), a branded picnic basket, and branded earbuds that broke immediately.

      I think things like carry-on luggage, tumblers, laptop cases, etc are useful enough that even if people don’t love them they’ll at least use them.

          1. LikesToSwear*

            Same. And I would definitely get quite a bit of use out of said Pyrex dish.

            We already own an absolutely excessive amount of various Pyrex, and are running out of room to store it. This does not stop us from buying more.

    9. AVeryNewEnglandAnswer*

      Quick plug for L.L. Bean! They do company branding and the quality is exemplary. Everyone needs a branded Bean tote bag in their life. Mine goes to the farmer’s market and grocery shopping. I have seen colleagues use them for everything from holiday decoration storage to international travel. One person even uses hers to take her dog places, and he apparently loves being zipped in with his head poking out like a sleeping bag. They do great fleeces and stuff too, but the bags were a hit because sizes were not required and they are genuinely useful.

      1. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

        I ordered the gifts from them every year. Clothing only every other year-it was a pain for all the reasons the OP describes. But the fleeces/polos/blankets/duffel bags were all a big hit. And they were easy to work with, and once they had our logo, ordering was easy once the decision was made.

    10. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Nope. Not interested. I already have all those items and don’t want to replace what I have at this time. Even if I could replace an item with a better one being gifted, the gift doesn’t hold as much value to me. It would feel more like I traded up rather than gifted a costly gift.

    11. Tin Cormorant*

      We’ve gotten backpacks from pretty much every corporate job in the past, and while they’ve been relatively good quality, many have been of the “this carries a laptop and not much else” variety, not enough storage for a weekend trip outside of work. Back when we were all commuting, it was fine to have a branded backpack for your current job to bring your laptop to work, but it saw basically no use outside of that and got donated when we left. Now that we all work from home, it collects dust under the bed until it finds its way into the donation bin.

    12. Lizzie*

      Nope. as said below, everyone is different. I wanted a backpack for my return to work. I bough several and returned them before finding one that was perfect for ME.

    13. Love to WFH*

      These would go to the charity thrift shop, too. I buy precisely what I want, and my employer is unlikely to duplicate that — and even if they did, I don’t need it.

    14. Chris too*

      I have a nice duffel bag I got from work and was quite annoyed when my husband borrowed it.

      A big part of the annoyance was that it had the organization’s logo on it, and it’s kind of iconic here. *I* work there, not him!

      It makes me realize how much easier it must be to find gifts when the logo hits the sweet spot – iconic enough that everybody recognizes it, but not to the extent that branded items are available to the general public.

    15. Smaller potatoes*

      An employer gave out soft sided insulated bags once and I still use mine 20+ years later. The company isn’t even around anymore!

  6. lost academic*

    Give a cash bonus and pay the tax on it for them. My husband’s company did this for a long time. When they switched to giving actual gifts satisfaction plummeted.

    1. hamsterpants*

      I think this is it! Don’t advertise a $100 bonus and leave people to feel disappointment when only $60 hits the bank account.

      1. Antilles*

        The alternative way to handle this is give the gift that already accounts for tax – advertise the $100 bonus but make it actually $137.13 or whatever.

        1. Avril Ludgateaux*

          @Antilles this is the solution. I think this is how some game shows, etc., handle prize taxes, too. There was a whole controversy when Oprah gave everybody in her audience a brand new car because after the initial excitement died down, for many of the people, it ended up being a 5 figure tax liability that they didn’t expect or account for that year.

          There’s always the option to say “here is your $200 bonus/gift” when you’re processing it as $245 (or whatever it would take in that individual’s highest tax margin to get them the advertised amount while covering the tax).

        2. ABCYaBye*

          This is something that I think should be the norm versus an exception. I’ve done bonuses for employees before and asked my accountants to calculate the taxes in so the take home is the nice round number being offered.

        3. Triumphant Fox*

          We did this with gift cards (still not ideal in my mind – not everyone wants a trip to whole foods when they don’t regularly shop there). They would give us a gift card and add the tax to the next paycheck and then take it out so everything stayed the same.

          1. Avril Ludgateaux*

            FYI generic gift cards provided by e.g. Visa, MasterCard, etc., exist and can be used anywhere that those credit cards are accepted!

      2. I want my 40% back*

        THIS. my boss always does this and I hate it – she tells me in a review that I am receiving a $2500 bonus and then i see an extra 1600 or whatever on my check. I hate it and I hate that it makes me mad, haha. She is great otherwise!

        1. KRM*

          I mean…taxes are part of life. If I get a $10K bonus, then I can’t be mad when I get $6K in my account, or whatever it is. Taxes get taken out of your compensation. At the end of the day, you have more money than you did before.
          Not every company can make everyone’s bonus a nice even #. If you have too many people, it’s a nightmare for accounting. If you don’t have a revenue stream (many small biotechs are on venture money or grants), then the extra required to make this happen is going to mess with the budget. This whole comment section shows that no one thing is ever going to make everyone happy, but geez, being mad that taxes are taken out of your compensation is crazy to me.

          1. cabbagepants*

            I would never complain about it at work — because ultimately, it is money, horray! — but it does dampen the excitement somewhat. There is something special about getting a cool $100. $60 is somehow more than 40% less exciting than $100, y’know? ~shrug~ I do agree with the commenters saying that some people will find a reason to complain about everything and as a gift-giver you just have to expect it and not let it bother you too much.

          2. Reluctant+Manager*

            “Not every company can make everyone’s bonus a nice even #.”

            Why not? I’ve worked for big and small companies who arrange the pretax amount to be $100 or $1000 or whatever.

            That said–if the bonus is ordinary income, your company is also paying their part of the payroll taxes on it, and it might also go toward your 401k situation. So you may be only getting $600 of the $1000, but your company might be paying $1400.

        2. Daisy-dog*

          For an annual performance bonus, you should expect to lose money to taxes. You can adjust your taxes for the rest of the year to make more money each check to make up for the extra amount you know you’ll pay on your bonus.

          But when you’re getting a $100 year-end bonus, it’s pretty annoying to only get $60 when the company could just gross it up to ensure everyone gets $100.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This is the way we handle it – annual bonuses are taxed as per usual, special bonuses (project, anniversary, we-had-a-good-year-surprise) are grossed up.

    2. goducks*

      Yes. Most payroll systems allow you to gross up the amount so that you can end with a specific net payment after tax.

    3. sharmand3r*

      Our company does this, and it’s great! It really goes a long way, and then you still feel like you’re getting the full $200 promised or whatever. Haven’t had anyone complain.

      1. CM*

        Same here, my company does this and it works very well. Give everybody $130 and tell them you’re giving them $100 and covering the tax. They really can’t complain about that… except for the people who are going to complain about everything anyway.

    4. Beth*

      YES. My current firm does this on bonuses — for a $1000 bonus, for example, the check is for $1000 NET of taxes, and the paystub shows the total amount. It’s an amazing morale boost.

    5. My Useless 2 Cents*

      I run into this every year with the company Xmas party. I can give everyone a mug filled with hot chocolate mix and a baggie of marshmallows or I can give each employee $0.50. So everyone complaining about another mug….or…. everyone complaining about $0.50 and snide “why bother” remarks. I don’t set the budget and I can do without the snide remarks; you’re getting a mug.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        But that honestly isn’t a “you” or “the employees” problem. Unless you own the business.

        That’s an upper management problem, because seriously, what’s the intent of giving people a gift at year-end if they are only going to budget $.50 per employee? What are they hoping that will accomplish?

        1. DyneinWalking*

          I reckon what they are trying to accomplish is to have people think they care for them and are invested in them without, y’know, actually caring for and investing in them.

          Which is why that kind of bonus is probably worse than no bonus at all. Most people are going to spot it for what it is, even if they can’t put it into words.

      2. Splendid Colors*

        Yeah, my apartment complex gives holiday gifts that I’m pretty sure they picked up at Walmart for under $5. Think “gift baskets” with stuff like 1 Ghirardelli square chocolate (about 2″ x 1/4″ or 50mm x 6mm for those of you who aren’t familiar with it) packaged in a box that looks like you’re getting 6 of them, an ugly non-microwave mug with one packet of hot chocolate, and a few cookies in a giant box, in a basket 90% full of cardboard. They send memos around asking people to sign up for them and agree to be home 1-2 PM on some random work day to receive the gift. I never sign up because (a) I don’t need this over-packaged junk and (b) this is my crunch season and there are plenty of things I don’t do at my “home office” such as operate the actual laser cutter. If I happen to be home at that time, staff pound on my door and demand I accept this junk that I did not request. If I’m not home, they leave a nastygram about my not being home to receive my gift.

    6. Cambridge Comma*

      Exactly. It’s the same problem as a product €25 with free shipping compared with one at €20 with €5 shipping. Announce lower amount to account for tax, job done.

    7. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Honestly, this would make me the happiest and as well as the rest of my coworkers. There are certain things I’d personally also be happy to get as a gift, but I know my coworkers may not enjoy the same gift as much. And to get the money with the taxes paid on it by my employer would be awesome.

    8. just another queer reader*

      +1 on covering the tax. My company does this when gift cards are given, and it’s nice.

      (it did confuse me as a new grad, seeing those extra line items on my paycheck! so hopefully you have some team members who are savvy enough to be able to explain it to the rest.)

    9. Global Cat Herder*

      This is what our company does, and the notification says something like “$100 (which we gross up to pay the taxes for you)”

    10. Here we go again*

      I’d rather have the cash, even if it’s taxed. Less crap filling up landfills. If it’s a small amount your giving your employees like $20, just buy them a nice catered lunch.

      1. Reluctant Manager*

        Hah! I’m trying to order catering for an event. What I have to pay $35 for, someone could go to the cafeteria and get for $14.

        1. Orino*

          Give them the 20 bucks and cover the tax with the 35. They can get the 14 bucks meal and have 6 bucks or spend it however. Higher value all around.

    11. Camille*

      Yes! My company did this one year – we each got a $100 bill in the mail with a couple other tiny items. SO APPRECIATED

    12. Data Bear*

      Yes, this. I do not need more stuff at home or at the office.

      But when I got an award a couple years ago that came with a lovely etched-glass plaque and a thank-you and a handshake at a company party, it was the check (well, direct-deposit notice) for more money than I expected that gave me a warm fuzzy feeling inside and made me think “oh, they really MEAN it!”

  7. The Rural Juror*

    Last year we did blankets from a local nonprofit where proceeds go to purchase blankets and coats for people experiencing homelessness. People loved that because they liked the mission!

    1. Monday Monday*

      I was going to say blankets, too. That is one thing I can never have enough of because they do wear out.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      This is very much climate-dependent. I have more blankets than I will ever need and would just end up donating this one back to the nonprofit.

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

        Agreed. I have no use for any more blankets in my Southern California climate. I barely even use the 2 I own. That’s also a personal decor choice and people are going to have preferences on color and material.

    3. LizB*

      Yes, if you can connect to a nonprofit or social enterprise, or a beloved local small business, that is always nice. Locally we have a company that makes wildflower seed paper and seed bombs, and their employees are all people with disabilities who are paid actual living wages. Not as good for a winter gift in my very cold climate, but I always love supporting things like that.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        The last time I looked at seed bombs, the directions said to throw them around any time of year and they will know when to germinate. Granted, that’s for California… but wildflowers that grow in your climate have evolved to germinate when the weather is right. Even if that’s “after the spring thaw.”

        1. blanket boundaries*

          the absolute last thing I want to do at home is try to relax with a blanket that has my place of employment on it.

        2. Taura*

          Depending on how exactly the logo was applied, it can make the blanket REALLY uncomfortable – I have one where they used such thick embroidery to put the logo on that that whole corner is heavy and scratchy, and I’ve also seen printed on ones that flake as soon as you think about washing them, etc. Also having the company logo on items can make them harder to donate later on.

        3. londonedit*

          I’d probably keep a branded blanket in the car for emergencies or something, but I definitely wouldn’t have it ‘on display’ in my house.

          1. turquoisecow*

            I’d keep it in the office since every office I’ve ever worked has had the temperature set way lower than I found comfortable for sitting at a desk.

          2. nona*

            +1 If the branding is embroidered on, you could probably pick out the stitching if you liked it otherwise. Otherwise, it can go in the car – I’ve used that blanket to pad things in the truck or keep things from rattling around. Could be a picnic blanket.

            Or I keep in the office for when I get cold and want a blanket for my lap.

          3. Grace Poole*

            That’s exactly where mine is. They say you should keep a blanket in the car in case of winter emergencies. Problem solved.

        4. Not Alison*

          It is no longer useful because you cannot regift it to someone else as a brand new gift – – because obviously you received it for free from your employer.

    4. High Score!*

      If you want to help homeless people have a charity drive and allow people to donate blankets. I got 4 blankets last year for Christmas from family. No clue why.

      1. ferrina*

        This is a great idea! If you are giving a gift of [STUFF], have an easy and ethical way for employees to opt out, like being able to donate the item to a place that actually will use them.

        1. ThatGirl*

          My last job had a similar thing – we got free turkeys at Thanksgiving only at some point they wised up and realized people didn’t actually always need or want a turkey. So it was a grocery store gift check for about $25, which you could then donate to a food bank if you decided you didn’t need that either.

    5. mli25*

      In 2020, I got 3 different blankets from my employer. One is used frequently (no branding, fit into my décor). The other two….sit in a closet waiting to be needed. One is branded and will be the first one donated when I want some space back.

    6. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      One year my mother’s hospital gave the staff low-ish quality navy blue blankets with the hospital logo. In South Texas. The blankets for babes donation bin was very full that year.

    7. Hannah Lee*

      I was looking into blankets as SWAG for a company event a couple of years ago.
      What I found was unless the company was willing to pay a lot, all that we could get were plush/fleece blankets. Those are sort of fine, but not a great choice environmentally …. all those plastics wind up in laundry water and go off into water ways, etc for a long long time.

