For it is in giving that we receive
December 2, 2012 8:08 AM   Subscribe

What are some workplace holiday gift ideas for my two hip, cultured, smart, (and imo underpaid) mid-20s employees? They're full-time employees and I work with them very closely. I want to get them really great gifts that aren't wildly impersonal and aren't for the workplace, in the $75-100 range and not food- or drink-related. All I can think of is spa gift cards. Surely there are better ideas, right?
posted by firstbest to Human Relations (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Forgot to add: They're both female.
posted by firstbest at 8:09 AM on December 2, 2012

How about a Christmas bonus? You have no idea how happy that will make them. I'd suggest it would be "very happy".
posted by amtho at 8:11 AM on December 2, 2012 [19 favorites]

Also, if it would take you an hour to find and purchase the gifts, you can add that time cost to the bonuses.
posted by amtho at 8:12 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

You could do amtho's idea in the form of Amex gift cards, too, instead of directly through payroll.
posted by mochapickle at 8:18 AM on December 2, 2012

Underpaid people really like cash. AMEX appears to not charge fees which is nice. However, if they each have something like say, a coffee habit, $100 in Starbucks (if that is their poison of choice) might be awesome, too. (I know when I was super underpaid, I loved having a coffee habit but felt really guilty about spending the money.) Similarly if one of them really loves makeup, Sephora, etc.

Gift cards are VERY NICE. They show consideration. It's perfectly okay and often really, really preferable.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:24 AM on December 2, 2012

There is really nothing better than monetary gifts, tbh, especially when you are underpaid. People get all het up about it being impersonal, but at the end of the day I'd rather be able to pay the phone bill than have some random thing.
posted by elizardbits at 8:31 AM on December 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

It's true, nothing my employers ever gave me (gift cards, food, drinks, merchandise) made me anywhere near as happy as extra money did. Money is why I go to work. If you don't have control over their pay, get them those prepaid Visa card things.

Seriously, especially if they are underpaid, they will appreciate it more than anything else. Don't worry about it being impersonal; you're their boss or whatever, not, like, their uncle. You have a business relationship with them, it's supposed to be somewhat impersonal.
posted by Scientist at 8:33 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

A couple of days of PTO might also be welcome, especially if this is a situation in which end of the year bonuses do not apply.
posted by elizardbits at 8:38 AM on December 2, 2012 [5 favorites]

Nthing gift cards if you don't want to give cash. I'd recommend getting them for a place that sells lots of different things: Amazon, Target, or a medium-to-nice department store like Macy's or Nordstrom. Or the prepaid Visa/Amex cards. And if they like to shop, gift cards are one of the best gifts anyway.

I still have the purse I bought with the gift card I got from work ten Christmases ago.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:39 AM on December 2, 2012

Also, if you get them a gift certificate specifically to something nearby, please try and make sure that there is at least a minimal range of items/products/services they can purchase using only your gift certificate. If the majority of things to be bought at the location is more than double the amount of your gift, rethink this idea!
posted by elizardbits at 8:42 AM on December 2, 2012

What Metroid Baby said.

Friends gave me a $100 gift card to a local upscale department store after I babysat for them. It was awesome, because it sort of forced me to treat myself; cash or anything more flexible would have been used for something sensible.

(Of course, this depends how underpaid they are; no use having a gc to a classy dept store if your electricity is getting turned off.)
posted by Salamander at 8:44 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

People are saying "cash!" and I agree (preferably in the non-store-specific variety like the AmEx link above). To overcome any hesitations about it being impersonal, and make it an even awesomer gift, make sure it comes with a card that says more than "happy holidays." Write a note expressing appreciation for how hip, cultured and smart they are, and awesome to work with.

Related: check out the recent WSJ article Showing Gratitude at the Office? No, Thanks.
posted by whatzit at 8:45 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

When I owned a small business, each Christmas and Store Anniversary (which came in May), I would write a personal note to each employee, and enclose a cash gift. The note ensured that they knew how much I appreciated the job they were doing, and the cash was always appreciated!
posted by PlantGoddess at 8:46 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I came to say cash bonus, everyone already said cash bonus, they are correct, cash bonus.
posted by Kwine at 9:06 AM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for these great suggestions, everyone! I should clarify: They are my employees in the sense that I am their manager, not in the sense that I have any control over their on-record days off or (beyond 1-2%) their salaries. We work for a very, very large corporation. I am also pretty darn underpaid.
posted by firstbest at 9:07 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

All I can think of is spa gift cards. Surely there are better ideas, right?

