Seeking employee-appreciation gifts that don't suck
April 18, 2007 10:57 AM   Subscribe

Please help me figure out a great gift to give our employees at the company party!

A coworker and I are in charge of planning my small company's "employee appreciation" party, which is coming up in about 6 weeks. We want to give out some kind of gift that people will actually like and use, but which is also relatively inexpensive. The bosses won't give us a hard budget, but we're hoping to present ideas to them in the range of $5-20 per person. Then they can pick how much they want to spend.

We like the idea of giving out something with the company logo printed on it, but we're finding that most logo-onto-swag printing companies have minimum runs that very much exceed our numbers (we've got approximately 20 people). We were thinking printed nalgene bottles and frisbees might make a fun, summery gift pack, but we don't need 100 of them! Do you know anywhere that will do small runs of custom printing on items like this?

Bonus points will be awarded for ideas with a summer theme, but it's certainly not necessary. Our employees vary widely in age and leisure interests, so no help there. Would gift cards to a generally useful store like Target be good or bad? My co-planner and I are crafty sorts, so if there's something fun we could put together that people wouldn't roll their eyes at, I'd love to hear about it.
posted by vytae to Grab Bag (46 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We got $50 Target gift cards as a Christmas present last year. Loved it.

Useless crap with a company logo on it is still useless crap.
posted by Cycloptichorn at 11:03 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Self-esteem. Self-respect. A living wage. Acknowledgement. Hope.

Or, sure, a frisbee.
posted by foobario at 11:09 AM on April 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Either buy each person a thoughtful, individual gift tailored towards his or her personal interests and preferences, or give out cash bonuses or gift cards. There is no middle ground that won't make you look like a corporate jerk.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:11 AM on April 18, 2007

Gift cards are ever popular. Book/music stores, as well as general interest stores work.

Also, food. Small boxes of chocolates with the company logo could probably be done by the people who custom print boxes for wedding favours. What about having some custom cases of Jones Soda created with pictures from your company? I'm not sure if they allow logos, but the pics could be fun even without logos.

If you're going with 'stuff' with the company logo on it, make sure it's something they'd want even without the logo. Adults don't, as a general rule, use frisbees a lot. We got thumb drives one year with the logo on them, which was great in a tech company.

Also make sure it's stuff they still want with the company logo on them. We got livestrong style bracelets one year, with the company logo on them. And while some people might have worn livestrong bracelets for what they represent, no one in their right mind was going to wear a plastic bracelet with a corporate logo on it.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:12 AM on April 18, 2007

Just me - I wouldn't be thrilled with a gift with my company logo on it. I already know I work there and don't need to be reminded of it when I'm not. Also, it smacks of free advertising.

What about a mini, half a day off with pay? That's something everyone would actually like and use. Gift cards are always a good idea - I love getting those. I've gotten gift cards from my employers to a local designer coffee shop, a Barnes & Noble, a Target...places like that. All were very appreciated.
posted by iconomy at 11:13 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nobody wants the company logo at home. The place that I contract with gives me a $50 gift cert for a mall chain at Xmas time, so I can use it at any store inside one of several malls. I believe I picked up some sale Lego last year. That ruled.
posted by DU at 11:18 AM on April 18, 2007

Ooooh, Target gift I'd love to have one of those.

But speaking from a PR standpoint, ya always gotta put your logo on everything! I'd look around at as many promotions companies as possible to see if you can find ones that have lower minimum runs. If the minimum is too high, maybe y'all could stock up on them as gifts or promotions? I like the ideas of Nalgene bottles or flash drives.
posted by radioamy at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2007

Best answer: Gift cards to the coffee shop across the street or to somewhere close to work the employees frequent a lot.

The only company-branded crap I've ever received and actually used was a hoodie, but that's because (a) I live in hoodies, and (b) the heating in the office is temperamental at best.
posted by cgg at 11:36 AM on April 18, 2007

Response by poster: Trust me, you're preaching to the choir about a bonus or day off being better than stuff. I'm one of the peons who will be receiving the gift. I'm just trying to find a happy medium between what the guys in charge want (logos, cheap) and what the employees would want (useful, fun). I figured a logo ON a fun thing is better than no gift at all, assuming we can find some fun thing that's actually worth buying.