  8. insert pun here*

    My guess is that people who are offended by the gift cards aren’t offended by the tax itself. The offense is coming from the mismatch between what the company says they’re giving (let’s say it’s a $100 gift card) and what they actually get ($100 minus taxes.) Or to put it another way, they’re irritated that the company is claiming to be more generous than the generosity they’re actually experiencing. (I am with you on this, OP, btw. Money is money! But those kinds of discrepancies — real or perceived — really get under some folks’ skin.)

    1. Lore*

      My company historically did gift cards but grossed them up to cover taxes. So the face value of the card is as advertised ($150, say), but if you look at your pay stub, it says $189 (math not verified). I’m not sure if people even always realized it cost the company more.

    2. Zephy*

      Exactly. If you tell me my holiday bonus is $100 but then I get a check for $75 because you’re making me pay the taxes on it, I’m going to feel cheated even though that’s still $75 I didn’t have, or indeed know about, five minutes ago.

      It’s a well-documented phenomenon in the broader population, humans hate to lose things more than they like to get things, and even in cases where the net outcome is maintaining the status quo or in fact a gain, the perception of having lost something is much more salient.

      Like, you find a dollar bill on the street and then the wind immediately blows it out of your hand – the story you tell later is “I lost a dollar.” You briefly possessed a dollar, you didn’t have it this morning and you don’t have it now, you didn’t really “lose” anything and you’re no better or worse off now than you were yesterday. Or you buy three drinks and spill one, the story you tell later is “I spilled a drink,” nevermind that you still had two.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        I find this super odd and somewhat of a bummer outlook on life in general. It’s just a fact of life to me that, if I get a bonus, it’ll be taxed. I’m not going to be pissed about it.

        1. Ann Ominous*

          I think it has to do expectation management. If you’re told you will get $100, you have that expectation set in your mind. Then when you only get $75, you feel disappointed because you’ve gotten less than promised. If you were told from the beginning that you were getting $75, you’d be fine/grateful.

        2. one L lana*

          Yeah, I can see this being an issue with a young employee who’s never gotten a bonus before, but after that it’s just life? When you negotiate a salary, you understand you aren’t actually going to get that amount on your paychecks, bonuses aren’t any different.

          I guess I could see it being an issue if for some reason the company issued a bonus and didn’t withhold any taxes and people owed a lot of money at tax time. That’s a nasty surprise. But if you get a $200 bonus and it’s actually $145 or whatever – well, yes, that’s how taxes work.

          1. KRM*

            Right? I’m not mad because my take home salary doesn’t equal the compensation number in my offer letter. Because I understand how taxes work.

          2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            But a bonus is part of your compensation, whereas a gift should be a gift. I think the phrasing makes all the difference.

            If they gave you a box of chocolates you wouldn’t expect there to be half a dozen missing from the top layer. If they gave you a sweater you wouldn’t expect it to be a size smaller than you requested.

          3. Daisy-dog*

            There’s a difference with getting a $2500 bonus and receiving net $1600. If the company grossed that up, your bonus would be $3400. If you’re getting a year-end bonus of $100, but only receiving $60 – that’s feels cheap. They can gross that up without having that much a difference – they’re giving a gift after all. If they don’t want to do that, they can just not give the gift and no one would know.

      2. Aerin*

        I once caught the end of an episode of Deal or No Deal where the player chose one case and got like $40K. Then they opened the other case to see what they would have gotten and it was the million. The person acted like someone had just *died*. Meanwhile I’m like “$40K is a lot of money! Be happy!”

        People are weird.

        1. LB*

          To be fair, they were processing the difference between a really useful amount of money and a fully life-changing amount of money. But I agree, after the shock wears off you’re still way ahead!

        2. no longer working*

          People who win a million dollars in the lottery are not millionaires by a long shot. They net only around 650k where I live. Taxes are taken out up front.

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

        I once got a $50 GC to a company I don’t shop at for ethical reasons AND it was taxed on my paycheck. It was insult to injury because $50 was the minimum for taxable purposes, so if the company had given us $45 gift cards, it would have flown under the radar and we wouldn’t have been taxed. I suspect it was a corporate deal where they got the $50 for cheaper than $50 each because they bought in bulk, but it still seemed a pain. If I got cash or it was for a substantial amount, I’d have been less irritated at being taxed.

        1. Can Can Cannot*

          They can only tax you on what the company paid for the card, so if they paid less than $50 then the smaller amount would be what you see on your pay slip.

    3. Laney Boggs*

      oh yeah. It’s immensely frustrating to see/hear “spot bonus of $25!” and then get 16.59.

      interestingly, the owner at the small business i worked at gave out Christmas bonuses every year. You got 25/50/75 after taxes. He did the math to make sure everyone got that bonus and ate the tax himself.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Minor but fascinating to me side bar:
        My company advertised referral bonuses of $1250; they plussed those up so you actually got $1250.
        Now we have merged with a larger company and there are some new policies kicking in. The referral bonus is now a whopping $5k. Except it’s not plussed-up… so it’s more like $3700. Which is still bigger than before! But kind of annoying.

    4. Kaisa (The Librarian)*

      Yes, but when you get a gift card to something specific and then have taxes taken out of your paycheck that is used for essentials it can bristle. During the pandemic my work gave us a gift card, and then emailed letting us know taxes were taken out of our paycheck. It was a nice versatile gift card, one that could be used at any of our downtown shops, but if what you really needed was extra cash in your pocket to pay bills, now your next paycheck was a little less because it had to account for taxes from the gift card. For the people putting together the gift, taxes on an extra $50 probably didn’t seem like much, but we have quite a few hourly employees, where that tax may have been noticeable in their biweekly paycheck. Just giving everyone the money spent on gift cards as a cash bonus here may have been better (that said, I think they were also trying to help support local businesses since it was 2020).

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Right? Our usual Christmas gift is an email from the director on December 23 with some copy/paste clipart snow and permission to wear jeans on Christmas Eve.

      1. Something something*

        Exactly! My company did this, and while I appreciated the gift card, the taxes were a surprise. Having my paycheck drop unexpectedly was…not great.

        I know that there were likely some folks who may have had some issues. I mentioned it to their manager and our VP, but I’m not sure if they really got it. We’ll see next time they do it.

    5. Ella bee bee*

      I think this is exactly it. I got a retention bonus that I was told was going to be $1,000 but then with taxes it was only $560. Which like I knew it was going to be taxed, but it felt weird that they kept talking up how great it was that they were giving everyone this huge bonus this year, and then it was so much less. If they told me that my bonus was $560, I would have been happy with that- but when you’re told that you are getting an $1,000 bonus the $560 feels disappointing even though it’s still great and helpful.

    6. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Do they complain that the salary advertised for the job is less after tax too? Goodness me – there’s an easy solution though, don’t offer anything next year due to too many complainers.

    7. Chief+Petty+Officer+Tabby*

      Lissen, I would happily take $95 over the company water bottle, which is a really cheap plastic thing apparently made by 5 year Olds. Or the $5 Starbucks gift cards (I like Starbucks! $5 doesn’t get me anything but a lemon slice.).

  9. DivergentStitches*

    I’d say support a small business if possible. Find a local bagmaker who can make a zipper pouch or dopp kit bag with your logo or something. Everyone can find a use for something like that.

    1. EPLawyer*

      Not everyone can. I have more zipper pouches than I know what to do with. And not everyone wants a logo branded thing.

      Now when my husband gets logo branded stuff from work, if it is a decent quality item, he will order it in my size. Then I sew a patch over the company logo. but not everyone can do that.

      Money — everyone can find a use for money.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah – personally, if it’s a company-branded thing then for me it’s staying at work. I have one or two company tote bags that I will use for shopping but there’s no way I’d use a rucksack or laptop bag with company branding, and absolutely no way I’d wear an item of clothing with the company logo on it.

        1. ferrina*

          ngl, I love tote bags and will happily take one every year. But I know I’m one of only 3 people at my company that would say that.

    2. Dark Macadamia*

      Anything with the company logo automatically becomes a bad gift even if it’s a good quality item I otherwise would’ve liked

    3. Ella bee bee*

      For some reason people always buy me zipper pouches for gifts. I think I have 9. I use 2, and the rest are just sitting around.

    4. KoiFeeder*

      I don’t know, I only need the one I’ve had since middle school. Though it helps that that one is apparently all but indestructible.

  10. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    The thing I’d like most, aside from money, is an extra day or two off. Others might disagree, but I’d prefer if it’s an all-company day off (assuming you have the ability to be closed on a random Friday or New Year Eve) so I don’t have to worry about catching up with work when I get back.

    We did get blankets the first year I was at my current job, and I was initially bummed because I assumed they’d be cheap fleece and overly small (aka budget blankets) but these were NICE blankets. Big, fluffy, soft, and just had the company logo embroidered on one corner. Even folks who weren’t blanket people usually had someone at home to enjoy it.

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      *New Years Eve is just an example of a day that you could be closed. Typically these are easier to do during holiday weeks because clients expect some places to be closed.

    2. seps*

      All company days off, if you can swing it, are the best gift. We got this in 2020 as a “we’re sorry about the pandemic” gift and it was glorious. Bonus points if it’s a day people’s kids will still be in school.

      1. Presea*

        Preferences will probably vary as to whether an extra day with the kids in school vs an extra day with the kids off school is better, to say nothing of the people who simply don’t have school kids in their homes or lives. In a small company, interviewing people about their preferences might be helpful. In a larger company… two company days on two separate Fridays sounds extra awesome?

    3. Hlao-roo*

      Yes to an extra day off, if possible! And I think that preferences will vary about “close the company for one day” vs “give everyone an extra vacation day to use whenever” so whichever way is easiest/possible at OP’s company is the way to go.

    4. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      Oh this is a great gift (assuming the office is not so understaffed that days off are painful)

      We got 2 extra floating holidays in 2021 and it was glorious.

    5. Slow Gin Lizz*

      We had an all-company day off last year after the end of our busiest season and it was just wonderful. I really do think a paid day off is the way to go, rather than just about any one concrete object you could give everyone. Seems like for every decent object someone makes here in the comments there are at least five people who can say they wouldn’t actually like said object (which I get; I love a good travel mug but I already have three) but a paid day off for everybody would be well-received, provided you can also make sure employees won’t be swamped after returning to the office (or the road or wherever they work).

    6. Important Moi*

      I like this. If the whole company can’t be closed for the whole day. A floating off-day on a Friday or a Monday.

    7. PhD survivor*

      I’ve worked for several companies that shut down between Christmas and New Year holidays. So everyone in the company gets about a one week holiday and no one comes back to extra work while they were gone since the whole company was closed. I love this because it’s a great break after an exhausting end of year season, it’s very convenient for visiting relatives over the holidays, and it’s generally a time of year that’s not that productive anyway. I know not everyone celebrates Christmas but it gives everyone a nice end of year break to come back refreshed in the new year.

    8. SameSame*

      My institution gave all employees several extra paid days off (in the form of “we will officially be closed on these 4 fridays in August and these 2 other specific dates) during 2020. Those extra days were really appreciated! It helped that we were just closed, so EVERYONE had the day off. And HR created a new time code for it so no one had to use sick or vacation or other accrued time. If it would normally have been a work day, you got paid your scheduled hours.

    9. Lily Rowan*

      Agreed that shutting the whole office down is the best because of the lack of catch-up after the fact.

      And we got picnic blankets this year (fleece on one side, plastic on the other) that I think are pretty widely useful. (Of course, I had just gotten one from a nonprofit as a fundraising prize, and I try to avoid sitting on the ground anyway, but I still think it’s a nice gift! Nothing is perfect for everyone.)

      1. 1-800-BrownCow*

        Depends on the business. I work in manufacturing so shutting down our facility for the day means we lose 24 hours of production that needs made up, so weekend OT that might become mandatory if enough people don’t sign up for it. So in our company, a floating holiday or extra PTO day is more beneficial than everyone getting the same day off. Also, some people would rather use that extra day when the weather is warm to be outdoors or when they can do something with the kids that’s not during the school year. Others would rather use it during cold winter weather if they like doing winter activities.

    10. Just Another Zebra*

      We’ve been saying this at my job for a while. The reason they don’t, apparently, is because the “value” of everyone’s day off is different, based on what we’re paid. Which makes sense – there would probably be hurt feelings if my day off was worth $160, but my coworker’s was worth $280.

      I think gift cards (aka money) are going to be the best option – even better if the company eats the tax.

      1. D*

        Would there be hurt feelings? I cannot possibly fathom caring that my boss got paid more for a day off than I did. I cannot. Our time is the worth the same.

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          I don’t disagree, but this has (long) been the argument.

          It doesn’t help that my company is split between field techs and office staff. Field techs get paid more (and should!), and “they” aka management think people will compare?

          I’m with you – people just want the time off.

    11. Tau*

      Our company gave us a floating day off after an incident earlier in the year where we got completely jerked around by management (“you must all drop what you’re doing and work on this thing immediately!!” followed a few weeks later by “so actually we’re not going to be doing that thing, please everyone go back to what you were working on before”.) I am pretty sure employee satisfaction rose 2 points, lol.

    12. Shirley You Jest*

      If the company can close for a day to give everyone a holiday in a month when there isn’t a national holidays (for example, March in the U.S.) that’s a really nice thing to do for staff. Even a day where the company has an early closing would be appreciated by everyone.

      We were told once by our CEO that we we would close early after a big staff lunch. At the lunch, the CEO encouraged us to spend the rest of the day doing something that made us happy. That meant a lot to me. I didn’t do errands; I worked on a personal creative project and that made the time more meaningful.

  11. Rocky Mountain Recruiter*

    My company sends us a link to a site called Snappy Gifts, where we can choose from a bunch of different gifts.

