The Hill Life: Gifts for the Boss

Dec 12, 2012

Depending on your work situation, you may want to buy your Boss or immediate supervisor a holiday present.  But this act of yule tide generosity is littered with pitfalls: What to buy?, How much to spend?, etc.  Here are some tips on purchasing a gift for your Boss without stepping on a landmine.

Be Inclusive. Especially if you work in a small office, you should make an effort to include everyone in the gift giving.  If all of your co-workers pitch in $5-$10, you can buy a much nicer gift and you can avoid creating animosity among your colleagues, who may see a solo gift as an attempt to earn brownie points with the Boss.  So before you buy your own gift, think about buying a group gift.

Put Some Effort Into It.  Anyone can buy their Boss a picture frame or a paperweight, but it doesn’t take a lot of effort to buy your Boss something he or she will actually like and use.  If you spend any reasonable amount of time with this person, you should know enough about him or her to select a decent gift.  And if you don’t, his personal assistant or another employee likely will.  So what makes a good gift for a boss?

If your Boss travels frequently, he might like a club membership to the airline’s passenger lounge (assuming he doesn’t already have one).  This way he can relax before his flight, have a calm place to go on a layover and access a private customer service rep. in case of emergency. 

Tech Accessories. I know that a lot of Bosses are addicted to their tablet devices, so accessories for those devices could make good gifts.  If your Boss has never warmed up to the keyboard on his iPad, this handy case has a built in keyboard, so he can type with two fingers on real keys.  Neiman Marcus also has a lot of nice cases for iPad. I like this calf hair and leather one and this customizable one that comes in a selection of colorsAnd if you’re looking for inexpensive gifts, try a cord wrapper or a 5-in1 adapter so he or she can read USB drives and camera cards on his iPad.

Some non-tablet accessories that could make good gifts include: a business card scanner (for the Boss with a pile of cards on her desk, ie. me), wireless speakers, or a USB hub.

Caffeine-Addiction Gifts. If your Boss can’t live without a cup-of-Joe (or Johan, if you buy into the Gevalia commercials), consider buying them a Keurig ($99) or Tassimo ($140) brewer for their office. Why drink office swill when you can have a single cup of coffee that actually tastes good?  If you’re looking for something less-expensive, a french press coffee pot or a milk frother (for those who like lattes) could be a nice gift.   You could also buy them gift cards to Starbucks or a local shop near their home or office.

If you’re dealing with a tea drinker, Teavana or Teaism would be a good place to start. I own this Bodum pot and I really like it.  If you’d like a smaller infuser, you can pick up a traditional scissor infuser or this adorable lemon-shaped infuser.  Or if your Boss is one of those healthy people who actually likes Kombucha, you could try a Kombucha brewing kit.

Food Gifts. If your Boss is a foodie, try a gift basket from a local specialty food shop or a gift certificate to a local restaurant.  His assistant probably knows where he likes to eat.

DVDs. We used to give my former Boss boxed sets of DVDs.  The reason was that he would often be stuck at the office for long hours–and sometimes over the weekend–waiting for votes.  That combined with long flights home gave him some time to fill.  So boxed sets from shows like 24 or the West Wing, or movie sets like the James Bond 50th Anniversary edition.

Other gifts that I’ve heard of people giving include: cufflinks with the logo of the Capitol or the Cabinet dept. where you work (perhaps your company has something similar?), golf lessons, bottles of quality wine or liquor, etc.

Non-Gifts. Let’s say your Boss doesn’t want a present or you don’t feel it’s appropriate to give him one, a heartfelt thank you note expressing your gratitude for their support, leadership, mentoring, etc. is always a nice gesture.  Just choose a nice holiday card and leave it on their desk. 

Another “non-gift” that I’ve heard of is having your Boss’s office deep cleaned.  You can either hire a cleaning service or just ask your cleaning people to spend a little extra time on the space.  Sometimes just having a spotlessly clean office can really help a person’s productivity and attitude.

Anyone else have suggestions for gifts for the Boss?

Gift Guide

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  1. Laura says:

    I agree, I have never worked in an office where giving your boss a gift is expected. Thinking back, I might have given little things, like homemade food, to bosses who were also somewhat of a friend, but not anything that actually cost money.

  2. Caroline says:

    I think it's inappropriate to give gifts to anyone at work, and have never seen it being done at anyplace I've ever worked. Sometimes there's a White Elephant exchange, and occasionally someone gives out Christmas cards, but that's it. Besides, don't we have enough people to shop for this time of year?

  3. SP says:

    The Bodum tea pot post links to vet gun rights article…

  4. Victoria says:

    Whoa, is this something folks do on the Hill? In my world (nonprofit, not in DC), gifts either flow downward, laterally via Secret Santa/White Elephant, or not at all. I've never heard of giving a gift to a boss.

