According to a new survey by Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI), employers are spending an average of $50 per employee on gifts this holiday season. But if you work at a hot startup with a recent influx of cash, you might have unwrapped something a good deal pricier.

BuzzFeed celebrated generating $100 million in revenue this year by giving each of its 700 employees a $350 Apple Watch--and that product hasn't even hit the market yet. It's not uncommon for an employer to splurge on employee holiday gifts after a lucrative acquisition, IPO, or reaching a monumental sales goals. In 2011, after Disney acquired Lucasfilm for $4 billion, George Lucas gave his 2,000 employees an unlocked iPhone 5, an iPad, and a pillow.

This year, smartwatches seem to be the popular employee gift. Google, long-known as a generous employer, is gifting its 55,000-plus employees a new $200 Android LG smartwatch, either the square-faced LG G or the circle-faced LG G-R. 

Apple boasts a higher employee headcount, over 80,000, so its holiday gifts tend to be more modest. This year, Tim Cook gave his employees a custom Incase Staple backpack priced at $60. The backpack has a slot for carrying a MacBook, as well as the iconic Apple logo on the front.

As for Arianna Huffington, the founder of the Huffington Post used this year's holiday to encourage all her employees to sleep their way to the top. Huffington sent comfy pajamas to her team all across the world. The pajamas were not brand-specific, however. According to ASI, 68 percent of employee gifts are customized with the company logo.

What better way to brand an employee gift than by having it be one of the company's own products? This year, Lego gave its employees an exclusive gift set inspired by birds from each Lego office's local region. These limited-edition collectible sets made available only to employees are selling on eBay for upwards of $500. Similarly, Microsoft created an all-white version of the Xbox One console exclusively for employees, with the inscription "I Made This." Unless you worked on the launch of the Xbox One, this white console can be found only on eBay, for $2,700.

Employee gifts, when done right, can create an emotional bond with employers that goes further than just a straight up cash bonus. That doesn't mean, however, that the gift will be appreciated by everyone--especially when employees have been previously spoiled. Business Insider reports that a few Google employees are already disappointed with this year's LG smartwatch gift, calling it "cheap." Those employees were probably the ones who were around the year when Google's holiday gift was an unsentimental $1,000 in cold, hard cash.

Published on: Dec 16, 2014