    1. AGeg*

      I came here to say the same thing! My company LOVES snappygifts.com. There are many, many options so most people can find an item that they would like to have but probably wouldn’t have gone to the trouble to get for themselves unprompted. They arrive at my doorstep within a week or so. And it has become a fun topic of conversation — “Happy anniversary, have you picked out a snappy gift yet?”

    2. hayling*

      We use Snappy too. Alyce is another option, it’s designed to send gifts to prospects/customers but you can use it for employees. If you have a swag vendor who can ship, you can even set it up where employees can pick the swag they want.

  12. LW*

    There are companies that produce clothing items where you send the employees a link, and they choose their size, style, and enter their mailing address, and it gets shipped directly. Worth every penny to save you the mailing, and everyone gets what they want!

    1. Grumpy*

      If it fits. I am small and those things never fit. Or they are all mens style. Then the hassle of returning/exchanging. Give cash.

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah…I don’t really want a piece of clothing from my employer, full stop. Wouldn’t matter what colour it was or whether it fit, I’d never wear it! It’s just not me.

    2. ferrina*

      We used something like this when we needed branded clothes for a conference- it was fabulous for that, but I never wore that clothing again.

    3. Daisy-dog*

      I’ve worked places that would love this. That employer made a bunch of t-shirts and that became what most of our production team would wear every day. The office staff loved the polos (they were good quality and available for men/women in a large range of sizes). They added on some cardigans and all the women kept them at their desk and wore them every day.

      1. Ella bee bee*

        Yeah a lot of places this would be great. You really have to know your group, but like where I work we have gotten some branded t shirts and hoodies and people are always so excited about it. People wear them all the time. I would love it if my job gave me a cardigan.

  13. Ana Gram*

    Yeti tumblers have always been popular with my coworkers but I also think most people have a few at this point. I’ve also liked (nice) portable charger and nice padfolios, but that might not be useful for everyone.

    1. High Score!*

      My employer have everyone tumblers last year. Huge tumblers. I needed a tumbler but the one they gave us was too big. It wouldn’t fit under the water or coffee spigot, and I ended up giving it to someone else who eventually tossed it and purchasing one that fit my needs. It’s tough to know what a bunch of people can all use. Cash and time off work for everyone.

    2. Lab Boss*

      Portable chargers are great as long as they’re good quality, because it’s really tough to have “too many.” You can always have that spare in your car, in the office, at your desk at home…

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        The best stash I ever got from a supplier was a multiway charger adaptor thing (in the days when every manufacturer used a different charging cable). Every time anyone in the office needed to charge a phone, there was a charger available, and we loudly blessed the supplier.

        I thought of this a few days ago, seeing a USB to USB-C and Lightning adaptor.

        A decent 3m USB>USB-C cable would be very popular in my circles!

  14. chrysanthemum*

    Last year as a gift my company just closed the office the week between Christmas and New Years. It was wildly popular.

    1. The Original K.*

      I’ve worked places where that was standard and I’m looking for that in my next employer. It was glorious.

      1. londonedit*

        It’s one of those things that’s been standard in every company I’ve worked for so far, and I genuinely don’t know what I’d do if I ended up working somewhere that didn’t close! I tend to take the whole week before Christmas off, too, and I love having that whole two weeks.

        1. KayDeeAye*

          My organization is going to start doing this in 2022! Closing between Christmas and New Year is pretty common in my industry, but…never anyplace where I worked, and I was always SO jealous! I am, therefore, thrilled to bits.

        2. Bubbletea*

          The first year I worked at my current place, we closed over Christmas. The second we did not, and I think that’s a permanent change (I was on maternity leave for the third one so don’t know). I don’t really mind, I just use the leave days somewhere else.

          1. KayDeeAye*

            In our case, we don’t actually have to use any vacation days. It’s basically the equivalent of having 4 (paid) holiday days in a row.

            1. The Original K.*

              Right – that’s how it was where I was. It was like Labor Day or July 4; you didn’t use PTO for it. I’ve worked places where most people did use PTO during that week and that was fine, but the company was still open. Here, the (huge) company was completely closed during that time. I’ve actually worked two places that did, come to think of it – one huge multinational corporation and one university.

      2. Tau*

        I’ve once had a mandated company vacation after Christmas, except that… we needed continual on-call coverage, and it’s not legal to be on-call when you’re taking leave in my country. So I got to work (remotely) in ghost town for a day.

    2. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I’ve worked at a similar place and it was THE BEST. I wasn’t even told about it when I was hired, so as we started approaching December I got the best surprise.

      1. ferrina*

        Me too! I had no idea that was coming up, and it was such a relief to get that time off. The one downside is that we had use-it-or-lose-it PTO and I’d been saving a bit for end of year. I ended up losing a bit of PTO, but it was like a day or so and I got a full week off.

    3. High Score!*

      That would be exceptional! We all save our PTO for that time so it’s would allow people to take a little time off during the year. Work life balance.

    4. logicbutton*

      But also, if a company does this, they need to let employees know ahead of time in case they planned to use vacation time that week so they can use it up earlier, and/or let them carry the time forward into the next year.

    5. WantonSeedStitch*

      Mine started doing so as well, and it’s wonderful. I work at a university, and many universities do this, but mine hadn’t until very recently.

    6. Sara without an H*

      Yes! If the business is of a kind where closing is feasible, it will be by far the most popular choice.

      I worked in higher ed, where closing during the holiday week has gradually become SOP, and that leave was in addition to normal PTO. Nobody ever, ever objected.

  15. air fryer queen*

    To avoid the tax issue, my company had each manager ask their employees what gift they would like (within a certain budget). My manager purchased it and had it shipped to me and then submitted for reimbursement. I chose an air fryer which is totally random but it’s been great. Doing the tracking down/ordering might be a challenge, but hopefully since you’re letting people pick whatever they want, they’ll me more motivated to send you the information (versus polling for shirt sizes).

    1. goducks*

      Tangible items are still taxable income unless they’re what the IRS calls “de minimis”, which is generally understood to be of nominal value and not really having any resale value. I’m not sure an air fryer meets that definition.

      Plenty of employers do this, but it’s not typically a legal route to avoid the tax situation, it’s just that so many employers do this they get away with it.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      Your company needs to read their tax laws again (or get a different accountant if they were advised to do this)….whether or not the manager bought it with their own money and were then reimbursed, there’s still a taxable benefit to you here.

  16. CatCat*

    Accept the reality that you aren’t going to be able to please 200 people all receiving the same gift. Just not going to happen.

    To me, time off would be tops. I don’t know if that’s an option here. Looks like you’re expected to send some kind of item. Time off is also only valuable if you can actually take it.

    If you do need to send some kind of item, what if you give people a choice of something like (1) gift card, or (2) type of item that’s been popular in the past but not a huge hassle like clothing. They have until X date to respond. If they don’t respond by X date, they get a gift card. Sure, some people will miss the date and some of those same people will be the people who grouse about gift cards, but they had a full and fair opportunity for something different and if they actually care that much, they’ll change what they do next year when employee gift time comes around.

    1. ferrina*

      Agree that there will always be someone who will complain. That’s just life- you can do the absolute most perfect thing, and someone will find something they don’t like. Humans are creative like that. If it’s a minimal number of complainers and/or the complainers are the ones that tend to complain about anything, accept the complaint as the cost of doing right for your business.

    2. NewJobNewGal*

      Agreed, no matter what is offered, someone will complain. I was at an office where they gave everyone a week off. They closed the whole office for a week, everyone got paid, and people complained!

        1. Frideag Dachaigh*

          Not that I complained but a few years ago I had planned my vacation days around taking the week between Christmas and New Years off, and then my company unexpectedly and sort of last minute announced they were giving it to everyone- which was great! But if I’d known this in advance I would have used my vacation days differently earlier in the year, since the days reset on January 1. So advance notice for those things is nice just so you can be sure to plan for it.

    3. sofar*

      This! I don’t know why there are discussions even being had here about gifts “everyone will want.” Doesn’t exist! I worked for a place that closed b/w Xmas and New Year, but then people groused that they didn’t celebrate those holidays, so it was useless to them.

      My current company has bounced between SugarWish and a random box o’ stuff (blankets, mugs, a beach tote, playing cards, a foldable airplane blanket). I think the playing cards and blanket were my favorite. The rest, I donated. Just like I would any gift someone gives me that I can’t use.

    4. Annie Moose*

      Yeah, I think having a default gift is the way to go if you’re going to offer options. If they don’t respond by November 15 (or whatever), they get the default, and if they complain, they get a copy-pasted message about how sorry you are but the order was already placed, next year be sure to get your choice in earlier.

    5. 1-800-BrownCow*

      You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

    6. Jukebox Hero*

      I was coming to say this. I’ve been in OP’s shoes *many* times, and there’s no way to select a gift for 200+ people that all 200+ will like equally. My company does a year-end gift (amount plus tax is covered), and that’s well-liked. We’re public facing, and in four states, so closing offices isn’t an option. The year-end gift has been in place for more than a decade and people have come to count on it (for better or worse, which is a whole other discussion), so time off would probably not be as well received as money.

    7. Sheldon+Cooper*

      Agreed on time off only being valuable if you take it. I have more than I know what to do with now, so more wouldn’t help me.

  17. lost academic*

    Also, avoid branding on items that are gifts. If you’re giving promotional items have that be separate from actually doing something for your employees. Promotional items are very difficult for donations or regifts and then lose a great deal of utility once someone has moved on from the company. None of that is necessarily your problem, but make it about them and not about the company.

    1. MechanicalPencil*

      This. I have some swag I got that’s decent quality, but I don’t necessarily want all of my stuff to have my company name on it somewhere.

    2. just another queer reader*

      I did regift a company-branded mug to my relative last year for Christmas, and the recipient put a sticker over the company logo :) but most people have higher standards, so I agree with you!

      also, I’ve been told that the proper thing to do with old branded clothing is to THROW IT AWAY which is deeply unfortunate. (apparently the marketing/ communications people don’t like it when anyone can, say, buy a company shirt at goodwill and then rob a bank wearing that shirt)

    3. Hannah Lee*

      I also think company branded stuff is kind of passe now. In the 80’s or 90’s it was more ‘cool’ maybe? But in 2022? It doesn’t seem like people are as eager to define themselves by where they work, or to provide their employers free advertising in their off hours.

    4. raktajino*

      They’re SO hard to reuse by others!

      When I did Americorps/City Year, I got a bunch of good-quality uniform pieces, but it was against policy to donate the pieces when we were done. Some past volunteers got in trouble for it, though I’m not sure how if they weren’t currently in the program. They didn’t want people smoking or even jaywalking while wearing the logo. I’ve held onto the jacket for years because I just didn’t know what to do with it otherwise.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I have a) unpicked company logo embroidery when I wanted to keep the item but sever the work connection, or b) put another artsy patch over the logo, especially a cheap screen print. Then again, I used to unpick the logo on those alligator polos, too.

    5. MAC*

      Agree 100%. I was laid off 5 years ago from ExCompany, a place I worked at for 13 years … I *still* occasionally run across something in the depths of a drawer or back of a cupboard. I do not have fond feelings for ExCompany, but I hate just throwing stuff out. I offered stuff like tote bags and mugs to friends who still worked there, but they had their own piles of “swag.”

      ExCompany’s branded swag didn’t come into play at the next job I went to, but I left there and started with NewCompany in January that is more or less in the same industry as ExCompany (and just down the road). I’m petty, so I resorted to duct tape over the ExCompany name & logo on the fold up reflective car windshield sun shades I still had — no free advertising! — funnily enough, I will be attending my first NewCompany all-hands meeting soon and I heard just the other day that they will be giving out … car sun shades!

  18. Ann Onymous*

    My department sent out things like this periodically instead of having in person events when we were all remote during COVID. The most popular thing they sent was a fleece blanket. They’d also often include some basic office supplies (pens, notebooks, etc.). Wouldn’t want to get the office supplies as the only gift, but that’s a pretty universally useful thing you could add on to whatever else you’re sending.

    1. I edit everything*

      I would *love* pens and notebooks, etc. as a gift. When I’m feeling down, I’ll buy myself a new pen (not a fancy one, just a nice JetStream or Pilot type) as a pick-me-up.

      I will say, though, I was pissed when my MIL gave me a generic Cross pen/pencil set as a graduation present when I finished my master’s degree. Not because I don’t love pens (I do!) but because it was so obviously generic and a high-school-graduation level gift.

  19. The Original K.*

    Totally agree that money and time off are best. Failing that, a previous employer let us pick from a catalog that had different tiers of goods for different tenures. That seemed to work pretty well because people could choose stuff they wanted/needed.

    I never want company-branded swag. It sits on my desk (e.g. mugs, pens) or in my closet in case they want us to wear it for a photo or something, and then I toss or donate it.

    1. Marny*

      Yup, death to branded swag. Ive never worn any of the branded clothing I’ve received— it’s not my style. And the non-clothing items would always be nicer without the company logo.

      1. No swag*

        I wear my branded swag quite often. Every time I need to paint, or do an oil change, or fix the lawnmower (again!)… Why risk dirtying my own clothes when I can use free branded clothes that never fit well anyway! I completely agree with you that most branded things would be better without the actual branding.

      2. Dragonfly7*

        My favorite workplace gift is still an Amazon e-giftcard. In 2008 I used it to buy textbooks, and this fall I used it to buy some heavy items that were delivered to my door during the week I had COVID.

  20. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I will admit the year that everyone got a watch for achieving project goals was my favourite corporate gift. I’m still very sad I lost it while camping. But it was not a year-end gift.

    When my husband was at a very large pharmaceutical company, the Xmas gift was handled by an external company and a huge catalog of options. I still use my Paul Revere bowls! There were food options too for those who wanted four frozen steaks instead of a hand mixer. This was fun as it was a novelty for us at the time. All the hassles are handled by the third party.

