2020 Update: Wondering what are the best secretary gifts? Check out our latest gallery of gift ideas, below. Some great standbys include cash, this cardigan, these earrings, or some of our favorite little purchases that make our life better.
We still stand by this advice on secretary gifts, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.
What sort of gifts are you getting for your secretary or assistant this year? In our last poll, the majority of people noted that they just gave their assistants and secretaries cash for a holiday present. Still, a small, personalized gift in ADDITION to the cash gift is a nice touch (time and budget permitting, of course) — it shows your assistant you really do care about him or her. So today I thought I’d round up a few small gift ideas to accompany that larger cash gift. (Note that Above the Law‘s discussion on how much to give is more recent than ours — I agree with their New York rule of thumb of taking your seniority and multiplying it by $100, but know your office.)
2021 Updated Secretary Gift Ideas:
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- Flowers are a classic for this kind of gift — not only does it gift your assistant with something nice, but it lets everyone in the office know that you did too. (Better for birthdays, I suppose — it puts everyone on notice that it’s your assistant’s birthday!) I’ve always run to the most local florist, but if I were up for flower delivery, I’d try this new company, The Bouqs. I saw them on Shark Tank, and while (as far as I remember) none of the investors were impressed, I was impressed enough to look them up. Their pitch is $40 flat fee, free delivery, no hidden fees. The flowers are “farm fed by volcanic ice melt and mineral-rich soil,” and you can set up a concierge service to remember your choices (and get a 25% discount). They now send the next day (which I think was the Sharks’ big sticking point; previously you needed to order a lot further in advance.)
- Know your giftee, but: a luxe version of their favorite snack food can be a great way to show that you’re paying attention and you appreciate them. These double-dipped caramel pretzels look ah-ma-zing, and they’re only $12 today.
- If your assistant loves her daily cuppa, this tea for one gift set looks amazing — I know it would make me happy every day. I first saw it over at ShopBop‘s gift guide, but C.Wonder has it as part of its sitewide sale for 30% off (bringing it down to $33).
- This little porcelain tray is only $10, and I love the idea of it near a computer monitor — it’s bright and happy, would be a nice spot to put jewelry that your assistant might take off during the day (earrings on phone calls, for example, or bracelets while typing), or even just a great place to put the myriad things that accumulate on your desk. Note that some letters are back-ordered.
- A wristlet is always a great gift for an office friend — they can keep their change, lunch discount cards, and a lip gloss in it, and add their credit card, cash, and phone to it when they grab it for their lunch run. I think Fossil makes some of the best budget leather bags and accessories around, and they have a number of cute wristlets — this scarlet one is bright and happy and only $45.
- I’m kind of in love with this Kate Spade planner — Amazon has a bunch of cute ones.
Readers, what are you getting for your assistant’s holiday present this year? If you’re giving cash, how much (and please note WHERE in the country you are, and if there’s an easy identifier for your kind of office (“BigLaw,” Big Four, Forbes 500 company, whatever), please include that.
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I recently moved in house. Does anyone have suggestions on what to get your secretary if you aren’t in a firm (and thus the seniority rule does not apply)?
I got mine a $50 AmEx gift card last year. It’s a lot less regimented – apparently our group used to do a group gift, but now people just kind of wing it.
Perfect. This is exactly what I was considering, along with a small homemade food gift and a nice card.
Anon for this
I want to reiterate to know your office before gifting. I have worked in a couple of small and mid size firms where it was NOT appropriate to gift your support staff large amounts of cash. It would also cause issues since other attorneys were not doing it and then there was jealousy among the staff and it just wasn’t part of the culture. Where I am now a small gift is okay (under $50) but no cash or cash equivalent (gift card with a set value).
Gifting cash can be an issue, some organizations have policies about this, where I am the limit is $99.99. And gift cards are not even allowed if the giver is avendor e.g. suppliers for instance. Giving snacks thoughtfully wrapped is a great idea. If people at the workplace routinely bring food items to share, a small bag of homemade cookies tied with a ribbon with a small card attached works.Otherwise, some chocolates or other candy would also do. You can even get crafting if you have the time. I spent an entire evening with friends recently helping someone make several packages of this nature to give away at work. I also like the idea of practical gifts e.g a quirky mug, or their favorite brand of coffee or some fancy teas. In some cases a simple card saying thank you and happy holidays is all you need. In some roles, people rarely feel appreciated.
