10 Terrible Gifts for Boss's Day for the Horrible Boss in Your Life

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

"Uh oh...sounds like somebody has a case of the Mondays!”

If you've ever had a job you hated coming to work for each day, you know the feeling behind that statement from the iconic workplace comedy, Office Space.

Fittingly, Boss's Day is Monday, October 16th. Who wouldn't want to celebrate the boss that ruins their work life at the start of another weekly grind? It's perfect, right?

What do I get them?!?

On various occupational holidays, it's common to give gifts: teachers get gifts from their students on Teacher's Day, senior leaders show appreciation in a myriad of ways on Secretary's Day, etc.

So for this holiday, what is the right gift to tell your boss how you really feel about them?

Fear not. Lighthouse has you covered. We've got 10 ideas for the best gifts for Boss's Day when you work for a horrible boss.

gifts for boss's day - mr burns mystery gift

10 Terrible Gifts for Boss's Day for the Horrible Boss in Your Life

If you're one of the 65% of employees that would rather have a new manager than a raise, then these are for you.

However, it wouldn't be a Lighthouse blog post if we didn't teach you something to make you a better leader, too.

Therefore, along with each gift is a lesson about what great leaders do differently. Remember: no matter what's happening around you, you can be a great leader for your team.

Meanwhile, if you're lucky enough to have a great boss, enjoy the schadenfreude of the situations below, and then take a moment to thank your boss. They probably have no idea what they do that you appreciate so much. I guarantee you'll make their day.

gifts for Boss's day ear plugs

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #1: Ear Plugs

Why? Because they might as well not hear you if they don't listen to you anyways.

One of the most frustrating things about bad managers is that they don't listen to their people. Feeling heard is a base emotion people crave.

This can manifest itself in a variety of ways:

No matter the situation, a manager who doesn't listen is going to lose the commitment of their team, and find themselves fighting fires constantly. The fires happen directly because that's the only time they hear about things.

What great leaders do differently:

It sounds simple: just listen.

But there's more to it than that. To be a good listener, great leaders:

  1. Ask questions, and followup questions, and followup followup questions.
  2. They seek out feedback and input from their team.
  3. They appreciate how important it is to repeat yourself.

If you or your boss aren't actively listening to their team, what you don't know can hurt you. It's why a frustrated team member would consider buying you ear plugs as a gift for Boss's Day.

gifts for boss's day, a box of tissues

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #2: Tissues

Why? Because if you have a heartless boss who lacks any empathy, they're bound to make you cry. Keep tissues within reach at all times.

One of the most powerful, and disturbing, parts of the NY Times expose on Amazon was how cruel and unforgiving their culture was. There were multiple accounts of making people cry. As one former employee described it to the Times: [Ed note: emphasis ours]

"He lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. "You walk out of a conference room and you'll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. "Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

Unfortunately, it's not just Amazon that can be like that. I've heard too many stories like it from friends, family, and Lighthouse customers & readers about horrible bosses like that.

What great leaders do differently:

Having empathy is a true prerequisite to be an effective leader. This comes from listening to them and caring about what people have to say.

It's why Marissa Mayer emphasizes the importance of finding a person's "rhythm" as she calls it:

"I have a theory that burnout is about resentment. And you beat it by knowing what it is you're giving up that makes you resentful. I tell people: Find your rhythm. Your rhythm is what matters to you so much that when you miss it you're resentful of your work."

A leader with empathy cares for their team and is willing to compromise on some things that are important to their people's rhythm.

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #3: A Chia Pet

Why? Because then at least something is growing on their team.

One of the biggest mistakes managers make is not growing their people.  It's the #1 perk people want at work, and that they look for in future jobs. Yet, the majority of companies and managers fail to provide it.

What great leaders do differently:

There are a lot of excuses that bad bosses make for why they don't grow their people, and they are all weak:

  • "I don't have time!" - Great leaders use parts of their 1 on 1s to talk about growth & development.
  • "There's no room to promote people." -  This is one of the weakest excuses as there are an infinite number of ways to grow people without promotions (see here).
  • "What if I do, and they leave?" - If you become skilled at growing people, you'll always be able to grow the next person, and most importantly, you'll build loyalty in the people you develop.

