The Best Employee Holiday Gifts Under $20

Well, it’s that time of year again. Sleigh bells are ringing, mistletoe hangs from the doorframes, yuletide music blares from elevator speakers… and employers once more face the unenviable task of brainstorming affordable gift ideas for their workers. Yes, welcome to the holidays in corporate America. Assembling one-size-fits-all holiday gifts for a diverse cadre of underlings can be daunting in and of itself; but when coupled with the mad mid-December dash to close out jobs, pad yearly revenues and train a small army of seasonal temps, heck, it can become downright excruciating – an overwhelming burden that ultimately gets the proverbial axe and leaves you looking like Ebenezer Scrooge.

However, stressed-out bosses everywhere should breathe a little easier this year. Providing your employees with thoughtful gifts that won’t break the bank – a veritable necessity in this economy – is not as difficult as it might seem if one knows where to look. The Internet is flush with ideas for under $20 knickknacks that are perfectly suited for workplace gift-giving. (And many go even cheaper when bought in bulk.) Often times, something small and simple is the ideal way to show an employee how much you appreciate their service. So here are 10 such gift ideas culled from cyber-sphere wish lists, blogs and contributor news sites that will put the Santa back in your step…

Coffee Mugs

Coffee and tea drinkers alike will readily admit that their mugs are essential for combating morning enervation. Moreover, a mug’s unisex nature makes it practically universal and allows the bearer to express himself via its pictures and verbiage. Employers can purchase mugs that depict local sports teams, their city, the company itself or some other collective theme shared by those in the office. Even the caffeine-averse can use it as a flower vase or pen holder.


Really, who doesn’t like this? (Short of our allergic and lactose-intolerant friends.) Whether you crave the feel of childhood nostalgia, a rush of serotonin or a simple yet flavorful after-dinner snack, chocolate is almost always the answer. And major brands offer reasonable prices. One-pound candy boxes from See’s, white chocolate peppermint truffles from Godiva, and a festive tin of dark chocolate-covered pretzels from Crate and Barrel can all be had for less than a Jackson.

Books & DVDs

Got employees that yearn for adventure to new worlds and faraway lands? A good piece of literature or an engaging movie is the cheapest way to appeal to the swashbuckler, fortune-hunter or hopeless romantic in your office. Online retailers like Amazon or Barnes & Noble carry everything under the sun. Not a fan of fiction? Opt for a how-to book or a documentary that inspires positive workplace conduct. Buy hard copies for the old-schoolers; kindle versions and downloads for the techies.

Movie Tickets

The voluminous Hollywood machine with its bevy of genres, stories and stars means there’s always a film to see, whether you’re an avid cinephile, the once-a-year event-movie type, or somewhere in between. Sites like Wild About Movies offer discounted tickets to major theater chains around the country, making a pair of passes a cost-effective endeavor. Or go really cheap and get $3 discount vouchers for AMC’s concession stand in bundles of 50.

Retail Gift Certificates

Offices with a hopelessly diverse cast of characters who seldom agree on anything calls for a gift that provides choice. Enter the magnanimous gift certificate. Yes, this little piece of paper may advertise how generous or cheap you really are, but it also allows Betty in accounting to get her favorite candles, while Mike in legal can go full-on with a new pair of ankle socks. No agreement necessary. Just try to buy from a department store or one with a similarly large selection of goods.

Customized Ornaments

Looking for a gift that’s a bit more personal and still speaks to the merriment of the holidays? Try going a little outside the box with customized tree ornaments that feature your company logo, a picture of the entire staff, or a profound statement about the joys of being the office boss (wink, wink). Also, hanging Hanukkah decorations can be made for Jewish workers. Sites like Bronners and can customize ornaments for as little as a few bucks per unit.

Gourmet Coffee

Here’s another option for those workers futilely mired in our caffeine-addicted culture. A 16-ounce bag usually retails for about $10 to $15, and can easily be found through a simple Google search. Coffee Wholesale USA carries a cache of rare whole bean blends, while Roastar will actually let you customize the bag. So spring for the organic Arabica or slow-roasted Hawaiian Kona, and reap the double benefit of employees who are both grateful for the gift and uber-alert on the job.


Employees who are 21 years of age or older will often appreciate a good bottle of Cab or Chianti. Most supermarket vintages are well under $20, with additional discounts offered at Ralph’s, for instance, when you purchase six or more bottles. Sparkling cider or non-alcoholic wines are suitable alternatives for non-drinkers or offices where alcohol may not be appropriate. For all others, get the real stuff and throw a bow on it. Just make sure they don’t drink it until they get home.

Practical Office Gear

One thing that everyone in the office has in common… is that they all work in the office. So why not get them something for their office? The sky’s the limit here. Desk calendars, paper weights, pen holders, picture frames and executive sticky note cases can be matched with an employee based on both taste and need. Online retailers like will even let you personalize it. Plus, this way, you know that your gift didn’t wind up in the back of their bedroom closet.

Mobile Applications

A few years ago, this wouldn’t even be possible. But now, in this tech-driven, smartphone-crazy world we live in, gifting an app to someone might just be the most app-licable, app-ropriate and app-reciated thing you could do for them. There are literally hundreds of thousands of apps available, so chances are you’ll find one that’s right for each person. Most app stores now offer functions that make it easy to choose, pay for and send an app as a gift. You’re welcome. No app-lause, please.