I would also be wary of the “seniority rule” as another part of “know your office.” At least the attorneys who share my secretary don’t follow it. My assistant covers me (junior associate), a partner, and two senior associates. I was all set to follow the “seniority rule,” but when I checked with the other attorneys on my assistant’s desk, they were only planning to give her $100-$150 (despite being at the firm for 8-over 15 years).
I think to some extent you could say this is taking “know your office” one step further to “know the senior attorneys you share with.” I shared an assistant with a notoriously cheap partner, and that effectively put a cap on what I could give as a bonus to my assistant (at least at the same time as him) because it would have hurt me to be seen as trying to upstage him. He was powerful enough in the firm that I just had to go along with it, and at times suck up and give him the credit for an Admin or birthday gift that he had nothing to do with because he didn’t remember or care.
+1. I just got a new assistant and collectively the attorneys are giving a gift card – amount is less than $100 per person for the assistant. And this is totally the best assistant in the firm! So it really varies by office.
I am giving Lynn a $100 gift card. Also I did something VERY inovative (with Dad’s help). In my office, I arranged with the manageing partner to get a “tax advantaged” commuter plan put into place that my DAD found. According to the plan, starteing in 2015, we all can contribute PRETAX money into this commuter account, and then use the money to buy METROCARD’s, and the manageing partner can use it for parkeing his car and takeing the LIRR into work. Frank can even use it from his house, which is in NEW JERSEY! Dad was so smart, and I am NOT even goeing to use it much b/c I have to WALK to work each day b/c of my tuchus and the Fitbit that dad is monitoring. I wish dad was NOT so big on getting my tuchus down to size so he can MARRY me off. FOOEY!!!I know that it is best for him (and me), but NOT if I have to marry some lazy schlub. Dad is a MENSA, so at least he will be able to spot a schlub and NOT make me marry him. We have our holiday party tomorrow, so I have to go over there now to prepare. YAY!!!!!!!
Welcome back, Ellen! We missed you!
Your dad is very smart to get your firm into the IRS approved program. I suppose that is why he is MENSA.
Our firm is also enrolled in TransitChek, which gives us all tax-free commuting. You can still buy the transit checks and use them even on the weekend.
I also want to wish you a happy Chanukah! And I hope you will find your better half in 2015 (and even have your baby too!) Yay!
Anon in NYC
Agreed. I don’t think anyone in my office follows the seniority rule.
Sigh. I got mine monogrammed mugs and chocolates.
Anon in Minnesota
Any thoughts on a rule of thumb for assistant gift amounts in the midwest? I’m at a midsize firm in MN, and that Above the Law seems very high. I generally do $50-$75 for assistants and paralegals. Is that “below market”?
I’m in California, at a large firm, and the other attorneys on my assistant’s desk are only planning to give her $100-$150 (despite being at the firm for 8-over 15 years). I am glad I checked with them before giving her my year x 100.
I’m govt in Wisconsin and I generally spend about $75-$100 on my paralegal, but she specifically requested no gifts this year so I am going to pick up her bar tab at our office happy hours as much as possible next year instead.
Midwest, small office large firm, 10 years in/3.5 years at this firm, and my assistant supports someone senior to me and someone junior. I usually do $150-200 in cash-equivalent plus a small token gift.
We do a collection for the paralegals but individual gifts to paralegals would be viewed poorly, so KYO.
I do not think it is appropriate to get your assistant a planner as a gift.
I’m totally with you on this one. I actually don’t think a planner/any sort of time keeping/showing device is an appropriate gift unless the person asks for it.
This list (with the exception of the food) seems to assume that your assistant is female. Any ideas for the guys?
A coffee lover I know got a nice french press, I think this is probably a unisex gift.
Also fountain pens, I don’t know if this would work for an assistant meant it more as another item that could work regardless of gender for someone who uses them. Most are pricey but there are brands like Lamy that have options between $25-50
Whiskey. (But mine is getting chocolate. I will do better next year.)
