So it's secret santa time again at work, and I've drawn the Head of Sales. Secret santa is normally a jokey thing in our office, so I thought it would be amusing to buy him a 'Sales for Dummies' sort of book.

Normally I wouldn't think twice about this sort of thing, but it's been made apparent that sales haven't been doing too well this year. Does that make a gift like this a little too 'on the nose'?

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    The person you're gifting this to, how is their sense of humour normally? – user34587 Dec 4 '18 at 9:02
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    Reminder to everyone: answer in answers, not in comments. – V2Blast Dec 4 '18 at 23:14

Normally I wouldn't think twice about this sort of thing, but it's been made apparent that sales haven't been doing too well this year. Does that make a gift like this [Sales for Dummies] a little too 'on the nose'?

I think it entirely depends on the personality of the Head of Sales, but I recommend not rubbing salt in the wound here. It's likely the Head of Sales is taking a lot of flak for sale's poor performance and getting a book that insults his poor wounded ego just doesn't seem like a good idea. I recommend another gift.

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    A good proposal to keep in line with the fun spirit of secret santa you want to instill would be to get something humoristic, just something that is unrelated to the whole sales debacle. – Leon Dec 4 '18 at 10:04
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    Maybe a post-it note 100 comebacks when you're getting flack? I gave my manager 100 insults once - surely there's a 100 comebacks somewhere? "I'll try selling more when you make it better" kind of thing. – Darren Bartrup-Cook Dec 5 '18 at 11:40

I'd suggest this is one of those "If you have to ask, don't do it" moments.

Even if someone might normally find things like this funny, the questions remain:

  • What kinda of pressure are they currently under if sales are doing badly that might cause them to react badly? If they're under a lot of stress this might make them feel very bad indeed.

  • What kind of impression will this give the rest of the company, if sales issues are well known - e.g. will everyone know it's meant to be a joke or will some people consider it a snub, and will everyone find it funny?

As others have said, it depends on the culture of the place... which to me means that none of us can tell you whether or not it would be ok as we don't work there. And if you could tell whether or not it would be ok, you wouldn't need to ask us.

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    I would give an elementary book in someone's area of expertise only if everything was great. If sales were up and the recipient was the hero of the hour it would be a great gift. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 4 '18 at 14:35
  • Absolutely, @PatriciaShanahan but you have to be sure a gift given in fun will be received in fun. There's nothing wrong with this as a fun gift per se but the timing may be suspect. – Rob Moir Dec 4 '18 at 21:24

This is not a very fun joke if it comes at someone else's expense and also attacks their professionalism. Only do this if you know the Head of Sales will also laugh and not feel embarrassed.

As a gift you are not too far off, though. If the book is a well regarded "must read" in the field then the receiver might actually like it and read it. Not "for dummies" but a real book where you did your research. Then if someone else makes a joke everyone can laugh (including Head of Sales), or you can make the joke in a friendly manner. The difference here is that a real book on the subject would not belittle them.

Take this with a grain of salt, of course. You know the person and the environment better than any of us. Just be aware that these kind of jokes can get out of hand and turn into workplace bullying. There are no rules as long as it is all fun and games for everyone.

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    I think this answer is missing the point of the timing. It's the timing that's the main problem here. – Mast Dec 5 '18 at 12:58
  • The Head of Sales is likely to already have read most well regarded "must read" books in the field. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 7 '18 at 13:48

Depends on the person's sense of humour, work atmosphere, your relationship to this person, their relationship to the rest of the company, whether they had an argument with their spouse this morning, planetary alignments, etc. etc. etc.

With the right person in the right circumstances? Sure, it can be funny; perhaps even hilarious. If you need to ask here however there's a decent chance it's not, and probably wisest to avoid taking the chance.

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I'd say first of all try to figure out if they take the bad sales personally. If they think it's their fault or their problem and they're under a lot of pressure, it might not be a great idea. However if they realize it's not just their fault and stuff like that can happen, they probably won't take offense from it. Of course it'll still depend on their personallity and sense of humor.

