The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update

Local Business

December 5, 2012

Susan Miller: Surviving the office gift exchange

Wondering how to up your stress level this holiday season? Just add shopping for an office gift exchange item to your to-do list.

There’s nothing like a “Secret Santa” to add an extra dash of uncertainty to the holiday shopping season. You already know how hard it can be to buy gifts for familiar souls. But what do you do when you’re a 50-something male who draws the 21-year-old female intern as his Secret Santa?

You’ll be challenged to find a gift that doesn’t scream “creepy,” “fogey,” or at the very least “awkward.”And pity the colleague who draws the HR manager as their Secret Santa.

Among the “safest” items to give are gift cards. Restaurants, movie theaters and the ubiquitous Visa gift cards are safe bets. On the downside, your recipient will know how much you forked over and a gift card doesn’t have the creativity of say, a bacon-scented car air freshener.

Speaking of bacon, the Instant Excuse Ball comes with 20 ideas that according to its packaging will “save your bacon when you’re in a pickle.” That’s a perfect gift for the co-worker whose “car trouble” or “almost abducted by aliens” excuses are wearing thin.

Don’t be too cavalier about the old wisdom that says it’s the thought that counts. In creative workplaces such as advertising, it’s often not so much the “thought” as the witticism behind the thought. When choosing a humorous gift, co-workers often revert to inside jokes.  

I worked for an ad agency and two clients were particularly “peculiar.” Therefore, when a co-worker presented me with an autographed and framed photo of the clients imprinted with an inside joke, I thought it was especially funny — until one of the clients dropped by the office for a visit!

Gift exchanges can demonstrate appreciation for a colleague’s eccentricities. I’m particularly fond of animal print, so my treasure trove of past office gifts includes a breadth of cheetah-inspired items including Kleenex, a stapler and even a zip-on toilet seat protector.

However, my favorite cheetah item is my “thinking cap.” It’s a cheetah-print fez that would make any Shriner downright envious. When I put on the fez, I can practically feel the creative powers at work.

Finally, consider the recipient when selecting a gift. Does she always brown-bag her lunch? How about a Spam lunch box? Was she a Hostess aficionado? Include an “I Miss Twinkies” button — proof that in every failure is a cream-filled, er silver-lined business opportunity.

Is a colleague up for a performance review? He may welcome receiving the “Uh, Oh! Emergency Underpants,” also available online.

Finally, don’t forget to be a gracious recipient. A friend remembers how she made yarn animals and gave them to her colleagues, only to find several of them in the waste can on office cleanup day. Cautious re-gifting can spare feelings.

The clock is ticking and limited shopping days remain.

Draw a name if you dare, and Secret Santa recipients beware!

Susan Miller is founder of Ewing Miller Communications. Write to her at

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