A list of non-completely-stereotypical things for men or the women who aren’t super psyched about pretty little things would be nice. Coming up with pretty little things gifts is easy, it’s all the other types that are hard.
I have 1 male and 1 female report and have been wrestling with this. I think I’m getting nice business card holders for both. I like that it’s practical and non-gendered.
Moleskines? Amazon gift cards?
One of my favorite gifts from a boss is one of those hammers with the screwdrivers that nest inside.
JCrew has masculine versions of the pretty dish: https://www.jcrew.com/mens_category/home_and_gifts.jsp
OMG, I LOVE these! For me! And also dudes :)
The fancy water bottle could also be a good gift. For people who drink their wine out of fancy water bottles instead of mugs.
A Nonny Moose
Any knitting readers out there? I know nothing about knitting but would like to give my MIL a starter kit for christmas. Any particular recommendations? I’m looking at the class from Brit and Co but their corresponding starter kit won’t ship fast enough. Should I just stick with that video, and buy needles and yarn separately? Or is there a good package? Would love A-zon prime recommendations if possible.
Get her some fancy-looking KnitPicks Harmony needles – they’re multicoloured rosewood. US 6 or 7 would be a good size. Also get a couple of balls of Cascade 220 Superwash in colours she likes (each ball is enough to make a hat, so it’s not like a useless single skein).
In terms of ‘classes’, I would either write a coupon for you to spend an afternoon with her teaching her the basics, or get her a nice learn-to-knit book from A azon Prime. There will be reviews telling you how clear each one is.
I highly recommend knittinghelp dot com as well, as they have videos explaining every possible stitch.
Email me at tinea dot hotmail dot co dot uk and I can help you more with the knitty gritty
Does she already knit, or are you hoping to get her started from scratch here?
If starting from scratch, a kit is wholly unnecessary and typically highly overpriced. Find a pattern you think she might like that is rated as being at a beginning skill level (there are lots of sites with free patterns, and if you make a Ravelry account you can use their amazing search tool to find very specific things) and then get her the recommended size needles and yarn to go with it.
A lot of beginner patterns will suggest cheapo acrylic that doesn’t feel very nice, if you note the yarn weight (standard terms like “sport,” “worsted”) and stitches per inch you can select other yarns that are the same weight (read their labels) that’s made of nicer material in nicer colors. If you bring the pattern to a yarn shop, they can get you all set up with recommendations. You can also use Ravelry’s tool for finding equivalent yarns, or see what others have used to make the same pattern (they’ll show yarn name and needle size and you can just match it).
I would recommend getting bamboo knitting needles since they “grip” the stitches better, keeping beginners from losing them off the ends of the needles. Yarn shop staff can also help you find the right needles for your yarn– pick the yarn first, needles second. Ravelry’s yarn lookup can also show you what needles others have used for a specific yarn. If the pattern is large (I would advice against this, something small like a scarf is best to start) get her some stitch counters. A lot of beginner patterns will spell out how to do the basic stitches; you could also get her a book on intro knitting techniques separately.
Package it all up in a nice box and it would be a lovely gift. Nice yarn is not cheap but it looks and feels very luxurious, so that all wrapped up in pretty packaging will make a nice gift. And you CAN get all these things off Amazon and do all your research online, if that’s what floats your boat.
Alternately, a lot of yarn and fabric shops offer knitting classes. You could get her a gift pass to pick a class, but use your judgement about whether she’d prefer that or a kit. Personally I hate classes, but some people prefer learning that way.
If she’s already a knitter and you don’t know a lot about knitting, I would recommend just giving her some yarn. If you go to an actual yarn shop the staff can help you find something in the right quantity.
I’m not sure if it exists anymore, but I have a “I taught myself knitting” kit that I had when I first started. I believe its made by Boyd, and came with 2 sets of needles and a stitch counter. Also came with an instruction book, which was handy since my right-handed grandmother was having trouble teaching this lefty (they had a section just for left handed knitting)
Personally, as a long time knitter, I think a kit is silly. Starter kits tend to have crappy yarn, and it’s no fun learning on crappy yarn with crappy needles. With machine knitting so ubiquitously available, any hand knit item should be wonderful and fun, and with good yarn.