    But if it is this much work and the complaints take any fun or rewards out of it…I would consider to stop doing it. Thing is, there’s always going to be someone who complains no matter what you do.

    Two examples above are it – two. Every other place I worked at did not give year-end gifts. There were bonuses, Xmas parties (with door prizes!), social events and giveaways but never a year-end gift. It’s never been an expectation on my part from my employer.

    1. The Original K.*

      Me neither. The catalog I referenced in another comment was for anniversaries, and even that was only for milestones (1, 5, 10, etc.). That employer had a bonus structure, which was totally fine as a year-end gift. And bosses would give holiday gifts to their employees, usually (wine, baked goods, gift cards).

      1. Worldwalker*

        That catalog probably cost the employer a lot more per item than it would have cost you to just go buy that thing on sale. That’s another time when “never mind the gifts, just give me the money” would be so much better. If I really need a left-handed turnip twaddler, I’ll find one at the thrift store; what I need more is to pay the bills.

    2. JustaTech*

      One year (after my company got bought by some new folks) there was talk about giving everyone a Honeybaked ham for Christmas. When this was floated at our largest site they got pushback that for the cost of one ham folks could get a whole Christmas dinner at the grocery store, including a less-fancy ham, so they suggested gift cards.
      I don’t remember getting a gift card that year, and I do remember saying “hams? But so many people can’t eat ham!” and having the head of HR stare at me like I had three heads while I explained that there are lots of religions with restrictions on eating ham.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Or like me, just don’t like ham after a few bites. Last year I won one in a raffle and I gave it back on the spot to be re-raffled.

  21. H3llifIknow*

    Not sure what type of work your people do, and how much you want to spend per person, but our company gives out things like really high end laptop bags or backpacks. They’ve given out eReaders, or small tablets, we get a gift check every year from Butterball for holiday groceries, and we also do get a lot of branded clothing. The fleeces are especially welcome because the offices are kept like a morgue! They once (preCovid) gave out everyone 4 movie passes to a national chain of theaters, and one year 2 season’s tickets to a local amusement park. Be creative! I know the “choice” option created more work, but if you really want to make everyone happy there really is no “one size fits all”; someone will ALWAYS complain!

    1. Hannah Lee*

      My company gives every employee, contractor, temp a turkey at Thanksgiving. We used to get them at a local turkey farm until it closed, and now get “farm fresh” at a nearby specialty grocer. Most people seem to like getting them. There was one long-term employee who didn’t like it … the fresh turkey squicked her out. So every year until she retired, I’d go to the supermarket a day or two before and buy one frozen Butterball just for her.

      I let new employees know early in November so they can plan that they are getting one, and also check to see if someone is traveling or otherwise won’t use it.

      But this was just a random perk. It wasn’t intended as the one time yearly bonus.

  22. starfox*

    I didn’t know gift cards were taxed! But yeah, even taxed… I can’t imagine a better gift than a gift card, except for maybe cash….

    1. Acct Katlady*

      If the employer handles it correctly, in the US anyway, they should be taxed as compensation. A lot of employers though, especially small ones, don’t do it correctly.

  23. NY Event Planner*

    Came here to suggest them too. They totally perfected this system over Covid and it was a GAME CHANGER especially for regulated industries where there is a $ limit. They collect all the info and ship for you so no breaches of confidentiality etc when dealing with clients. So much to choose from. And they will work on branding if you want to include say a container or ribbon on the packaging. This is the way.

  24. Chocolate Teapot*

    I receive luncheon vouchers, and the same company also makes gift vouchers. Everyone at my company receives a gift voucher at Christmas. I don’t always know what to spend the December voucher on, and not all shops accept them.

    1. Sally*

      I currently have 3 grub hub gift cards that I haven’t been able to use for 2 years, but I finally found a restaurant that I like that uses grub hub. The restaurant is in walking distance from my house, but it’s a way to use the grub hub cards. I wonder if the tip can come out of the card…

  25. wondermint*

    I live in a big city, and everyone got a membership to one of the local museums. Everyone LOVED it. If you’re an in person team, I would suggest incorporating something local.

      1. wondermint*

        Yeah..it’s impossible to find something that works for everyone other than a giftcard to Amazon…given it’s the “The everything store”

        But I think doing a local thing should be suitable for most palates. Other than where you work, its the one thing everyone will have in common (again, for in person teams)

    1. Paris Geller*

      If I wasn’t getting more time off or money in some form (whether cash bonus or gift card), this is probably the type of gift I’d appreciate the most. Of course, nothing is universal–I would love a membership to a local museum but would have no use for a pass for an amusement park.

    2. Slap Bet Commissioner*

      side note (not work related) A friend gifted us museum memberships when we relocated to a new city. it was so great and is now the first thing i think of for a gift when i know someone moving to a new place.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        That’s a great idea!

        Also some cities/towns have museums, attractions that belong to a group where you can buy a pass to the group and use it everywhere. Like local to me there’s a consortium of historic places that you can buy one pass to, and other museum/art gallery one.
        (Though, honestly, the best source of tickets to stuff like that can be a local library … many have passes you can check out if you have a library card. )

        1. Park fan*

          yes, I was thinking of this. or where i live, a state park pass would get you into every park in the state. some sort of museum or park pass with reciprocal benefits would be cool. meets a wider array of interests and supports places with a mission. maybe a national park pass if you have many in your area.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I’d even be happy to get an annual parking permit for the county parks! $6 parking to go for a 90-minute trail walk adds up quickly, and walking in my neighborhood is… not relaxing.

  26. Bureaucratte*

    My husband’s company used a service that had a catalog of options and each person ordered what they wanted; I think the service handled the processing. There were tons of choices. We got a Bluetooth speaker

    1. Up and Away*

      I came here to suggest that as well. We use a company called Awards Network for service awards and it’s been very popular. I bet you could set something up for a year-end gift as well.

    2. Why is it not Friday?*

      My company gives us a small catalog to chose from also. Its usually a shirt, a jacket or vest, some travel bag, something techy and a food option. Clothing comes in mens and womens sizes. I’ve always been able to pick something that I use throughout the year.

  27. Ariel Atom*

    I’d like a cash bonus but if that’s not feasible, I’ve had to buy prizes for our annual in-person prize swap. Year after year, the most stolen prizes were wireless earbuds, power banks, Tile trackers, and spice gift sets.

  28. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    I always enjoy getting rain gear – umbrellas, nice ponchos. I now have an umbrella for my car, my work, at home, and I tiny one that fits my purse. I am never without rain protection. One year, the company splurged and got us shoe covers (no idea of the real name) it was essentially a bootie to put over your shoes to protect them in the rain.

    1. urguncle*

      I came to say umbrellas. Years ago a company went under while a customer with us and couldn’t pay their bills, but they did send a TON of branded umbrellas as a payment method and I have been using mine for over three years now in New England winters, springs and falls. It’s never turned inside out!

    2. Kate+in+NZ*

      Ahaha you clearly do not live in Wellington NZ where your umbrella will turn inside out in the wind almost immediately. Luckily I work for the public service and will never receive a gift of any kind from my employer!

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Umbrellas have by far been the most popular gift we’ve gotten. We’ve done two rounds – one large golf umbrella (so popular that they had to hide them to keep people from taking an extra one and then used them as a fundraiser for a company donation to a local charity) and a smaller travel umbrella. They get high-quality umbrellas (much nicer than my Target or Amazon purchases), and they even have wind vents in them so they don’t turn inside out.

  29. SJ (they/them)*

    I never want anything from work that isn’t money or time off. I hate accumulating stuff, even if I can pick it out from a list or something I guarantee I’d rather have cash.

  30. JMR*

    If you go the gift card route (which I agree has the most appeal for the most people), can you arrange it so the company pays the tax? Our company pays the tax on gift cards so that if we say we are getting a $100 gift card, we get a $100 gift card, even if the company paid $115 for it, or whatever.

    1. Gabrielle*

      But then the pretax amount will be higher for someone who already makes more! It’s basically neutralizing the point of income tax, that people who can afford more should contribute more.

      Or do you think they should implement this based on the rate the employer withholds taxes on the employee’s behalf? In the US that’s actually under the employee’s control, so now if you said you want less taxes taken out of your regular pay, you get a lower gift card. Seems like a great way to start drama, unfortunately.

  31. Worldwalker*

    I can’t think of anything an employer has ever given me where I didn’t think to myself “I wish I had the money they spent on this instead.”

    1. Caramel and Cheddar*

      In those cases, I’ve often just thought “Just don’t give me anything.” They are trying to do a gesture of kindness but all it gives me is another small burden to deal with.

    2. Lab Boss*

      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?”

    3. 1-800-BrownCow*

      My previous employer gave everyone a 20lb box of fudge as a bonus every single year. Talk about wishing I had the money instead!! I couldn’t even give the fudge away. Mine always went into the trash as I don’t even like fudge. And one of my coworkers left a box in his office as an “experiment”. When I left that company, the box of fudge was 7 years old. Not sure if he ever opened it or not. But most people said they threw out the box as apparently it wasn’t even that good. It wasn’t local made or handmade, something you could probably find in WalMart around the holidays and had an ingredient list a mile long.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Ew. So they could have spent the same budget at a much nicer retailer (eg independent confectioner) to give each employee a more useful gift (*one* pound of fudge or truffles or whatever). Super annoying decision.

  32. Jay*

    Last year, our studio worked with a local entertainment/food company to assemble locally made gift bags.
    Everything that went in it was locally made, from the whiskey to the Manhattan’s mini cocktail kit (size of an Altoids tin! even though I don’t drink them I loved the cocktail kit!), to the chocolate bar and desk mat.

    While I can say only a handful of the items was good on an individual basis, it meant people could have something they liked and something they could give away if they wanted without feeling like the gift was useless.

    1. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

      This really only works if you live somewhere that has unique/good local products. A former manager of mine gave us each a “small, locally-produced artisanal gift”. It was soap shaped like a moose. Even if she only spent $3 on each one, I’d still rather have $3 than moose soap.

  33. Jack Straw from Wichita*

    It probably doesn’t work for everyone, but a Door Dash credit has been a wildly popular incentive where I work.

    1. Toodie*

      I work for a company that has a lot of remote employees, and while this works for most, it doesn’t work for me. I live in a very small town in a rural state, and there are no Door Dash services available. All goes back to knowing your audience, I guess.

    2. Siege*

      That would be actively offensive to me, given that my current org is committed to improving folks’ working lives.

      1. Annie Moose*

        Well then, I assume whoever arranges year-end gifts at your organization would not be likely to choose that for your organization.

        1. Siege*

          I’m commenting on whether a gift appeals to everyone, not whether I am likely to receive the gift or not. My org doesn’t do gifts, year-end or otherwise, so it’s a non-issue for me personally. But regardless, Door Dash (and Amazon) are controversial enough that they should be removed from gift lists, because some of us don’t want human rights violations for Christmas. Many people of course don’t care, but if you’re in charge of organizing gifts for an organization, it’s probably worth considering that.

  34. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Any time that you can put the purchasing decision into the hands of the employees the better so that what is bought is actually needed.

    I got a great Yeti tumbler for Christmas last year. Trouble is, I prefer my Contigo for a variety of reasons. And I already have a lifetime supply of those. So, if you buy me another great Yeti tumbler, branded or not, you’ve purchased something that didn’t need to be made and now is cluttering my house until I find a new home for it.

    If you give me a gift card, I can at least aim it toward a purchase that makes sense for my particular needs.

    1. Sara without an H*

      This. Call me a grinch, but I have never liked employee gifts for the reasons you state.

      What I really wanted from my employer were things like adequate budget, adequate staff, and some professional autonomy, not another coffee mug.

      1. Mockingjay*

        Agree on not needing another mug/cup/tumbler. My company just rebranded, so they gave us new swag. (Off topic, I really like the new logo and colors; very clean and spare.) I now have two large insulated, lidded tumblers, neither of which fits in my car cup holder and neither of which is entirely leakproof.

        My cup of choice: the slim Walmart special that does fit in the car and has a very leakproof lid and handle. I carry it all day long.

  35. Melanie Cavill*

    Last year, in lieu of a performance-based bonus (as I’d been there a month at that time and was ineligible for review), my company gave me $500 to be distributed among gift cards from local retailers. The variety was huge. I was able to buy some expensive clothing, get two weeks’ worth of groceries, and subsidise my Starbucks addiction. (And then I lost my wallet before having a chance to use the last gift card but c’est la vie.) I would definitely recommend something like this.

    But also, yes. Time off.

    1. High Score!*

      Even with gift cards, you need to know your audience. Like when my kids were in school, we’d give the teachers Starbucks gift cards bc the kids knew their teachers considered a fancy coffee from there a treat. But if you don’t know what your employees consider a treat then cash or PTO is way better than a card.

      1. Melanie Cavill*

        You’re missing my point, I think. My company gave me $500 through an online system that allowed me to choose how I distributed the money and what retailers I selected gift cards from. I had about 30 stores to choose from that offered a wide variety. I think that is an elegant solution to needing to know your audience, unless your audience hates Starbucks, BestBuy, food, clothing, drug stores, book stores, and movie theatres. (In which case, what a boring individual!)

        1. Splendid Colors*

          I hate Best Buy because their laptop repair department screwed me over and I had to drive 500 miles round trip twice because they won’t ship laptops on warranty service. (I bought it when I lived near a Best Buy and then picked a grad school in the boonies.) The only time I’ve shopped there since is when I forgot the power supply for my next laptop on a trip and they were the only place that had it in stock at my destination.

  36. kiki*

    I really liked the way a former company did it where you could pick between the yearly physical gift or a gift card. So fewer options to coordinate, but still lets folks opt out of receiving their 3rd tumbler or a hat they won’t wear.

