holiday gifts 2022

The Best Gifts Under $50 for Every Type of Co-worker

Photo-Illustration: retailers

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Coming up with gift ideas for co-workers — whether they’ve been a longtime desk mate or you just see them onscreen every week — can be challenging. But the general principles remain the same as with any other gift: You’re looking for items that are thoughtful (and affordable) and that they’ll enjoy using. We did the legwork for you and hunted down the best gifts for less than $50 for every type of co-worker broken down into six categories (and if you’re shopping for something specific, jump ahead using the table of contents). Whether they’re a foodie, an amateur skin-care scientist, or constantly trying to improve their desk space, we’ve found a tried-and-true Strategist favorite they’ll enjoy. And if you’re looking for a present for your hard-to-please boss, we have a separate gift guide for them. (For the rest of your list, we have guides for everyone from tween boys to grandparents.)

Food and drink gifts

For the co-worker who makes gourmet office lunches

Maggi Masala Two-Minute Noodles
$19 for 12
$19 for 12
Photo: Retailer

When we asked chefs and food writers to recommend their favorite instant noodles, New York Times food reporter and Indian-ish author Priya Krishna raved about these, calling them “spicy, salty, and equally delicious whether prepared really soupy or more like a loose sauce.” Krishna is a self-described “Maggi masala-noodles devotee” and adds soy sauce, black pepper, and sautéed ginger or garlic to her bowl.

For the co-worker who’s two coffees in by 9 a.m.

Zojirushi Stainless-Steel Mug
From $24
From $24

We’ve been Zojirushi fans since 2016 because, as Strategist contributor Laura Perciasepe put it, the Zojirushi thermos “keeps things as they are.” Liquid “stays cold if you want it to be cold. It stays hot if you want it to be hot” — especially useful if your co-worker is getting used to commuting again.

For the co-worker who’s two matcha lattes in by 9 a.m.

They’ll enjoy this ceremonial-grade matcha, our best-in-class pick. Karina Hoshikawa, a beauty and wellness writer at Refinery29, says that it’s “the best matcha I’ve ever had.”

For the co-worker who has marathon days of public speaking

Singer Brandy tipped us off to these tea crystals, which she discovered during her debut Broadway run. “It feels so good when it goes down,” she says. “I feel like my voice is being taken care of and coated. After I started drinking it for a while, I could hit notes that I normally wouldn’t have been able to hit without it.”

For the co-worker who has a stash of rare teas

Bodum Assam Tea Press
$17

Tea consultant Sara Shacket likes this glass-walled teapot, which she says is ideal for “admiring the color of your tea.”

For the co-worker whose homemade bakes are Great British Baking Show worthy

You know the one who always comes to the office with a tray of brownies, cookies, or cupcakes. This Bundt pan — which cookbook author Vallery Lomas (who happened to win The Great American Baking Show) uses for her pound-cake recipe — is sure to inspire your home-baker co-worker to bring in a cake for your afternoon fika sessions.

For the co-worker with a secret condiment stash

Chef Lauren Joseph loves the “acid, salt, and funky umami fizz” this preserved-lemon paste adds to grilled vegetables, meat, cocktails, and ice-cream sundaes.

For the co-worker who’s serious about getting their eight cups of water in

BuildLife 1-Gallon Water Bottle
From $8
From $8

This gigantic water bottle beloved by contributor Caroline Goldfarb fits one gallon of H2O and features inspirational slogans to help them finish every last drop.

For the cool intern

When we asked college students about the gifts they’d want, these tumblers were described as “easy to clean and store and one step up from Solo cups.” They’re a favorite of Mimi Cheng co-founders (and sisters) Hannah and Marian Cheng, who say they’re reminiscent of “drinking and eating tapas in Madrid.”

For the co-worker who organizes office happy hour

To take their cocktails to the next level, “bitters are the salt and pepper, the pinch of seasoning” that their glass needs, according to Lynnette Marrero, the beverage director for New York City–based Llama Inn and Llama San. This set includes three that several experts told us all about, for old-fashioneds, Manhattans, and much more.

For the co-worker who collects rare vermouth

Photo: Retailer

For the martini connoisseur, “it doesn’t get more whimsical — or meta — than olive-shaped cocktail picks,” says Strategist contributor Margaret Eby.