But if you really don't know whether they will take it well, just don't do it. A simple joke is not worth potentially insulting someone over.

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To add to @Emil Vikström's great answer might I suggest a book which is related to sales at least in an abstract way. It would be treasured by the head of sales rather than thrown away.

Malcolm Gladwell - The Tipping Point is a great read which looks in to the psychology behind what causes things to suddenly become popular, such as the Hush Puppies craze in the 90s in America.

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I think this question needs a slightly different perspective of answer. Call it a devil's advocate point of view.

The company has problems because sales are poor. When things go well I'm sure the head of sales is happy to take a massive bonus (even though it's actually just their job to sell stuff). So why, when things go badly, can't the staff express their anger and frustration at the poor performance by giving a "gift" with a message ?

Staff have few, if any, real ways to register their feelings on the poor performance of managers, and I see no reason why this event should not be used to communicate how the rest of the staff feel about this. Poor sales hurts other people's wages and bonuses and even job security. If you take this kind of responsibility on, you should accept that their will be payback when you screw up, right ?

So if that's your view take the advice to wipe your fingerprints from gift and wrapping paper and send your message.

A number of people have suggested this is unfairly kicking the hurt ego when it's down. A contrary view is possible. There is no need to spare senior managers or their egos (and how many senior managers do you know who could do with their unjustifiably large ego deflating ?). You could even argue that less ego might improve performance. And since when do senior managers worry about the egos of junior colleagues ?

So depending on the way you feel about the company maybe this is a legitimate opportunity to register a complaint.


But one last thought : maybe it's simply a tough year for sales generally. If the fault does not lie with the person and their policy, but with external factors that sometimes can't be avoided or undone, then this type of gift may be inappropriate. With all the market uncertainty worldwide and insane politics (tariffs, talk of trade wars, Brexit and EU uncertainty, even China in a trade war maybe), maybe it's not all the sales team's fault.

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    -1. You seem to think that the book is being given to make a point, and OP wants to know whether that is OK to do. That's very much NOT what OP has said: They would be giving this as a joke if sales were good or OK, and they aren't trying to make a point. – Brondahl Dec 5 '18 at 11:16
  • @Brondahl That's not my reading of the question. The OP's intention seems ambivalent to me. The OP is clearly aware that this could be potentially offensive and is still considering doing it, so clearly causing offense is not necessarily something that's "off the table" to the OP or they wouldn't need to ask. Hence my suggestion that the OP may (at some level) want to register a complaint. You may not read it that way but I strongly disagree with your interpretation. If the OP knows it's hurtful and is still thinking of doing it, the OP must* have a reason. Let's acknowledge that. – StephenG Dec 6 '18 at 0:45
  • I disagree, but I'm not going to argue it. I'll note that no-one else seems to agree with you, thoyugh. – Brondahl Dec 7 '18 at 8:55

It's secret Santa, just do it and wipe off any fingerprints. I gave my managers manager a kids English primer once (inside joke). I've seen a Managing Director get a blow up doll, and banana flavoured panties for another (body building alpha male type chap).

Everyone should take it in the right spirit and if there's drinks later no one remembers anything bad. The blow up doll was found impaled on the forklift fork next morning.

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    This is context dependent though. Normally a sales for dummies book as suggested would be in line with the spirit you depict and I am all for it. But you need to take into account the context which in this case is the sales being down, so anything specific to this may be taken at heart or as a jab at the person. If they wish to go for a humoristic gift it should be one with no connotations to sales (that we know are bad for the year). – Leon Dec 4 '18 at 8:48
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    @Kilisi I'm glad I don't work with you. – chepner Dec 4 '18 at 15:12
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    "Anyone who can't laugh at themselves..." may for all we know have been warned that they're going to get fired if performance doesn't improve, and might now be worrying how they're going to pay the bills and provide for their family and keep their home? Doesn't sound like the kind of thing that will put a smile on their face. I'm with others. Normally, "joke" gifts are fine, sure. Not when there's a possibility that the joke might be indistinguishable from cruelty. – BittermanAndy Dec 4 '18 at 15:20

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