  37. Jazzy*

    I think folks get upset about the taxes thing because they’re told they’re getting $200 but then they get their check and it’s more like $150, which doesn’t go as far as the image in their mind about how far a $200 gift would be. Maybe setting expectations on that would help? Cuz like, I think the attitude comes from “The company thinks they’re doing such a huge favor for us, but really we hardly get what they told us they’re giving us”. I know everyone’s tax rate is a little different, but y’all know how much it’ll end up being after taxes, maybe announce it to them with the post-tax amount? It seems logistically more difficult. Plus, a little complaining doesn’t mean someone’s ungrateful. It’s annoying getting taxed at a MUCH higher rate than normal on what’s supposed to be a gift. I think it says more about taxes than the gift.

    Other thoughts are: Mugs from a local artisan, nice throw blankets, nice towels, pretty much everyone needs those? No such thing as totally universal but I can’t imagine anyone turning their nose to a nice set of towels, since you have to replace those anyway. Whatever it is, it should be *nice*, not just cheap whatever. Anything that allows people to make a choice (like the points system and snack boxes mentioned) is gonna be better than any single thing, though.

    1. Hermione Danger*

      My employer insists on putting the company logo on every. single. gift. they send. I would not like a nice set of towels with company branding.

      1. Ashley*

        If it is going to be company branded having something I can use for work is always my preference. Portfolios or metal business card cases for sales people are usually helpful. But as everyone has different roles this is honestly where options are always nice even if it is harder to organize.

  38. Zelda*

    My company also used to do hats/toques/shirts in the past, but since it’s all branded stuff I end up never wearing anything they give. Coffee mugs or tumblers were better, but still kind of a waste of space for me since I already have an admittedly excessive collection of drinkware.

    My company recently switched to a pick your own gift card service, Everything card, and it’s made things so muchbetter imo. I find it’s better for me to pick if I want Amazon, grocery card, Visa, etc, instead of getting a box of chocolates or soaps that I might never use/like.

    I know some people don’t like it because it feels like there was no thought put into it, but tbh I’d rather have a gift card for stuff I’ll use/need instead of a ‘tailored gift’ that might be used once then shoved in a closet/drawer somewhere.

  39. Purple Cat*

    I think the issue isn’t necessarily with the item you’re giving, it’s that you’re giving in to people’s demands and complaints after the fact.
    My company has done sized apparel for thousands of employees across multiple states. Google form to enter your name, size, and address if not in the company office. The one year we did jackets there were sample sizes available in the company office to try on. If you don’t submit the google form on time then you don’t get the item. Period end of story.
    Other non-sized items, you could choose a tumbler set or something else that I can’t remember.
    Last year we got laptop bags with blankets inside.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      We have sample sizes and colours of our clothing and everyone is welcome to try them on and choose their colour and fit. You can’t complain if you don’t like the colour or style that you chose for yourself.

    2. NotOneSizeFitsMe*

      This assumes sizing is consistent which it isn’t. Depending on the item I could need any of 4-5 sizes

  40. Temperance*

    The most popular gifts I’ve seen are Wawa gift cards. Universally loved (unless you’re in Sheetz territory), everyone can use them for either food or gas, and you don’t have to worry about sizes, tons of cash for shipping, etc.

    1. convenience stores*

      I’m in Sheetz territory and I like Wawa and Sheetz equally!! (We just don’t have any Wawas near us)

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        I do not even know what WaWa or Sheetz are….? (Dang, we Americans live in a big country.)

        1. Temperance*

          They’re gas station chains also known for coffee and food. You can order stuff through a computer system that they have set up.

          They’re all along the east coast and I think creeping up into the midwest as well.

          1. The Original K.*

            Not all along the east coast – NYC doesn’t have them. I think they’re a PA & further south thing (I know VA has Wawa) and very region-specific. Philly is Wawa territory and Sheetz is more in Western PA.

            1. 1-800-BrownCow*

              Wawa is originally from Philly region, but are now as far down as FL. My cousin in Tampa gets it all the time. Sheetz is western PA but have expanded. I used to live 20 miles north of Philly and had a Sheetz about a mile from my house. And even though I used to be a fan of Sheetz long before I tried Wawa, I think Wawa is a million times better.

              1. Beancounter Eric*

                We need WaWa in ATL…but between RaceTrac (based here), QuikTrip, etc. etc., just don’t see them coming here…which is a pity, because I loved their stores in NJ.

            2. NotAnotherManager!*

              Virginia just got Wawa and Sheetz within the past 5-10 years. Sheetz has better food, Wawa makes better drinks.

  41. LifeBeforeCorona*

    One year everyone got gift cards to the local grocery store. There’s almost something for everyone at a grocery store. As opposed to a high end spa which went unused because the cheapest treatment was more than the value of the gift card.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I like it when I get John Lewis vouchers because a) there’s something for everyone at John Lewis (venerable British department store) and b) you can also use their vouchers at Waitrose (higher-end British supermarket). Even if it won’t cover the full amount of something nice, having a bit of money to put towards a posher supermarket shop or an item you were thinking about buying is always useful.

      1. inksmith*

        John Lewis is our go to for “you’re leaving”, “you’re getting married”, “you’re having a baby”… gifts in my team at work, with a small gift each for parent and baby (every baby born to someone in my team now has a copy of The Storm Whale, or The Storm Whale in Winter if they’re the second child).

    2. Purple Cat*

      My old company gave out grocery gift cards for Thanksgiving, with an option to donate it back to the foodbank if you didn’t want it.
      Great option!

    3. Mim*

      My employer gives us a choice of gift cards every year, including a local grocery store. The options range from that up to a fancy restaurant, all the same dollar value, but letting people choose what suits their needs/tastes the best. It’s a really good system, and while there is usually a small physical gift too, that can be hit or miss for me. It’s all about the gift card and the choice.

  42. Gifts I like*

    Really nice umbrella or Collapsible Camp/Sport chair w/carrying bag. During the pandemic, we got pancake mix and real maple syrup from a local place. I really enjoyed that too.

  43. V*

    One year everyone in the company got a ridiculous Harry and David box of six pears, and assorted snacks. Those of us who were quite junior were baffled and/or delighted to find out that rich people appearantly send pears to each other. The company made a bit of a big deal out of it but the pears were only so-so.

    I personally LOVE a zip-up company hoodie where the organizer sourced things that actually go up to plus sizes. It makes me feel like it was worth the effort to include people like me.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      We get these from my aunt and uncle! I love them! Not always pears, but sometimes jam or packets of nuts or whatever; it varies.

      1. V*

        I honestly adore a hamper in concept, and at this point in my life am happy to be the person who sends them. I just love the idea of baskets overflowing with treats, but the reality is never quite as dreamy for me. I’m so glad people like receiving them though!

        1. Never Boring*

          Yeah, I am picky about food and avoid things with artificial preservatives, which gift hampers are typically chock-full of. But if there were a hamper with quality whole foods, I’d be down with that. Maybe dried fruit/nuts?

    2. ErinB*

      I’m not a fan of pears, either, but this line is hilarious: “Those of us who were quite junior were baffled and/or delighted to find out that rich people appearantly send pears to each other.”

    3. CTT*

      Ugh, I got those one year but it was like 12 pears, and I lived alone at the time so I was giving them away. I ended up using some for a spiced pear vodka.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          You could also make pear butter (like apple butter, but with pears) or spiced pear jam.

    4. BlueWolf*

      Hahaha, my parents used to get Harry and David gifts all the time when I was a kid. Mainly from clients or vendors they worked with. It was always fun to get random treats in the mail at Christmas time.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      LOL. I actually dislike pears. (My grandparents had a pear tree, but they always served them mushy.)

      But it is really funny what they put in “high end” winter fruit and nut baskets. Living in California I have better access to fruits and nuts than the East Coast gift basket companies.

  44. Toodie*

    As someone who is edging closer and closer to retirement, and trying desperately to downsize my household so we can live in a smaller space. Please. No. Stuff. Gift cards? Great! Time off? Fabulous! Cash? Wonderful. But no more mugs, no more t-shirts, no more stuff. Thank you.

    1. Constance Lloyd*

      I am decades away from retirement and I echo this sentiment wholeheartedly. Every long weekend, I have a standing date with myself to binge watch tiny house shows and purge my cupboards and closets of stuff. Branded drinkware is usually the first item to go, closely followed by the decorative trinkets my aunt mails out for every minor holiday.

    2. Sambal*

      I’m still in my 20s and I’m completely over all the company swag I’ve received. It’s at a point where I feel physically sick to receive things that I know will eventually end up sitting in a dump for 100s of years. 1000s probably if it’s made of plastic, which cheap company swag usually is.

      Unless you want to give me money or time off, I’d honestly rather not have anything at all. And please, *please* let employees opt out if you wanna give a physical good.

    3. Chris*

      I’m not quite close to retirement, but I agree. I don’t want stuff. I don’t want anything I have to find a space for, store, or use. I have what I need. I’ll take $$ or days off. Anything else will probably end up in the Goodwill pile.

  45. Dust Bunny*

    My workplace’s standard raffle gifts are a free day off (which we mostly don’t need because we have actual PTO, but nobody complains) and $25 Amazon gift certificates. They do occasional material gifts–T-shirt, umbrella–but not that often, and less so now that so many of our events are on Zoom.

  46. Former Retail Lifer*

    I don’t know what the cost is for the program, but we use Snappy Gifts at my company. My company does work anniversary gifts. When it’s your anniversary month, you’re sent a link with tons of gifts to choose from. They ship directly to your home, so we don’t have to worry about anything. I’ve gotten a nice frying pan, a desk fan, and an over-the-door shoe organizer over the years.

  47. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    For gift cards — Take a look at Giftogram as well, people can redeem for gift cards that are useful to them, instead of everyone getting Amazon or whatever.

    1. Giftcard Queen*

      Highly recommend Giftogram! People can pick whatever gift card they would like or even a Mastercard gift card for the dollar amount.

  48. Mesa*

    Highly recommend SnackMagic or anything like it that allows the receipt to choose what they’d like, up to a set price! That way people can have more choice on what they’d like without OP having to deal with the logistics of that beyond setting up with the third party co.

  49. Frances*

    A nice blanket and a compact umbrella were both welcome gifts I have recieved in the past. The key, as several have commented already, is that they have to be of good quality.

  50. Zuban*

    I’d rather have a nice, catered meal during the work day and a couple of days off than any dust-and-space collector—especially company branded nonsense.

  51. Llellayena*

    One important point: Do NOT mail anything to your employees that requires refrigeration without telling them they should be expecting that type of package and when. There was that year mid-Covid that my office decided their end-of-year gift would be frozen steaks (I don’t know how they handled the office vegetarians…) and sent them directly to our homes (cooler box…dry ice packs) but didn’t tell us to expect anything or when. 3 days later when I got home from the holiday weekend at my BF’s place…there it was on the porch. Fortunately still fully frozen and I’m not sure when in the 3 days it arrived, but if I had known to look for it I could have had someone get it off the porch and in the freezer for me.

    1. Ashley*

      I knew a place that used to send hams and it was always so complicated.
      They finally switched to giving a voucher that could be used at most grocery stores for a ham, turkey, or fresh veggies. The really nice thing was the voucher was good through April so even if you weren’t doing a holiday dinner at some point you just went veggie shopping on the company. They also gave them out just before Thanksgiving, but not soon enough for most people to have time to use them to get a Turkey.

    2. Never Boring*

      OMG 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.

    3. AskForInstructions*

      Don’t send anything without telling the employee first, ideally without asking for instructions. My apartment complex assumes you have tracking for all packages and doesn’t notify you when packages arrive anymore. And there’s no accessible contactless way to get packages so during the pandemic I’ve had to have packages sent to a friend to bring to me. The last time someone sent me a surprise package it was a major hassle. It took me ~6 weeks to figure out how to actually get the package after finding out about it (when they asked if I’d gotten it yet).

      1. Splendid Colors*

        My apartment complex only permits USPS to enter the building. If I’m not waiting outside to meet FedEx/UPS/whoever, they are rejected by security and my stuff goes back to sender.

    4. Beancounter Eric*

      About 20 years ago at Thanksgiving, company sent managers turkeys from “Spiral-Sliced Ham Specialists”…..Monday after Thanksgiving, CEO’s Executive Assistant asks how my turkey was…my response was “what turkey??” Turns out, FedUps delivered it to the leasing office of my apartment complex, and left no note on my door, nor did the my office nor the leasing office bother to contact me.

      I wandered over to leasing on my way home, and asked if they had a package for Beancounter Eric – “Yes, we do”…..opened it up, the packaging was ballooning, about to rupture. I think the next year, the company went with gift cards to “Spiral-Sliced Ham Specialists”…..

  52. Department Store Woes*

    In terms of gifts gone wrong, I think I’ve told this before, but it was so weird I’m going to tell it again.

    Years ago I worked at a relatively nice department store. We had a ~holiday party~ (Christmas, but pretending it wasn’t) with gifts for everyone. Woo hoo!

    Gifts were selected by raffle – you came up to the front and they have you your present. This was accompanied by a nice buffet dinner, and it was after we closed so nobody had to work.

    Sounds good so far, except:
    A) all of the gifts were unsellable or returned stock from our store, and
    B) they were in no way universally appropriate to the receiver or of equal value.

    At the time I was a young woman in college. I received a men’s size medium golf jacket. I think I gave it to my dad… it didn’t fit him either!

    1. Department Store Woes*

      All of the good gifts I’ve seen have been highly specific to the circumstances (e.g. heated vests for people who work outside all day). And since then I’ve been a fed, so no gifts for me. Gift cards to something non-specific (delivery service, major retailer, etc.) seem to be a safe choice though!