If your MIL is serious about learning she needs a good teacher. If there is a good local yarn shop in her town/city, getting her a class there is probably best.
If you are inclined to make a kit, get her addi circular or clover or hiyahiyas in 24 or 36 inches and a gift certificate the yarn shop so she can pick out a lovely yarn that suits her fancy.
I kind of agree with Pink’s overall sentiment. However, if you are set on putting together a kit of some sort, get thee to a yarn store and talk to the salespeople. I like Stitch ‘n’ B!$ch for a beginner’s knitting book. Then you just need needles and some nice yarn as the other commenters have suggested. Others have already said not to get crappy yarn – I would go further and recommend that you get nice needles too. Those cheap Clover plastic ones would put me off knitting forever if I were starting now.
ETA: Many people say to start with a scarf. I would suggest starting with a hat instead – just as easy, really, doesn’t take as long, and a much more satisfying result.
Lol. I guess I should have clarified–only the clover bamboos. As the other commented noted–wood is probably better for beginners, but addi turbos are pretty fabulous even as a beginner.
I hate the boyds with a passion.
A hat on circs, sure. I wouldn’t give someone who is doing this for literally the first time ever a project on DPNs, though some people don’t find them any more cumbersome than circs.
My mom got me one made by Martha Stewart a few years back. It included the yarn, needles and a guide to make a scarf.
I’m in a small satellite office (10 attorneys) of a non-NY big law firm. Our attorneys are paid in the NY pay scale. I have no idea how much is appropriate to give and am ashamed to ask other associates because I’m a midlevel and feel like I should know by now. I haven’t done much in the past, but my assistants have been pretty bad (in terms of attitude, not just competence). Now I have a great assistant and want to reward her appropriately. I’d happily give her the NY scale $400 but I’m afraid it would embarrass her or be super awkward. I’m not sure other associates do much, if anything, for their assistants. FWIW on Admin Professionals Day I got my assistant a small gift and she told me she was the only one in the office who got anything. I know the holidays are more widely gifted, but still… I don’t want to go over the top if everyone is just doing flowers or $25 Starbucks cards. Also is a gift card to a place like Amazon ok? I think it’s basically as good as cash but seems less awkward.
Anon in NYC
My office is larger than yours, but I have given between $100-150 for the holidays. This year I might give $200. I try to get a Visa gift card (since they are more readily usable than an Amex one). On Admin Professionals Day I usually get her flowers and a small gift card (like $25-50, can’t remember exactly).
I think Starbucks is fine, but I would avoid Amazon unless you know that your admin uses the site regularly. If you know that your assistant likes something in particular I think it’s fine to get something specific to that (I’m thinking like Soul Cycle class pack, or a gift card to Subway if she always gets lunch from there).
Amazon is good. Honestly, I’d just ask someone else & not be embarrassed about it. My secretary is the same way, and has expressed embarrassed appreciation when she thinks I have gone above what is expected, so it’s good to see what is “market” in your office.
Can we do a new poll on cash bonuses? I don’t really trust the ATL readership.
At my prior firm, the standard was $100 for first years, and adding $25 per year (FWIW, non-NYC boutique with NYC first year salary, but much more compressed after that).
Current firm is in the same city and the standard seems to be about $100 regardless of seniority, with a preference for gift cards over cash. It seems a little odd, so I’m not sure if people are understating and I risk undergifting. To the extent it’s relevant, my secretary is not good and borders on insolent, so I’m not looking to actually thank her, but just comply with my duty.
Agreed that ATL overstates (or maybe it’s just a NYC thing). My office is abourt 75 for assocaites and 100-125 for partner
The $100 per year of seniority was a pre-2007/08 phenomenon in firms where the associates made crazy bonuses. After the crash when associates in pretty much all firms had very little job security and years of low/no bonuses, that standard went away. Now that some firms are giving $100k bonuses again, maybe that standard is coming back in those firms, but certainly not in firms that don’t give those kinds of bonuses.
That NYC rule seems crazy to me. My assistant works 9-5 and takes off early a lot. I get that she does a lot of work for me but she gets adequately paid for that work. I really don’t feel the need to give her a few hundred dollars for doing her job.