Your heart is definitely in the right place - we should all be so lucky as to have managers that go out of their way to appreciate us like you're planning to - but yes, there are definitely better ideas than spa cards. Maybe it's just me, but spa cards scream "girly stereotype," and as such getting one from a manager would probably leave me feeling irritated or insulted rather than happy (also, spending an hour or more of my own time getting primped and handled by strangers? Ugh ugh ugh). Just another reason that something like an Amazon or Visa gift card would be a much better idea for people you work with but maybe don't know on a personal level.

On preview, I really like PlantGoddess' idea of including a note of appreciation in with your cash gift.
posted by DingoMutt at 9:12 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

On-record days off doesn't necessarily have to be the same as days off. At my last workplace the boss gave everyone four extra off-the-record PTO days for the holidays. We got to pick which days we wanted off (within the bounds of manager approval - for example the two IT guys couldn't take the same days off because one of them had to be around), anytime in November-January. We reported them on our timecards as worked days, we just...weren't there.

We also tended to be allowed to leave early on slow afternoons regularly, off the record.

They couldn't control our pay, but did want us to know we were appreciated, and that was a wonderful way to do it. We also got token holiday gifts - ten dollar gift cards to Starbucks or the deli downstairs or whatever - but the time off was our real gift and it was a big hit.
posted by Stacey at 9:13 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Off the record days off are great. If you work in a creative field, occasional trips to see a movie or art exhibit during the weekday are wonderful and inspiring as well. I like Uncommon Goods for unusual gifts. But I have to agree with everyone else -- gift cards and cash are indeed appreciated. Some shopping centers offer general gift cards that can be used in any store in their development, so something like that would force them to treat themselves while giving them choices.

And yeah, I'd find a spa gift card stereotypically girly and not something I'd rush out to use.
posted by Ostara at 9:42 AM on December 2, 2012

Great gifts I've received from bosses over the years:

Sleek black Timbuk2 messenger bag - this was sort of a hybrid "for work"/"just a regular gift" sort of thing, because obviously the idea is that we'd use these bags day to day, on our commutes, etc. That said it wasn't branded with the company logo, and it wasn't a case of, like, "I know you all have to schlep your laptops so here's something to help with that" or otherwise to help us accomplish work tasks.

Gorgeous art books - no explanation needed. This is the best gift because art books are sort of luxurious and something you don't buy for yourself if you're an underpaid 20-something. Should be high quality editions of really interesting artists that you'd think your individual employees would like. Not, like, whatever Van Gogh shit is on the bargain bin. (Though obviously if you think they specifically like Van Gogh...)

West Elm gift card - During the time I was starting to think about relocating cross-country, my boss gave me this and specified that I was to use it to buy something nice for myself when I got to California. Probably the most thoughtful way to do a gift card.

Other gift cards I've enjoyed over the years are one for quite a lot of credit with AMC cinemas (still enjoying that one, actually!), and one for a local indie record store. What about tickets to some kind of cultural event, or a museum membership? Those would be cool, too.
posted by Sara C. at 10:06 AM on December 2, 2012

We reported them on our timecards as worked days, we just...weren't there.

Yikes! I'd get fired myself, on the spot, for that. That's called falsifying payroll.

I maybe could have an extended lunch, my treat, at a restaurant off-site without charging the time, if it wasn't too outrageous and we did eventually return to work.

I think a gift card to somewhere multi-purpose would be best. Like Amazon - they can get frivolous gifts if they want, which is what I would hope. But if they really need the money, they can get useful, needed things, too. And include the personal note, individual to each person.
posted by ctmf at 10:21 AM on December 2, 2012

In that case, a small basket or box with some nice food items. Fancy muffins, cookies, oranges (so XMas traditional and also healthy), nuts, fancy English biscuits. You can dress it up with one or two pieces of candy, spend some time adding ribbon and a cute sweet little card. It's OK if it's really small.
posted by amtho at 10:26 AM on December 2, 2012

The free lunch is nice, too, but some people aren't into mandatory fun, so YMMV on that one.
posted by ctmf at 10:27 AM on December 2, 2012

If you can't do days off, maybe letting them work from home for a set number of days, in addition to a cash present.

I have gotten Starbucks and Sephora gift cards from work. Cash would have been preferred. While I did go to Starbucks and enjoy coffee, for the first maybe 4 years of my working professional life, I got way too many Starbucks cards. Both work related and family. I would end up with like $200 in Starbucks which felt ridiculous.

I really enjoyed the Sephora card because my boss knew I went there occasionally on my lunchbreaks and that I was really into it. Is there anywhere you know they go a lot on their lunchbreaks or after work?

Most young professionals I know do a couple Ikea trips a year, do you know if they've recently moved or need apartment stuff?

Do they drive? Gas cards!