And I guess we're all weird, because most of my coworkers like to toss a frisbee or a football around at lunch if the weather's nice.

Thanks for all the suggestions so far, and please keep them coming.
posted by vytae at 11:40 AM on April 18, 2007

My boss gives out gourmet brownies with our bonuses every holiday season and I've always appreciated it. Please don't give them logo-branded stuff. It feels icky to get that stuff.
posted by cowbellemoo at 11:41 AM on April 18, 2007

I don't know, at our company holiday party we got really nice stainless steel mugs with our company logo on it, and everyone really liked them. They looked slick & were incredibly useful. It was also very clearly not swag being given out to potential clients - it was just for us.

The Nalgene bottles are also a great idea.
posted by tastybrains at 11:52 AM on April 18, 2007

A local "mom and pop" print shop can get you promotional items done at smaller than the typical run sizes.

But, let's face facts: noone wants another coffee mug or pencil sharpener or sports bottle or Frisbee. Put yourself in the other employees' position... if you got a logo'd sports bottle, would you feel very appreciated?

For a company your size, I'm going to suggest something very different from those above. It is what my wife's company does a couple times a year.

I suggest a company wide outing. Close the office one day at 11am and the whole office go for a fun group activity. Lunch and an activity.

Suggestions would be:

Group seating together at a professional sports event.

Renting out a local theater or similar to have a movie with just all of you, with popcorn and all that.

Rent out a bowling alley, skating ring, laser tag place, or whatever.

Find local talent for a company-only performance, along with a cookout.

There are literally dozens of these.

You make it "part" of work that day. They get paid, but they are not working, but attendance is mandatory, just like work.

These sort of things help make people feel appreciated.

Note I think this only works for small somewhat close-knit organizations. I think a large office where most people don't know each other, or a company with lots of far-flung locations, this doesn't work as well because everyone is strangers.

But 20 people in one office, everyone knows everyone.

Beer, hot dogs, baseball, and the OurCompany cheering section at the ballfield. All while being on the clock. That's a shitload better than a coffee mug.

Will everyone like it? Probably not. But it's going to go over better than anything else you're able to put together short of buying everyone a new car.

See, the key is, it has to be done DURING WORK HOURS. Mandatory (or even "expected") group activity after hours? Horrible. Group activity DURING work hours? Easy win.

Seriously... ask a couple of coworkers "Hey, how about we close the office at lunch and go watch the Twins with a few brats and beers? Or, you can have a tin of chocolates with the company logo on it."
posted by Ynoxas at 11:55 AM on April 18, 2007

tastybrains beat me to it, but yeah, I received a thermal stainless coffee travel mug from my company with a logo a while back. I've since moved to another city & no longer work for them, but I still use the mug & think fondly of the company. As to where you can get this for a 20 item run, sorry, I can't help you there.
posted by Laura in Canada at 11:57 AM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Creative stuff automatically limits the number of people it will be appeal to. My dad got an ugly backpack with a built-in AM/FM radio and thermos pouch as a holiday gift from Safeway. I mean, sure, I'm glad to have ended up with it for my occasional bike trip to the beach, but as far as my dad was concerned, it was completely useless.

But then nothing is more dull than giving out (or mustering gratitude for receiving) functional, practical stuff either.

The gift card idea upthread seems incredibly helpful to people. If that's more than you're willing to pay, then how about something like movie gift certificates?

If you buy cheap fun stuff to make the gift pack, sure you'll have tons of extras, but you can always save them for future giveaways to clients or customers, or donate them to a local daycare center, or something. Extras never go to waste.
posted by hermitosis at 12:03 PM on April 18, 2007

We have an awesome employee appreciation week at our office.

Monday: Everyone gets a coupon for a half-day off to use at their leisure
Tuesday: Everyone gets vouchers for 2 movie tickets and a popcorn and drink at AMC theatres (prevalent in our area)
Wednesday: Everyone gets a coupon for an extra lunch hour to use at their leisure
Thursday: We go out to an awesome catered lunch with liqour
Friday: Everyone gets a coupon for jeans day to use at their leisure
posted by MeetMegan at 12:07 PM on April 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

Cash. If not cash, a check. The best way to show appreciation of employees is to give money and (not or) a pat on the back.

No one wants your very special arts & craft project.

