Companies are giving more holiday bonuses and parties this year

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A good friend of mine has worked for three companies in a row that don’t give holiday bonuses. Ten years ago her company hosted an annual party that was, by all accounts, lackluster at best. The small business she worked for next held a lunch at a nice restaurant each year. In both places she would have preferred to see that money go directly into her pocket rather than to a food tab. Even if she only got 20 or 30 dollars, she said, at least she’d be able to spend it as she pleased.

Then she moved to a new company and the Great Recession happened. Those unimpressive parties of yore suddenly seemed more appealing than the department potluck she now had to attend. And she still wasn’t receiving a holiday bonus, so no luck there.

Whether or not you agree with her, you’ve probably witnessed a decrease in end-of-year celebrations at the workplace. The cruel nosedive of September 2008 forced companies to scrap any plans they had to spend unnecessary money that year and the next. In that time we’ve also heard analysts say, “The recovery isn’t going to come quickly, so we need to be patient.”

Great, no parties and high unemployment? Happy holidays, everybody!

However, a new survey from CareerBuilder suggests that the situation is turning around for the better and that patience is still mandatory. This year, 33 percent of employers will hand out holiday bonuses to their workers. Last year that number was 29 percent. The economy is a little better and businesses have loosened the purse strings a bit, but they’re still doing so moderately.

The same pattern plays out when it comes to holiday parties and gifts. In 2009, 49 percent of employers were hosting holiday parities, but this year the number inched up to 52 percent. And 29 percent of employers will give holiday gifts to their employees, up from 26 percent last year.

The spirit of giving doesn’t end there, however. The survey also finds that 45 percent of employers will give charitable donations at the same level or higher as previous year.

From one worker to another

Gift-giving isn’t a one-way street, as the survey finds 22 percent of workers will buy gifts for their bosses. A few more (25 percent) will buy gifts for a colleague. Regardless of whom they’re buying for, workers intend to limit each gift’s cost to $25.

Now, in today’s economy, $25 isn’t exactly chump change. Every penny counts, and spending money on someone you don’t have to spend money on – as opposed to a spouse or best friend – is a nice gesture. And if you’re buying for multiple co-workers, the cost adds up quickly. That frugal mindset might account for something else the survey discovered: strange gifts.

Perhaps any gift is a sweet gift because that person took time to remember you. He or she took the energy to find the right item that suits your personality. You are cared for and appreciated.

Or not.

Workers were asked to name the most unusual gifts they received from co-workers, and some of the responses suggest that not too much thought went into the process. Perhaps they forget about the gift exchange and panicked at the last minute. In some cases, you have to hope not a lot of thought went into these gifts, otherwise these people are just the worst gift givers ever.

Here are the most unusual gifts workers have received from their co-workers:

• A bag of ice
• A bra
• One coupon to a strip club
• A CD he recorded of himself singing (badly)
• A dickie
• A unicorn
• A statue of Dracula
• A sweater turtleneck covered in piranhas
• A used cookbook
• One pack of toilet paper (20 rolls)

… Maybe it’s better to be forgotten? You decide.

If you’ve ever been the lucky recipient of an unusual gift, let us know what you got. And, for our amusement, let us know how you reacted to the strange gift.

Also, if you’re wondering what to get your co-worker, check out our gift guide.
And if you’re going to a company holiday party, read our advice on what to wear (and what not to wear).