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10 Safe Gift Ideas for the Office Gift Swap

It’s all fun and games until someone makes it weird.

Holiday office gift swaps are an age-old tradition, which always start out with the best of intentions. Yet, all too often these events can quickly turn sour when someone ignores the theme, blows the budget, or gifts something totally off base. 

Fret not! You don’t have to be that coworker! As long as you stay within the gifting budget, and stick to the theme (if there is one), there are so many safe options out there. For those of us who are totally stumped about what to buy for our secret Santa recipient (or maybe those who remember exactly who made things awkward last year), we have the perfect list for you.

Check out the inspiration below, all of which can typically be found well under the common $20 limit:

1. A good book

A book can always be a lovely gift, especially if you see your colleague pulling one out at lunchtime to tackle a few pages. Make it a bit more meaningful by gifting a copy of one of your favorites and writing a short note about why you love it. Just don’t hound them a month down the line, asking if they’ve read it--no one likes literary peer pressure!

2. A bottle of your favorite wine or spirit

If you love cozying up with a drink after work, gift a seasonal bottle for your colleague to enjoy. You could even make a set and find some festive wine glasses or a tasty mixer to pair with it. If you aren’t sure if your coworker indulges in adult beverages, consider… 

3. A pound of your favorite coffee

So many people have a morning ritual the start with each day. Gift a pound of your favorite local or fancy brew along with a mug to help them get going in the morning. Not sure if they’re into caffeine? Well...

4. A box of your favorite candy

When all else fails, most everyone has a sweet tooth. Grab a good stock of your favorite sweets or stop by a local confectioner for a sweet treat for your colleague.

5. Funny office supplies

You know those almost-gag-gift office supplies you always want to try but would never buy for yourself? Treat your colleague! Set them up with a funny mug or an under-desk foot hammock. Maybe they’ve had their lunch stolen and could use a set of theft-deterring ziplock bags for the sandwich.

6. A desk calendar

I’ve made a habit of getting a desk calendar for my sister every year and she loves it! Find one that will make your colleague laugh or smile every day. Everyone loves the gift of a daily pick-me-up!

7. Something relaxing

Will you be starting the new year with a big project? Maybe your colleague got a promotion and a lot more responsibility. Gift them something to help them relax, like a mini oil diffuser or zen garden for their desk.

8. Something motivational

I have a small light-up marquee board on my desk that I change out with a new motivational phrase every so often. Treat your colleague to a bit of motivation with a fun nameplate or quote art that will give them a boost every time they look at it.

9. Something practical

Has your colleague’s laptop sleeve seen better days? Is their lunchbox falling apart? Are they always bringing their coffee in a disposable cup? Give them something practical that you know they need and will use on a regular basis, like a travel mug or lunch tote.

10. A gift card to a local lunch spot

At the end of the day, we all eat lunch. If you really have no idea what your colleague might enjoy, get them a gift card to a nearby lunch spot with a lot of variety. It’s easy, and you know they’ll be able to use it! 

By Alyssa Huntley

Alyssa Huntley lives and works in Washington, D.C. She has written about a range of topics, from technology to real estate to women's issues. Find her on Twitter @alyssajhuntley or check out her website, www.alyssajhuntley.com.

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