Self-care and beauty gifts

For the co-worker coming back from parental leave

Late nights and early mornings aren’t easy on the eyes — and senior account director in PR Sonya Li Casino says this roller, which she found on Instagram, helps with that. “I bought one for myself and like three other people I know. It’s very, very addicting and makes me feel so refreshed,” she says.

For the co-worker who spends their weekends hiking

If they feel achy after a day on the trail, they’ll appreciate these eco-friendly cork massage balls beloved by hikers, doulas, and tennis players.

For the co-worker who collects fancy soap

Photo: Retailer

If they’re a fan of Portuguese home goods, they’ll appreciate this poppy-scented soap made by Claus Porto, a favorite of former Strategist writer Hilary Reid.

For the co-worker with miraculously good hair

This hair oil from Korean brand British M was evangelized to our beauty writer Rio Viera-Newton by Soko Glam founder Charlotte Cho. “This is the best hair oil I’ve ever tried in my life,” Rio says. “It never, ever weighs my hair down or makes it look wet or sticky, even if I use a touch too much.”

For the co-worker battling winter dryness

Weleda Skin Food Original
$15
$15

This superrich, cult-favorite cream has been recommended to us by celebrities and makeup artists alike. Actress Hari Nef says it feels like “your face is having a meal.”

For the co-worker whose ideal vacation involves a campfire

In our Assistant Files column, an anonymous executive assistant in charge of corporate gifting mentioned Diptypque candles as his go-to choice, especially this warm wood-fire scent, which he calls his “end-all and be-all.”

For the co-worker whose ideal vacation involves a farmer’s market

The hottest candle scent right now is technically a fruit: tomato. Out of all the candles we’ve been seeing, this Jonathan Adler candle is the only one that actually looks like a tomato. It has notes of rhubarb, basil, and thyme too.

Tech gifts

For the co-worker who asks to borrow your charger

Comedian Jacqueline Novak’s boyfriend, a faithful Anker user, gifted her this now-essential charger: “It’s both the thing that plugs into the wall and the battery all in one … The wall charger is the battery. So all you need is this Anker and a USB cord.”

For the co-worker who does everything their phone

Strategist writer Kat Gillespie loves this nifty Bluetooth keyboard, which is about two-thirds the size of a standard computer keypad. “It has a kickstand that allows you to prop up your smartphone horizontally and use it as a small screen, a setup that reminds me of an old-school spy gadget,” she writes.

For the office karaoke star

Photo: retailer

This mini-microphone comes TikTok-approved, as mononymous content creator Marz appreciates just how simple it is to use and its stand to stay hands free.

For the co-worker who multitasks

Omoton Adjustable Cell Phone Stand
From $10
From $10

Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness told us about this handy phone “easel” that will free up your multitasking colleagues’ hands so they can work on spinning even more plates (or for when they need a Twitter or TikTok break).

Gifts for the office

For the co-worker who’s particular about their desk-organization system

$30

If you’ve seen your co-worker painstakingly rearrange files or make sure their lamp is at just the right angle, this might bring some satisfaction to their very precise mind. Daniel Loya, professional organizer and owner of Spaces Transformed, says the tower desk bar “offers simple organization balanced with clean lines that make it a work of art.” It can hold glasses, writing utensils, and a phone.

For the co-worker whose desk feels like a spa

Acupuncturist Gabriel Sher keeps this quiet diffuser in his office, which can fill the room with the aroma of his favorite soothing lavender-scented essential oil. Your co-worker can set it on a timer or completely forget about it. “If you keep it on continuously, it turns off automatically when the water runs out,” Sher points out.

For the co-worker who desperately needs a new work bag

One of the Strategist’s favorite work bags we use ourselves, the Baggu cotton-canvas duck bag is more durable than your standard tote and comes with a few extra features useful for transporting work necessities to the office: an inner pocket, snap closure, adjustable shoulder strap, and handles. It’s deep enough to fit a laptop and documents, too, and comes in a dozen colors from op-art checkers to classic black.

For the co-worker who likes to send a handwritten note

This compact fountain pen came in second in its category in our 100-pen ranking — just edged out by a $135 option. It’s recommended by Call Me by Your Name author André Aciman, who calls it “the Volkswagen of pens with a Jaguar engine.”

For the co-worker who needs to take things one day at a time …

$40

… or one hour at a time. This set of hourglasses comes with one five-minute and one 30-minute timer that are nice-looking enough for your co-worker to display on their desk.

