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
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 9:02
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    Reminder to everyone: answer in answers, not in comments.
    – V2Blast
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 23:14
  • // , Well that depends entirely on whether you work with a bunch of humourless sjws or with fun people. Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 5:09

7 Answers 7


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
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 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. Commented Dec 5, 2018 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. Commented Dec 4, 2018 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
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 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
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 12:58
  • The Head of Sales is likely to already have read most well regarded "must read" books in the field. Commented Dec 7, 2018 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.


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.


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.


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
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 8:48
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    @Kilisi I'm glad I don't work with you.
    – chepner
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 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. Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 15:20
  • // , Sounds like you have a pretty good rapport with your crew. You're lucky. That's getting rarer. Commented Nov 22, 2020 at 5:07

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