Poll: Holiday Presents for Administrative Assistants and Secretaries

holiday presents for secretariesA number of readers have written in asking about holiday presents for administrative assistants. We tend to agree with Above the Law’s advice last year — cash is the way to go for holidays. Still, we thought we’d poll people to see what they’re giving (and how much):

holiday presents for admins

In general, our understanding of administrative assistants/secretary bonus compensation runs like this:

  • for birthdays, give flowers — this alerts the rest of the office that it’s the secretary’s birthday (and gee, doesn’t s/he have a great boss for getting her/him such swell flowers?)
  • for unfortunate events, give food baskets — for example, if your secretary breaks her leg or her grandmother dies, it would be rude not to send something to the hospital or to her home — and food is better than flowers because it recognizes that your secretary is probably too overwhelmed to be cooking right now
  • for service above and beyond secretarial duties (anything from watering your plants while you honeymoon to covering for you while you interview elsewhere), give gift cards, plants, take him or her out to lunch, or give him or her a more personal gift
  • for year-end holidays, give cash — by itself.  As we said above, we agree with the AtL thread last year, and have heard that you should give your secretary $100 for each year you’ve served your company or firm (so, a sixth year would pay $600, regardless of how long you’ve had your secretary — although we’ve heard some people cap that at $500) — on the theory that this is additional compensation to them for the year, and no one appreciates getting their paycheck in the form of a really amazing pair of shoes or a gift card to a fancy restaurant.  (We’ve heard time and time again that this is true for Big Law firms — we must admit, we don’t know what the rules are for smaller firms and other industries.)

Readers, as always, please comment — what will you be giving this year?  Do you agree with our theory of secretarial compensation?  What would you recommend doing if you had your secretary for less than a year?

Photo Credit: Christmas present, originally uploaded to Flickr by kjoyner666

Further Reading:

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Pin on Pinterest


  1. I chose just cash because it was closest, but actually, I usually get my secretary a gift certificate because giving cold hard cash seems, well, cold and hard. I do Amazon.com often because they stock everything from electronics to housewares, Saks b/c it’s nearby for the fashiony secretary, this year my secretary is pregnant, so maybe something child themed.

    I used to have a wonderful secretary that I was very close to, and whose gorgeously elegant tastes I was very familiar with — so I would get her a designer handbag or similar b/c she was worth it and b/c she loved that kind of stuff. My current secretary, not so much.

    I don’t buy the $100.yr rule, unless there is a cap. We have two backup secretaries in addition to the main secretary who expect gifts as well, so…

  2. Is the gift supposed to function something like a bonus? I think my firm gives the secretaries bonuses already. I also don’t think I as an associate should be responsible for paying my secretary–the firm should be doing that already. Rather, isn’t it a gift appreciating someone’s hard work? I think a Visa gift card that functions like cash is better than a check for the reasons Elaine stated–it seems less cold and hard but still provides all the functionality of cash. I think I’ll probably go with that and a box of holiday candy or coffee or something so it looks like I put some effort into it.

  3. I think cash is much better than a gift card. Gift cards are always such a pain in the neck to use. Make the trip to the bank and get nice large bills so that you don’t have to stuff the envelope with cash.

  4. Also — I don’t do the $100 per year thing. I work at a big law firm, and I think I gave $100 my first year, and then $100 again my second year to a secretary I’d had for two months. Not sure what I’ll do this year…$150? Is that cheap?

  5. Anonymous :

    $100 per year?? A fifth-year should give $500 to his/her secretary as a Xmas gift? Is this a joke? I am in BigLaw, and this may be more than my bonus this year.

    Am I the only one to think this number is outrageous?

  6. The $100/year thing seems like too much, especially if you consider that most secretaries work for several associates and a partner or two. I don’t think that rigid rules like 100/yr are followed by most people anyway – they just give what they think is appropriate and what they can afford.
    Since I just started at my firm, I’ll just do a $50 Visa/AmEx card and maybe some chocolates as well.