Christmas Day, indeed! Just another excuse for being lazy. And another thing, Cratchit: I’ve had enough of this ‘half-day off’ stuff!
Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?
Although I tend to think along these lines a lot, I just see it as another form of tipping, and I just try to look at tipping as an unspoken part of someone’s salary. As an atheist I refuse to give Christmas presents to employees and instead give a gift after Christmas for the a good year’s work.
I am an atheist and I love Christmas! It’s always been in big celebration in my family (who are pretty much all atheists..including my parents) In the past, I have given my assistant a Sephora gift card but this year she is going to France for Christmas with her boyfriend so I am leaning toward cash.
Having been a legal assistant for 20+ years before moving over to management, I have to say I’m amazed at some commenters ‘$25 gift card and a food item’ and it’s all good attitude. Are you serious? I don’t care what part of the country you live in, we have to put up with your crazy a*ses all year long. These small token gifts are insulting. $250 is appropriate and considerate for someone who assists you every day of the year. Get over yourselves.
I informally polled my peers at my midsize law-firm (western, non-coastal state) last year. Associates give $30 to $100, usually in gift cards, with an average of $50. There doesn’t seem to be much correlation between seniority and gift amounts (the associates who give $30 were more senior than the two giving $100), but perceived quality of assistant might have something to do with the variation. The assistants always gift up to each of their attorneys, usually a box of chocolates or a $10 bottle of wine.
The firm itself gives non-legal personnel a relatively generous holiday bonus (5% of their annual salary), while associates only get a tiny bonus ($100 Visa gift card), which might help explain why holiday gifts from associates to staff tend to be on the token side rather than following the NYC rule.
I’m a senior associate at a mid-sized firm in Chicago. I share my paralegal with a more junior associate. She got a great deal on a kindle (my paralegal loves to read) and I bought a $100 gift card to Amazon to go along with it. I think it has less to do with seniority around here and more to do with attorney discretion however folks around here seem to cap out at about $100 per gift.. I’ll add that at both of my previous firms (small and also in Chicago) attorneys were discouraged from giving gifts (other than token items) to paralegals and assistants. I do like the idea of pairing the gift card with a yummy snack or something pretty for her desk though — might have to get on that. I’ll also add that my paralegal is fantastic and deserves way more than a $100 gift card.
I thought calling admin/ support staff “secretaries” was out. And assuming they’re all women is DEFINITELY out.
I think the nomenclature varies by firm.
I think we discussed this before and the consensus was that a “legal secretary” implied a certain skill set. Or my firm is old school. We have secretaries and legal assistants (aka paralegals)
I prefer my secretaries to be women. Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Labor…
Wow! I would love to be your assistants! Hire me. :) I hold a PhD, am very well organized, great writer, speaker and communicator…..LOL….How much do you all make? I think I make pretty good income at my agency but I would never give my assistants that much money. I share the office staff with many other people so no one really gifts them anything. I’ve never heard of this at my prior work places either. Maybe I should quit my tenured position and become a paralegal instead. :))
You’d probably make more money at one of the big firms.
Thank you Wildkitten! With all due respect…this is a lot less than what I thought you lawyers make. Based on the NALP link Wildkitten provided, this is pretty much my range too (well…maybe $10K-15K less) but I can’t afford gifting any assistant more than $25 and I’m being generous. Maybe that’s the price you pay for being in this field: expensive gift, expensive clothes, etc.
Wait, you earn close to 100k and you can only afford $25 to your assistant? That is interesting…
As a former admin/secretary in my misspent youth, I personally would have preferred to receive cash or Amazon gift cards FAR more than I would have liked to get flowers or trinkets. Unless you really know their taste, far better to go impersonal.
More general gift comment: I have regifted SO MANY Starbucks gift cards over the years! Yes, I drink coffee; no, I don’t really care for theirs; and there actually isn’t one within walking distance of my office. Shockingly.
+1 to all of this. And I would add Target gift cards to the “as good as cash” list.