Don't throw a party. Put that money towards the cash/check. Give it to them on the Friday that isn't pay day, as they're going out the door. Make it a surprise.

Anything with the company logo on it gets trashed, unless you work for Apple and need to add RAM to it.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:14 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

It sounds like the frisbee idea is getting roundly canned, but here is the pricing info from Discraft, if you haven't checked it out already. They custom print discs with your design on them - you can get 50 discs (nice, 175 gram ultimate disc) in full color for $450, which is too many discs but within your price range.

Or give gift cards which will probably be a bigger hit unless *everyone* in your office likes the flat ball.
posted by taliaferro at 12:16 PM on April 18, 2007

Starbucks card.
Free day off.
Ballgame tickets.

No company schwag. Just...No. Don't do it.
posted by pieoverdone at 12:23 PM on April 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you do decide on something with the company logo on it, I highly recommend Land's End as a vendor. Obviously they mostly do clothes, but I have a fleece from my company that is very high quality, the logo looks nice, and they don't require large runs.
posted by gregchttm at 12:26 PM on April 18, 2007

Amex gift cards or visa gift cards - then they are not tied to 1 particular place to shop.
posted by clanger at 12:31 PM on April 18, 2007

If it isn't cash or a cash equivalent (like the amex cards mentioned above), don't bother. Nothing pushes morale down further than the company spending money on shitbits but not giving their employees an extra dime for their hard work.
posted by dr_dank at 12:37 PM on April 18, 2007

Best answer: We were given free jump drives at work--one of the more cheap and useful handouts I've received.
posted by divka at 12:39 PM on April 18, 2007

What Ynoxas said. Some years ago I was working as a consultant for an IT department with around 10-15 employees/consultants. The boss took us to lunch and then to one of those special group tours of the San Diego Wild Animal Park, where you get to feed the giraffes with your own hands. The end of the day, those who did not have other commitments went back to her house for cocktails.

Let me tell you, we really felt appreciated. I'd work for this woman again in a heartbeat.
posted by Robert Angelo at 12:46 PM on April 18, 2007

We got Timbuk2 bags for Christmas one year at my old company. The company's name was embroidered on it, which was a little -meh-, but the company's name was "Play." ... so it's not that bad. I still use it weekly, and would use it daily if I needed a messenger bag more often.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:10 PM on April 18, 2007

Oh. And if you do the "work-day-group-outing" (which is a great idea), be sure to give some advance warning, so people don't have important calls coming in, or other deadlines that will interfere with the mandatory fun.
posted by Alt F4 at 1:13 PM on April 18, 2007

Cookies From Home has corporate "tins" of cookies. Mmmm . . . cookies.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:31 PM on April 18, 2007

All you folks who are so down on the branded coffee mugs and other branded stuff aren't making me happy. I like the coffee mugs and whatnot I get, but that's because they buy the good stuff and put their logo on it, rather than some chintzy ten cent mug.

That said, money is always better than stuff, since you can buy stuff with money. ;)

Experiences are nice, too, and done properly can exceed the small sums of money one is likely to get in place of stuff.

Again, if it has to be stuff, make sure it's quality stuff, and not crap. Crap makes me sad. Quality stuff makes me happyish.
posted by wierdo at 1:37 PM on April 18, 2007

Nalgene bottles are great, but does everyone in the office typically use Nalgenes? I know I currently have three of them all over my office, including one that has traveled across continents with me and is covered in vinyl stickers of my journeys, but I know that my cube-mates think that they are disgusting and I am a dirty hippy.

I'd have to agree with either the gift card (put it in a corporate envelope with a short little note (PERSONALIZED) on company letterhead. It's nice to have a pat on the back sometimes.

Also, if you're going with a small amount ($5-20) get the gift certificate to somewhere that small amount can be used - gas cards will always be helpful. Just make sure they're not the PIA ones that don't allow the person to use them to buy cigarettes or booze. Because we all know how fun it is to buy alcohol on the company dollar, even if it's at Citgo.
posted by banannafish at 1:45 PM on April 18, 2007

Please stop. The only appropriate "gift" from a company to its employees is bonus money or stock options.

If the company isn't doing well enough to afford more than a mug (for pity's sake), save the cash. If the employees are doing so well that they deserve gifts, then they deserve to share the good fortune in a meaningful (i.e. material) way.