  7. I have worked in NY, London and CA, and I’d say the $100 per year rule is rare. I do like to appreciate my secretary if she (sorry, it’s always been a she) has worked hard for me.

    For all you scrooges who say, “Isn’t the firm supposed to pay my secy?” please remember that firm bonuses are TINY, and this year, at many firms, will be nonexistent. You make MULTIPLES of what your secretary makes. If she’s ever saved your booty, or does anything worthwhile, say thanks. And really actually look her in the eye or write a real card and say “Thank you.” It’s the honorable thing to do.

    Those same scrooges are the type that stiff waitstaff, screw their doorman and don’t pay their dogwalkers (or similar service people) that really make a difference. Don’t be a scrooge at the holidays!

  8. I usually give a personal present and cash or a gift card. Last year it was a gift card to an airline because she visits family three times a year, and I know that’s her biggest personal expenditure. But I must say I don’t pay $100/year, that would be $1400, while I like my secretary I think that’s excessive. I usually give her a giftcard/cash in the $100 to $200 range depending on how the year went, and about $25 worth of personalized gift (last year earrings and a scarf) along with a card, of course. I’m not at Biglaw, and I don’t know a single partner who gives that much.

  9. I did a box of chocolates plus $100 cash last year; will probably do the same this year.

    She got me a really nice personalized gift (lawyer accoutrement type stuff).

  10. Cash = lame. Spend the equivalent on a gift that they would actually appreciate. If you are sitting here thinking ‘how in the hell would I know what sort of gift my secretary would actually appreciate’ my advice to you for the new year is: get to know your secretary a bit better. It’s NOT that hard.

  11. 5000 gift certifcate to Linens and Things

  12. Give your secretary $100 and she’ll never stay even 5 minutes past her shift to help you. I was support staff before I went to law school and your secretary’s loyalty can and should be bought.
    I would never give less than $500 on both her birthday (plus flowers) and Christmas. This ensures that my filing gets done on a daily basis, no floater complains when assigned to me, and I never ever miss an important message. I’m a second-year. Yes, that’s pretty much my bonus for the year, but good help is worth the money.

    • Are you hiring? :) I am a paralegal, work for two partners and two associates and NOTHING at holidays after 6 years of service. I am so loyal i would appreciate a starbucks gift card.
      Seriously though, you sound like a fantastic boss.

  13. The hundred dollar thing is definitely regional (read: NYC). I read that ATL article last year and about died laughing. In my midwest BigLaw office, standard is $50 from young associates (not per year; TOTAL). Keep in mind that firm culture, associate compensation, and cost of living for your city will — and should — affect what is appropriate. I make a hell of a lot less than someone working for my firm’s NYC office, and therefore it makes no sense that I would follow the NYC standards for gift giving.

    Last year, I tried really hard to give a personalized gift to my secretary (I was a 1st year associate at the time, so I had only been in the office for about 4 months). I spent about $75 all told, and put a lot of thought into it (asking around with other secretaries about what she might like). I ended up choosing two bottles of nice wine of her favorite vintage, along with lots of edibles to go along with it from whole foods (cheese, crackers, fruit), and two holiday wine glasses. When I gave it to her, she went on and on about how her dog would really love the food items (she didn’t mean to be offensive, that’s just really what she planned to do with the gift — I was, nonetheless, offended).

    This year, I have a different secretary who would continue to ignore my work even if I paid her $1000. She’s a nice lady, but she has never saved me/covered for me/etc. She’s getting $50 in cash and a card. Period.

  14. I doubt anyone but partners are really thanking their secretaries for all the hard work they do. Most associates make very little use of their secretaries. In about 5 1/2 months of being at this office I’ve asked my secretary only to send one piece of intra-office mail. This is worth $100?

    Let’s face it, your gift to your secretary is nothing but a bribe. You want her to cover for you when you’re out of the office (or at least have the decency to e-mail you if you’ve been paged).

