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Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Buying great gifts is really challenging. The gifts you choose for your employees can reveal a lot about you and how you feel about them. Giving the right gift sends a signal that you understand that person — and everyone wants to feel understood and appreciated by their boss! Make sure to give out gifts of roughly equal value unless you’re shooting more for some weird Machiavellian puppet master vibe rather than good old holiday cheer.
First things first, the best gifts are time and money. If you are able to offer a Christmas bonus, do it. If you’re able to give your team some paid time off, definitely do that as well. If you can do those things in addition to giving a great holiday gift, then, congratulations! Wow! You must be a really great person to work for! Are you hiring? No, seriously. Reach out.
Booze is the classic holiday gift. The only time it’s not a good idea is if someone doesn’t drink, so have a backup gift and don’t be a weirdo about it. If possible, try to be aware of what everyone drinks. Giving bourbon to a gin drinker is sort of like buying someone a book they love in a language they don’t speak. If you don’t know what they drink, buy wine.
Maybe you’re not one of those bosses that likes fun and good times. OK I’ll grant you it’s possible you’re concerned for the health and wellbeing of your employees. In any case, water doesn’t have to be boring. This fruit infusing water bottle was the number one most pinned product on Pinterest this year. Don’t tell people that. Your employees know that you don’t know anything about Pinterest, so telling them that will make you seem insincere. If fruit infused water seems over the top to you, then how about just a beautiful looking stainless steel water bottle from a company doing great work around the world? These are both perfectly acceptable gifts for people that you know will drink water at some point.
Are you noticing a pattern here? Things that you can put in your body make for good gifts. What is your favorite restaurant? Are you a human being with good taste that’s fairly similar to other human beings with relatively good taste? If yes, the gift of food may be a good one. Go to your favorite restaurant and buy a gift card or meal voucher in the amount it would take for 3 people to eat a decent meal with a couple drinks. Is your favorite restaurant a fast food chain? If yes, consider a different gift and try going to more restaurants.
A gift that you can give once is cool, but a gift that arrives on your doorstep every once in a while is really, really cool. They make subscription services for everyone now. If you know enough about your employees, this can be a great gift.
Got an employee with a bit of a fun, nerdy side? The MEL Chemistry subscription sends out 3 cool chemistry experiments to do each month. Each experiment should take about an hour and each is designed to be fun.
Purple Carrot is one of those boxed meal subscription services. It focuses on delicious, healthy vegan meals that can be prepared quickly. Whether your employee eats meat or not, most of us could stand to eat less of it. Purple Carrot lured chef, cookbook author and former NY Times food writer Mark Bittman away from his job at the paper, so you know they’re doing something interesting.
If neither of these works, there’s hundreds of subscription box services out there that might.
Bet you weren’t expecting that one! One of the marks of a truly great gift is the element of surprise. This Mazu lock picking kit might seem random, but it’s actually useful and seriously fun (in the wrong hands, of course, it could lead to an arrest, so consider that before you give it to anyone with even slightly dubious character). Have you ever picked a lock? It’s a fun challenge and a great party trick.
Are any of your employees nerdy and musical? If so, they’ll be surprised by and totally enthralled with the PO-12 or any of the other synthesizers offered by Teenage Engineering. They look cool, they sound great and they’re relatively inexpensive. If you get one for more than one person in your office, your employees may get together to jam out and form the next Kraftwerk. That would be pretty cool!
Got anyone who’s both kinda crafty and a lil’ bit wacky but also loves rap music? If so, this DMX needlepoint kit may be just the thing for them. If you have anyone who fits this description, they will be profoundly shaken by the seemingly impossible way that you have triangulated their three heretofore disparate interests. If they are any one of the things above, they’ll still think it’s a cute and whimsical gift. Here’s one that’s already completed, and one a particularly crafty sort could do themselves.
Personally, I don’t trust anyone that doesn’t like to go to the movies. By myself, with a crowd, it really doesn’t matter, I love going to the movies. If you have a cinephile in the office, or even just someone who you’re reasonably sure likes to leave the house once in a while, movie tickets are a perfect last-minute option. It can seem a tad generic, so the best way to dress up movie tickets is to make them for a cool theater. Whether that’s an arthouse, a revival theater, or simply one of those luxuriant theaters where it doesn’t really matter what you’re watching because the seats are so comfortable, you really can’t miss as long as it’s something a little bit special. Want to make this gift really cool? Buy 10 movie tickets. Your employees will worship the ground you walk on because you will have ascended to the status of Generous God and Provider of Maximum Friday Night Good Times.
OK, this is kind of a tough one. Even if you match the right person to the right class (no easy task), you’re implicitly suggesting that they have the free time, energy and desire for self-improvement. Proceed with caution. With that out of the way, if you live in a city there are a range of options. In New York, for instance, you have everything from cooking classes to magic classes (again, tread carefully) and from weaving classes to scuba diving lessons. Google wisely and cross-reference reputations on Yelp or some other crowdsourced review platform.
A much safer bet that’s accessible to everyone is an online class. The variety of online classes being offered now is incredible. If you’ve got an employee who is always looking to learn new work skills, a subscription to Lynda or Pluralsight could be really cool. If you’ve got someone who’s always building stuff, making things, growing thing, drawing things, or generally doing anything creative and fun, Brit, Creative Live or Garden Tribe might be better.
Almost everyone loves to get out of town. Offering someone a gift card for Airbnb is a way of letting them know that they deserve to get away while acknowledging that they work hard and should take the time to treat themselves. It’s open ended enough that they can make it work in their own unique way, yet personal enough to be sincerely appreciated. Make sure that this gift comes with an extra day or two off from work to really seal the deal.
Nothing pleases highly technical people quite like invalidating a warranty on an expensive piece of electronic gear. From fixing iPhones to adding more RAM to laptops and a million other geeky possibilities, iFixit creates tools, guides and other stuff that makes fixing things fun and relatively easy. If you’ve got a tinkerer in the office, they’ll be stoked on this set of tools.
This USB-based, lightweight solar-recharging, easy-to-carry-around battery pack-thingy is a really cool and not-at-all-passive-aggressive way of telling your employees that it really drives you completely crazy that their phone batteries are always on the verge of running out. Seriously, what is it with these people who walk around with 6% battery charge at all times? How were they raised? They’re teetering on the edge of oblivion and walking around like nothing matters at all. Well, not anymore, thanks to the miracle of sunlight and this nifty thing that attaches to your purse, backpack or laptop bag.
Michael Jones is a Senior Editor for Funding Circle, specializing in small business loans. He holds a degree in International Business and Economics from Boston University's Questrom School of Business. Prior to Funding Circle, Michael was the Head of Content for Bond Street, a venture-backed FinTech company specializing in small business loans. He has written extensively about small business loans, entrepreneurship, and marketing.