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The Gift of Gaffe — Presents That Just Didn’t Work

It’s the last workday before Christmas, and there’s a gilt-wrapped package on your desk from a co-worker.

What could it be? Personalized golf balls? A handy letter-opener? The latest best-selling title atamazon.com?

The anticipation can fill many an employee with glee — but others with dread. Gift giving at the office can be a tricky task, and sometimes, a well-intentioned present can backfire.

A few Western Mass. professionals answered the call (anonymously) from BusinessWest to ’fess up about the best and worst holiday gifts they’ve received, and their stories offer some insight into what to give and what to shelve.

For one bank vice president, his favorite gift was also his most lamented. A client presented him with a brand-new set of Callaway golf clubs as a special thank you for a year of good advice; however, the gesture was too extravagant for him to accept.

“They were even left-handed,” said the southpaw, “but as a gift that cost in the thousands, of course I couldn’t take them.”

The clubs did eventually find a good home, though, as a raffle prize raising funds for a local Boys and Girls Club. But the story calls attention to a common error in the arena of corporate gift-giving: before you reward a colleague for a job well-done, make sure your sentiments — and your spending — are in line with their company handbook.

That said, the pendulum shouldn’t swing too far in the other direction, from fabulous to free. A stylist in Hampden recalls a well-traveled client presenting her with a bag of used hotel samples of shampoo and conditioner. “We laughed for weeks over that one,” she said.

An account executive in Springfield said that after many years of graciously accepting the good, the bad, and the ugly, she’s drafted her own short-list of appropriate Yule-tidings.

“One of the worst gifts I received was a ‘boxed’ bread called Panettone,” she began. “It’s supposed to be an Italian treat, but upon taking it out of the packaging, it was dry and spongy and utterly gross. My husband and I played a really awesome game of catch.”

Instead of petrified pastries, she suggests small, crowd-pleasing items for coworkers, such as scratch tickets, movie passes, or gift cards, especially for coffee and gas.

“No plush items, they should only be given to children under the age of eight,” she said. “No items that play Christmas carols, and please, do not re-gift items! It’s so obvious!”

Instead of rewrapping, consider donating unwanted items to a local survival center, she said.

Finally, a business owner in Springfield bravely shared a tale that teaches us to reel in our holiday expectations in the workplace. Every job is different, as she found shortly after finishing college, and even a fruitcake isn’t mandatory.

“After working in restaurants for the many years it took me to complete my college education, I had my first office job working for a non-profit organization,” she recalled. “In restaurants, the holidays were a bountiful time. Not only did we get good food to eat and very generous tips from regular customers, we’d always get gifts of nice bottles of wine or other swag, plus at least a $100 bonus from the owners.

“At the holiday party at my new office job, I was absolutely astonished when our holiday cards were empty, except for a nice note from the executive director of the agency,” she continued. “Flabbergasted, I asked the accounting department if we should expect our bonuses in our paychecks that week. After all, in my conception of ‘office job,’ big Christmas bonuses were the norm. The accountant gently informed me that non-profits had to account for every dime of government funding and couldn’t just give money away. I turned about 12 shades of red and slunk back to my rickety metal desk.”

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