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Eight White Elephants: Re-Gifting at the Holiday Office Party

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A time-honored tradition in the workplace is the re-gifting of junk you no longer want, wrapped and bowed and given to another at the annual holiday party in a "white elephant" exchange. Usually this is some last minute scramble to figure out just what piece of cast-off detritus you can offload without it being considered overly offensive.

When it comes to the sacred white elephant exchange, some people even buy something halfway decent on sale somewhere rather than let coworkers get a peek at something that they'd actually owned.

Since this is the season of giving, why not show that you thought enough to really put some caring into your decision? Here's a list of stuff you very likely have lying around -- if not in your desk drawers then certainly handy to grab fresh out of the company supply closet and ready to be handed over. (We're not advocating pilfering -- just so long as those sundries get used in the office, no one much cares how they get to where they end up...)

1. Hand Sanitizer

Does anything say caring as much during the winter cold and flu season? Especially with the Swine Flu still snuffling around. Wrap a ribbon around the spigot and give the gift that keeps on spritzing.

2. Staples

Every desk has a stapler and everyone has had that oddly hollow feeling when they push down on it and get that hollow "plunk" of an empty chamber. And practically every time you go to refill the stapler, it's only to discover someone has swiped the box. Your generosity will be known when you give away a full box of 5000 count staples.

3. Coffee Mug

You might have never seen them but someone is sitting on at least one box of sample coffee cups from some promotional company that thought selling widgets could best be done by sipping joe out of a mug with your company's logo slapped on it. Find just one, pop on a bow and BOOM -- instant collectible.

4. Place Setting

In a world where sporks get tossed away without anyone checking to make there are backups, a personal set of cutlery is worth its weight in...plastic. Put a fork, knife and spoon in a Ziploc bag, along with a folded napkin, and the recipient will both laugh at your clever gag gift and never let it out of his sight.

5. Magazine Subscription

This will work at any company that regularly subscribes to periodicals to use as research or just to stock the lobby with reading material. Track when the subscription to a particular magazine is about to lag, then convince the office manager what a funny gag it would be to simply add the name of the person you wish to "gift" with that rag. Use a green index card and, writing in red ink, let them know their subscription will be starting soon.

6. Pens

People will pick up anything that makes a mark -- quill, charcoal, blood -- and write with it. But everyone's got their favorite pen. Cube monkeys usually grab ballpoints, managers go for the rolling ball gel pens and CEOs favor fountain pens, because they don't write all that much. Find out what flavor your gift target likes and grab a box of twelve from the supply closet. Toss the box, wrap some festive twine around them and hand over that Yule pen log.

7. Picture Frame

This really is something of your own you can sacrifice. If you've got even one framed photo on your desk and you're in a pinch for a last minute gift, put your snapshot in a drawer, squirt a little screen cleaner on the frame and shine it up. Take a picture of yourself with your cell phone and email it to yourself. Print it. Clip it to fit. And wrap it up. If they seemed creeped out, tell them the picture's a joke.

8. Grab Bag

There's a little fact of business that certain departments that handle ordering things like stationery supplies and such for companies receive a lot of weird little "bonus items". Usually sent along to try to spark sales, they run the gamut from travel mugs to calendars. Cozy up to the office manager and try to score any of these for yourself, then re-gift it to anyone...except the office manager.

Marc Hershon is the co-author of the new book I Hate People (Little, Brown and Company; June 2009) with Jonathan Littman. Marc is a branding expert who, through his Simmer Creative Studio, has created such memorable names as nüvi, Crackle.com and the title for Dr. Phil's book Love Smart.