With Thanksgiving just around the corner, managers start thinking about what gifts to get their employees. (And for the record, presents only flow downward, not upward. Your employees should not be expected to purchase you a gift and you should put a stop to it if one of your people is trying to bully his or her peers into getting something for you.) But what to buy? What do people actually want?

Well, money. Most people want a raise and a bonus. The former is not seen as a present, and a bonus may or may not be seen that way. If the bonus is tied to performance, it's not a present. It's part of a compensation package.

Nevertheless, people like money. If your budget is too low to give people meaningful raises, here are some ideas, gleaned from real, actual humans, and not marketers. You'll notice some are contradictory. This isn't bad editing on my part. It's reality. Get to know your employees!

  • My husband's boss gives his managers steak. We have really appreciated that!
  • It is easier to say what I don't want. I don't want lottery tickets, a bottle of wine, or sports tickets.
  • If anything, something "consumable." I don't want or need any more do-dads. Food is good--a nice bottle of olive oil, a good bottle of balsamic vinegar, anything that can be used and enjoyed and then gone!!
  • Truly, from bosses I liked, anything was great because I appreciated that they thought of me. From "bad" bosses, anything would annoy me. You can't make up for being a jerk with a token of any kind once a year.
  • Gift cards to grocery stores or department stores are nice, in general.
  • My boss gives me a gift certificate from Amazon with a nice note. He does it at his own expense.
  • I've liked the pine wreath sent by one of my clients, the frozen turkey by a boss, and the "homemade" gift boxes with yummy treats ordered by a client. You also can't go wrong with Harry and David fruit.
  • I had one boss and every year he gave a whole Christmas dinner to over 150 employees. I mean everything from the French's onions for your green bean casserole to the after-dinner mints, pie, turkey, butter, everything. He was the best!
  • My former boss was not nice to work for. So, despite the generous gifts and bonuses, they weren't as appreciated as the $50 grocery gift cards are here. I did totally love it when his gift was an iPad mini, though. Not gonna lie.
  • $100 gift cards to a nice restaurant have always been my favorite.
  • We get paid time off between Christmas and New Year's. It's lovely.
  • A sales account manager I worked with once sent me a package of pears from Harry and David for Christmas. I confess that this simple act was enough to make me completely forget what a useless sales rep he was.
  • One of the best gifts I've ever received was a gift card for a movie and meal night for two.
  • A small fleece blanket was the corporate gift one year at a job I had. We use it!
  • I always liked hampers with stuff in it that I wouldn't regularly buy. I don't care for the "tin of salmon, bottle of wine" types of hampers, I'd buy that for myself. But something different, like organic juice or luxury chocolates, and in a box that you can re-use (instead of just cardboard).
  • Cash.
  • A paid "family day off" or extra day off in addition to the current days, after the holidays.
  • Nothing but a gift certificate! Plain and simple.
  • My husband's boss at a past job was a voracious reader. He bought hardcover books he thought each person would enjoy. He was spot-on in getting a great book for each person.
  • My boss usually gets me a $50 gift card to some place like Bed Bath & Beyond or Kohl's. I like it and use it every year.
  • Money, time off, gift card to a place that sells general merchandise (Target), a note of appreciation, in that order.
  • Really good Scotch. It is well received.
  • Personally, I prefer no gifts. It feels awkward, especially if there are non-Christmas-celebration employees on the team. If the gift is a trinket or company branded item, it feels pointless as a gift. If it has value, employees are better off with cash. The reason we give gifts rather than cash is to foster a personal relationship, and that gets sticky in work situations. Or if the boss chooses the same gift for all, it has varying value to the recipients, but if the boss chooses a meaningful gift for each person, it emphasizes his or her rapport and lack of rapport with various employees.
  • One guy took all of us and our spouses/significant others to the horse-track. He dressed up as Santa and handed out $10 bills all night long for betting. That was a fun night. There were door prizes, too.
  • One of my previous employers gave us a ham every year. At the time, I was in my early 20s, lived with my parents, and didn't cook. I thought it was a weird gift. Now I would appreciate it more.
  • One of my employers gave us gift certificates to the local grocery store. That was much better than any logo item.