the wallets of destruction, the backpack indignity, and other corporate gifts gone very wrong — Ask a Manager Jobearn

On last week’s post about corporate year-end gifts, some readers shared stories of company gifts that went terribly wrong. Here are 10 that made me laugh. (Also, who would have anticipated the surprising enjoyment of umbrellas as a corporate gift that was revealed in that post? But for the record: the only two universally loved gifts are money and time off. MONEY AND TIME OFF.)

1. The wallets of destruction

“I will never forget the ‘space-saver’ wallets our CEO gleefully gave out to all employees one year-as a token of his appreciation for all our hard work.

This wallet was slim, sleek and looked like a little rectangular case with the two sides made of gold-toned metal. It looked expensive. Its size was a little larger than a credit card. And it accordioned out to provide slots for all your credit cards, ID cards, and cash too.

Only there was no visible latch to keep the ends together.

‘Ahh! That’s the best part!” the CEO explained. The ends were magnetized so it will never come apart until you open it.

And yep, more than one person actually loaded up their new gift with their old wallet contents before realizing the harm this fancy gold wallet would do to the magnetic strip on all their credit cards.”

2. The rock

“As far as what doesn’t go well — my hospital just gave every employee a ‘care package’ for mental health awareness. It had a card describing us as all unique, so of course we all got the same gifts. We got a worry stone (literally a rock), an eye cover, a exercise resistance band, and a pack of cards with mental health tips. It has not been popular.”

3. The triple disaster

“For the purposes of entertainment only, don’t do what my company did! This is an org that provides training to a lot of contractors who come to these giant, multi-day conferences (but think super-budget and bare bones, not at all posh). The company issued a gift with all the registration materials at check-in so it was not possible for individuals to decline it.

First year I was there, they gave out backpacks. Identical backpacks to people who were going to spend a week together in an enormous arena. People promptly packed them up and brought them to the conference, and then lost track of which one was theirs. People were stress-crying because they couldn’t find theirs, people accused others of stealing, and a chunk of time had to be taken away from conference activities to get everyone to look inside ‘their’ backpack and make sure it was really theirs. At least two people were dismissed from the event due to what was found inside their backpacks.

Next year: tumblers. Same problem, but with an added gross factor of drinking out of a cup not actually your own. The conference leaders were begging people to label their cups, which nobody did. This even affected the big boss, who took a swig from a cup only to realize it was somebody else’s … and contained butterscotch-flavored alcohol.

Final year before I thankfully got a new job: fleeces. These fleeces were actually nice and came in a wide range of sizes and were good in theory. But because many people had flown in to the conference city, it became one more bulky item to figure out how to transport home at the end. One brilliant person asked if they could coordinate donations of unwanted fleeces but because the jackets were branded, leadership said no. So people just abandoned their jackets in random places in the hotel and conference center on the last day, especially people who were going back to warm climates who weren’t going to wear them again. Some of us lowly staffers from cold climates adopted the fleeces and even 10+ years after being gone from that org, one final fleece from my collection has survived and still hangs in my closet.”

4. The orange soda

“The worst gift I ever got was a six pack of orange soda with my photo on the logo. I worked at a university with orange as one of their colors. It is a public university so getting gifts was unusual, but this was very useless. To make matters worse one of my colleagues received his sodas with the wrong name!”

5. The turkeys

“Worst gift: Frozen turkeys on Thanksgiving … which they received in the morning but didn’t distribute until 3:30 pm, when first and second shift were changing over, so the HR lady and company president could give them out personally. In the meantime, they stored the turkeys in the chemical cold storage, right next to the vat of acrylamide monomer.”

6. The gratitude journals

“Here’s a Don’t Do: a couple years ago, the org sent us all cheaply-printed gratitude journals. In 2020. So we could write all about how grateful we were for the good things in our life. In 2020.”

7. The shocker

“A what-not-to-do: My last job liked to give us lots of gifts, but all the gifts were crappy. They gave us water bottles that LOOKED just like a popular brand of insulated water bottle, but they weren’t insulated and leaked. They gave us wireless earbuds (nice!) that became infamous for shocking people in the ear (not nice!).

Everyone would have much rather had one actually nice gift than five crummy gifts. Most of what they gave us ended up being junk people threw away (I got in the habit of covertly abandoning my swag in the supply cupboard where they kept the spare swag).”

8. The pheasant

“When I was a kid, my dad’s employer had a vendor that would send a gallon metal jug of real maple syrup every year, which was AWESOME. Except one year they decided to change it up, but didn’t tell anyone. Mom got the attempted delivery card from the post office and saw where it was from, so figured she could take her time about going to pick it up. Apparently when she finally did, a couple of weeks later, the post office REEKED and the clerk glared at her while bringing up her package containing … a smoked pheasant. A not very shelf-stable smoked pheasant.”

9. The sabotaging coaster

“For the 100th anniversary of my company, they gave every employee a hard-bound yearbook history of the organization and one single coaster that was hydrophobic so the beads of sweat on any beverage just ran right off it and onto your desk, completely eliminating the point of a coaster.

0/10, do not recommend.”

10. The committee

“I got dragooned against my will onto an ‘appreciation committee’ that had all these fancy plans for how to spend their budget of $50/employee to make people happy. I got myself kicked off the committee by asking, ‘Will anyone like any of this more than they like $50 minus tax?’”

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