The office gift exchange

Christmas is just days away, Hanukkah is over…we’re smack-dab in the midst of “the holidays” pretty much everywhere, including at work. Office holiday parties are sometimes more of a source of anxiety than a cause for celebration – and in my experience, so does their less-discussed relative, the office gift exchange.

Unless you call a staff meeting to outline gift-giving ground rules – which rarely happens, in my experience – or your office has a party-traditions ringleader, office gifts are an annual quandary. So many questions!

  • Should you get a gift for your boss?
  • Should everyone in the department contribute to a group gift for the boss?
  • Should you get gifts for the people you supervise?
  • Should you only get gifts for the co-workers you socialize with, or those who have become personal friends?
  • Should the gifts be something more personal, or something work-related?
  • Should you get a gift for everyone in the office/department, in the interest of fairness?
  • Should you get the same gift for everyone in the office/department?
  • Instead of specific gifts for each co-worker, does your office want to have a grab-bag-type gift exchange instead, where everyone who wants to participate brings a small wrapped gift for anonymous trading?
  • If you do the gift exchange, will you have gag gifts or real ones? This can get ugly if it’s not specified one way or the other.
  • Does anyone want to do the “Secret Santa” thing?
  • Should everyone agree to pass on the whole thing and donate to a charity instead?

I’ve avoided some of these questions for the last several years by giving a group gift. One morning during the week before Christmas (Thursday, unless I’m home sick again), I’ll bring in breakfast for everyone in the office. It will include some home-baked, Weight-Watchers-friendly coffee cake and muffins, cinnamon rolls, bagels, juices, and some of the good coffee. People seem to enjoy it, and since I don’t really hang out with my co-workers all that much, I’m avoiding the dilemma of a possibly meaningless personal gift or an office knickknack.

This is Chris‘ first year as a full-time member of the workforce during the holiday season, and I guess he’s mulling over these questions too. He sent me a link to’s suggestions for “unusual co-worker gifts.” I really don’t think I’m going with any of them myself, but try checking there if you need ideas (or want to take come notes for next year, since this may be coming up a little too late to be of much use for 2007). Here’s a sampling, classified by type of coworker:

For: The resident workaholic

A Day at the Beach Executive Sandbox by Are You Game
This small set includes everything needed for a day at the beach: white sand, sandals, sea shells, a beach chair, umbrella, beach ball and floating ring.

For: The suck up
Dial-An-Excuse, available at
This handy-dandy wheel comes equipped with 180 excuses for 36 excuse-necessary scenarios, and is perfect for the office and home.
Alternatively, this co-worker might also appreciate Corporate Flashcards from Knock Knock, a crash course in jargon and meeting-speak (thanks to Working Girl for the tip!).

For: The (lazy) caffeine junkie
The Stir Mug from Gevalia
Those who barely can lift a finger before their morning coffee no longer need to: This insulated stainless steel, battery-operated mug stirs your beverage for you at the push of a button.

For: The waffler
The Executive Decision Maker by

In lieu of the old eight ball, this paperweight has a sleek metal design and will help you get through the day’s tough decisions once you spin it and land on one of its many options, such as “pass the buck,” “reorganize” and “sit on it.”

For: Your favorite procrastinator
To Dos/To Don’ts Journal or The Business/Pleasure Journal, both by Modern Poverty
Part memo pad, part confessional, this double-sided journal will help recipients keep track of what they should be doing as well as what they shouldn’t.

For: The office space case
A Day Clock by
Marketed as “a clock for those who forget more than just the time,” this clock has markers that indicate the day of the week in addition to the numeric time.

For: Anyone on Friday afternoon
The Boss Toss by Archie McPhee
Load one of four plastic “executive” figures into the mini-catapult, pull the trigger and watch the bosses fly!

And if none of these work for you, there’s always the Chia Shrek; my husband has one he’d be glad to let you re-gift!

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  1. Ladytink – That’s an increasingly popular, and more appreciated, way to go. But then what would happen to the stupid-office-toys market? 🙂

  2. I couldn’t bear it. I had to just say no to gift-giving at the office. But I did refer people to you if they choose to disagree!

  3. I took my staff out for lunch this past Tuesday and we had a little gift exchange. We are a small unit and so we know each other fairly well. That makes gift giving pretty simple. 🙂

  4. Literary Feline – My department had 50% turnover this year, and we all tend to spend too much time at our desks, so we’re not exactly close. Everyone did seem to enjoy the breakfast that the “elves” (well, just me) made and brought in for them today, though! :-).