10 Horrible Christmas Gifts People Received at Work


Christmas is approaching and that means you may be shopping for gifts to give to your colleagues for the office Secret Santa! A survey of 2,000 Americans revealed that over half of the participants received at least one unwanted gift each holiday season. Does the phrase “it’s the thought that counts” apply here or do people give REALLY bad gifts? We’ll let you decide - let’s have a look at 10 not-so-jolly Christmas gifts people have received at the workplace.

1. A lottery ticket

“I am giving you a hope,” said the person when he handed the ticket over. Gee thanks, chances are I won't be winning anything but... what if this was a winning lottery ticket? Would you share your fortune with your colleague?!

2. A Christmas snowglobe


People say that this gift has an expiry date – it would be weird putting it on display after Christmas! What would you do with a Christmas snowglobe after the holidays?

3. A photo book… of the town

A photo book is usually a sentimental gesture, filled with warming photographs that make you smile whenever you flick through it. Not for the receiver of this gift though – the company that they work for is located in a small town. The photos in the book were about the town which, according to the receiver, had nothing but a pickup truck, a gas station, and the company’s warehouse. I guess looking through these photos don’t exactly warm up the heart!

4. A children’s drawing kit

Even if you are known to have a passion for the arts in the office, receiving a drawing kit for children doesn’t exactly give you encouragement in your abilities. The lady who received this gift was slightly offended receiving a present that's supposed to be for a 5-year-old budding artist!

5. Body lotion

This one may surprise you. Although it may seem like a practical gift, bear in mind that scents are extremely personal and everyone has their own preference on scents and brands. This is definitely a hit or miss gift - give at your own risk!

6. Cockroach bait

Just like body lotion, cockroach bait is definitely practical… but there’s a time and a place. Probably not suitable as a gift, to ANYONE!

7. A picture of the person himself and a few rolls of toilet paper

Once again, just like body lotion and cockroach bait, toilet paper is indeed useful. But even with toilet paper, people may have their own preferences! But wait – what about the photo? What on earth would your colleague do with a photograph of yourself? Do you expect them to use them together?!

8. Picture frame

Another one that is dubbed “useless” by Hong Kongers. People rarely print out their photos, so unless your colleague’s desk is decorated with a lot of photo frames – your gift might be thrown away.

9. Scarves


"It’s cold outside, so scarves must be a great idea!" Yes… but unfortunately, if you are not familiar with their personal style, this gift can easily be tossed at the bottom of one’s closet. This goes for any other clothes and accessories – they can be risky presents for even your closest friends, let alone colleagues!

10. A recycled gift

Recycling a gift is when you give someone else a gift that you had received previously. There is nothing bad about this – the gift that wasn’t suited for you can get a new (and hopefully loving) home, and you save your money! But BE SMART! Don’t re-gift the gift to the same person who gave it to you!!

Stuck on what to get for your colleague?

For Secret Santas, a lot of people opt for personalised gifts, such as handkerchiefs. However, a 2013 poll done by British retailer showed that a personalised handkerchief is the third most unwelcomed gift! Oops!

Etiquette expert Karen Cleveland reminded shoppers, “try not to hyper-personalize when it comes to colleagues”. For example, beauty products, perfume or clothing items. You may think the perfume smells nice, but the recipient might not like it. For clothing items, unless you are very close with the person and know exactly what their style is, it is wiser to stay away from this type of gift. Cleveland also suggested giving an “experience”. Here are some ideas:

  • A coffee shop gift certificate (especially if you see that person popping in there every day for a recharge)

  • A spa voucher (if your budget allows)

  • Items you know the person needs, e.g. a tea infuser for the tea-lover in the office, a notebook with their initials embroidered on the cover

Anonymous gift exchange?

What should you buy when you don’t even know who will receive your gift?

Here are 3 tips:

  • Get something unisex: A makeup pouch is nice for your female colleague, but what would a male colleague do with it?

  • Avoid clothing items, again(!): Since you don’t know who will be receiving the gift, avoid buying clothing items! Even if it is something unisex, such as festive socks, not knowing the person’s size would make this a risky thing to give.

  • Get something practical, something that can be used and enjoyed: is there a restaurant that you and your colleagues go to regularly? Check to see if they offer any coupons or gift vouchers. A lunch hour with free food? What can be jollier than that!


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Sophia Wong

Brand and Marketing Strategist in Hong Kong, writes about career, job hunting and interview tips.

4 min read

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