Co-workers Give The Worst Christmas Gifts

If you think your boss or colleagues have deliberately gone out of their way to bestow the worst possible holiday gifts on you year after year, you’re in good company. According to a new survey from our scientific siblings at Consumer Reports, about 30% of employed adults single out co-workers or bosses as the worst gift-givers.

According to the survey, the worst gifts come from bosses, followed by colleagues. After that, random family members are the biggest culprits. Skipping a generation apparently helps boost gift quality: Grandparents were cited as the worst gift-givers by just 3%, and grandchildren by 2%.

The survey also found that, this season, shoppers are generally enthusiastic about the holidays, but are still being cautious about their shopping by using cash instead of credit cards, and cutting their total holiday gift budgets to an average of $679, down $20 from last year. “The Recession may be officially over, but many consumers remain very concerned about paying their bills and the security of their jobs,” said Tod Marks, Consumer Reports senior editor and resident shopping expert.

Who typically gives you the WORST holiday gifts?
Boss/Employer     9%*
Co-workers     8%*
Parents     6%
In-laws      9%
Other family member     13%
Children/Grandchildren      12%
Children under     18%
Children 18 or older      4%
Grandchildren      2%
Spouse or significant other      6%
Friends      5%
Grandparents      3%
Someone else      2%
Don’t know      11%

* For full-time workers, co-workers/employer=30%, boss=15%, co-workers=14%

Consumer Reports poll: Shoppers cautious, avoiding credit cards [Consumer Reports]


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  1. Etoiles says:

    My boss is a brilliant gift-giver. She has a favorite vineyard and every year each of us gets a bottle of their wine. (It’s a white blend, so it’s a little different every year.)

    Works for me. For starters it’s pretty good wine, and even if you don’t like or drink wine, you can always re-gift a bottle of wine when you go to a party or whatnot.

    • Miss Dev (The Beer Sherpa) says:

      My boss is along the same vein. I’m a huge beer geek, so last year he got me a bottle of nice barley wine. This year he gave me a large bottle of homemade mead. Very, very thoughtful.

      The owner of the company, however, sucks at giving gifts. We don’t get bonuses, so two years ago he gave us each a $20 gift card to Starbucks. Nevermind that the majority of the company doesn’t drink coffee and that the accountant suggested that a nice bottle or wine or just a visa giftcard (if any giftcard at all) would be a better choice. It was a bit of a kick in the pants.

    • LadySiren is murdering her kids with HFCS and processed cheese says:

      My gorgeous bosslady (she looks and sounds just like Princess Di) is an amazing gift-giver. For our company’s 10th anniversary, she held a “random” drawing – you could actually trade out for different prizes if you didn’t like the one you won – for a variety of prizes, including HD TiVOs, new video cameras, HDTVs, and the like. We’re a small company, so that likely made it easier for her to afford such a gesture, but it was still amazing.

      She also sends everyone flowers on their birthday, gives us our birthday day off, closes our office the week after Christmas, and takes us on a yearly team retreat to somewhere fabulous – this year, it was The Hotel at Mandalay Bay in Vegas.

      I LOVE my boss and my job. :)

  2. lolBunny says:

    Anyone notice that Grandchildren is listed twice? how can they be 12% AND 2%?

  3. Wasabe says:

    Hot Cocoa Sampler Box.

  4. Blueskylaw says:

    One of my former bosses tended to give baskets of meat and cheese that never spoiled. I would rather have gotten some gas in an old 2 liter soda bottle.

    • Bativac says:

      I actually laughed out loud, thinking of my boss pumping gasoline into an old empty Shasta bottle and then handing to me with a red bow slapped on…

      The bow would fall off into the puddle of gasoline drippings on the cheap carpet tiles

  5. whiskykitten says:

    This year my friend, who manages a team of about 15 very successful people, asked them to forge their usual gifts to her of things like massage coupons and other luxe items.

    Instead they all got together at an (upscale) shopping mall and spent the day filling all the holiday wishes of a needy family. She told me it was the best day ever, and everyone was so into it they didn’t want to leave. They topped off all the gifts with a couple of hundred bucks in gift cards to some grocery stores as well.

    It’s going to be a regular thing every holiday from now on.

    • earthprince says:

      I like this idea. It’s awesome that they are succesful and can really go all out for a family.

    • Etoiles says:

      Our company (about 1200 employees in HQ where I work, so, a bigger place) teams up with the county social services and does a huge adopt-a-family program. Co-workers team up to help the larger families, there are single-kid families you can get (I bought gifts for a 15-year-old girl in foster care) — it’s great. 200 families a year, on average, and everyone loves doing it.