For the co-worker who always looks on the bright side

They’ll appreciate this vintage-inspired orange-juice-carton vase, which Strategist writer Ambar Pardilla can vouch is ideal for taller stems. The vase also comes in an even sweeter strawberry shape.

For the co-worker who’s always cold

If the office AC vent blasts right above their desk, gift them what we declared the best-in-class space heater, which has 11 temperature settings and an adjustable fan strength that will allow them to control how much noise it makes.

For the co-worker who’s always hot

For the polar opposite of that always-cold co-worker, Strategist writer Dominique Pariso found a solution to face sweat in this mini manual fan, which “is now an essential, on par with my house keys and debit card.” She calls it “the closest thing you can get to sticking your head in a freezer on a steamy subway platform.”

For the co-worker who can’t work with heels on

They might never leave their desk when they slip into these polka-dot slippers from floral-print aficionado Laura Ashley.

For the co-worker who needs to kick their feet up to think

$30

For a small but impactful desk update — whether they’re IRL or WFH — this footrest can ensure their lower body is positioned properly to keep a bend in their knees and hips, chiropractor Cariann Paul tells us (feet that don’t reach the floor means added pressure to your back and legs).

Gifts for the home

For the co-worker who just moved to a new place

Areaware Table Tiles
$15
$15

At the vanguard of the design coaster trend, these tiles were praised by new homeowners for their ability to do double duty: Separated, they can be graphic coasters, and together, they can act as a trivet.

For the co-worker cutting down on kitchen waste

DII Swedish Dishcloths
$17 for 3
$17 for 3

These reusable Swedish cellulose-and-cotton dishcloths are “a game changer,” says writer Ashlea Halpern. “They are superabsorbent, able to soak up 20 times their own weight in liquid,” she writes, adding that these dry quickly in between uses. These have taken the place of paper towels in her kitchen, wiping away “granite countertops, stainless-steel appliances, and streak-prone cooktop.” We’re particularly partial to this lemon print.

For the co-worker who loves a status plant

This once-pricey philodendron — named after the famous Hermès handbag — is now on Amazon starting at just $15. It’s like a collector’s item for gardeners.

For the co-worker who’s Zoom background is full of plants

Their plants can have their own sunshine party.

For the co-worker who just got a dog

Strategist senior manager of audience development Mia Leimkuhler has gifted this interactive squirrel toy to other pet parents, and “it’s a hit every time,” she says.

For the co-worker with a hyperactive cat

Yeowww! Catnip Toy
$6
$6

Why do cats love this banana toy so much? When we asked Nora Wood, adoption-event coordinator for Anjellicle Cats, she explained that its shape makes it perfect to play with. Plus, it’s far superior to the “lots of crap catnip out there.”

Books and games

For the co-worker with an artistic side

‘Women Holding Things’
$29
$29

One of our favorite coffee-table books to gift this year, illustrator Maira Kalman describes this collection of portraits as a “love song to women and, at times, everyone (as exhausted as we all are from holding everything).”

For the co-worker who always has a food experiment brewing

If they’ve always got kimchee or kombucha in the works, they’ll enjoy this cookbook full of “surprisingly doable recipes and techniques” from three-star Michelin restaurant Noma. It “takes readers deep into the funky depths of the Copenhagen restaurant’s famous fermentation lab,” says former Strategist writer Nikita Richardson.

For the co-worker who knows everyone’s birth chart

If they can spot a Scorpio from a Sagittarius with just one look, they may like tarot-reading. When we spoke to tarot readers and astrologers, they recommended this centennial version of the classic Rider deck. It’s “the most-popular modern deck by far,” explains Jerico Mandybur, an author and tarot-card reader. Mandybur adds that it’s “a good one to go with to get you off the ground.”

For the co-worker who’s over the puzzle craze

Their puzzle phase may be done with, but they probably won’t be bored of this board game. It only took one weekend of playing it for Strategist senior writer Liza Corsillo, a self-professed board-game fan, to get hooked. “It cherry-picks the elements of my favorite games (the fast play of Ticket to Ride, the social interaction of Settlers of Catan) but is more engaging and fun to look at,” Corsillo writes.

For the co-worker who spends their weekends birding

A board game in which “players gather bird cards and set them up in three habitats,” Wingspan was one of Vulture’s favorite board games of 2020 and is a game that “deserves the widest possible audience,” according to Vulture contributor Keith Law.

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43 Gifts Under $50 for Every Type of Co-worker