    Odds are my secretary will get a bigger bonus than I will this year. Maybe she should buy me a gift as a “thank you” for doing my own time sheets.

  15. 8 year assistant :

    Look folks, I can tell you as an administrative assistant, we do more than you will possibly ever see or acknowledge. I wipe my bosses phone down with anti-bacterial wipes in the a.m. before he arrives during cold season, pick up dry cleaning, take his car to get detailed, take the dogs to the vet, arrange for contractors to come to his house, pick up lunch,make the best coffee in California, pick out other employees gifts and order them for him. Last year he bought me a child’s toy for my birthday “I thought it would be funny
    ” there was no gift when I got married this fall, heck hardly even an acknowledgment. There was no birthday gift OR card this year and I imagine none for the holiday either. When you are basically told that you are that under valued, why would we go the extra mile anymore?

    Take care of the people who help you life run more smoothly.

    • Anonymous :

      I am very sorry to hear this, hopefully by now things have gotten better. I just started working for a company and our group has an administrative assistant. She is very nice and is always helpful. This is my 3rd week now and I am already looking into gifts for her, she has made my life a lot easier already.

    • We’re hiring. Firm bonuses for secretaries this year were $2000 to $3000. Individual attorneys seem to be giving in the $100-200 range. Also in California, not in big law. And I have never asked my secretary to pick up my drycleaning or deal with my kids/dogs/contractors.

  16. I plan on giving my secretary cash (and maybe a small gift) in the $100-$200 range. I actually like her as a person, and she is a great help to me. If it makes a difference, I am a 4th year at a mid-market NYC firm.

  17. When I started working at a biglaw firm in the mid-west, the rumor was that you give the first 3 numbers of your salary – so she gets $160, $200, etc.

    I’ve capped that at $200 and usually give her a nice bottle of wine or homemade candy and a card with it. She always seems very happy with that, and she always gives me really thoughtful presents. I know of partners who give their very hard-working secretaries $1500-$2000, but they work their secretaries to the bone and make a whole lot more money than I.

  18. I’m in biglaw on the west coast and can’t imagine giving more than $200 to a secretary no matter how many years we’ve ‘been together’. Is the $100/year thing a reality outside of NYC? I do not want to be cheap but I also don’t want to be over-the-top generous.
    I plan to get a gift certificate for the mall for $200 and pair it with some lotion, a scarf or goodies. Please, please let me know if I am being cheap.

  19. I think $200 for your secretary is kind of cheap. That’s how much I got as a holiday gift working in office services at a small law firm in San Francisco before I went to law school.

    “Take care of the people who help you life run more smoothly.” Those are words to live by!

  20. 8 year assistant: I wish you were my assistant. If you were, and you did all of those extras for me, I would greatly appreciate it, and I would have no problem showing my appreciation with generous gifts for holidays and birthdays.

    I would also buy you lovely gift if you could simply teach my secretary how to be 1/8th as awesome as you sound. I’m not talking about the extras — I don’t dare dream of anti-bacterial wipes — but rather, the little things like, you know, doing the work that I need to have done like printing, copying, and formatting (i.e. “her job”). Unfortunately, as nice of a woman as my secretary is — I really like her as a person — she generally ignores the few tasks that I’ve asked her to do to the point that I’ve given up and I just do everything myself. With that in mind, I will give a small token of appreciation (because, as I said, I like her as a person, and I enjoy “working” with her), but nothing above and beyond. I think that many young associates find themselves in similar circumstances.

    I think that it’s a real shame that you are undervalued. You should stop doing the extras for your boss, because you obviously are not appeciated, and that is NOT your job. I hope that your boss wakes up and smells the crappy coffee that he has to brew for himself, and realizes how lucky he is to have you working for him.

  21. If my secretary ran my life the way 8 yer assistant does, I would have no problem shelling out $1000. My secretary is lovely, but she has never taken care of any personal tasks for me (I would never ask her to). She does timesheets, expense reports, and the rare filing. I do my own copying, answer my phone, file my docs, etc. So $150-200 for a secretary I have had 6 months seems reasonable. She also has several partners and another associate, so she should make out pretty well.

