A few years ago, we went out and asked real people what their bosses had given them as holiday presents that they actually appreciated. Because times change and people change, it was time to go out and ask again. 

Take a look at this list of gifts that have been a big hit. You'll notice (again) that some are contradictory--that's because employees and managers are human. This list is meant to spark your imagination, not to give you an excuse to not know anything about your staff.

And remember, presents only go one direction in the office--down. If you're the boss, don't even think about hinting that you'd like something. 

  • My boss always gives us a bottle of wine -- which I love. (I always end up with a 2nd bottle because one of my colleagues doesn't drink wine--which my boss should know) I give my staff Girl Scout candy or cookies that I know they like & then we go out to lunch.
  • We go to lunch and take the rest of the day off. At lunch, annual bonus checks are given as well as small gifts: soft blankets, spa gift cards, or something like that. My staff also like to exchange gifts, so everyone is getting four or five gifts.
  • The best present I have gotten was two-part, the CEO gave everyone a $50 gift card for all downtown shops and my direct boss gave me a card with the things I had done that year that made a major impact to her.
  • In a former job, my boss would give everyone a gift certificate to Amazon. It wasn't huge, but it was a nice gesture. It was very appreciated.
  • The last two years my supervisor has gotten us each a pair of hemostats! Which I think is creative and useful, if unusual. They're the most useful little tools in the lab, and they always disappear--you can never find one when you need one. Now I have my own pair in my lab coat pocket (I got smart and put my name on them with some masking tape), and an extra pair in my desk drawer.
  • Everyone at my company got iPads one year - that was awesome. Visa gift cards are always nice too. Another year we got one of those 72-hour emergency supply backpacks - not sure if people outside of Utah would be as excited about this one, but I liked it.
  • My employer holds a summer party with good food, dancing alcohol etc.
  • High-quality headphones (Bose). I would never have splurged on them myself, but I LOVE having them.
  • The top partner (law firm of 25) closes the office early, hosts a country club lunch, and usually hands out a gift card to somewhere. Other attorneys who supervise me (paralegal) do other small tokens. Frankly, I'm happy to receive gift cards to restaurants near the office or to the grocery store. Practical. I know.
  • Buying lunch on the last workday before Christmas and letting everyone take off early is perfect in my mind. If leaving early is not possible (healthcare etc) then buying lunch and saying "thank you" is perfect. Just a gesture of appreciation.
  • My former boss hosts a lovely Holiday family international potluck at his home on a Friday night. Think about that.
  • had a boss that got everyone Starbucks hot cocoa on Christmas Eve. We work retail and over 100 employees. I also appreciated something picked out special just for me. I was given a Santa night light like 5 years ago that I still have and use.
  • I always love gift cards, whether for groceries or dinner out.
  • Grocery store gift cards are always appreciated.
  • Cash bonuses are always well received.
  • The best gift I ever got from a boss was a leather jacket.

  • One year our divisional VP bought these little wooden chests for everyone and colored marbles... we were to take 3 green/blue marbles and state 3 good things we had done that year and a red marble for something we wanted to improve in the following year... he then asked us to grab a handful of marbles and go around the room and give each other marbles stating something we appreciated of each other... we were to keep the little chests in our desks as a reminder of all the good things we had shared... it was special.

  • I have a brand new position and brand new boss. I would like a very nice bottle of wine. She knows me...I just may receive this.

  • I have 9 office co-workers. I am thinking of paying for a "Paint N Sip" night...not for paint on canvas thing, but manis and wine thing!

  • Two suggestions. I was close with one of my bosses and she bought me something personal that she thought I'd like. With the caveat that if I didn't like it I could exchange it for something else. But I didn't because it was special. If you don't know your employee well then a Visa/Mastercard gift card and and a day or afternoon off to go holiday shopping. Unless you're a terrible boss any employee appreciates personal recognition from their employer.

  • I would love a fountain pen! No, I'm not asking for a Mont Blanc. Any fountain pen would do, I collect them.

  • One of my favorite gifts was a jar of homemade pickled asparagus. My boss had made them with his wife and the thought of him making that for me just tickled me. I told him that he now needed to supply me with pickled asparagus every year.

  • I'm a little weird, but I love personalized or just otherwise pretty office supplies.

  • Starbucks gift card and chocolate

  • I love the gift of time off.

  • I love gifts, but the very best thing I ever received was a handwritten note. I think there was a gift card or something in it, but truly, the personalized note meant the most.

  • A Starbucks card is always appreciated.

  • She always gets me a bottle of wine.

  • A friend's company does turkeys, steaks and gift cards. They really enjoy that.

  • A gift card to grocery store, Sam's Club or Costco membership paid for. That's what my employees have asked for mostly; they are a blue collar workers.

  • An extra day off is easy, pretty much free for the company, and incredibly valuable to me as an employee.

  • My husband's boss gave him a box of chocolates. However, it was premium and locally made. It showed that he went the extra mile to get the best available for his team and didn't give a gift for the sake of giving one. Made all the difference. You can give a 'premium' low-end gift and still showcase how much you value your team and their contributions without sending them on a cruise. A holiday card with a note thanking the team member for a specific contribution.

  • Time off with pay.

  • I am my own boss but I think the best gift is an open and frank discussion about performance, development and career path, along with a budget to help accomplish the goals set during that conversation.

  • A nice, hand-written card with a gift card inside, would work for me.

  • I've always appreciated a cup. A nice thing, I can keep using and that also serves as a keepsake down the line. I got one last year, and I often use it and think back to the time I had there (it was only a temporary position). It has my initials on it too. :)

So, there you go--at least one of these ideas should work for your staff.