The secret to employee holiday gifts they actually want
Engagement 4 minute read

The secret to employee holiday gifts they actually want

Megan Orr | December 22, 2022

If you search for employee holiday gift ideas online, you’ll get lists and lists of different ideas, some simple and thoughtful… and some that might get re-gifted right away. We break down the do’s and don'ts of workplace gift giving so you can get employee holiday gifts that your team actually wants.

Last year, PR firm VSC reportedly gifted their employees an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii as their holiday gift. Approximately 50 VSC employees took a “five-day trip to Oahu, where [they were able to] zip line, surf, and hang out at the beach” in early December. 

While Hawaii might not be in the cards for all companies—or something all employees would even enjoy—many organizations are re-evaluating their seasonal shows of appreciation in favour of employee holiday gifts they actually want. 

There are some unspoken rules of holiday gift-giving that many workplaces don’t abide by. 

Alison Green of Ask a Manager recently wrote about a number of office gift-giving rules that your workplace is likely ignoring.

  • Gifts should always flow downwards, not upwards, meaning employees should not be obligated (either implicitly or explicitly) to get gifts for people above them. 
  • There shouldn’t be any pressure to give gifts or participate in gift exchanges. Many people don’t want to—or can’t afford to—get gifts for their coworkers. 
  • Respect the price limit. In a holiday episode of NBC’s The Office, boss Michael Scott buys his secret santa recipient an iPod, and everyone gets mad at him for not paying mind to the $20 price limit. Phyllis feels bad about the homemade oven mitts she made for Michael, Jim’s personal and thoughtful teapot for Pam seems meaningless in comparison, and everyone is envious of Ryan for getting the iPod. Don’t be the Michael Scott at your workplace—generally good advice for any time of the year.
  • Don’t go overly personal or intimate. Alison advises that gifters avoid anything that goes on the body, such as perfume, clothes, or jewelry. 
  • Make sure nobody’s left out. For company gifts, ensure everyone gets something. Be mindful of things like dietary or religious restrictions (a bottle of wine or pack of prime ribs are not universal gifts). Alison suggests letting employees pick from several different options, “or even better… give bonuses or an extra day off”. 

As a general rule, Alison also advises that people avoid gag gifts. While gag gifts can go over well with some people, they can often backfire. If one person receives a whoopee cushion (the OG of gag gifts) and everyone else receives something thoughtful, your “pranked” employee may feel left out—and possibly inspired to gift themselves a new job for Christmas. 

In an article for The Cut, Alison also reminds employers that because of the pandemic “many of the gifts that worked in the past may not seem as suitable right now—movie passes, spa gift cards, and other experience-based gifts aren’t very practical”, especially if you're unsure of your employees' comfort level with participating in those types of activities post-pandemic.

Finding the right gift(s) for employees is about striking a balance between something that’s thoughtful, personalized, and professional. 

Stumped? Here are some employee holidays gift ideas they actually want:

  • Cash or gift cards. Money is always a safe bet if you want to get everyone the same thing, in this case the means to get themselves what they want. However, getting cash or a gift card can be seen as impersonal. 
  • An extra day or days off. 
  • A well-curated gift basket of local food or a SkipTheDishes, DoorDash, or UberEats gift card. 
  • In her article for The Cut, Alison recommends a variety of gifts that are both personal and professional, e.g. get the person who loves tea a fancy tea tumbler. 

So how do you find employee holiday gifts they actually want? To recap, know your employees, give equally, and ensure that there is no sense of obligation when it comes to reciprocating gifts. Employers are by no means obligated to get their employees gifts, but it’s a nice gesture that shows your appreciation. As always, it’s the thought that counts. 

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