  53. Kristobel*

    I think in the last two years I’ve received an insulated mug, a water cup with straw, an insulated water bottle (with hidden storage, meaning it barely holds any water), a travel chair, an umbrella, an enormous sherpa lined hoodie, a fanny pack, two blankets, a cord carrying case (you know, for headphones and charger cords, I guess), and a pair of Airpod Pros. The last is the best gift. But I also already had Airpods, so not really necessary. I also use the mug and water cup, and put those bad boys right in the dishwasher because they were free and if they get ruined I don’t care. And they’re fine.

    Just give money.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Tell me more about this water bottle with hidden storage! I’m picturing a separate compartment at the bottom, I guess? What are you supposed to use it for?

  54. jj*

    I would say for the 5 item choices, if you ever go that route again.

    – set a deadline
    – remind people max 1-2 times (mass reminders, not 1:1)
    – time to order – and only have the people respond? Buy a random amount extra of each gift to add up correctly, bonus if it’s proportional to what people have been requesting so far.
    – anyone who gets back to you late can request among the random extras first come, first serve. You could send a message to this effect one time. This should cut back on a lot of complaints because a lot of the late responders will still be able to get their first or second choice, but it doesn’t require you to overextend yourself.
    – when it’s time to package and send, anyone you’ve heard nothing from is randomly assigned.

  55. JSPA*

    There are (nearly truly, as they fasten on the side with velcro) one size-fits-all reflective vests. Whether at night or in fog or rain or snow, they’re good for

    a) jogging
    b) walking the dog
    c) biking
    d) to keep in the car in case of any emergency that puts you on the roadside
    e) I’ve even seen someone put one on their dog

    if orange / orange-yellow, they’ll also double for hiking on shared use land during hunting season.

    If someplace cold, you could pair it with a warm, stretchy headband. If someplace hot, with a ball cap. If someplace wet, go with a reflective poncho instead (extra points if it has both hand slits and thumb loops, for biking use, or snaps to alter the length, for hiking use).

    1. Marny*

      This is a great example of how nothing is truly universal. I’d have zero use for a reflective vest. I exercise at the gym, I don’t have a dog, I don’t own or ride a bike. I’m not even sure who I would give it away to.

      1. JSPA*

        Nobody you know does any of the above, including drive a car at night or in bad weather, walk at night or in bad weather (even to and from transit), even navigate badly-lit garages or parking lots at night? (You don’t need a dog to walk at night, but I felt silly listing those as two separate items. But bar-to-bar or job-to-Metro is walking, just as much as dog-walking is walking.)

        1. Just Another Zebra*

          Even if I DID know someone who did any of those things (and I don’t actually), this is supposed to be a ‘thank you’ gift for me from my employer, not another thing that I have to find a suitable home for.

          1. Not reflecting*

            Yeah I would never use anything like that. And I don’t think anyone I know would either. Maybe it’s like a region or cultural thing. I know that no gift works for everyone, but I’ve really never seen anybody wear one of these. (But again, it probably differs based on area. I’m sure plenty of people do use them, but I would be extremely confused if I got this as a gift)

            1. 1-800-BrownCow*

              I live in a highly Amish-populated area so I see reflective vests constantly worn by Amish people. That said, if I wanted one for myself, I can go down to the local Amish owned store and buy one for less than $5 as I’ve looked at them there. So receiving one for a gift, I would not be that impressed.

        2. 123Anonyphant*

          Do many people wear a reflective vest to walk to the metro at night? I’ve literally never seen this in my life. I also rarely see cyclists wearing reflective vests — reflective wrist/arm bands and decals are much more popular where I live.

          1. Tau*

            I remember cycling in reflective vests being a thing in the UK. I don’t see them in Germany. TBH, I associate it with places that don’t have a lot of cyclists, so that the few people on the road feel they need to go an extra mile in terms of visibility to be safe. I have lights, wear a light-coloured jacket, and cycle in places that have a pretty high amount of cycle traffic – that’s enough for me.

            And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pedestrian just wearing a high-vis jacket…

        3. wendelenn*

          Why give a gift of appreciation that the person has no use for and has to give away to someone else? Not very appreciative.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      My spouse got himself one of those things once and it was the source of great amusement in our house because of how poorly it fit. His issue was not the side-fasteners, it was that he’s over 6′ tall and the thing barely came down to his belly. He looked like he was wearing some sort of bib like you’d put on a toddler or at a seafood restaurant to crack your lobster.

  56. Baking wonder*

    I work in a large hospital and every year for Christmas, HR sends us a link to Snappy.com. They set a budget and pick a ton of different things in that amount and then employees pick one thing and put in our address and email and it is sent to us usually within 2 weeks. HR doesn’t have to do anything else. It is all on the employee.

  57. Veryanon*

    I was going to suggest some kind of company-branded swag (golf umbrellas or the like) but you can never go wrong with gift cards or just straight-up cash.

  58. Elspeth*

    This isn’t going to work for a lot of companies, but my company has kind of fun, funky branding and they used some of the artwork from the branding materials to design custom Vans sneakers. Sizing for shoes is probably easier than sizing for clothing. If you can splurge on a pricier option, I think its a fun idea.

    1. Inkhorn*

      “Sizing for shoes is probably easier than sizing for clothing.”

      *looks at barely adult-sized feet and laughs*

      At least if clothes are too big I can get out the sewing machine and take them in/up/both.

    2. Dancing+Otter*

      It’s harder to find comfortably fitting shoes than blue jeans or bathing suits, combined. I have, right this very moment, at least three pair that have been worn outside my apartment ONCE. Just enough that they can’t be returned.

      If you can buy any style at all, in a standard size, and know 100% that it will fit perfectly, count your blessings. I’ve even found the same d### shoe fit differently in different colors.

  59. I should really pick a name*

    I realize that it’s more work, but I’ve found the “pick from a small list of items” is really effective. Usually everyone can find something they like.

    Outside of the people who missed the deadline, did the employees enjoy what they got when you had them pick from 5 items? Is there a problem caused by people waiting at the last minute? Do you process orders as they come in, or do them all at once at the end?

    Regarding the people who miss the deadline, I think you need to just not let that bother you too much. So long as you give reminders about the deadline and make it clear that if the deadline is missed, they get nothing, you’ve done your due diligence. People complain. It happens.

    1. PsychNurse*

      “People complain” needs to be the mantra for the whole thing, anyway. Even if you polled everyone and got a perfect gift that everyone was thrilled about, somebody would say it didn’t fit as expected, or the brand used to make them differently and now they’re not good, or the color isn’t to their liking. You have to sort of aim high and then let it roll off your back.

    2. kiki*

      If LW has a generic, non-sized item option (like a mug or tumbler), I think it makes sense to just give that to everyone who misses the deadline. If they complain about not needing a mug or tumbler… they had every opportunity not to receive a mug or tumbler. You can pick the best gift in history and make it as easy as possible to sign up, but somebody is going to complain about something. It’s an unfortunate part of this sort of work.

  60. nonprofit writer*

    Ugh, my husband gets tons of stuff from his company–now that they are almost all remote, they want to keep morale up by sending treats all the time. Some of it is good but a lot of it we end up not liking. Even when he’s given a link to pick something, it’s always a brand we’ve never heard of so even if he picks a particular kind of chocolate or treat that sounds good, it always ends up weirder than we thought it would be. Luckily we have a robust Buy Nothing group in our area and people will literally take anything I offer, including huge boxes of random snacks.

    Best non-money gifts in my opinion are high-end headphones or a nice blanket. As other commenters have noted, water bottles take up too much space and a lot of time are hard to clean.

    But why not do gift cards? I don’t understand the tax issue–just cover the amount the employees would be taxed, right?

    1. blood orange*

      You have to be taxed no matter what, and on more than just gift cards/money. If you buy employees gifts that aren’t required to be used in their work, you have to tax it (it’s more complicated, but that’s the gist). You can make a better case for goods (like company merch, headphones, etc.) than you can for money or services. Basic rules: https://www.irs.gov/government-entities/federal-state-local-governments/de-minimis-fringe-benefits

      To your point about covering the difference, my company does this! We have an employee of the month program, and we add a set amount on top of what we want them to net to try to cover the taxes.

  61. SaltyCity*

    I have a team of about 30 people and we do employee gifts fairly regularly. I work hard to find high quality items, never put a company logo on it (its a gift, not swag), and try to be thoughtful about usability, personal preferences, etc. Past popular items include:
    –A reimbursable dollar amount to spend on anything they want (to avoid the tax penalty for gift cards). This is by far the most popular.
    –A leather desk pad (for keyboard and mouse, plus charging pad for mobile) in the employee’s color of choice and embossed with the employee’s first name (purchased from Etsy vendor)
    –A high quality fleece vest (most of us work at home and they’re lovely if your workspace gets a bit cold; again, was an Etsy vendor)
    –A high quality buffalo-check blanket (same reason as above)
    –SugarWish (each person gets to choose 2-4 snacks, candy, dog treats, etc. and it is mailed to them)

    1. Not that kind of doctor*

      This aligns pretty well with what I’ve seen be popular at past employers, assuming you go for good quality! Most popular I’ve seen:
      — Puffy vest – WAY more forgiving on sizing than most clothing, easy to throw on for that little extra warmth in the office (or wherever)
      — Super-soft, warm throw blanket

  62. Kay*

    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 2 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.

    1. Lyudie*

      Every line of this is gold.

      (I admit I am curious about what was in backpacks to get people dismissed from the conference…more butterscotch alcohol?)

    2. Tau*

      I mentioned upthread that my company provides a really nice high-quality rucksack as an onboarding gift, and a lot of people use them day-to-day. I keep waiting for situation #1 to occur at company events!

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      IMO, the solution to the “who’s backpack is this?” is to give out the backpacks with a business card holder luggage tag attached. Then the person puts their business card or a piece of paper with their name on it in the thing, and puts it on the backpack.

  63. Quinalla*

    The one I liked the most, it wasn’t end of year gift but sort of a general appreciate, was $$ amount to spend on company branded apparel. You go login, put in the sizes yourself and stuff gets sent to you. You can a wide variety of work shirts, pullovers, jackets, hats I think there was even a couple bags available. We had a deadline where things shipped to the office for distribution, if you didn’t order by then you could still order, just had to pay shipping.

    I also like these ones people are posting where you pick from a list and if you don’t pick by X date, it just sends you something fairly generic. You can warn people, order by X date or you will get the generic offering. Nothing is perfect, but that seems pretty darn good to me.

    Otherwise, gift cards I think are the easiest. For the tax thing, yeah I’d round up the amount so when taxed, people get their full $50 or whatever.

    1. ItCostMeMoney*

      The worst gift I ever got was a gift of “points” to spend on company branded merchandise, none of which I could use, and that I still had to pay taxes on because if they give you money to spend it counts as a gift card and you have to pay taxes on it.

  64. Retired and bored*

    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!

    One of the best physical give I have received was a picnic blanket, which water proof one side and soft and nice on the other and has strap to secure and carry it. We keep it in the car for trips where we might have lay or sit on the ground (picnicking, or changing a tire ect).

    Obviously cash or time is best.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      The worst gift I ever got was a six pack of Orange Soda with my photo on the logo.

      That’s…really weird. At least it’s consumable? Even if not by you?

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

      I’m actually laughing at the orange soda and the wrong name! Well, at least at a university you can just set it out on a table in the student commons and it’ll be gone in 30 seconds. Some bad gifts are so bad they’re at least good for a laugh and a photo?

      I received one of those picnic blankets from a vendor once; it is nice and I keep it in the car for emergencies or outdoor activities, but I have yet to actually use it.

  65. nameless/toothless*

    My previous company generally only gave gifts for major service anniversaries. For five years I got a tie tack (ugh), for fifteen I got a better parking space, and for twenty-five I could choose from a catalog of things (would have preferred the money, but chose a 40-inch TV that has lasted well).

    My current company likes company-branded clothing. I’ve only been there two years, and have already received socks and a blanket, and have had the opportunity to order a hoodie (but I don’t wear hoodies). The best gift was adding a couple of floating holidays.

  66. Hanah*

    You’ll never please everyone. I think the most successful gift I did was a summer fun gift pack. I found an assortment of things through amazon that would all ship together so I didn’t have to assemble anything. I think we did a water bottle, water flavour drops, water balloons, pool floatie, freezies, and nice sunscreen. All together it was about $100 per person and it went over really well. There was at least 1 thing people could use and a lot said it helped them have fun and relax in ways they normally wouldn’t.

    1. PsychNurse*

      That is really cute. I also like that a lot of the items are consumable (sunscreen, for example) so they don’t end up sitting on a shelf.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I’m British, so “jelly” means “jell-o”, and … actually come to think of it that would cheer me up regularly and considerably.

  67. Storm in a teacup*

    At a company level we get a gift voucher for a local department store / high end supermarket at the end of the year which I always popular as you can buy what you like and it’s emailed to us so I think saves a lot of time.
    Last couple of years due to Covid and no F2F we got a divisional level gift. The first year it was ear pods. Last year it was a water bottle, power bank and lead kit. Not the most exciting but I use them all, esp the water bottle now I’m back into the office some days.

  68. ThisIsNotADuplicateComment*

    Why not money in the form of a Visa gift card (or equivalent)? Employees get money they can spend basically anywhere and I’ve never heard of them being taxed.

    1. ASW*

      The employer should be taking the taxes out of the employee’s next paycheck and including the value of the gift card in the wages amount on the W-2. Plenty of employers don’t, either because they don’t know they should or they don’t care and don’t think they’ll be caught, but it is the law. The IRS treats gift cards like cash. Doesn’t matter if it’s a $5 gift card to Starbucks; it’s taxable.

  69. to varying degrees*

    My personal preference is wine, but that’s not doable for everyone for a lot of reason. Honestly I think your best bet is gift cards and like a Visa or Mastercard so it can be used everywhere. I get the tax complaint but you are not going to make everyone happy. I suppose you could see about covering the cost of the tax for everyone, but truthfully, I wouldn’t stress all that much with that if you can’t. People will find something to complain about.