      • Galium says:

        A company I used to work for did this also. I always participated in buying something for the sponsored families. That is until one year I heard one of the upper management types telling a family that the gifts where from, name of company, not that the gifts where from the employees that worked for the company. I also found out that this was a normal policy. It was my last year doing it there. I now give to organizations that are set up to help those in need. I do not want credit for what I donate, but neither should a company take credit for the donations of their employees.

    • Wasabe says:

      This does sound like a cool idea. Any chance you could describe the logistics of it?

      • whiskykitten says:

        They shopped and had lunch and shopped some more and then went to someone’s house to wrap everything. They found the family through our county’s human services office. They asked for a large family – got a single mom with 5 kids, right here in the town where we live.

        I really want in on that next year – it sounds like the most fun ever. My friend has been in touch with the county to see if it’s possible to continue helping out this same family.

    • RandomHookup says:

      The employees were usually giving gifts to the boss? I’ve never been comfortable with that idea unless it’s a token group gift.

    • pambie says:

      That’s sooo cool!

  6. pastthemission says:

    One of my husband’s coworkers just gave him a chocolate bar with pistachios in it. He’s allergic to nuts and carries an epipen everywhere he goes….

    • Brunette Bookworm says:

      Not everyone pays attention to who at work is allergic to what. Since I generally have to order food for meetings, I know what places people can eat from. I have people here who are deathly allergic to eggs and people who can’t eat certain foods due to gallbladder surgery. Some people just never think about the limitations of others.

      • Snaptastic says:

        This makes me a bit more grateful for my coworkers. One guy at work is allergic to nuts and a girl to coconut–allergic as in really bad. Pretty much everyone keeps an eye on what we bring in–and we warn them when a potentially offensive item is brought in and set on the “free for all” table.

        We were never asked or forced to do it, we just don’t want to be responsible for injuring our coworkers. …also because if they get shipped to the hospital, then we’ll have to pick up the slack for the person(s) missing from the crew. X-D

  7. mob3000 says:

    Gift giving at the office is out of control. I’m a front line manager and in my office if I don’t buy each of my 15 employees something and my boss something, I look like a cheapskate. I always abide by this culture begrudgingly to stay PC-relevant. I like my employees and my boss but I am very against buying adults, who I am not very closely related to, gifts. Presents should be for kids(your own, grandkids, neices/nephews, maybe some close friend’s kids), your spouse, and maybe if you find something that screams someones name and you really wanted to get it for them. That should be it. We all have jobs or the ability to work and make our own money and buy our own stuff. I say we should all save the money on gifts for adults and just buy yourself something you would want. That way everyone gets what they want and kids can be spoiled like they should be :)

  8. incident man stole my avatar says:

    I got a donation to The Human Fund in my name from a co-worker named George….

  9. Larraque eats babies says:

    Newborn Babies typically are the worst gift givers. One time, this newborn baby gave me vomit on my christmas sweater. So disappointed — I wanted an xbox.

  10. jbandsma says:

    One year one of the vendors my grandfather worked with gave him condoms for christmas. Grandpa was 90 at the time.

  11. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I had a boss once that gave everyone a $25 gift card to Bass Pro. Bass Pro is an insanely overpriced sporting goods store. That reflected HIS interests, not ours. Plus, it’s so expensive you can’t buy anything good there for only $25 anyway. Except a couple of pairs of socks, maybe.

    We also have a thing where I work now where you get a $15 Butterball gift certificate every Thanksgiving. I hate turkey and live alone, so I give mine to a coworker who feeds a bunch of people. I just have no use for the thing.

    They’re nice gestures, but I’d rather either have the money or a little time off instead.

    • KennyS says:

      One year my boss gave me socks. At least I could use them. One year a Jewish friend of mine ended up with 6 hams.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      Most butterball turkey’s over here are over $20 and you can get the store brand turkey for $5 or less if you buy $25 in groceries at the store (which you will be buying anyways). The store brand turkey is a rebranded butterball or honeysuckle. So this would be kind of useless except you could maybe donate it to someone who really needed it or someone who insists on butterball.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      Also you need to take a look at they will give you amazon credit for your unused gift cards. Not trying to advertise the site or anything but its much better than letting the gift card waste even if you don’t get the full value of the card if you can’t sell it to a co-worker.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      Our company had a tradition of buying a turkey for all of the employees…as the company expanded, the logistics got a bit awkward, so they shifted to wal-mart gift certificates, which were much more useful, even if I don’t shop at wal-mart often.

