45 gift ideas for every type of employee on your team

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

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

A while back, New York Magazine asked me to put together a gift guide for bosses buying for employees, and I’ve updated it for 2023.

You can read it here.

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. Sara without an H*

    I was never wild about office gift-giving. It’s difficult to figure out what will actually please everyone, and then there’s the issue of what to do with the gift itself. Take it home? Display it in the office? Would there be hurt feelings if I made it discreetly disappear?

    What I usually did for my team was put a big bowl of chocolates out in the break room and thank everybody warmly for their contributions over the course of the year. This seemed to be a popular solution.

    Some of Alison’s suggestions do sound like fun, though.

    1. RLC*

      A former colleague would put a bowl of sweets, a bowl of tiny tangerines, and a bowl of nuts out as a thank-you for all her staff. Accommodated most everyone’s tastes and dietary restrictions, always well received by her staff.

    2. I just really can’t think of a name*

      I’m a professor and we send our teaching assistants (mostly grad students who work for us less than 5 hours a week, but put in extra time at the end of the semester grading exams) brownies from Greyston Bakery. They’re a certified B Corp focused on hiring people facing barriers to employment (including criminal records). So we’re supporting a great mission and the brownies are delicious!

  2. Keyboard Cowboy*

    Is the recommendation for vintage cat portraits where the one from this weekend’s cat family photo came from?

  3. Amanda*

    Ooooh, so many of these are great – I’ve actually been looking for a good pair of touchscreen-friendly gloves for myself since I moved further north for school, so hopefully you get a little commission from that, and I would love a bunch of the others (the desk vacuum, the portable chargers, the salt lamp).

    I do have to admit, though, I would find it rather insulting to get an alarm clock from my boss! That one could come across as passive-aggressive.

    1. Cyndi*

      I actually got those Isotoner gloves for someone in an office gift exchange a couple of years ago and she loved them!

      (And while it might be passive aggressive for my boss to do it, I’m tempted to get that Phillips alarm clock for myself.)

    2. SelinaWeiner*

      Be careful with salt lamps if any of the receivers have pets. Pets like to lick the salt and it can make them very sick
      I was bought one and had 4 house cats at the time so gave mine away to my Grandma

  4. BellyButton*

    We use a site called Snappy. It is so fantastic. I can upload all the employees, but a monetary amount in (you can divide it by their levels if you need to) and then they can choose from gifts in that price range, donate the money to a charity. This year I selected a fancy espresso machine, that I would never buy for myself.

    1. AJ*

      My company does the same and my team and I love it. We have a blast picking out our gifts and talking about what we are getting and there is a great variety of items (plus they ship internationally which is a must for our company.) We also do birthday gifts through Snappy.

  5. Silver Robin*

    Will confirm, Death Wish is *strong*. My partner got himself some a few years ago and the first day he had some, he did not quite sound like a chipmunk but he was not that far off either. He loves it, but does not drink it everyday XD

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Thank you, I was wondering about that. My caffeine-loving friends and I appreciate strong(er) brews, but Death Wish seemed a bit…out there.

      1. Woof*

        I once dated a veterinary student who only drank Death Wish coffee. The first time I stayed overnight and he made coffee, I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

        He got offended when I started watering my cup down, or only drinking a quarter of a cup. One of many reasons why that relationship was doomed. I love my caffeine, I worked in a coffee shop at the time, but….whew is that stuff hardcore!

        1. Submitter*

          I wonder if they’ve upped the caffeine? I was gifted a bag when they first came out, and it didn’t affect me any differently than my regular coffee. Tasty, though.

      2. Silver Robin*

        It is tasty (so he says, I do not drink coffee) and good at caffeinating you, but probably not something you want to drink multiple cups of a day. Cannot hurt to try it once! :p

  6. Justme, The OG*

    This is a great list.

    I have a new supervisor now due to a promotion and he gave me a plant. I love it but I kill plants.

    1. Ashley*

      I worked at a place where they gave people plants. It was a team effort but most of us managed to keep them alive. It is the first plant I haven’t killed.
      Hopefully you have a co-worker that has a green thumb that can teach you how to for that exact plant.

      1. BellyButton*

        The only indoor plant I have never killed is a Money Tree. You give it 5 ice cubes a week. It has flourished! I am shocked it is still alive after a year.

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

          I’m really fascinated by the whole “ice cube” plant business because, as someone who’s parent recently decided she’ll only use tiny ice cubes, the 3 or 5 or whatever on the tag isn’t going to cut it.

          Fortunately, they also tell you how much water that is, in case your family now only has ice cubes fit for hamsters.