I think this is true for assistants, which is the context you brought it up in, but just in case someone reads this down the line out of context, please do not get this for a person in your life who works very long hours and does not want to have to stop to run errands at a big box store, complete with a duel for the one remaining parking spot a half mile away, large layouts that take forever to pick up two items that of course are on opposite sides, and 20 minute “express” checkout lines. There is nothing I need at Target that isn’t cheaper, faster, and more convenient to get on Amazon or Soap.com.
you sound like you must be in a city. That makes a lot of sense. But for those of us in car cultures, a Target giftcard is good as gold. We don’t see it as an inconvenience, parking is not a problem, and running a quick errand at Target is– for those of us in a car culture– much easier than other options.
I live in Dallas. Car city. Target is a PITA–the car culture means there is lots of traffic and we have massive intersections with 10 different rounds of signals. As a result, it adds 15 minutes to drive over there on surface streets, or to exit the freeway and drive on the access roads, despite being less than a mile from my office/house. Parking is limited because of all the F-150s taking up three spots.
Completely agree, as a fellow admin in my former life.
Enough with the random trinkets and Starbucks gift cards. Nothing says ‘I value you’ like giving a coffee card to someone who doesn’t drink coffee and/or even have a starbucks remotely close to work.
Also please don’t give your staff bottles of two buck Chuck. Yes, this happened in one firm where I worked.
My non-NY firm follows the NY scale. As a first year, this is honestly taking some adjusting for me. I grew up in a lower middle class household where expensive gifts were considered showy or rude, and even today my family still has a strict $40 per person limit on gifts. I like my assistant and appreciate what she does, but it feels very very strange to be giving a coworker I’ve just met more than twice what I’m giving the people I love. Even weirder when I see the partners planning to give her cruise tickets or similar things.
Does anyone else feel like such a cultural outsider in biglaw? Like everyone else at work has an opinion on the best brands of Argentinian wines or their favorite tennis players or whether Rolex is better than Omega… and I’d feel much more at home just drinking a beer at a local baseball game wearing the watch I bought for $15 at Target.
I would feel that way if I was in big law but I am not. Its a lot of money to be spending. I guess it’s the cost of “Acculturation”.
To answer the other question….yes, I make almost 100k and I think $25 is my max. I would rather give the $50-$100 gift card to my nieces or nephews. For those giving a couple hundred, wow…..my own family has more needs so they come first.
Small Firm ESQ
Wow! Some of these comments are harsh! My assistant makes my life easier everyday, and covers my butt so that I don’t look foolish. To me, that’s worth at least $50. I’m an associate attorney at a small firm with 3 lawyers. Our boss is notoriously cheap, and our bonuses were awful. I happen to know that he isn’t giving his assistant anything above her bonus. I supervise my assistant and our paralegal directly, and so I plan to give them their gifts when his assistant isn’t in the office, and tell them to keep quiet. I got a $50 gift card for the paralegal for her favorite restaurant, and a slightly more expensive pair of designer earrings from my assistant’s favorite line for her. I also give gifts of the same value for assistant’s day and their birthdays. My assistant is not the brightest, but is good and caring, and could probably get paid more elsewhere, leaving me to have to interview and train someone new, which is an annoying thing to do. This gift, and the two others during the year, besides showing my very sincere appreciation for her work, engenders loyalty–priceless.
Bouqs BAD for me
I ordered from The Bouqs once. For my mom. My dad called and told me I should get a refund b/c the flowers were so shabby. Embarrassing. I called and asked for a refund and they required a photo of the flowers. So I had to call my dad and ask him for pics of the flowers. I sent them to Bouqs. They said there weren’t ENOUGH pics to tell. They ended up giving me a credit for a future order. AS IF I would ever order from them again!
Flowers? How absolutely unimaginative and drole. I foolishly ordered my admin flowers one year for admins day and she asked if someone died. Then lectured me on how flowers were a pain to receive and only showed that I was not creative. Also, roses sold in North America nearly all come from Columbia. That “grown in volcanic ash with a soupcon of glacier water” (or whatever their claim was) is crap. A good reason not to order from them.
If you know your assst., you should know what her interests are. Mine mentioned she loved seeing Cirque do Soleil in Vegas so when they came to town I got her VIP passes for her and her man. It’s not the $$$, it’s the thought. Flowers? Dullsville, dad.