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This jolly season is often made jollier with that nice holiday bonus — preferably cash — from your boss.

But what happens when that bonus, as well-intentioned as it may be, is useless, even insulting? We turned to question-and-answer site Quora to find out the worst bonus ever received from an employer. Here’s what respondents had to say.

David Hood received a string of “real winners” all from the same nursing-home employer. He wrote:

  • One year each person got a ham. I don't eat meat and many of my co-workers were Jewish.
  • I got a company sweatshirt mailed to my house that was four sizes too big and one arm was longer than the other by six inches or so.
  • A letter of thanks directly from my boss. He got my name wrong even though I had been there for years and it was a small staff. It wasn't a typo either as he referred to me as "Danny" twice in the same letter.
  • A coupon to eat a free meal at the nursing home I worked at...as a cook. They didn't charge for staff meals either.
  • An envelope full of pamphlets on how to lose weight with no letter or explanation.
  • A gas card for 15 bucks from a place that had been closed for nearly six months. 

Outright cheap

Worse, perhaps, is when an employer appears to be presenting a monetary gift, but delivers something different altogether. Imagine Jay Bazzinoti’s excitement one Christmas when he received a sealed envelope from human resources with the words “Company Incentive Bonus” and “We Appreciate Your Hard Work” written on it.

To his horror, the envelope was full of coupons. “To make matters worse, since the company was bi-coastal, the envelope was stuffed in California and most of the coupons were useless in Boston,” he wrote. “It made me rather bitter. I tossed it right in the trash, laughing at my naive belief that the company might actually do something human and unexpected in a way that actually benefitted the employees.”

Similarly, Andy Warwick, who wrote his company’s English courses, felt disbelief when he received his holiday bonus: a 20% discount on the company's English courses for his kids.

“I don’t have kids,” Warwick wrote. “[This was] a nice offer for the Chinese staff perhaps but not so much for the likes of me.” [Warwick has since deleted his post.]

Postal workers in the UK have been equally miffed. “Royal Mail celebrated record £100m ($156.6m) profits by sending all its employees a magnificent bonus…a packet of flower seeds,” wrote Joe Geronimo Martinez. “This ‘gift’ retailed at around 30p (45 cents).”

And in Singapore, Marissa Louise once received a bonus of an ez-link card for public transportation with “a $3 (yes....THREE) balance, designed by the boss' 7-year-old daughter,” she wrote. “We are all either Singapore citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders for God’s sake, not a one-day tourist.”

Takes the cake

From burritos, to pistachios, candy bars and fruit cake, respondents said they’ve received it all in the name of a holiday bonus. Some items, though, have been appreciated more than others.

Corrie Hausman, now a HR specialist and recruiter, recalls a trying retail job where she worked long hours, had few breaks and dealt with grumpy customers. “Amazingly, though, we got a Christmas bonus!,” she wrote. “A box arrived from the head office. It contained some cookies (six in total) which were to be shared amongst a staff of about 25, a catalogue listing all the cookies we hadn't received and a letter from the head office, telling us all to work harder. The best part? All six cookies had been smashed to bits in transit.”

Dana Poncelet’s bonus of a turkey and a box of oranges was initially welcomed. Then they “were subsequently declared as taxable income on my paycheque.”

At least she got a turkey. Steve Johnson, a federal contractor on a military base, received a turkey for 15 years, a tradition that survived three different contractors.

“Then the cheapest company on earth…got the contract,” Johnson wrote. “For Christmas that first year, they ACTUALLY, honest-to-God gave the employees a photocopy of a turkey silhouette. It wasn't even a copy of a real turkey. It looked like the turkeys your kids make out of their handprints in kindergarten, except it wasn't even in colour. Just a black and white silhouette of a turkey. Several of them were taped to headquarters' front door in the days following.”

The kicker? “The next year, we didn't even get a copy of a turkey,” he wrote.

Have you ever gotten a bad bonus? To share your comments on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Capital, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

Quora respondents are required to use their true names under the site’s Real Names policy. To help ensure legitimacy and quality, Quora asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to confirm their expertise.

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