Regardless, when in doubt go with a cash gift card. You can't go wrong. Add a personal note to any of the things you give.
posted by manicure12 at 10:30 AM on December 2, 2012

Amazon, Target, or a medium-to-nice department store like Macy's or Nordstrom.

Seeing that they're hip and cultured and your profile says you're based in New York, I would not go this way at all. If you're going to do a gift card, at least do one to a store they'd be likely to shop at.

This is going to sound gift-horse-in-the-mouth ish, but it sort of sucks when you get a gift card to a store that is actively a chore to shop at.
posted by Sara C. at 10:31 AM on December 2, 2012

One way to make the gift cards more personal is to put them in with a Christmas ornament (or other decorative item) that is uniquely them. I had a supervisor one year that gave us a Christmas ornament each year, and she did great at picking out ones that we would love (i.e. it wasn't a business related one). Whenever I see them I think of her and the good times I had with coworkers there.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:50 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think any idea that basically involves you giving them a gift of your company's resources is a lousy idea for a present. I think it's really nice that you clearly like the women you manage and want to do something for them personally.

I think that unless you know enough about their lives to say "Yes! This is the perfect thing!"--which it doesn't sound like you do-- a gift card to 1) a store that you know they shop at or 2) to someplace with a wide selection like iTunes or Amazon that's easy to shop online is probably the way to go.

Just FYI, my office has a Secret Santa and this year the admin who organized it asked people to list 3 things they'd like to get--and 90% of the requests from the 20somethings seem to be gift cards, mostly to iTunes and Amazon. So it's not like people don't appreciate getting them. (I am rolling my eyes a little since it seems like the exchange is basically going to be the equivalent of people handing each other $25, but whatever, it makes people feel seasonal).

I do agree with the idea that you should write them a heartfelt and individualized card or letter to go with whatever you give them.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 10:57 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Write a letter, on letterhead if possible, detailing the excellence of their work. A copy in the personnel file. A holiday card with a personal note of appreciation. Cash, or a gift card someplace you know they'd love, whether it's iTunes, Target, Muji, etc. You have plenty of time to do research "My Mom gives me towels every year; I wish she'd get me a gift cert. to ABC Carpet so I could get that rug I want; what store would you choose?"
posted by theora55 at 11:22 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could add something fun and more personal to the money/giftcard? I am thinking about small things you could get on fiverr like little portraits of them as dinosaurs or a custom 30 second song about them/your workplace. Or maybe check Etsy for some custom items (paper doll, card holder).
I realize that my suggestions are rather quirky - but "hip, cultured, smart" & urban calls for it.

You could also take that money, get individual $5 bills, roll them up & put a little paper tag on each ("this is for a magazine", "this is for a coffee", "this is for nail polish" etc.) and put them together in a little box/jar.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:25 AM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

Is this a gift from you as a person (ie, your wallet) or a bonus from the company in recognition of their good work (ie, the company's wallet/discretionary funds, etc)?

If it's from you as a person, giving them a present will put them in an awkward situation of whether to give you a present back. If it's from the company, it should be cash.

If you think the company should reward them but isn't and you are trying to make up for it out of your own pocket, that is very kind of you but I don't think it's the greatest idea. Better would be whatever you can do for them professionally (letter in their file, talking them up, being a great reference), plus personal expression of thanks and appreciation for their work (in writing that they can keep) plus symbolic level gift that they could easily reciprocate.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:35 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If it's from you as a person, giving them a present will put them in an awkward situation of whether to give you a present back.

This might vary from workplace to workplace, or industry to industry, but the rule of thumb is that you receive gifts from people above you, and you give to people below you. If you are an assistant or at entry level, you receive from everyone and give to no one.

At least in my field, there would be no confusion about who you were supposed to buy a gift for and whether you should reciprocate.

Though it strikes me that at large companies where everyone on site is at roughly the same level, this is why Secret Santa exists.
posted by Sara C. at 11:41 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you're willing to spend $75-100 per employee for a gift card, I'm not sure why that can't equate into a small cash bonus from you, their direct boss. When I first started working and was significantly underpaid, my boss gave me $100 straight from her pocket with an ornament and a handwritten card. I'm not sure if I still have the ornament but I'll always remember that $100! She retired shortly thereafter and my new boss (one who had been promoted and therefore also gotten cash gifts from previous boss) gave me a little less cash, about $50. I was never bitter about not receiving more from either of them and appreciated the gesture (second boss was a single parent so I very much understood the decrease from prior boss).

I think you should give them whatever you would put on a gift card in cash with a holiday card so they know it came directly from you and not the company. It will be very much be appreciated and they can then decide how they want to spend it (coffee, makeup, heat, etc).
posted by chaiwawa at 2:18 PM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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