    • falnfenix says:

      Bass Pro has some of the tastiest brands of beef jerkey on the planet, and it’s cheap. Even if I wasn’t the outdoorsy type, I’d spend that gift card on a few bags of jerkey to keep in the car.

      On top of that, there are lots of things in the store priced under $25…you just have to get past the clothing to find them.

  12. rpm773 says:

    I was lucky enough to work for a company where we didn’t exchange gifts. We’re a bunch of software nerds with no social skills, so it’s just implied there’s no gift-giving. Now I work out of my house.

    My wife, on the other hand, is in a much more traditional setting where many gifts are exchanged. In fact, she has to have “safety” gifts just in case she gets something from someone she wasn’t expecting. It’s all junk nobody wants (or junk *food* that nobody needs), and it eventually winds up being re-gifted, which I personally think is vulgar.

    I told her last year how good it would be if, instead of wasting all that cash and energy, the money and time were donated to charity. I think she kind of agreed, because this year at her holiday party she assigned sponsorship of a needy family, and everyone donated toys and gifts to a in lieu of a gift exchange.

    • katarzyna says:

      This makes me appreciate my job even more. My boss took the group out to lunch this year as our gift. It’s a nice gesture, everyone gets what they want, and it’s relatively inexpensive. Our department also sponsors Christmas parties and gifts for two battered women shelters and send Christmas packages to soldiers in Afghanistan. Much, much better than exchanging crappy presents.

  13. Wrathernaut says:

    Is the “Don’t Know” mean they don’t know the answer, or the worst gift came from a stranger?

    • cash_da_pibble says:

      perhaps the person that gave them the worst gifts was standing right next to them when they gave the poll.

  14. cassleer says:

    Just as bad as not getting anything and you got everyone something… This year don’t know how it will work out, but my boss did get me a upside hanging tomato planter I really wanted, lets see what i get this year? (not being greedy here, but its nice to get something even if its for $5 bucks)

    But my co-workers are easy to get I just get them themed items each year so this year its Salt n Pepper shakers.

    • jesirose says:

      Okay, you clearly may not realize this… but you’re the coworker on the list. No one wants salt and pepper shakers, unless they collect them already. Give them a nice card instead.

  15. SugarMag says:

    Oh good, I’m not the only one who gets crap at the office.

    I’ve told my peers and collegues a bazillion times that I detest crappy items that serve no purpose, are made in China and will end up in a landfill post haste.. Either give nothing, donate, or get me something useful, like coffee. (I give bags of quality beans to those who drink coffee and snooty snacky items and organic chocolate to those who do not). But no; I walk into the office yesterday and looky! mug-candy combo from the dollar store. Sigh. (I dont care that it was inexpensive, just pointless).

    • Outrun1986 says:

      Sometimes there are donation drives where you can donate your unwanted and tacky gifts, they have them over here. If you have unwanted gifts keep a lookout for them, they give the items to people who could actually use them. Really every place should have one of these, it would create less waste.

      • SugarMag says:

        oh my goodness – thanks! I’ve never heard of a such a thing. (for useful items yes, but not for miscellaneous things)

  16. JennyCupcakes misses her grandson says:

    My boss last year gave us $40 cash. That was a pretty cool gift.

  17. Daverson says:

    I’ve never had a boss give me a gift.

    I had one who expected a gift every year, but it wasn’t a gift exchange – it was just “give the boss a gift at Christmas or find yourself with really shit assignments for the next 12 months.”

  18. JennyCupcakes misses her grandson says:

    The ones that really irk me are the body care items. I usually end up getting the worst scent possible, like gardenia or lavender, and it’s usually some no-name brand. I’m with most of you; I’d rather get nothing than something that had no thought put into it at all.

    In the same vein, I hate buying gifts for people I don’t know and refuse to do it otherwise. I might be cheap but I’d rather be known as a cheapskate instead of a thoughtless gift-giver. It’s like being a selfish lover! lol

  19. jasw says:

    We all get $200 bonuses every Christmas at work. We also hang our stockings at the office and then take them home before the holiday. At least I don’t have to pretend that I like the 4 loofahs that were stuffed in my stocking when I’m in the comfort of my own living room on Christmas morning.

  20. KennyS says:

    One year I got a sweater. I really wanted a moaner or a screamer.