If you're a leader still worried about whether you should invest in people's growth, read this amazing, inspiring story from Omid Scheybani about his manager. That's the impact you can have, too.

gifts for boss's day - a notebook and pen

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #4: A Notebook & Pen

Why? Because then your boss can take their own damn notes.

If you've ever been designated note taker in a meeting in a condescending fashion, you know the manager that needs this gift.

Too often, intentionally or not, note taking becomes a way to marginalize participation whether due to age, race, or gender.

Especially if you're the only woman on a team, you probably know the manager in your life that needs this.

What great leaders do differently:

Great leaders take their own notes when it's important. At times like their 1 on 1s, they realize that taking notes has a variety of benefits:

  1. Research shows the act of taking notes makes you more likely to remember it, even if you don't look at them again.
  2. When you take time to write something down, you signify to your team you value what they said. (A key tenant of servant leadership)
  3. It improves accountability by allowing managers to more easily reinforce expectations going forward.

Show me a manager that never takes notes, and I'll show you a manager that has people on their team quietly resenting what their boss is forgetting or ignoring.

gifts for boss's day dilbert comics

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #5: Dilbert Comics

Why: Because many horrible bosses won't even realize that they are a real life version Dilbert's pointy-haired boss.

The definition of dramatic irony is:

"A literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character."

For a horrible boss, the many bad habits and actions they do like the boss in Dilbert may occur without them appreciating the true damage of what they're doing. If you're on their team, they're living their own version of dramatic irony.

What great leaders do differently:

If you're a long time reader of the Lighthouse blog, you've seen a variety of Dilbert comics help make our points over the years.

There's too many to point to a single thing a great leader does differently, so instead, we'll share 3 of our favorites. Hopefully, they don't hit too close to home for you.

1) Great leaders face problems head on, while horrible bosses hire someone else to deal with it:

gifts for boss's day - dilbert change management

2) Great leaders embrace feedback, while horrible bosses hide from them: (Get anonymous feedback from your team here)

gifts for boss's day - dilbert change the survey results

3) Great leaders take the time to build feedback throughout the year, while bad bosses wing their reviews:

gifts for boss's day - a mirror

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #6: A Mirror

Why? Because some managers lack any self awareness or suffer from chronic, "Do as I say, not as I do."

When you're having problems with your team, the first place to look is yourself and what you can do to fix things. Unfortunately, horrible bosses tend to blame everyone but themselves.

Thus, a mirror is a not so subtle reminder to them to look a bit closer at themselves.

What great leaders do differently:

Great leaders start by looking inward for problems. Especially when you're trying to improve culture on your team, self reflection can lead to the greatest insights.

When Ed Catmull was focusing hard on developing a strong culture at Pixar, he learned the powerful lesson of self-reinforcing leadership:

"More and more I saw that by putting people first – not just saying that we did, but proving that we did by the actions we took – we were protecting the culture.”

Not every believes that, though. They cry, "but I didn't make the problem. I didn't do all of this!"

Ben Horowitz has a great explanation of how to understand this dichotomy in his post about Andrew Mason of Groupon's resignation:

"Make no mistake though—although he's the only one accountable, he's certainly not the only one responsible for all the things that went wrong….But here as in every case, it's not all the CEO's doing, but it's all the CEO's fault.”

As Andy Grove says, every leader is a micro-CEO of their team. Great leaders are accountable, while horrible bosses fail to look in the mirror.

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #7: A Bread Maker

Why: Because if you've gotten any worthless gifts from them over the years (company trinkets, awkward polos, etc), then re-gifting helps show how much you appreciated them.

For a lot of companies, gifts come in only two forms: bonuses, and trinkets. If you've worked hard all year, a company mouse pad, embroidered polo, or pen with your company's name on it can feel pretty empty.