          1. BellyButton*

            I have “regular” size ice maker ice cubes. I just grab a handful every Monday morning and toss it in the pot. It has worked so well I now need to transfer it to a bigger pot.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        That advice is helpful for deciding on company-level gifts rather than everyone getting identical company-branded products. But this is for management who are not necessarily decision-making leadership. Not every manager has the ability to approve additional PTO outside of the written policy or provide bonuses if it’s not in their budget. (I processed payroll in my last org and the CFO had to approve every bonus – even $100.)

  7. ThatGirl*

    Some of these are fun ideas for coworkers too (I have a few coworkers I am genuinely friends with; everyone else just gets a card haha). That said, I am a writer who works with writers, so this year my go-to is a fun notepad and colorful gel pens.

    1. BellyButton*

      A couple of years ago I gave everyone on my team WTF notebooks that matched their personalities. They were a big hit. I made sure the language was safe and nothing about hating your coworkers. The favorites were “Evil plans and unicorn drawings” and “My plan for world domination”

  8. Rachel*

    I like a wide variety of gifts from my boss. Venmo, ApplePay, Chase QuickPay, cash, check, money order, direct deposit, etc.

    1. pally*

      Yep! I work in medical devices – diagnostic test kits- and I was gob smacked at how easily they were able to fool or misdirect on-site inspectors and auditors. Not something we would ever try to do. Just be honest and show them what they want to inspect.

      1. Just me*

        For 10 years I worked at a company that made big lab-sized blood analyzers, similar to the Siemens ones that Theranos were actually using to test the blood samples (and then passing it off as their results). Knowing how much sample (of blood, serum, CSF, urine) was actually needed to run these tests, the drop of blood was pure fantasy and I cannot believe it got as far as it did.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Right? How not a single investor questioned what they were being shown…how so many employees left without saying anything to anyone in authority….I don’t blame employees for being scared (b/c look what happened to the ones who did report something) but it’s amazing how long the BS was able to go on.

        I recently read a book about someone looking for lost hikers and they found someone who claimed to be able to find DNA evidence of missing people using drones and just “one drop of blood” somewhere in the wilderness. I was like, wow, right out of Theranos’ playbook. Not surprised when that of course turned out to be a scam too.

      3. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Part of the problem was that people wanted it to work, because if it had worked it would have been amazing. For inspectors/investors, striking the balance between “I want this to be a thing” and “we need to pull the plug on it” is very hard when there’s emotional investment as well as monetary investment.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Thing is, too, that a lot of the investors weren’t actually biotech people so they were investing based on their wishful thinking rather than what they knew about how blood testing works.

          1. JustaTech*

            Which I think should be a warning flag for folks now: if a biotech startup doesn’t have *any* other biotechs as funders/investors/ on the board, that’s a sign to ask more questions.
            Because in any technical field it’s a lot easier to baffle laypeople (even super smart laypeople) with intense jargon than it is to pull the wool over the eyes of people who know the field.

            (I spent a lot of time exclaiming in surprise and disgust reading that book, and my boss who loaned me his copy actually threw it across his living room it upset him so much.)

    1. Be Gneiss*

      Yes, but unfortunately not a lot of midlevel managers have the ability to go against existing policies on time off or bonuses. Alison has a well-established record of saying that that’s what employees want – money and time off – but if you’re powerless to do something like that and you want to do a little something nice, this article has some ideas.

      1. Sunflower*

        Exactly. Many direct supervisors pay for gifts out of their own pockets too because it’s rare that corporations give time off or bonuses to us lowly worker bees. If the direct boss has a lot of employees, they may not be able to afford over $10 or $20, sometimes even less, for each person so they do what they can.

        I remember getting a travel size bottle of hand lotion and lip balm one year which was inexpensive but still nice for the cold weather. Sometimes just a card and small box of chocolate. One year, it was homemade cookies. We think supervisors make big bucks and, yes, they sure make more than us but some of them still worry about their personal finances.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Yup. I have 28 direct reports (under 4 team leads) and no gift budget provided – AND we’re all remote, so anything I’m sending them, I also have to pay for shipping. I write a lot of heartfelt cards at year-end and for birthdays.

  9. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    I think it would be good to caveat the gift card for the new employee you don’t know well yet… before getting them a Sephora gift card (in the image at least, if not the text) check if they wear makeup. Not everyone does. That is usually easy to check… if you are in person.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I were new to a job and a boss I didn’t know well got me a gift certificate to a makeup/skincare store, I would be concerned there was a message there. (Of course, if they got me the alarm clock I would know that there was a message.)

      2. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        That… doesn’t help.

