It's the time of year when there are a bazillion articles about what gift you should give your boss. The implication is that of course you'll give a gift. But I think you're better off skipping it. Here's why:

1. Gift recommendations are not really recommendations.
When a journalist or blogger (is there a difference?) writes about gift items, they get to review the gift items. Which means each gift was already a gift to the writer. I know about this because I'm terrible at it. For example, I would like Bose noise canceling headphones. They are too extravagant for me to buy for myself, so I should ask Bose for a trial pair and then tell you to buy them for your boss.

2. Christmas at work is bad for your boss. Really.
First of all, it's bad for your company to have everyone give end-of-the-year gifts, or holiday gifts, or whatever companies are calling Christmas gifts lately. It's bad because Christmas in the office is bad for diversity. I write about this every year, and every year it is the most controversial post. So you don't need to write to me about how I am a Grinch and a cultural moron and Jews should move back to Israel, okay? Because I get those comments—about 300 of them—each year. So all I'm going to tell you now is that you are not helping your boss reach his or her performance goals for your team by undermining diversity by celebrating Christmas at work.

3. Thanksgiving is a better holiday to give your boss a gift.
You missed it this year. But for next year, remember to give a Thanksgiving gift to your boss because it's a non-religious holiday and it's about giving thanks instead of honoring Jesus's birthday, and giving thanks, after all, is what is appropriate for you to do with a boss. (Note: Please do not tell me Christmas is secular. Only Christians feel enough authority over the holiday to say it is not Christian, which is proof that the holiday belongs to Christians.)

4. The best gift for a boss is handmade.
I know your mom has been telling you this ever since you could write your name on construction paper. But it's not just your mom. It's true for everyone because everyone wants a gift that tells them they are special. For your boss, a handwritten note does the trick. Tell your boss that you appreciate what your boss has done for you over the past year, and that you feel lucky to be working for him or her. Give very specific examples. (Here are tips on how to write that note.)

5. If you want good cheer give good cheer.
You know what? I'm not a Grinch. I'm just pointing out that you are going to be happier if you write a note than if you give a gift, because gratitude is what makes people feel good. Giving it. Giving some material thing does not give you the same jolt of happiness that verbalizing and expressing gratitude does.And receiving material objects is not as gratifying as a thank you note filled with specific examples of how you added meaning to someone's workday.

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  1. dirtywinegirl
    dirtywinegirl says:

    I’ve never given my boss more than a card. It would be nice if he gave a gift or even a card to the employees in our department but we won’t hold our breath.

    I grew up celebrating Christmas and even though we didn’t go to church, it is most definitely a Christian holiday. I am now celebrating Hanukkah with my fiance as we will raise our future children in a Jewish home. We had our first official Hanukkah at home this year and it was lovely lighting candles while he sang the prayers. I found it more low key and heartwarming (for me) than Christmases past. Not saying one is better, they are just different. This year I notice that people are saying happy holidays more and more. This is nice, it covers everyone’s holiday plus New Years!

  2. le
    le says:

    I totally agree – I am the boss and I hate it when you get a gift from an employee …it trys to move the relationship to a different space that I do not like. As the boss I make home made yummies and take them in on the last day – on a platter – to share with the work buds – and I drop by the remote sites and leave a plate too – on a side note one of my elected reps gave me a card hours after being a human cyclone and it felt very hollow indeed … my basic rule for all gifts … you have to be able to eat it, drink it, read it or some how consume it or use it up or kill it … sounds like a plan :) le

  3. IK
    IK says:

    Every year you have this Christmas post, and every year I agree with you. I’m also all for making a big deal about Thanksgiving, since it’s a truly non-religious holiday. I’m a Jew, and to me, even with all the non-religious customs, Christmas is still a religious holiday (Happy Birthday Jesus?).

  4. Barbara Wells
    Barbara Wells says:

    Thank you for this post. It used to be inappropriate to give your boss a gift because you were messing with the power differential and possibly would be seen as “sucking up”– I’m not sure where we went off the rails and created Bosses Day (every day is Bosses day!) and the practice of giving gifts to the Boss at Christmas.

  5. liz
    liz says:

    I realize this is a bit late, but I’m still stressing out about it. My boss gave me a gift, but I didn’t give him one. Is this ok? If not, what to do in the future? It is an awkward situation.

  6. Laura
    Laura says:

    Our team gets a Christmas present for my boss every year. I really don’t love the idea but when everyone goes in on a present, I feel awkward not contributing so I contribute as well. Usually the boss would send us all a Christmas gift as well, so it was be reciprocal. We each put 25$ in (which I think it too much for a big team!) and he’d send us all a trinket and gift card or something). Last year, he didn’t send us anything at all. This year, I don’t think we are getting anything either because the team has grown. Our boss makes a bajillion times more than us, I think it’s weird for us to all put an hours salary into the pot to get our boss a gift, and not get anything in return because he is too busy. :/

  7. V Middleton
    V Middleton says:

    I am grateful for this article. I am not in a position to lavish everyone with whom I work gifts including the 3 doctors. I have a large family and many friends with whom I am concerned each gift giving season. As for Christmas being a “christian” holiday, I used to believe that, but the older I get, the more disdain I have for it now that I know of its origins and the fact that it is more of man’s tradition, then God’s commandment or law. Just saying.

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