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Monday, December 21, 2020

A Grinch's Gift Guide

In the workplace, celebrating Christmas can become something like a Tim Burton bit for The Nightmare Before Christmas. That’s because many employers dread the thought of giving any obligatory gift or bonus. Second, it can be nightmarish in the way these items are presented. Thirdly, most employees expect more or better than what they receive. Aside from those things, employer Christmas gifting is a beautiful practice.

So here’s a little help. Let’s start with a list compiled in 2014 by the USA Today as eight of the worst office Christmas gifts ever. Off the bat, we learn that “a study by Consumer Reports from a few years back found that around 30% of people agree that coworkers and bosses gift the worst holiday gifts.” Not a good start.

Here are several of the not-recommended items from that list as your guide:

  1. A self-help (or how to do your job better) book. I laughed out loud when the article posed, “If you draw your boss's name, would you ever think about giving him a book entitled Management for Dummies?” So, bosses, self improvement books are NOT a good gifting idea.
  2. Toiletries or beauty products. On the restricted list is “perfume, deodorant, or any other hygiene product…anything that could insinuate that he or she smells bad or looks bad in any way.” Duh. Gift cards to Bath & Body Works? Maybe.
  3. A Bible or religious gifts. Unless, of course, you work in a “religious” organization. A woman with a very religious boss handed out books that offered "answers to all the big questions in life" and one that explained "why other religions are wrong.” Religious trinkets or “kitsch” should be avoided. And no need to send a note saying, “I’ll be praying for you this Christmas and in 2021” as your “gift.” 
  4. Anything marijuana-related. Keep in mind this list came out in 2010!! That’s when most states had not legalized the weed! But it’s big business here in Illinois. Make sure it’s not YOUR business practice to hand it out. 
  5. A 10% off coupon…or any other coupon. Even Kohl’s cash has expiration issues and looks cheap. 

Apart from this list comes an item put on the no-no in 2018. Details were given in the New York Times article, “Lottery tickets are nice, boss, but I could really use my bonus instead.” Ya think?

I had not heard of this example, but as the Times writer tells it, “It seemed like an epic blunder: United Airlines announced that it was replacing a standard bonus with a lottery that would give nothing to most of its roughly 90,000 workers while awarding lavish prizes, such as US$100,000 in cash and Mercedes-Benz sedans, to a few lucky winners.”

Apparently, the airline believed this penny pinching idea would “build excitement and a sense of accomplishment.” Workers did not see it that way. The skies became less friendly as workers “deluged the company with hostile comments.” United wisely hit the pause button.

Let’s face the facts. Giving Lotto tickets may seem like a way to generously bless an employee if they win. But otherwise—and in most cases—they lose. Give them the money and let them gamble away their future if they choose.

One other caution: the practice of “Secret Santa.” These and other coworker gift exchanges should be given careful consideration. Some coworkers have given something completely inappropriate, something insinuating a very wrong message. If your business goes down this road, better advise what NOT to give.

Here’s a headline from the Chicago Tribune for “giving” in 2020: “Zoom scavenger hunts, Champagne deliveries: With office parties canceled, Chicago companies get creative.” Giving programs may be re-written this year.

Here’s a good guideline for life that may help the “bonus” mindset: “…whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” 2 Corinthians 9:6 (ESV)

Sow wisely with your employees. And remember, cash gifts never disappoint. Even the Grinch likes the color green. 

That’s Forward Thinking. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

You can find a number of YouTube episodes and podcasts of Mark’s program, Moving People Forward at

For more information on the Elfstrand Group, please visit

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