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Useless, Questionable, Wrong: What Not to Gift Your Employees

December 3, 2017 GMT

By Karla L. Miller

Special To The Washington Post

Q: I have a fantastic boss who is amazing to work for. For birthdays and year-end holidays, he gives us iTunes gift cards. The only problem is that I don’t have any Apple products and don’t purchase music through iTunes. I can’t figure out a nice way to suggest that a different gift card would be more useful. Getting gift cards at all seems above and beyond what most bosses do. Should I just keep accepting and regifting these?

A: Ah, the holidays and all their tiny, glittering disappointments. Your poor boss probably thinks he’s finally found the perfect one-size-fits-all, universally flattering, no-returns-needed token of gratitude for the people who spend their days making him look good. Telling him you can’t use it almost feels like having to tell sweet sock-knitting Aunt Tildie that you’re allergic to wool.


Although I would imagine a “fantastic” boss would rather spend money on gifts you can actually use, I, too, am struggling to think of a polite way to drop the hint: “Thank you! You know, I’ve been meaning to get an iTunes account. And an Apple ID. And an i-Whatsit.”

As you mentioned, you can always pass the cards on to friends or relatives. You could also investigate whether your local school or library could use them to download digital resources.

Online gift card exchanges and some retailers will let you sell or trade unwanted cards -- though a quick sampling of online exchange sites indicates that iTunes cards are in high supply and may be tough to unload.

Otherwise, if your boss provides everything you need from a manager -- reasonable compensation and benefits, a supportive environment, helpful feedback -- then you could view his annual tokens as a nice but superfluous fringe benefit -- like free parking for someone who walks to work, or all-you-can-chug coffee for a tea drinker.

For some perspective, I asked friends, family and Facebook followers to share the worst gifts they’ve ever gotten from employers. Here are some of the best responses, with names withheld to protect embarrassed recipients and well-meaning benefactors:

* A gift card for an upscale salon accompanied by a request that the recipient get her hair done for an upcoming fundraiser.

* A bottle of Ménage à Trois wine, which the non-drinking recipient found too awkward to regift because of its label. (Despite how it sounds, the boss intended nothing untoward.)

* A sheer brassiere. (This, by contrast, was exactly what it sounds like.)


* Business cards and paper pads with the recipient’s name spelled wrong.

* An instruction to pick out one’s own gift and then seek reimbursement from the company.

* A piece of swag from a charity fundraiser the recipient had organized.

* A souvenir shot glass reading, “VEGAS, B -ES.”

And, perhaps saddest of all, several incredulous comments along these lines: “A gift? From a boss?”

PRO TIP: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Extra paid time off -- and the freedom to truly enjoy it -- is one of the best gifts a hard-working employee can receive.

Ask Karla Miller about your work dramas and traumas by emailing wpmagazine@washpost.com