  70. Colette*

    I think you want to be as flexible as possible. So the 5 options (even though that’s a little more work) where one is a gift card, one is an article of clothing, one is a piece of tech, one is something consumable, etc. And you can choose a default – if they don’t choose by date X, they get the default. (Make the actual deadline X+10 days).

    Personally, I don’t want junk (which I define as stuff I won’t use). I don’t want another mug – but I got a really nice cubicle blanket at one previous employer, and I still use it. But someone else might love a nice travel mug.

  71. 1question456*

    water bottle with the company’s logo or slogan on it – boom, easy! other universal gifts – blanket (again with company logo), pillow, giftcard to local chain or something like that?

    1. londonedit*

      I really don’t want anything with a company logo on it! And I don’t need any more water bottles. There’s no way I’d display a company-branded pillow or blanket in my house, so those would be relegated to a cupboard or the car or I’d leave them in the office. The only thing on that list that I’d use and appreciate, rather than thinking it was a waste of money, would be a gift card.

      1. Tau*

        I have once worked for a place where the parent company was well-known enough that I thought it was actively cool to have swag with their logo on it. Once. This is an extremely exceptional exception, to the point where I’m having trouble saying “it’s like I was working for X” because I can’t think of another company analogous. The rest of the time… yeah, no, a gift should not be an opportunity to make me do advertising for you, come on.

  72. Lazy Cat's Mom*

    One year my company gave us leather-bound notebooks and high-quality pens with the firm’s name. Really only useful for work but it’s something really nice to take to meetings and conventions.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      I was going to suggest notebooks (if the gift is meant to be around this level of value and other, more flexible items aren’t an option). Moleskines, either minimally branded or unbranded but in a company color could be popular, and easy to transport/regift/donate if unwanted.

  73. I'm just here for the cats!*

    At one place I worked there was a separate website that people could go to order swag. at the end of the year there would be a link that allowed you to order 1 item from a designated list that would be free. it was then shipped to either your home (if remote) or to the office for you to pick up. Items included laptop bags, large tote bags, sweaters and jackets. For clothing items the person had to put their size and if it was the wrong size they could contact the swag company to

    I don’t know what the swag company was, as it’s been so many years ago. But perhaps you could partner with an online retailer to do this. I think it would help with a lot of the logistics. You wouldn’t have to track people down and it would be up to the individual to order. If they don’t order then its on them. Just make sure you communicate often and give clear instructions.

  74. RPOhno*

    One of my old employers contracted with a vendor to allow people to choose from a range of things for company gift situations (I’m specifically remembering my 5 year work anniversary, but those vendors exist regardless). Out of the available items, I got a pair of binoculars. I would have grabbed a fleece if they had any with sleeves, but, alas, only vests.

  75. Cornflower*

    My company used a gift basket service where we could choose one out of a few different gift baskets of snacks, chocolate, wine, etc. The basket company handled the shipping and ordering.

    They’ve also done “gift cards” to our company’s swag store. It has a bunch of different company-branded products (like clothing, tumblers, sunglasses, etc) so that everyone can pick clothing they’ll actually like or pick non-clothing items.

  76. Mallory M Osteen*

    My husband’s company does lots of little gifts throughout the year, and most of it is pretty nice stuff! Yeti tumblers, duffel bags for the gym, clothing, soft coolers (even a yeti cooler one year). It’s a manufacturing site and the gifts are for local employees, so there’s no concerns with shipping.

    The one that grinds my gears: they always give out a turkey to each employee around the holidays. Like, a 20-ish pound turkey that would feed a dozen people. And then the real kicker, they wait until a week AFTER Thanksgiving to give them out! So now I have this massive turkey that sits in my freezer until next Thanksgiving, gets cooked with an insane amount of leftovers, just to be replaced by next year’s turkey a week later.

    1. Squidhead*

      Sidetracking, but we roast turkeys occasionally (maybe on a long weekend when we can plan out the thaw and cook time), enjoy some meat and gravy for a few days, then turn the rest into soup which we freeze and thaw when needed. With just 2 of us in the house I don’t even want to eat a 10# turkey all at once!

    2. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Some of the BBQ places around here start offering Thanksgiving smoked turkeys that you have to sign up for weeks in advance. If my job would give me a smoked turkey that I didn’t have to cook – hoo boy! I’d be happy!

  77. The Real Persephone Mongoose*

    What my company did rather than just giving us cash is tell us we had X dollars to use for meals out for our family or groceries to prepare meals and to expense it so that it wasn’t taxed income but expense report reimbursement. The dollar amount was usually $100. They also did similar thing for about $250 during peak COVID lockdown. We could use it for anything like buying books, games, movies etc to enjoy during all the restrictions. Hugely popular because we had a choice as to how to spend the $$ but it wasn’t taxed as income either. We’ve also gotten links to choose a gift from a company that specializes in them and they handle all the orders, returns, shipping direct to home. It also had an option of donating your ‘gift’ to charity as well. Again, very popular. Yes, there are always going to be people who don’t respond and thus don’t get the benefit. That’s on them. I’ve found that overall, no matter how many reminders you give and how much effort you put into it, those people aren’t going to make it a priority. They will be disappointed and disgruntled. That’s on them. Just apologize, say you are sorry they missed the many reminders but there was a time limit. I can guarantee that they will respond the next time.

  78. Kassie*

    Government employee here… So jealous of all these cool things you all get!!! Money! Snacks! Blankets! Any gifts or events we get come directly from our leadership using their personal funds. Sometimes we get a pizza lunch or something. Once we all got to go bowling and get appetizers (after hours of course) and it was the best. But honestly, I’ll take my pension, criminally cheap health insurance and 50+ days a year off over a holiday gift every time.

    1. Empress Matilda*

      Ha, I was just thinking the opposite – I’m so glad I work for the government, so I don’t have to deal with all these gifts. I’m in the “no more stuff” camp – I already have more drinkware, blankets, backpacks, and tech than I can possibly use. Although I’m always happy to receive snacks…

    2. Mitford*

      Spouse of a paralegal who is a federal employee here. I’m always amazed at the leadership in his office who will use their own funds to do something nice for the support staff every year. Their favorite thing, apparently, is to have lunch and watch a legal-themed movie in the conference room. Some years it’s a serious movie (“Loving” about the court case that ended the prohibition on interracial marriage) and some years all the women on the team upvote something like “The Lincoln Lawyer” because Matthew McConaughey is hot.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        A lot of those folks may be BigLaw refugees who feel bad that their staff is not getting the same swag/bonus/free meal parade that BigLaw can provide. I have so much quality swag from m my sting in BigLaw, a lot of which I still use (or someone in my family does – the huge beach towel goes to camp, my mom has a really nice insulated lunch set). I lost my Patagonia fleece jacket a few years ago, and I still miss that on chilly nights on the sports field.

  79. Fearless Acorn*

    My organization (US based) does gift cards through a servicer called American Greetings that allows you to choose where the gift card is for out of a list of 50 companies. It sends you an email and you virtually choose where you want to spend it. They don’t expire we far as I know. Last year, I was able to use it for the airline tickets of our vacation. The year before, we used it on grocery delivery while we were sick. Everyone can find something on the extensive list and it’s been easiest as well as quite popular.

  80. Jessica Fletcher*

    I just want money or extra time off.

    The only other thing I’ve liked is a coffee tumbler they ordered with a very funny saying on it. It was a call center, and it was a little stick figure person at a desk with a headset, and it said either “don’t call us, we’ll call you” or “if we want your opinion, we’ll ask for it!” It was hilarious. I don’t even drink coffee, but I still have it. That was also a great workplace with nice, understanding supervisors.

  81. goducks*

    Tangible items are still taxable income unless they’re what the IRS calls “de minimis”, which is generally understood to be of nominal value and not really having any resale value. I’m not sure an air fryer meets that definition.

    Plenty of employers do this, but it’s not typically a legal route to avoid the tax situation, it’s just that so many employers do this they get away with it.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Maybe that’s why companies stick their logo on everything – that diminishes the resale value to pretty much nothing. :)

  82. gingergene*

    Company holiday gifts I have liked and used:
    1. Yeti insulated coffee mug. My favorite company holiday gift. They are expensive, but dang if they don’t work, and they’re dishwasher safe. My company picked a relatively neutral color (solid blue).
    2. Umbrella. The key is to go nice or don’t bother. I live in a place that gets a lot of rain, and if it’s possible to own too many umbrellas, I haven’t hit that number yet.
    3. Insulated cooler. The one we got was lunch-bag sized. The only downside was that it had to be personalized after-the-fact if you wanted to put it in the shared kitchenette space, since so many people had the same one.

    Company holiday gifts I have rid myself of almost immediately:
    1. Insulated mug that didn’t insulate. It was huge and ugly (glittery rainbows!) and obviously cheap.
    2. Throw blanket. Super thin and attracted more hair than a Motley Crue concert. It got thrown into the donation bin. I think I might have liked a nice one, but this one wasn’t.
    3. Books (multiple years), all business themed: do not give me homework as a gift. Never even cracked the cover, went straight into the donation bin. According to the admin for our group, a significant number of people never even picked these up.

    I think the key thing is whatever you get should be well-made. The first item on each list is an insulated mug and the difference between “awesome gift” and “useless” was the quality. That might mean downgrading to stay in the budget (lunch-bag sized insulated tote vs. family-sized), but I think it’s critical.

    1. Toodie*

      “Don’t give me homework as a gift” is spot-on. We get homework for our Zoom happy hours, too. Happy hour homework.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I also loved the Yeti tumbler and umbrella – gave the insulated lunch set to my mom, who is still using it. Things I got and also still use:

      * Umbrellas (one golf, one compact, very nice quality with wind vents)
      * LL Bean travel toiletry holder (one of the nice fold-and zip ones that you can also hang up – have had this for well over a decade)
      * Oversized beach towel (goes to the pool and camp and I don’t care it gets destroyed/lost)
      * Patagonia fleece (that I loved and lost at a kids’ sporting event)
      * Compact picnic set (there is an outdoor venue here that lets you bring food in, and this is perfect for it)

      Universal gift cards are also always appreciated, if they’re grossed up/taxes are covered. I the $25-50 Visa cards we get about once per quarter for snacks and quick lunches.

  83. Sharkie*

    oh man. I love how this comment section has turned into ” Omg my company does x and its popular!” and then at least 3 comments underneath it saying ” I hate x.” or “no don’t do that!” Basically, you will never make a large group of people happy.

    1. Generic Name*

      I know. Unsurprised. Especially since the OP’s company tries to make everyone happy, and inevitably everyone is not happy, and some people go so far as to complain. This is probably the way I was raised, but in my opinion unless a gift is really insensitive (hams and whiskey for everyone!!), I think it’s in poor taste to complain about a gift. Oh well.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      My company gets a lot of branded swag to give to clients as gifts and to hand out at conferences, and it’s nice stuff from brands you have heard of. I have a bunch because employees can buy it basically at cost from the company store. Do I want an insulated travel mug with my employer’s name on it? Not really. But I do want a really nice insulated travel mug at wholesale prices!

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        One place I worked gave everybody a discount at the company store, which had tons of branded items. Some stuff would periodically go on sale or closeout. That’s when I would get the best bargains. Sometimes for holidays they would give out small gift cards to the company store, which when combined with the discount and the closeouts got me some okay stuff. It helped that the company color was also my favorite color.

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

      Me neither; but I can imagine that if I worked for Nike or Yeti or Apple, a “company-branded” item is just…a normal item :-)

  84. Lacey*

    My company did starbucks gift cards, which I loved, but evidently was not popular with everyone. So they switched to subway gift cards, which I hate, but could still be useful because every down has a subway.

    At other companies I’ve also sometimes received Amazon gift cards, which are very useful.

    Worst gifts:
    Ugly mugs, ugly hat I repeatedly said I didn’t want, company calendar, books the company published that we’d already been given copies of, ugly blanket with my last name monogramed on it so I couldn’t regift it.

  85. yes I work in HR*

    A former employer and my partner’s employer moved to offering 3 options and having the employees pick in prior to ordering the gifts. For example: a portable bluetooth speaker, cozy night in basket (coco, mug, snuggly blanket) and tickets to a local professional sports team. I think this approach, picking 3 similarly priced but different items, is the easiest way to solve this problem.

  86. Avyncentia*

    +1 to advertising the gift amount with tax already taken out.

    Our managers are also expected to write a short note to accompany our annual bonuses. It’s just a couple of sentences usually highlighting one of our achievements in the last year. It’s a nice personal touch. If you felt confident you could get your managers to say something more than “I’ve enjoyed working with you and look forward to seeing what you do next year,” that could be a nice addition.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      We do personal notes, and I’ve been surprised at how well-appreciated they’ve been. I provide some guidance/samples for them, but the managers on my team have gotten really good at them and keep a short file of highlights for members of their team to personalize them with. My one rule is do not write anything that is not true in them – don’t tell your struggling team member that they’re a significant contributor or doing good work if it’s contradictory to performance coaching feedback.

  87. Identifiable*

    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.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      If my work had tried to give me an actual gratitude journal in 2020, I would have set it on fire and then claimed that I lost it. WTAFF?

      1. Identifiable*

        There have been so many bad appreciation gifts that they’ve become legendary around here, but that one was uniquely bad.

        The amount of staff time that’s gone into determining we can’t just have an extra day closed instead…is probably more than the cost of just closing for a day.

    2. Gumby*

      Don’t think of it as a gratitude journal. Think of it as an opportunity for performance art. Surely someone there is creative enough to fill this out in a way that is just sarcastic enough to convey “what an idiotic gift” without using those exact words.

      (I mean, it’s not a great gift at any time but 2020????)

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        Like the segment on Jimmy Fallon where he writes thank you notes:

        *cue sappy music*

        “Thank you, 2020, for inspiring my bosses to give me this *fantastic* notebook.”