  21. AllanG54 says:

    Frankly, giving co-workers gifts and all that secret Santa stuff is a pain in the butt. When I worked for a bank we went through this every year and I never saw any reason for it but yet I still had to participate. That’s probably why co-workers give crummy gifts, because their hearts aren’t in it.

    • Outrun1986 says:

      Yeah if its mandatory, its just another task they have to get done so they buy a stupid generic gift that the person probably doesn’t want. The workers probably use up all their energy working at the company and buying presents for their family during the holidays and by the time they get around to the task of buying for some co-worker they are drained so they just pick up anything. If you are drawing names there is a possibility of getting someone in another department or salesroom that you don’t even know so it makes it kinda hard to shop for someone when you don’t know anything about the person.

      Its actually kind of amusing to think of an office setting where everyone is getting a crappy gift they don’t want and everyone is faking that they like what the other person got them… its wasteful though unfortunately.

      • kokathy says:

        at one job i worked at they had secret santa. The day they were picking the names out of the hat I was out because I had broken my foot a cpouples days before and then eventually went on medical disablity because of the injury. i actually got a phone call from one of my coworkers asking me where my gift was.

  22. EBone says:

    At my office Secret Santa party three years ago, the IT guy was my Secret Santa. Gifts were not supposed to exceed $20. He gave me a Subway Sandwich frequent buyer card, which he had fully collected all the validations on. Value: One free Subway sandwich. Another co-worker got a pair of plastic salad tongs from the 99 cents store, with the 99 cent sticker still on them.

    • AK47 - Now with longer screen name! says:

      At my first office job when I was in high school, everyone mostly got candy/food-related gifts from their Secret Santa. Me? I got a little Polly Pocket toy that someone clearly picked up off their kid’s floor that morning (it was a little battered) and shoved into a gift bag.

      Maybe I’m scarred from that, but I’ve never really gotten the whole Secret Santa thing. These days, I don’t have to worry about it since I’m self-employed, but I do join one of my clients’ charity drives. That makes much more sense to me than buying a junk gift for a co-worker.

      • halo969 says:

        I’ve always hated Secret Santa and grab bags because I always end up, without fail, the crappy huge chocolate Santa. WTF?!?

  23. joescratch says:

    Oh please. If you still have a job today, that’s the best f*cking Xmas gift you could possibly ask for.

  24. JiminyChristmas says:

    The concept of giving individual gifts (and receiving them) from my boss and co-workers is completely foreign to me. I have never worked anywhere this was a practice. At my current job, every year there is a gift from ‘the company’ to each person, usually a gift card. That’s it. Little groups of people may organize gift exchanges among themselves, but I’m glad the group I work with isn’t big on organized camaraderie.

    There’s actually an economic term that applies to receiving crappy gifts: value destruction. If your boss spends $20 on something but it’s only worth $2 to you, that’s $18 of lost value relative to what you would have gotten if you had spent $20 on yourself.

  25. JulesNoctambule says:

    Take those crappy gift cards to places you don’t shop, bath products you don’t use and foods you don’t eat down to your local shelter — I can almost guarantee you that someone there will be very grateful that you didn’t like it!

  26. ramfan1701 says:

    My company spoils us rotten (although we bust our butts, too)…We get a lavish Christmas party with open bar and steak and lobster dinner. They gave all us women (real) Coach clutches and the guys iShuffles with iTunes gift cards. They also give away prizes at Thanksgiving, bonuses for July 4th, and lots of other things. I feel so blessed to work for a company that cares about its employees and works to keep us happy. Plus, it works for them, since happy employees work harder.

  27. Jane_Gage says:

    I got gas cards for my guys.

  28. u1itn0w2day says:

    Workplaces are the worst. Half the employees who have a gun barrel or knife blade on your back most of the year will approach you with a plate and say ” cookie?”. Give me a break.

    Poor gifts = the sheeple giving gratuitous gifts.

  29. Hooray4Zoidberg says:

    This survey is missing the family pet category. My stupid ass dog used to always give me socks.

  30. El-Brucio says:

    I’ve found the worst gifts are, strangely enough, from the co-workers I like who could be almost, but not quite, friends.

    The co-workers that you hardly know usually get you something bland but useful, like a Starbucks or Chapters ( think Canadian Barnes and Noble ) gift card.

    The co-workers who know you well always seem to buy you a book or CD you already own because you’ve mentioned in the past that you enjoy that author/musician. Or they try to get you something unique to impress you but it just ends up being some kind of bizarre object you can’t get rid of until you find employment someplace else….

  31. isileth says:

    My boss’ wife is the one who usually buy us gifts.
    She thinks about them and she usually gets them right.