If getting a shirt in the correct size is your manager's idea of thoughtfulness, then returning the favor may be the right gift for your boss.

What great leaders do differently:

Great leaders know that gifts are a great opportunity to show they know and care about their people. Even better: they don't have to cost very much (sometimes less than $10 to make someone's day).

Here's just a few ways great leaders thank or reward their teams:

  • A detailed, hand written note of gratitude
  • A small gift that uniquely ties to their interests or passions
  • Swag that actually has meaning (like for key product releases) and is comfortable to wear

With just a few minutes thought, great leaders separate themselves from horrible bosses with the gifts they give.

gifts for boss's day - umbrella

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #8: An Umbrella

Why: Because they need an umbrella if they bring storm clouds and negative energy with them everywhere they go.

If you've ever had a horrible boss, you know the toxic feeling that can be in the air. You can cut the tension with a knife and feel how everyone is on edge.

Making matters worse, bad managers tend to bring storms with them. Rather than help protect their team, they pile on by dumping on their team when there are problems.

On second thought, maybe you need the umbrella more than them...

What great leaders do differently:

Great leaders protect their teams, when it makes sense. Camille Fournier captures the nuance to this rule in her book:

"Sometimes it's appropriate to let some of the stress through to the team. The goal is not to stress them out but to help them get context into what they're dealing with.

…humans usually need some sort of context into why these goals have been set, and thereby into what problems they're working to solve.”

Shielding your team from politics and unproductive drama can be a very good thing. However, as Fournier highlights, helping them understand key situations can be a time when you should not shield them.

Great leaders understand this nuance, and never make their teams feel like they're being dumped on.

gifts for boss's day - a trophy case

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #9: A Trophy Case

Why?  Because if they're taking all the credit for your work, you might as well give them a shelf to keep your their awards on.

You worked for weeks on this project. You stayed late and came in early. Bringing your best passion and enthusiasm, you put all those extra touches on your work.

Then, you watched your manager put their name on it, and take all the credit for it. Crushing.

Unfortunately, this is all too common. A recent study by BambooHR found that the top complaint about bosses by employees was their boss, "takes credit for my work.”

What great leaders do differently:

Legendary college basketball coach and 12 time NCAA champion John Wooden puts it best:

"A strong leader accepts blame and gives the credit. A weak leader gives blame and accepts the credit."

However, it goes so much further than that.

Great leaders also praise their teams regularly. As a study published in the American Behavioral Scientist, researchers Heaphy and Losada, found:

"The factor that made the greatest difference between the most and least successful teams was the ratio of positive comments to negative comments…

The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6…The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9… But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.”

Great leaders know that their teams should be filling their own trophy cases, and that praise is an essential tool to high performance.

gifts for boss's day - 2 weeks notice

Bad Gifts for Boss's Day #10: Your 2 Weeks Notice

Why: Because life is too short to wish away 5 days a week.

You're not alone. 50% of Americans have left a job to specifically get away from their manager. Even more have quit for secondary reasons that are a managers fault.

That's why we've written repeatedly about how "people leave managers, not companies."

If your boss makes your life miserable, and there's no hope for change, then for the sake of yourself, your friends, your family, and your sanity, look for another job.

You have no idea how amazing your life can be when you have a great manager until you have one.  [Ed note: If you're trying to figure out if a new job includes a good manager, use these questions in the interview.]

What great leaders do differently:

Great leaders retain their teams. They're a magnet for talent, because people want to work for them over and over again.  If you love working for your manager, you tell your friends.

It's usually not any one single thing a great leader does. Instead it's a collection of key, fundamental habits:

And these efforts pay off, as engaged staff outperform in a variety of ways:

gifts for boss's day - engagement benefits

If you're looking for gifts for Boss's Day, then that probably means you have a pretty good boss. Take the time to thank them, and be grateful that you don't need to actually use any of the gift ideas above.

And if some of the gifts would be appropriate, consider if it is time to get your resume out there.  According to Gallup, 51% of your fellow workers are actively looking for new jobs right now.

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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