Gift Giving At Work
‘Tis the reason for the season. Yes, I know it’s barely November and not even close to the actual season itself yet (unless you mean duck hunting) but the retail stores are already smashing us in the face and ears with things Christmassy. I was buying some birthday wrapping paper for my nephew’s science-based-parental-assistance-required birthday gift and thought, well, I’d better grab three five-metre rolls of Christmas rapping paper just in case. I was not alone.
Work presents several opportunities for giving gifts – sometimes amongst the team and sometimes from the organisation to the individuals or groups, within and / or outside the organisation. There’s the classic ‘Secret Santa’ and all its permutations. Names are drawn randomly and you get one gift for one specified person anonymously. I’m more focused in this article on leaders giving gifts to their team members. I’m not focussing on reward and recognition with a performance-reinforcing intention. I’m just looking at plain old gift-giving.
My advice, for what it’s worth, is to be purposeful, as in all things leadership. What’s the point? What are you trying to achieve? The questions falling out of that will determine not only the nature of what you give but the way in which it’s given. This video clip summarises some content from a great book on influence by Robert Cialdini. The section on giving and how to give is very illuminating.
Objectives might include bolstering employee satisfaction, morale, loyalty, engagement, etc. Or maybe some leaders just want to have people think better of them driven by ego. Let’s be honest with ourselves.
My key points and questions around giving gifts at work (whether it’s Christmas or not) are:
- (Again), what are you trying to achieve?
- Target the gift to the person. Sure, everyone might appreciate a million bucks but a gift that connects to someone, or resonates emotionally, is more likely to engender genuine appreciation. If you get it right, it shows you listen, observe, remember and maybe even care. That’s hard to fake. On this topic too, try not to succumb to the temptation of just delegating it to your assistant. It’s OK to delegate the buying and wrapping legwork but the thinking needs to be yours.
- Add a meaningful and ‘keepable’ card that again is customised and encouraging, not just a generic ‘happy birthday’ message on a card. I walk through a lot of workplaces and it’s not uncommon to see a card or certificate stuck on a wall or workstation as an ongoing reminder (or evidence) of a respected and effective leader.
- I’m not suggesting you do the under-10 thing at home and physically make the gifts (unless you’re a master craftsman) but do you have to buy a thing?
- Some research indicates gifts that are remembered most fondly, and for longer, are experiences rather than things.
- Consider whether it’s best to gift publicly or privately. Might be a cultural thing too.
- If gifting publicly, consider whether it’s appropriate to tell a micro-story with each gifting as to why this gift is for this person. I’ve done this and seen this and it’s a great event experience if you get it right. Creates or connects to memories.
- Nothing says, “I couldn’t be bothered” than a gift card regardless of the amount, unless it comes with a story.
- Keep it appropriate. ‘Joke’ gifts or ‘hey-it’s-only-a-joke-mocking-gifts’, even if funny can be hurtful and counter productive. I once saw someone with some tooth issues given toothpaste as a ‘joke’ add-on to what was a decent gift. Just don’t.
- An option is to give a gift that has components that can be re-gifted or on-gifted. A basket o’ goodies once unwrapped can have those chocolate covered almonds passed forward to someone without a nut allergy. I have a nut allergy and every time someone gives me a gift that includes nuts, I thank them but the message is diminished as they clearly don’t know me or it was a generic off-the-shelf gift. Or they want to kill me. I once had a teammate gifted by our new boss a bottle of champagne oblivious to what everyone else at work knew – that the recipient was an alcoholic. That’s what I call ‘tickbox’ gifting. The giver rated champagne as a gift and a symbol but the message sent was that they did not care enough to know you at all.
- Make a list and update it throughout the year. Link significant events and achievements of each person to possible gift ideas. Think representative and meaning.
- Maintain relative gift budget equity.