It's the most blunderful time of the year!
Holiday gifts can be tough--especially at work. I asked hundreds of people for examples of the worst gifts they'd ever received from bosses, vendors, clients, and co-workers. All I can say is, truth is stranger than fiction.
(Next, we'll examine the office gifts people actually do want to receive. Want to help? Take the quick survey you'll find here.)
With that, let's go to the holiday hall of shame. Some of these are anonymous--understandably, they didn't want to go on the record calling out their bosses and co-workers for bad taste.
1. The Racist Gift
Here's a tip: If you're on the fence about whether the office gift you plan to give will brand you as a racist--don't give it.
"I arrived at my desk to a container full of freshly chopped watermelon with a bow from one of my seasonal employees," said Monique Tatum of Beautiful Planning Marketing and PR. "I am an African-American female and could not help but wonder if there were racially charged undertones...especially because the employee was on thin ice at the time and had recently had a sit down. I thanked them, however it still makes me giggle to think about it."
2.The Gift Involving Urine
"I work on Wall Street. Our boss is always traveling around the world and meeting new people. Last year for the holidays, he gave all the women in the office a device he learned of from one of his traveling encounters: a Pee Pocket--a single-use urinary device that allows women to pee standing up!!" writes a reader who doesn't want her name used.
She adds: "([Later,] he [also] gave each of us a travel voucher and one for a companion on a round-trip business class ticket. He said, 'You didn't think that was all you were getting?!')"
3. The Cheap Gift (Part 1)
"Early in my career, I worked for a large national jewelry store chain," says John Picciotto, who is now a senior principal at Accenture Strategy. "We smashed company records for the number of accounts opened and resulting sales that season. As Christmas approached, senior management held a luncheon to thank everyone and presented each team member with a watch. However, the watch happened to be the company's private label watch, and we knew that they cost the company under $5 each. Nothing says thank you for ignoring your family over Christmas like a $5 knockoff watch!"
4. The Insulting Gift
"I'd like to remain anonymous, but I definitely have a story that's so good.... Last Christmas, my boss got our entire agency toothbrushes," writes one recipient. "We all had the same reaction: A toothbrush? Do we ALL have terrible hygiene? What an interesting gift! He said he got them for us because he wanted to give us all something we'd never buy for ourselves."
5. The Gift Born Out of an Incorrect Assumption
"One of my clients is an executive at a large nonprofit and he admitted to once giving one of his employees Preggie Pops [for morning sickness] because she was having stomach issues," says Kristie Santana of National Coach Academy.
"It turns out the employee was actually not pregnant and was simply experiencing upset stomach from failed attempts at dieting for the last several weeks. The employee was a good sport.... My client couldn't stop apologizing!"
6. The Scrooge-Like Gift
"Last year at Christmas, each employee at my husband's firm received an envelope containing $100 cash. Presuming this was a holiday bonus, we spent it on groceries, some things for our two kids, a dinner out, etc.," writes Alissa, who was quoted in a story on CBS. "Like a lot of grown-ups, our paychecks are deposited electronically and we have many bills drafted out the same way, such as our utilities, car insurance, etc.
"A week later, on payday, we discovered in the worst possible way that the $100 was not a gift, but was simply deducted from my husband's salary and presented as cash. Because his week's pay was now $100 less, suddenly all the drafts of our bills began coming out of an account that was $100 smaller than it was supposed to be, until finally, a check bounced and the bank charged us $36."
7. The Cheap Gift (Part 2)
"I worked for [an] online retailer in Fernley, Nevada, a number of years ago. At the company party for managers and above, we all received a thin picture book about...Fernley, Nevada," says Pete Abilla, founder and CEO of Find Tutors Near Me.
"It was just weird. There's nothing in Fernley, Nevada. Nothing. Maybe a Silverado and a Chevron and the company's warehouse. That's it. Most co-workers thought it was weird too, but very expected from a company whose No. 4 corporate value is Frugality. Not a surprise at all."
8. The Rotten and Expired Gift
"My first job was working in a bakery part time while I was in high school. My supervisor was nasty; the work was hard," says Christine B. McCleary.
"I was 16, but all the other employees were adults. For Christmas, we were each given a ham. I politely said thank you, even though the ham looked moldy. When I went home, I burst into tears as I showed my parents what I had received. They confirmed that it was rotten and not edible."
9. The Cheap Gift (Part III)
"At my first job after graduating college, I worked in a call center that sold hard cover local directories. As a 'Christmas gift,' management bought gift cards for a restaurant chain that wasn't even in the vicinity of our office," recalls Justin Fishaw of High Level Marketing.
"By vicinity, I mean there wasn't a location for 50-plus miles in any direction. Needless to say, very few people got to redeem their gift cards and management tried to play it off as no big deal...just hang onto it for when you find yourself near a location! Not shockingly, our business shut down within two years."
10. The Mean Gift
As a young banker, [our boss] was tough and was quick to criticize. He was also willing to publicly embarrass folks with little concern for feelings or fall-out," writes Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide.
"At Christmas, we were all assigned a Secret Santa. He selected a young woman whose reputation preceded her for not playing nicely...with her colleagues, and for setting others up to fail. [His gift for her] was a book entitled A Women's Guide to Dress for Success. She was humiliated and raced out of the party in tears. Wrong gift, wrong time, and hurtful."
11. The Gift That Reads More Like an Epic Poem
And we'll end with this one, which is a little longer--but has a moral--cited again at CBS:
We were all called to the office for our Christmas bonuses. One of the bosses, "Emily," had a cast on her leg and was on crutches.... The owner of the company shows up for the office party. He looks around at the office and not seeing any decorations or food asks what the $5,000 he donated for the party was spent on.
After hemming and hawing, the "bosses" admitted they went clubbing with their husbands and spent the entire $5,000 on themselves.... [Just then,] a cop shows up to ask some questions about the incident of the previous night, which we learned was an altercation the two couples were involved in outside of a club.... [O]ne of their husbands was arrested and "Emily" had fallen and broken her leg while engaging in a drunken brawl outside of a club.
So I guess the best gift I got from a boss for Christmas was the knowledge that once in a while, good old fashioned justice prevails.