The Value of Gift Giving for Employers

There’s a certain negative perception about corporate gifts in America. Frankly, it’s largely well-deserved. If you haven’t been the recipient of logo-wear, keychains, can koozies, or other cheap swag, chances are you know someone who has. 

Recently, one company earned the ire of employees and a lot of ridicule on social media when they decided to give their employees a rock. That’s certainly not a gift that’s going to inspire employee engagement and loyalty.

In defense of companies, most employers know that corporate gifts aren’t exactly inspirational. It is difficult to find gifts that are useful, personalized, and thoughtful when the list of recipients could be in the hundreds. That’s a task that’s both challenging and very expensive.

Should Employers Forego Gift Giving Entirely?

Employers should still make an effort to give their workers gifts. Even though employer gifts often miss the mark, there is a good reason to keep trying. Ultimately, when it comes to gift-giving, the thought really does count. 

Most employees say they would be more likely to remain with a company that gave them gifts than one that didn’t. Also, most employees aren’t expecting a gift this year. A gift will have a positive effect and could be a very pleasant surprise.

Common Reasons that Gifts Miss the Mark

It’s clear that the overall concept of gift-giving is a good one. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that every gift is a good choice. When workers receive gifts that are thoughtless, tone-deaf, or chintzy, they are often left with a bad impression.

When workers receive gifts like this, they often feel underappreciated. Most state that they have received gifts that felt impersonal and thoughtless. There does appear to be some connection between salary and gift appreciation. More employees earning six figures or more were disappointed in their gifts than those who earned less than that.

It is important to note that being disappointed in a gift doesn’t mean it’s entirely unwanted. Less than half of workers have stated they absolutely didn’t want the gift they received.

Finally, any employer who is confident that their employees love the gifts they receive should consider this last data point. The vast majority of workers will express gratitude for gifts regardless of how they feel about them.

Common Frustrations with Employer Gifts

Whether they’ve hated them or simply been a bit underwhelmed, most workers have received gifts that missed the mark. Here are some of the more common complaints:

Logos are a No-Go

Gifts with logos are perceived as being throwaway items with little or no thought behind them. When the items bearing the logo are cheap and flimsy, that’s even worse. It leaves the impression that the gifts were simply dug out of a closet in the marketing department.

Gift Cards are Hit and Miss

A gift card can feel very impersonal, especially when they’re for a store that the recipient doesn’t shop at. Worse, because these are given in precise amounts, workers may assume that reflects how much the company values them. Many people simply lose gift cards or forget they have them.

Plaques and Pins aren’t Gifts

It may be nice to receive a plaque, pin, or certificate to hang on a cubicle wall. However, most workers don’t perceive these as gifts.

Self Help and Positivity Gifts

These are posters with flowery sayings, self-help books, desk calendars with inspirational quotes, etc. At best, they are rather useless. At worst, they come off as condescending while oozing toxic positivity.

When is a Gift Most Offensive?

The absolute worst gift is any present given by a company that fails to provide workers with adequate pay, benefits, or a pleasant work environment. Gifts that are given under these circumstances communicate that the company believes that it can appease workers with tokens. 

Remember, it’s better to give an underwhelming gift in a positive work culture than to give a nice gift in an environment where workers feel unappreciated.

Getting Gift Giving Right

Employers really can give gifts that are deeply appreciated, useful and leave workers feeling valued. Here are some tips for hitting the mark:

  • Give gifts thoughtfully — Write a personalized note or hand-deliver it with a personal thanks
  • Offer the gift of time — A paid day off is universally appreciated
  • Consider upscale yet practical items — Nice throw blankets, a stainless steel water bottle, or a durable tote bag are things everyone can use
  • Useful items for the office are appreciated — Try noise-canceling headphones, Bluetooth speakers, stationary, or a nice pen

Finally, reconsider how gift-giving happens. Most companies approach gift-giving as a corporate-wide task. Someone in HR or the C-Suite selects a gift which is then ordered and delivered unceremoniously to dozens or hundreds of workers. Of course, the response is going to be lackluster.

Now, imagine the difference if gift-giving was left to the team supervisors and department managers who work with their teams every day. These are the people who are the first to know when an employee achieves an important goal. They know their team member’s interests, preferences, and tastes.

Wouldn’t they be in the best position to choose a gift that is personally meaningful to the recipient and something they will use? 

A close associate is also much less likely to choose a culturally insensitive gift. Rather than giving corporate gifts, brands may do better by offering different locations or business areas a small fund for purchasing gifts or otherwise rewarding employees.

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