    FWIW, I am a West Coast BigLaw midlevel.

  22. People please don’t turn these comments into ATL repeats with lawyers and support staff fighting! Face it, you both need each other and every firm has both mean and nice attorneys and both awesome and lazy support staff.

    Last year my assistant was of no help to me as a first year associate. She was afraid to use the computer (we got her a typewriter, no joke) and was dumb as rocks so I did everything myself. I gave her $50 and resented that I gave her anything. This year my assistant is awesome, hard worker, smart, willing to go the extra mile. I don’t work in BigLaw although I do work in DC so I’ll probably go with $100 and a nice bottle of champagne. That seems to be the going rate at our firm for holiday gifts.

    FWIW our firm cut attorney holiday bonuses but WILL give support staff bonuses because we do value them and they are more likely to be hit harder by an economic downturn.

  23. The people who posted these comments above are cheap, ungrateful and spoiled! Secretaries get paid nothing compared to you and we have to deal with all of your whiney demands. If you were REALLY so smart you would realize what a secretary can do for your career. If you’re an associate, you give some home made candy or cookies you had better watch out because they will drop a little comment here and there about you to the Partner they also work for. And for you Partners, you’ll have no idea everyone in the Firm thinks you’re an asshole (because your Sectretary will tell them so) when you give your secretary $100.00! It’s part of the job and the game they play, a small amount of cash to you ($1,000) can improve their life in ways you have no idea. I know some staff that don’t have enough money to even buy food and hide that fact. Why do you think they are hovering around the conference room after a lunch meeting to get a free lunch? It works both ways, when you do good, they will let everyone know how great you are which will help your career!

    • Where do you work that secretaries are paid nothing?

      At my mid-size boutique, the secretary makes about 1/2 what mid-range associate makes. A good secretary is hard to find & worth the money.

      Also, at least around here, the partners talk to each other. I know what the other partners are getting their secretaries, and it’s nowhere near $1000.

  24. db, I don’t know how you live, but $1000 is not a small amount of cash to me (a midlevel at biglaw in SV)…that seems an entirely inappropriate amount of money to give to a person and I would feel very uncomfortable giving that to my secretary

  25. Anonymous :

    Okay, so what do you do for a good secretary that has more money than you do (hubby makes lots — she’s working to give herself something to do to keep from being bored as an empty-nester)? I mean when she’s giving $1000 to every charitable request that comes down the hall, giving her cash seems pretty silly. So how do I say thank you otherwise? I know — something “personal” — but I don’t cook or craft and she buys whatever she wants. Now what?

    • Flowers are almost always a welcome addition to a secretary’s desk. It’s not the money, it’s the thought, in this case. I have been working in law (Big and otherwise) for over 30 years, and I am a little taken aback by the theory behind giving secretaries and admin assistants gifts that have been expounded here. I work for three partners and two associates. Two of the partners I have worked for for many years. They give me between $250 and $350 every year in the form of a check in a holiday card. The other partner choose to give me a gift certificate, probably because he feels that cash is too cold and hard as someone mentioned. I love all of these gifts, but may I point out that the associate I work with has never, ever, ever given me anything. And I have never, ever, ever given him short shrift in the service or gossip department because of it. (I did, however, ask another associate to have a talk with him because he tends to be clueless about many things in life, and I thought I’d give his next secretary a break.) I give excellent service and I cover butts because that is part of the excellent service I give. And I do it out of pride, not because someone gives me cash in an envelope at holiday time. The prevailing attitude in these comments that one must bribe one’s secretary to get excellent service offends me, and I certainly hope it isn’t true of most secretaries.

    • Something personal? I gave my secretary a nice cashmere scarf to wear because the office AC is hell, some chocolates, and flowers last year.

Comments are closed.