2020 Update – We still think this is a great poll on the best holiday presents for administrative assistants and secretaries — you may also want to check out some of our more recent gift ideas.
A 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):
The Best Holiday Presents for Administrative Assistants and Secretaries
In general, this has been my understanding of the best holiday presents for administrative assistants and secretaries:
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
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
What to Give Your Administrative Assistant for Year-End Holidays:
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 as holiday presents for administrative assistants and secretaries? 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
- Secretary/Administrative Assistant Gifts: Open Thread [Above the Law thread in 2007]
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…
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.
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.
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?
$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?
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
5000 gift certifcate to Linens and Things
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
LA Big Law Assistant
I have been a Big Law assistant in Los Angeles for over 25 years (at a few different firms) for different level partners and associates both. For the most part, partners have been very generous, giving (at the minimum) 100-200 for every year that I’ve worked for them plus a nice gift (last year it was a Coach wallet). Associates — $100, pretty much across the board. In my opinion, 10-20% of the attorney’s bonus would be appropriate for a good assistant that you value. Also, pretty good advice is to check with your peers, because assistants tend to talk to each other.
Anonymous: If she is into charitable giving, you could try and find out what her favorite charity is and give a gift in her name along with a nice bottle of wine. If you look to order from a nice, small vineyard, that you can’t buy at the grocery, you often get a better value for the quality and it won’t look like you just picked something up at whole foods on the way to the office.
Both you Anons… waaa, waaaa! Even first years make $160,000 plus bonuses. What!? A midlevel biglaw only gets a $20,000 – 30,000 bonus? Secretaries will never make that kind of money in their lifetime. Don’t get me started! After working in big law for over 24 years, I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone that has a rich husband and they only work to keep busy. Are you nuts? Do you have any idea how much your assistants actually make, it’s next to nothing. $100 for every year of service, what a joke! You are lawyers for a reason I guess, stingy and conservative and it’s all about you! And you say your secretary gives to charity, and you say giving her cash is silly, what a loser. We all in huge debt and try not to look too sorry so you don’t walk all over us even more. Excuse me will I get back to typing my midlevel associate’s labels (over 200) for his personal xmas cards on my own time after everyone has gone home. The suggestions here are so riduculous, they are all posted by lawyers, who else would look at this site about wearing the latest fashion to work, secretaries can’t afford it!
The comments here are so far off base, they are only posted by lawyers. Who else would look at this site for wearing the latest fashion at work, secretaries can’t afford it. $100 for every one year of service, who the hell came up with that? What a joke! Don’t you other secretaries believe that! First years make what? $160,000 out the gate. Midlevel please! You get what kind of bonuses – $20,000 – 30,000? Waaa, Waaa, anons. Cheap, stingy, elitest, it’s all about you! Your assistante gives to charity, and you say giving her cash seems silly, what a joke! After working in biglaw for over 20 years, I’ve never met one secretary who has a rich husband and they only work to keep busy, are you nuts? We all are in huge credit card debt and don’t want to look to sorry so that you don’t walk all over us when you pull up in your bmw. Excuse me while I get back to typing my midlevel’s xmas labels (over 200) for his personal xmas list on my own time after he has gone home.
What are the tax implications of large cash gifts to secretaries? I would think it would be exempt as under the gift tax cap, but if it is a payment for services rendered it may not be.
N – typical thinking. How can I benefit. Upright Scrooge. What a pain in the ass it must be to live with you.
dear firm, please do not give me a check as a bonus. Cold hard cash is just cold and hard.
Office services gave me a bottle of wine last year! Now that is nice coming from office services to a secretary. Personally, I’m highly insulted when an attorney gives me a gift card for 50 dollars. I still have one in my wallet for Boarders from last year. Getting 100 from a partner, would be time to not care about his practice or success at all. I think I’d love it to see them have a difficult time after giving me 100 or even 250 for that fact. Of course I give everyone in my group a gift and the 1st, 2nd years and even beyond give nothing, not even a verbal happy holidays. Nothing! Shame on all you! Thinking that the firm will give a bonus is a joke, lucky to get 100 after taxes.