  88. Super Duper Anon*

    Here are the three options I would do if I were running this, because man I would not want to be running this:

    1. Cash deposit on a payday at the end of the year, company pays the tax on the bonus so the employees get the full amount.
    2. Partner up with a website that manages gift card distribution for bonuses (my company uses KangoGift, but I am sure there are more out there. The employee gets to pick the gift card they want and the site sends them an email with the code in, or maybe mails out a physical gift card. Again, the company covers the tax so they get the full amount.
    3. Partner up with a logistics company that does physical work gifts. The employee picks something off a list and if it is clothing related provides their size information to them. The logistics company manages the catalog and the mailing process.

    For 2, and 3, you can set a deadline for selection and send out reminders. If they miss the deadline, then too bad.

  89. BatManDan*

    Great book called Giftology that talks about the philosophy of gift-giving on a corporate level. You’d be surprised at some of the commonly-accepted practices that are actually counter-productive, and the book can walk you through it.

  90. Yvette*

    I used to work for a company that used to give out turkeys for Thanksgiving, that became impractical, so they gave out grocery gift cards. I thought it was a nice tradition.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      That’s how my husband’s work was. For many years, the big bosses would come to the plant and hand out actual physical turkeys for Thanksgiving. Then in later years they partnered with a local grocery store to do gift certificates that were good for a ham or turkey up to a certain amount. I would always get a really big ham or turkey and end up paying maybe $2 or $3 for it.

  91. toolittletoolate*

    Give people the time off! Their salary is already budgeted and there is no extra “out of pocket” cost for the organization, but it has a lot of value to the employee. I realize in some instances you might have to pay a temp or somebody else overtime to cover the shift, but in many cases that is not necessary.

    If you must give an actual gift, we got some really nice heavy duty grocery carriers —-they fold down and pop up and are quite rigid and sturdy. It’s been really handy. We also got a duffel bag that was just the right size to take to the gym or to carry a laptop and papers.

  92. CD*

    I’m in the US. At my last employer, we received Christmas gifts and they were always taxed regardless of whether it was a physical item (like a watch) or a gift card. I liked that employees were given a choice from a list of options.

    When you come up with gift choices, make sure it’s something that doesn’t have a lot fees. For example, one year a gift certificate for a theater tickets was an option. The certificate was for a website that had a lot of fees. Employees complained and my employer had to contact that company and ask for a discount on the fees. Then employees had to call and mention they were from X company so they could get the discount on fees; they couldn’t get a discount on the fees online.

    If you are buying a lot of gift cards, make sure you contact the company about bulk or corporate purchase. My employer was using the corporate card to buy gift cards for 100+ employees and ended up getting their credit card frozen because it looked like suspicious activity. It caused a one week delay in gifting.

  93. Wendy Darling*

    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).

    1. Never Boring*

      Last year my husband got a bag of basically dollar-store crap. Fake scented peppermint hand soap in a sparkly bottle, crappy cheap dollar-store candy, etc. Why didn’t they just spend the same amount (it couldn’t have been more than $10 total) on one decent-quality item instead of a bunch of random crap?

  94. WantonSeedStitch*

    In the early part of the pandemic when everyone was 100% remote, my office had a Zoom “party” where we had breakout rooms to chat with people on various fun subjects, and they sent us all Grubhub or Doordash (can’t remember which) gift cards so we could order in lunch at home.

  95. Essentially Cheesy*

    Money. Always money. I don’t want another T-shirt or trinket. The amount of tax on $25 or $50 is not worth complaining about.

    Some people are just never happy.

  96. Student*

    I’d always go with money, but if you need to do merch:

    Nice pens are always useful. Nice lanyards can be very practical if your job involves IDs you need to wear or access cards you need to scan regularly. Lunch bags can be good, depending on your work and office – great for jobs with lots of travel or where you might take lunch on a worksite you don’t have an office at. Bookmarks might work for some offices. If you have lots of retired vets or military-adjacent folks, challenge coins can work well, though I’ll admit as a non-vet I never really appreciate them as much since I don’t have the same cultural connection to them. Cloth grocery bags can be good if most of your workforce lives in an area where they’re normal. Phone chargers are eternally useful and always seem to be getting lost, but you’d need to give everyone options for their phone brand’s compatibility and some folks will mess it up. Desktop pen holders can be highly customized and very useful – you can 3D print custom designs fairly easily.

    I’d personally love a nice flashlight or a quality screwdriver, but I suspect that’d be very dependent on your workforce and not universally loved.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      You can get universal phone chargers or power packs. Those (or charging mats) would be a decent gift if good quality.

    2. I did it! Now what?*

      One of my favorite gifts was a little keychain tape measure. I don’t use it all the time, but when I do, I’m so glad my employer gave it to me.

  97. len*

    I’d prefer a physical item over cash or time off (mugs or clothing or blankets are great!) and would dislike a gift card. Not saying this to be a contrarian but to underline that you really can’t please everyone.

  98. higheredadmin*

    I agree with using a vendor to manage this for you, although you will need to sweep up at the end for all of the people who don’t pick something. (So maybe have a default gift of something they get if they don’t pick an item.) The most hilarious company swag/gift I ever received was a corporate branded first aid kit – from a professional services firm.

  99. Roguestella*

    I think this can be really tricky and I appreciate OP’s attempts to make it pleasant for everyone. I think time off would be fantastic. An extra holiday or paid day off would probably be really appreciated.

  100. cardigarden*

    A nice tote bag maybe? My county just went single-use-plastic-bag-free, and I need to stock up on reusables for the grocery store. (This also means I need to go back to buying waste basket liners which is annoying, but that’s another post.)

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I find that so amusing in a sad way. My area is headed that way. I keep a few reusable bags in my trunk, but like getting the thin ones that I reuse as trash bags.

    2. Ashley*

      Reusable totes that are free are awesome. I hate buying them, but definitely need them. And I really don’t even mind if they come branded. We have a few that are lightly insulated with a zipper top that we have gotten for free through work. When one was left on a desk unclaimed my partner actually claimed it because they are legitimately useful.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I actually hate the non-woven ones – they degrade really fast and are not washable. I usually donate them.

        But good canvas totes/grocery bags? Come to me my precious! I don’t GAF if they have a logo if they carry groceries without disintegrating. Also useful, but seldom gifted, are foldable grocery coolers (that aren’t just foil lined non-woven grocery bags).

    3. Joielle*

      Yeah, I’ve never met a sturdy tote bag (or a cozy blanket) that I didn’t like. Even if you have some already, it’s the kind of thing you can use a bunch of, or gift to family/friends. Bonus points if it’s an insulated cooler bag.

    4. Gumby*

      My county has been that way for a few years. My parents live someplace where you can still get plastic bags. They save them up for me and every time I visit I generally come home with a good handful (20? 50?) of bags to use as trash can liners.

    5. nnn*

      If you go with a tote bag, pick one that can fold up nice and small. I have so many tote bags made of a material that doesn’t fold up well, so I can’t fit them in my purse!

      (Also, someone really needs to make garbage bags that are shaped like plastic grocery bags, because existing commercially-available kitchen catchers are nowhere near as convenient!)

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      ChicoBags are my favorite. I got one as a fundraising thank-you (from my local public radio station, of course!) about 20 years ago, and it’s still in great shape. They hold a lot can, carry heavy loads, and they fold up inside themselves for easy transport. Love them.

  101. Lentils*

    My current job is VERY small, less than 20 people, and the owners do a thing at the holiday party where they select a book for everyone based on their interests. This obviously isn’t practical for bigger companies, but I personally love it – I collect books by and about a particular author’s work, so they got me a gorgeous book of maps and essays about the fictional world.

  102. learnedthehardway*

    There are literally companies that specialize in employee rewards programs – they have selections of things that employees can pick from, and they manage the whole program. I would look into the idea, if you have the budget for it (not really sure what it would cost, but I’m guessing they get a percentage of the reward budget as revenues).

    It might end up being that you give employees a bit less in value, but something they actually want.

  103. I edit everything*

    I don’t know why no one has suggested electric toothbrushes.

    Everyone brushes their teeth, right? And if they don’t, they should! You can personalize with your choice of toothpaste after the fact. One size fits all. Most of them only come in one color (white), so that’s not a problem. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

    (tongue firmly in cheek, in case it wasn’t obvious)

  104. Memily*

    This year my company gave us branded picnic blankets. Last year was a nice canvas backpack—I still see quite a lot of people using them to carry laptops back and forth. Branded drinkware (tumblers, water bottles) have also been popular!

    1. Memily*

      Oh! I was told a few years back they did folding canvas chairs, which are nice. Definitely get a vendor to take care of this—our packages are mailed directly from the vendor with no company involvement past approving the designs. And they definitely don’t bother asking people what they want! Too many opinions just causes issues.

  105. Han's Solo*

    “But some people seem offended by [money]”

    Some people are going to be offended no matter what you do as you’re probably seeing from other comments here. Just give out the money or gift card (you can do a Visa/Mastercard gift card so then people can’t bitch out it being tied to one vendor) and call it a day. And if people still bitch about it to an unholy degree, maybe remind them that hey, the unemployment line is the gift that keeps on giving!

  106. Greyhawke*

    For my work anniversary my company sent me a link to a website. On there I could choose from a variety of gifts (think a scale, or earbuds, or speakers, or a sweatshirt). All were between $40-50, and it was shipped directly to my home.

    Maybe a touch impersonal, but on the other hand I got exactly what I want and actually use it.

  107. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

    I’m sure this wouldn’t work for everyone, but if money and time are off-limits for some reason, I’d do a grown-up Scholastic book fair in the office–bring in a book store to set up shelves of novels, comic books, graphic novels, cookbooks, etc. Each employee has a limit they can spend. Go crazy and get whatever books you want within that limit. (Source: I saw a couple online do this at their wedding instead of wedding gifts and I LOVE the idea.)

    Money and time are still better, though.

    1. ABCYaBye*

      I love the adult Scholastic book fair idea! Some friends and I suggested that a buddy who owns a really unique bar could probably sell a ton of drinks if he did that sort of thing at the bar!

  108. Liisa*

    Honestly, just stop giving out *things*.

    I am SO SICK of branded company swag. I do not need any more branded tumblers, mugs, wine glasses, vests, cheap backpacks, hats i will never wear, ANY of it. It’s difficult to donate the things because they’re branded – sometimes secondhand stores won’t take them, sometimes company policy says they don’t want you doing that, so it ends up in the landfill. Give me the gift of not filling up landfills with branded crap!

    The ONE exception to this is the portable mobile battery packs, the ones that are cell phone sized and have a couple USB ports. Those are useful, it’s easy to cover up any branding with a sticker, and because they’re genuinely pretty useful to most people who have modern smartphones, it’s easier to give them away to a friend if you don’t want them.

    But honestly, the best bet is money, and the thing that others have suggested where the company either pays the tax or tells you the after-tax price up front is A+. The landfills will thank you.

    1. Liisa*

      Also. Let people opt out. Don’t force people into getting something that they don’t actually want (and then don’t expect people to act grateful for getting a thing they didn’t want in the first place). My last job sent out holiday gift boxes every year FULL of branded swag and there was zero way to opt out, and then management kept asking everyone how much they liked the stuff. I was like “you gave me a hideous branded blanket and pillow made of the most itchy unpleasant material I’ve ever felt, and now you want me to perform gratitude for this?” No.

      1. Sambal*

        Same thing happened when I joined my previous company. I had a box of branded junk land on my patio and had to find a way to ethically get rid of it all. I did not feel grateful to the company. If anything I felt extremely resentful.

    2. Toodie*

      I agree with this! And while I don’t have one of the battery packs you describe, I remember years ago when I would sell my own organs for free thumbdrives. Don’t need those any more (heck, I can’t even use them on my work computer any more) but those used to be gold, no matter how ugly or what stupid shape they took.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      A good sized battery pack is like gold. Usually I get given the cheap little 5000 MAH ones that fail to charge after a few uses. I prefer the 20000 MAH ones that can charge a couple cell phones, but those run about $30 or so.

  109. Ginger Pet Lady*

    Whatever you do, don’t make it branded. It’s not a gift to turn your employees into walking marketing billboards. A branded item is not a gift.

    1. Liisa*

      Exactly! I’m probably more allergic to branding than most people, but I absolutely *refuse* to wear or use anything with visible branding. I’m not free marketing for your company.

  110. SP*

    If you MUST do something other than cash, gift cards, or time off the one piece of freebie swag I actually use fairly often is a portable phone charger. The branding logo is really small so I don’t feel weird using it even after departing the company.

    My old company gave us grocery store gift cards that were enough to fund a turkey (or whatever else you wanted) with our last paycheck before Thanksgiving every year. It was only like $20 but it was a random nice thing. Apparently they used to give out actual turkeys but it was a logistical disaster.

  111. Irishgal*

    I think this thread is testament that what one person loves another dreads! It is very clear you can’t please everyone. I would go with the choice options and be very clear on the deadlines and don’t pander to people after the fact. Make sure there is something you like on the list too

  112. AudraMorgana*

    My company uses a 3rd party service. We get 5 options, they take care of it from there, shipping to our houses (or whatever address we input).

  113. ABCYaBye*

    I think answering this question with specific ideas is tough… because a lot of it is dependent on how much you’re spending on those gifts. But all things equal, a gift card or a bonus check of some sort is probably going to be the best. You can include it directly with payroll or send it via email. And as others have suggested above, definitely have the company calculate the tax so that while still being taken out appropriately, you’re giving the employee the actual amount you’re giving them. Honestly, if people are going to complain about the taxes, they’re going to complain that they had to pick an item, or the snack boxes don’t conform to their diet, or they don’t like the color of the fleece, or they have too many Yeti mugs, or …

    Cash always wins.

    1. goducks*

      If you’re in the US, they’re absolutely supposed to be taxed, and your company is breaking the law if they don’t.