  32. Lendon85 says:

    My company totally spoils us at Christmas. In addition to the very nice company party that includes an open bar, a live band, and great food; we also have a department party the next week at an upscale restaurant. We can each bring a guest to this event also.

    Then the day before we leave for the holidays, each department has its own party in the office. My department has a nice catered spread, and believe it or not, we actually serve an alcoholic punch at this party. Fortunately so far no one has abused this and gotten wasted.

    For presents, we get a $50 bonus from the company. My boss usually gives me a $50 Visa gift card and my department head also gives me another $50 gift card plus something that his wife picked out, and it’s usually pretty nice like a silver plated serving tray or something like that. I do give me boss something…a bottle of liquor or some really expensive Hawaiian coffee that he likes.

    The ladies used to do the Secret Santa thing, but we finally realized that it was silly and stopped doing it a couple of years ago although I usually sneak my best friend in the department a bottle of wine when no one is looking.

    I consider myself really lucky to have come to work here 7 years ago, especially after being laid off and out of work for 6 months.

  33. qualityleashdog says:

    The worst gifts come from the ‘secret Santa’ pool in the workplace. Boss announces a spending limit, perhaps $15. Go to the exchange, out comes the coffee mugs and little bag of beans for the non-coffee drinker, a set of barbuecue sauces for grilling for the vegetarian — and a ton of cheap imported crap for all the rest.

    I lucked out one year. Someone had the good sense to give me a $15 gift card to Wal-Mart. I was fairly broke, so I went to Wal-Mart, bought a set of dishes for about $14.97 with the card, walked out one door, threw my receipt away, walked back in the other door and up to the return desk. I told them I needed a return, and I didn’t have a receipt. They did the exchange, and I easily converted my gift card into cash. Then it was off to the tobacco outlet to buy 5 packs of Camels with the proceeds, compared to about three packs I would’ve been able to buy at Wal-Mart.

  34. anduin says:

    Im giving someone a pack of senorita size cigars this year, I know they like them but giving tobacco has always seemed like an inappropriate Christmas gift.

    • qualityleashdog says:

      I’d be delighted to receive my brand of liquor or cigarettes, from anyone, quantity dependent on who the giver is. It certainly is a more personalized gift than cash or even a gift card. Getting someone their brand shows that you notice. And even though a carton of smokes may cost xx amount of dollars, everything varies at different retail outlets, so they won’t exactly know how much you spent on them. The only thing they may be able to figure out is the state where they were purchased, via the tax stamp.

  35. NHpurple says:

    25 years ago, I worked in small setting where I did not get along with one of the people. At Christmas, she bought everyone a very ornate (tacky) large ornament and gave me the smallest one, a lace candy cane. Because of course she didn’t want to come off as nasty by giving me nothing. Well, we have had more fun with that ornament as it is now a family tradition to hang it in the back of the tree. It’s just funny to me that I get such a sick kick out of the lackluster gift, year after year. My kids are even into it. So there is some fun in the tacky gifts received from people who dislike you. There must be a moral to this story…..

  36. suez says:

    We used to do Secret Santa in my department, but with the majority of them being guys who didn’t give a crap, all it amounted to was handing store gift cards around, often to a store you didn’t normally shop at. When the suggestion of doing it again last year came up, I said we could all just pass around a $20 bill and save a lot of effort. I killed Santa!

    • qualityleashdog says:

      Good job. What is it with Secret Santa? Maybe a couple of people have developed a real relationship and want to get each other gifts. So all the other people in the department that only have a work relationship with all the other co-workers see this, and are jealous that so-and-so didn’t give them a gift? Did the boss decide someone would feel left out? What has the workplace devolved into, a grade school?

  37. FrankReality says:

    Where I work, management is not supposed to give gifts to employees and employees are not to give gifts to management either. Employees typically don’t give gifts to other employees either.

    My employer doesn’t give gifts to employees either – about 25 years ago, we got a turkey, a few years ago it became a drawing for a couple dozen turkeys for a facility of 5000 employees. This year, none.

    My wife was terrible – she’d get really, really cheap tools, which were pretty much unusable junk which would break at first use. Even when I’d give her an ad, she’d come home with something else. Now she takes a male friend who knows tools and all is now well.

    I’m also very deliberate in setting up obvious hints for stuff. There are so many things that I either need or could use, yet she has trouble finding stuff for me.

    Of course, I have the same problem for her – but she doesn’t give me any hints at all, so I’m probably on the list of giver of worst gifts for her.