Something tells me the company didn't just buy the CEO a nice desk set.
posted by nax at 2:22 PM on April 18, 2007

As an intern for a large internet company in the Bay Area, one of the coolest things that company did was the annual Santa Cruz Boardwalk offsite (I heard last year's was the last one, but have no idea if that's true). My first year as an intern, they handed out branded buckets and towels. Imagine my delight when I realized I could use the bucket as a trash can.

I liked working for the company then and thought it was a cool trash can. My feelings for the company now are not quite so fond (long story) and it delights me to throw my dirty kleenex and candy wrappers in there.

That said, I would have taken the trip to Santa Cruz with or without the free swag. Nothing like getting on the train to go to work with full knowledge that you're actually going to go on roller coasters all day while the other stiffs on the train have to work.
posted by crinklebat at 2:23 PM on April 18, 2007

Extremely contrarian opinion here -- as much as I like my coworkers and all, enforced fun in an outing not of my choosing is my idea of hell on earth. Field trips picked out by a responsible adult are great when you're in 3rd grade. I am no longer in 3rd grade, and I hate amusement parks; yet if my company arranged an outing, I'd be forced to smile and fake enjoyment for hour after miserable hour, which makes it even worse. YMMV, and obviously it does. But on the off chance that I'm not the only person in the universe who feels this way, I thought I'd toss that data point out there.

Who on earth would be offended by a little be-logoed chatchke that costs a couple bucks? The net effect on everyone's paycheck in a 20-person group is smaller than ordering a couple large corkboards from Staples. One thing I suggested at my company that was enjoyed and kept by most everyone was a little container of silicone "silly" putty. I forget where I got it, but it cost a few bucks per, and we didn't order that many, and I found the place on the Net. If your office is like mine, cheap, silly, fun office hand toys and playful geegaws will be better liked than practical items.

Before you consider AmEx and Visa gift cards, I would research them a bit and be aware that they can be hard to use, can impose penalties and fees on the user, etc, etc.
posted by ROTFL at 2:47 PM on April 18, 2007

Best answer: I really agree with everyones opinion expressed here - how is that possible? I guess one persons good time is another's hell, and one persons fun freebie is anothers piece of useless junk. I wouldn't mind gift card, esp. to bookstore, but thats a whole other choice, and can get tricky, unless you do amex gift card, which by the time you do that, you might as well just put cash in an envelope. There's alcohol, and food works for me, and I'll put out m&m's has custom printing that could be interesting depending on what you have them say. It could be a company name, or something that relates to each person.

Who doesn't like m&m's ? ok, ok, diabetics and migraine sufferers, dieters, etc. well, you can't please all of the people all of the time, not even some of the people some of the time, apparently.
posted by Kensational at 3:47 PM on April 18, 2007

Every time that a company (distinct from boss) has attempted to show its "appreciation" for me, I've had to fight to choke back the bile. Invariably, it's either some piece of utterly useless fucking crap, or some torturous enforced "fun". Perhaps I'm too cynical, but it always seems like the schmucks who're putting this stuff together have roughly no idea why they should appreciate me, other than that their numbers look good.

I have enough coffee mugs, bags, logo'd tee-shirts, light-up-LED-but-utterly-fucking-non-functional pens, thanks. And, while I'm friendly with my cow-workers, I do not consider them my friends; do not make me sit for hours wracking my brain for work-appropriate, but non-work-related, conversational topics.

Seriously. You want to show YourCompany's appreciation? Have the each of the executives write each of the employees a note describing how and why, in specific terms, (s)he appreciates him/her. Throw in a giant box of candies, chocolates, and cookies in some communal space, and you've than I've ever experienced.
posted by Netzapper at 3:50 PM on April 18, 2007

I've got to agree with ROTFL. Please don't assume that everyone will enjoy some kind of field trip (especially one involving sports). It's so annoying to be expected to attend & enjoy this sort of thing; I'd far rather have a box of chocolate or even a branded mug (and I hate branded mugs). At least then I don't feel like my time has been stolen from me. Cash, gift cards, time off - these are all much better options.