  5. Heatherskib says:

    I've gifted to my boss before, but my rule is $10 or less. this year it'll be a tube of the L'Occitane hand cream

  6. Victoria, my experience (large law firm and now gov't) has been similar to yours. I don't really have one boss anyway so it would be a number of presents. We always chip in for the secretaries, but that's about it as far as real gifts.

  7. r says:

    Great ideas, but I can't get onboard with giving bosses presents. Their gift is a hard-working, competent employee. Except when I'm reading this site, of course. 🙂

  8. strin012 says:

    Our boss doesn't wants gifts, but we are giving a donation to a local charity in her name. She loves it and it helps someone who really needs it. Tis the season!

  9. CH says:

    I'm in the nonprofit world too, and our office has an unwritten “don't give gifts to your boss” policy. I do give mine a handwritten note because I just think it's a nice gesture and she is also a mentor, but spending money on something for your boss is seriously frowned upon. So… always be aware of your office culture in terms of gift-giving.

  10. Belle says:

    Fixed the teapot link. Sorry about that ladies, this is what happens when you try to multitask late at night. It's this teapot.

  11. CAK says:

    I have always given my boss a gift. Nothing over the top and not a group gift, but I think a token at the holidays is a nice reminder for everyone to say “I appreciate our year together.” If I give the hairdresser and mailman something, why does it seem so crazy to give something to the person I spend most of my days with? This year, my boss, who has a 10 year old daughter, is getting the Eleni's Color Me Gift Box of Christmas Coookies. I thought decorating cookies with his family could be a fun thing. It is respectful, not too personal, but reflective of the fact that I am wishing he and his family a great holiday.

  12. AN says:

    I can't agree with giving a boss a gift either. In the professional world, gifts should always flow down.

  13. Ann says:

    This year I gave my biss smart touch gloves – he was thrilled! Not horribly expensive, and something I know he will use.

  14. S says:

    In the government world, it's a no-no to give the boss a gift, so I do cookies in bags for everyone and just swing by their offices as well. That way it doesn't feel like I've singled them out for a gift, but I can still feel like I'm wishing them well for the holidays.

  15. Belle says:

    There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to giving your Boss a gift. It depends entirely on your Boss and your office. I've worked gov't jobs where we as an office gave the Boss a gift, I've worked private sector jobs where the Boss wanted nothing, and where the Boss expected a gift. It is all about your office, so if your new, ask what the accepted protocol is.

  16. Nina says:

    I work in the progressive movement in DC and everyone gives everyone booze. The boss might give slightly nicer booze than is given to him. I spend a fair bit of money but it is like restocking my own liquor cabinent because I always leave the office with at least as many bottles as I brought in. It's the least stressful part of my holiday shopping. God bless DC's drinking habits.

  17. CynthiaW says:

    Nope – no boss gifts, it's considered inappropriate in many offices. The only thing we do is chip in for flowers for Boss's day – although I don't really see the point of Boss's day myself. Secretaries' Day, I get – it's a day to appreciate people who put in a lot of generally thankless work. The boss is already the boss.

  18. Carolyn says:

    A lot of these gifts are for male bosses. My boss is female so I'd buy less tech related items. And definitely not cuff links..

  19. MB says:

    There are actually rules on this if you are an executive branch employee. Check out the OGE page before getting any gifts to make sure that your good intentions don't run afoul of the rules.

    And as a note, Christmas does not count as a special infrequent occasion that permits the solicitation of nominal amounts for a group gift.

  20. jta says:

    as per house gift rule, members and staff cant accept gifts from subordinates… but (like the memo the house ethics committee sent around last week), they do make “common-sense exception” during the holiday season. (I still wouldn't give my boss a gift…)

  21. elisa.r says:

    Must references to the Boss transition from “he or she” to just “he” in paragraph 4? I get it… the repeated “he or she” is awkward… but can we please recognize that the Boss might not be male?

    Belle, I know we're on the same page here, so what gives? Was the decidedly male Boss a conscious decision borne out of convenience?

  22. Phoebe says:

    I know I'm a bit late to the conversation, but where I work (creative industry), it's totally fine to give your boss a gift. In fact, I don't buy my coworkers gifts. Rather I buy my boss a gift and my ex-boss (who I am still close with) a gift. It makes more sense when bringing gifts to the office if you are only giving to your boss.

    Most people just give coworkers something small like a card or an ornament.

    We also do not have actual secretaries/assistants, so there is no gift flowing downward in that sense. Our bosses also give us (their subordinates) gifts.

    I do not, however, give my “technical” boss (aka my boss's boss) a gift.

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