        People who use makeup tend to assume other do too… and makeup adjacent items like fragrance as well. I’m female and female presenting. I have hair care products I like and don’t use anything else. A gift card for MAC or Sephora would go in the trash.

        I honestly would be miffed at getting something so off base… ESPECIALLY since I’m in a male dominated field and industry. I don’t need any gift that goes “I noticed you are female and am giving you stuff that clearly all females like.”

        1. Maggie*

          You can buy things like towels, nails clippers, and hair brushes there. The vast majority of people can find something that they would enjoy or be helpful to them. Worst case scenario, re gift it and save yourself money! Or at least donate it to a women’s shelter before throwing it away. I always see this comment each year on AAM about throwing away gift cards. Does anyone actually do that? At the bare minimum I’d give it to a friend or even a stranger lol

        2. JustEm*

          Yeah, I’m female and wouldn’t want anything from Sephora either. I don’t currently wear makeup and have sensitive skin and scent-triggered migraines.

      3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        I’m maybe more hardcore than most, but I only use beauty products from the organic store. I only ever buy perfume for my in-laws at places like Sephora.

  10. Ms. Murchison*

    Wow those Teabloom flasks are gorgeous.
    Heads up for people buying gifts for tea-drinkers: Stainless steel changes the taste of tea (verified it myself recently). Glass looks gorgeous but check reviews for durability. I’ve always defaulted to ceramic travel mugs, which unfortunately don’t hold heat as well.

    1. Polaris*

      Confirming that the Teambloom flasks are gorgeous in person, from the packaging in. I received one last year after noting it on the list and thinking “self, you drink a lot of tea, perhaps add this to your list”. Haven’t noted a pronounced change in the taste of the tea, but the flasks do hold heat quite well.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      There are some VERY EXTRA coffee flasks that are stainless steel vacuum flasks but also have a ceramic coating on the inside to avoid any flavor changes. I have one from a company called Frank & Green that doesn’t work for me at all because I’m a latte drinker and the lid is a nightmare to clean milk out of, but it would probably be easy to rinse tea out of. A company called Fellow also makes several ceramic-lined travel mugs.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I would love to give my team additional time off and more money, but I don’t have that authority, as is the case for a lot of middle management.

      1. Maggie*

        Yep. There’s no authorization for that. I get $100 per person from the company. My team all wanted Target gift cards so that’s what I did.

        1. Evan Þ*

          One time when I was a kid, my dad’s boss gave all his workers hundred-dollar bills. At least as a kid, I thought that was a fun gift!

    2. Daisy-dog*

      That’s the advice for the company president who is trying to decide what company-branded gift to send to everyone. Not the mid-level manager with no financial authority who just wants to give something a little special to their direct report.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*


        I know my manager went to bat for our department. He can’t control what TPTB choose to do with our requests.

  11. Champagne Cocktail*

    There are some great ideas here.

    When I went back to the office after 3 years of being remote, I bought a bento box, not that model, but very similar in style. I love it. The only danger is they’re so darn cute so you want another one….

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I have a similar one and it’s great! I have a hard time drinking hot beverages at other people’s houses because they get cold too quickly!

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      That’s the one thing I would like. I’m so annoyed when I manage to let my tea go cold. Coffee doesn’t matter but tea has to be hot.

  12. Going Against The Flow*

    A hand written note of appreciation (specifics what was done and how it helped) is my favorite. I might throw in $10-5 gift card to cafe on site.

    I know I’ve cherished the few I’ve gotten and I know the ones I’ve given were appreciated more than a gift card.

  13. Jenna Webster*

    I have 8 direct reports and 16 indirect reports, and also replaced had a major home expense and 2 hospital stays this year. I’m scrambling to come up with anything I can afford this time around. My staff just know I always get them something, and they have no idea of my different money situation. It’s frustrating to know they’ll be wondering why this year is different, but I don’t want to discuss the personal stuff with them.

    1. Ms. Murchison*

      You could try what AAM often recommends, a nice personal note expressing appreciation for their work. Hopefully your reports will read between the lines and recognize that presents aren’t feasible every year.

      1. Sunflower*

        Yes to personal notes. If you can swing it, maybe treats on the table to share instead of individual gifts. A box of brownie and/or cookie mix can be inexpensive and makes a good size batch.

      2. allathian*

        The best gift I’ve ever had from any manager was a heartfelt, handwritten note thanking me for my contribution to the team that year, including a statement about my strong work ethic and some other positive work-related personality characteristic that she’d noticed. It made me feel seen as a person and valued as an employee.

        I quickly wrote a thank you note right back (on a Post-it), thanking her and saying something about how it was the best gift ever from any manager. Most, if not all of my teammates did the same.