(Of course, I'm the person bitching every "Employee Appreciation Day" because we have to stand in line for 45 minutes to get incredibly cheap stuff with the school logo on them and crappy, pre-made sandwiches. I'd rather they just be honest and say up-front "we only value you about $5 worth".)
posted by belladonna at 4:11 PM on April 18, 2007

Best answer: If you have to go toward the $5 end, perhaps a gift card for a video rental and a pack of microwave popcorn.
posted by textilephile at 5:19 PM on April 18, 2007

I'm a total office supply geek, but what if you gave everyone a office supply "upgrade"? Pass around the Corp Express catalog with a red sharpie and post-it note with the instructions to "be a little frivolous." :)
posted by 10ch at 5:52 PM on April 18, 2007

Before you consider AmEx and Visa gift cards, I would research them a bit and be aware that they can be hard to use, can impose penalties and fees on the user, etc, etc.

I got a Visa gift card and ended up never using it. The first time I tried, the shop said that as a debit card, there was a PIN I had to enter to use it. I had no idea what the PIN was--the little card thing it came in didn't say.

If you go with the mugs, you can get small runs of the nice stainless steel ones--this site has them for under $20 each if you're getting about $20. Or this site. Adding "gift" to the search string gets you sites that are aimed more towards getting just a few mugs instead of 72.
posted by Many bubbles at 7:38 PM on April 18, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to all the people who are giving constructive answers here. I'm fully aware that people don't want to receive crappy gifts, which is why I asked the question in the first place. I guess it's good to hear which gifts you didn't like, since I'm trying to find something that might be almost-universally well received, but the "every corporate gift sucks" comments are not helping.

Perhaps the disconnect comes because we have a pretty great environment at work already. I know a free thumb drive isn't going to change your opinion of an employer that treats you like crap the rest of the year, but that's not our situation. We get performance-based bonuses. We're letting everyone go home at lunch time to get ready for the non-mandatory, offsite barbecue/boat cruise, which doesn't start until a couple hours later. The party itself kicks off the start of summer hours for the year, which is probably my favorite benefit ever. The gift is just something extra to throw in, if we can think of one that people wouldn't sneer at.

So maybe think of it this way: if you were throwing a party for 20 friends, what might be a fun and affordable party favor to send home with them? It doesn't have to convince them you're a good person - they already like you for being a good friend in general and for throwing them a great party. It's just a little something extra for the fun of it.
posted by vytae at 8:04 PM on April 18, 2007

Best answer: Oh shit. I apologize for my all-corporate-gifts-suck comment above. This isn't the extent of your appreciation-showing, this is the frosting.

So, I offer: Moleskine notebooks or planners (I'd suggest notebooks over planners, as most people either have a system or will never have a system). There is no job in the world where you don't need to write something down.
posted by Netzapper at 9:02 PM on April 18, 2007

Response by poster: Frosting! That's the word I needed! Thanks, Netzapper.
posted by vytae at 7:34 AM on April 19, 2007

vytae: Can I come work for you?

Can you tell us what industry this is? That might help us narrow down suggestions.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:40 AM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: Ynoxas: It's retail software-related, but most of the people here aren't especially tech-savvy.
posted by vytae at 7:51 AM on April 19, 2007

Response by poster: (and I don't think we're hiring right now, sorry. :P)
posted by vytae at 7:52 AM on April 19, 2007


How about work coupons then, like suggested above?

I still say cash works, but maybe put it in a handmade card (for you crafty types to make) with a personal, handwritten note from the boss.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 AM on April 20, 2007

I'm a bit late to the party, but if you're still taking suggestions, here are some ideas in your price range which I think work well -

With logo (hopefully discreet):
- commuter mug (people tend to only buy the crappy plastic ones for themselves, so a top-of the line one is a good gift)
- picture frame (to keep at the office, of course)
- deck of cards
- cooler bag (goes with your summer theme)

Without logo:
- movie tickets
- amazon gift card

I'm personally not a big fan of the work coupon - I can't imagine receiving an extra lunch hour or jeans day as a gift - but it depends on the type of place you work. Sounds like you work for a great company!
posted by widdershins at 1:37 PM on April 20, 2007

Why not a foot bath?

It's something different from the usual company gifts, it's within budget, everybody can use a good foot bath and people can still regift it if they don't like it :)

Regarding the company logo: maybe you can include a company logo sticker, so employees can pretend they will stick it on at home?

And to top it of, a MetaFilter gift certificate!
posted by lioness at 11:30 AM on April 23, 2007

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