I am conflicted on how to respond to some of these posts. Normally I am sickened by “greedy associate” posts–all about how they work so hard and the bonus isn’t enough, and why aren’t they all valued? As if our extremely high salaries weren’t enough. But I am appalled at some of these secretaries. I understand that you make much less. But really, an associate (and many junior associates have no idea that cash is an expected gift and truly think that something personal is the nicer way to go) makes something homemade (after all, I don’t think anyone can say that most associates have lots of free time) with his/her free time, and you will be vindictive and gossip about your attorney? When that attorney truly thought s/he was doing something nice? And a partner who gives $100 is automatically labeled an asshole? And funny, I thought what made a partner an asshole is asking their secretaries to stay late 5 minutes before quitting time because they couldn’t be bothered to arrange evening assistance ahead of time, or verbally abusive partners, or those who demand their secretaries run their personal lives as well. Where is any semblance of understanding anything about the history and purpose of the holidays? Maybe it is because in my family, we don’t exchange gifts, but instead do some kind of nice service, but I am just appalled. Why is $50 something to be insulted about? I worked at a firm that recently collapsed, and my former assistant was taken along by the partner (who I know for a fact had to fight tooth and nail to bring her) to a new firm–not one day of unemployment. That is because she did excellent work. Now there’s a reason to do good work and to not be vindictive and spiteful because you didn’t get enough cash during the holidays. And also, not all associates are rolling in the dough. Beyond our enormous debt, many are also helping their parents and siblings out financially. I’m a BigLaw mid-level and plan on giving my assistant (with whom I have worked with about 4 weeks only) a $100 Visa or AmEx gift card. I hope she recognizes it as what it is–a gesture of appreciation for putting up with my “whiny demands” (which consist of filing, typing work related items, sending items to doc prod, etc…all your typical work-related secretarial duties) though, I don’t whine, and these duties are the whole point of why secretaries are hired and paid (albeit most likely not a salary approaching a first year’s). Oh, and not that it really matters, I am not getting a bonus at all because of the timing of my old firm’s collapse and going along with a partner to my new firm–so please, no 10-20% of bonus arguments please. Although if I had received a bonus, most of it would have gone to my student loan debt and the rest towards our savings. I do believe my assistant is a lovely woman, though, and will appreciate it, and will continue to answer my phone when I am out and to run around like crazy when a huge filing needs to get out the door. It is because she believes in doing her work well. And I really do value that and show her my appreciation every day with simple “please” and “thank yous”.
100 is not enough! Extra money goes to your student loans or to “our” savings… You know how much I have in my savings? 50 dollars (the minimum to keep it open) and I’m in my 40s and a career legal secretary.
LA Big Law Assistant
Anon above got there first, but, really … “appalled”? You are lucky (as I am, and believe me I know this and am thankful for my job) to have a savings. Like my colleague above, I have the minimum in my savings to keep it open (just in case — ha). I never said we gossiped about our attorneys. I said that we talked to each other. We don’t so much talk about what we get or got, but what we didn’t or don’t. Remember that movie, it was called something like “Day Without A Mexican,” how about we try “Day Without Your Legal Assistant.” The recent woes in the market may have cost you some of your portfolio which you will be able to recover much easier at $200,000 than I will at $60,000, but it has cost most of my peers most of their retirement savings and we just won’t be able to make up for that in our life times. Some of us have or are losing homes and don’t even get me started on how we are going to get our children into a good college so that they don’t have to work for, but can actually be attorneys. Make sense now, you pompous jerk? Pleases and thank yous are not special treatment. A nice little gift at the end of the year is.
For the record, I make $130k/year in at BigLaw in the midwest. My “bonus” this year will be less than $5k. I have $150k of student debt, and I support my significant other (because he is out of a job in this crap economy — and, he also has $150k of student debt). So I live paycheck to paycheck, drive a car that is 10 years old, and pray that nothing breaks because I have zero savings.
But you’re right, I’m still doing better than most people, and I am grateful for what I have. Not all BigLaw makes NYC money, though, and you seem to be overlooking that fact.
I’m willing to agree that we are talking about very different circumstances here. I wish that you were my awesome secretary. I wish that I made 160K + 20K bonus. Unfortunately for both of us, neither of those things is true.
I’m not sure if you’re just trying to get everyone all riled up here, but I’ve said my peace, and I’ll leave it at that.
I mean, the thing is, associates aren’t responsible for assistant compensation. If we all agree assistants are underpaid for the work they do, then we should be talking to firm management about raising those salaries, perhaps at the expense of attorney bonuses.
But putting it on individual associates regardless of whether they’ve ever even asked their assistant to do anything or whether their assistant is competent or not seems a bit weird. Are we turning holiday gifts into a kind of charitable donation? Charitable donations are awesome, but there’s not really any particular reason that “your assistant” should be everyone’s favored charity. On the other hand, obviously everyone’s agreed that the practice is to give something, and if you have a good relationship with your assistant, that should probably be more rather than less. But expecting young lawyers to be compensating for otherwise low salaries across the board doesn’t seem right.
To A Reader – this isn’t a question on the bar exam. We aren’t asking for you to compensate our low salaries. If I just did my legal secretary job it wouldn’t be enough to keep me around. I do things that a maid and waitress would do. To those that say my secretary doesn’t do anything, it’s your fault, or the person before you she supported, you don’t engage us, get us involved in your practice, year after year we just disengage and become completely numb. It takes a while to get excited about anything again but it can be done, it just won’t happen over night. For those of you in that situation – why not shock her and give her a nice bonus, in this economy you’ll be the talk at her family xmas – Scrooge!
Well, anon, but some people don’t want secretaries that act as maids or waitresses. Certainly I would never say that someone who expects their secretary to do work outside their job description and then didn’t reward them for it wasn’t a jerk. And again, yeah, attorneys should also be monteraily acknowledging people who give them legal support at the holidays. It just doesn’t seem like your situation necessarily needs to be emblematic of all lawyer/assistant relationships.