Gifts from the Boss

Some ideas to help leaders avoid gift-giving mishaps.


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The end of the year is near, which means hundreds of millions of people are frantically shopping for holiday gifts for friends and family. But finding a meaningful present for Mom is often a lot easier than finding the right gift for the team at work.

Leaders must find a gift for employees that comes off as fair, generous, and yet still thoughtful. Plus, you can’t overtly favor one employee, or group of employees, over another. Indeed, it may be tougher to find gifts for direct reports that tastefully show the right level of appreciation than it is to motivate them to do their jobs.

There certainly have been gifting mishaps. According to a survey, Americans spend roughly $13 billion on unwanted gifts a year. More than 5 percent—or $750 million worth—of those unwanted presents come from bosses. “You’ll want to go with something safe,” says Aileen Avery, gift-giving expert and author of Gift Rap: The History and Art of Gift Giving. “Steer clear of anything that can be remotely construed as sexual or inappropriate.” Here are some gift ideas for direct reports that they will likely appreciate.

Gift cards plus

Sure, they don’t require a lot of thought, but gift cards do leave plenty of room for creativity. For example, consider giving an employee a gift card for a popular airline for their next getaway—and even throw in an extra day or two of vacation. Or give a Visa gift card, but pair it with a thoughtful, handwritten note that mentions what you like about working with that person. Compliments can range from “I really appreciate how you always come to work each day with a smile” to “Thank you for being the glue that keeps our team together.”

Unique experiences

“Experiences are trending right now,” says Avery. Explore a unique event that you can gift to colleagues, anything from tickets to Hamilton to a golf-simulator experience that even newbie golfers might enjoy.

Tech gadgets

Apple AirPods, Google Nest Hub, Amazon Echo. Bosses usually can’t go wrong with the latest popular tech gadgets that they know their colleagues have been considering but haven’t splurged on just yet.

Popular headphones, such as the Beats Solo3 Wireless, would be a crowd-pleaser, especially among the business-travel set. When in doubt, ask your colleagues what they’ve been eyeing.

Edible treats

Gourmet cupcakes, edible fruit arrangements, and a catered holiday meal for the family are wonderful gift ideas. Just keep your audience in mind: Nothing says you don’t know your colleague like sending Omaha Steaks to your vegetarian direct report.

Drinks and?…

More employees want to keep hydrated and cut down on throwaway bottles, so consider insulated drinkware, which keeps beverages hot or cold for hours. Fancy cups not enough? Pair them with a three-month coffee-bean subscription, such as Driftaway Coffee’s single-origin roasts from around the world, delivered to the employee’s desk.