        Appreciative notes, as long as they’re heartfelt and not an obligation, generally cost nothing, at least not if you use ordinary office supplies to make them. Managers are just as human as the rest of us, and no doubt would value knowing that their employees appreciate the work they do (if that’s genuinely the case). Notes are an exception to the rule that gifts shouldn’t flow upward.

        My second-favorite gift from a manager was a pair of handmade wool socks. This manager knitted whenever she could, and she usually knitted in meetings where she wasn’t in charge or presenting. This happened before the pandemic and most of us were at the office, but because our team had a couple members at other locations, all of us were at our desks and we had a Skype meeting (we switched to Teams in 2020). At one team meeting in October she shared a PowerPoint slide with socks in different patterns and asked us to pick our favorites/mood of the day. Then we had an in-person team day in mid-December, and there she handed out the socks we’d unknowingly chosen. I’m currently wearing mine at my desk at home, and I think positive thoughts about my former manager whenever I put them on.

  14. Submitter*

    We use Elfster for our team. You can add your wish list, or link it to Amazon for your Secret Santa to peruse.

    Our team lead does insist on manager gifts, though. I don’t have the capital to push back, and they are great managers, and everyone else seems to get into picking something for them.

    Our company does provide time off between xmas and ny as our “gift”.

  15. Catherine from Canada*

    I own a small to medium retail business. My business partner and I are very committed to the goal of paying a living wage, even though we can’t manage it yet (we’re at about $1.25 over minimum wage for our hourly people and between $4 and $5/hr for our salaried…) We have 9 employees, so there are 11 of us in total.
    For our first two years, we all went to a pottery shop for a wine and clay night. It was fun.
    For Christmas 2020, we used a gift service to send each employee a personalized gift box. It was a big hit, but a lot of work and money for … not the best expression of our respect and gratitude for our fantastic staff, I guess is the best way to put it.
    Christmas 2021, we asked them what they’d like to do and it was unanimous, “Can we all just go out to dinner and have a nice evening together?” So we did that. I made reservations at a really great restaurant that serves locally sourced food and spirits, great service, great space. It was both lovely and wonderful. The kind of place that none of us can afford to go to any other time. I put money aside all year to save up for it, and the staff just sort of float on the experience for months afterwards. I think we’re doing the same thing this year (in January after the craziness is over…), we’ll put it to a vote in a few weeks. There’s talk of trying a new place this year.

  16. Catherine from Canada*

    Snappy sounds like a great idea, but I’ll bet the shipping into Canada would eat too much of whatever “allowance” I could allot each employee.

  17. roann*

    We’ve been doing a cookie exchange for the past few years in my division, and it’s gone over well. It helps that we’re a small department, so if we all make/bring a standard batch of treats (usually 24 per recipe), everyone gets a few of each. We still call it a “cookie exchange” but it’s really an “any treat of your choosing, whether homemade or store-bought” exchange, and people can opt out if they don’t have the bandwidth or desire that year. It’s also helpful that we’re a small enough group that it’s easy for us to plan around any dietary restrictions, but I think this kind of exchange could also work well in a larger department or office on an opt-in basis! We did secret santa a few times but treats are easier and cheaper for most of us.

  18. Junior Assistant Peon*

    Chemist here. Salt lamps are fraudulent, and it’s been proven that they do not ionize the air. Buy one if you think it looks nice, but the claims about air purification are dishonest.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      I didn’t even know there was a (made-up) story about them being beneficial. I just like mine because it looks nice – the soft light is great in my home-office on rainy/cloudy days.

  19. Wendy Darling*

    All I want for Christmas from my job is PTO or money, but I own those tibetan wool slipper socks and they’re incredible. They have grippy bottoms and they keep my ankles warm. They’re also easy to travel with since they pack flat.

      1. Wendy Darling*

        Yes because usually when I’m packing them I’m going overseas to visit my inlaws for christmas and my suitcase is full of my stuff AND gifts for everyone, AND because the alternative is packing normal slippers (or ugg boots, for that sweet sweet ankle warmth in my inlaws’ drafty-ass house), which are considerably chunkier.

  20. Lady Kelvin*

    I definitely added the mini-vacuum to my buy asap list, as they don’t clean our offices, just the common areas so things can get dirty…

    I also saw the cat grass and thought, yep, Alison and cats, checks out.

  21. Nancy*

    Generic gift cards: VISA, Amazon, Target, Starbucks, local grocery, etc. Easy to regift, resell, or donate if the recipient really doesn’t want to use them. Lots of charities have Amazon wish lists too. Or gift card to the local cafe/lunch spot near the office. At least, that’s what I want from my employer, if they feel the need to give gifts.

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