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Ideas: Give gifts that count – corporate gifts


Thoughtful gifts for employees express appreciation for a job well done.

What did you give your employees for the holidays last year? Mugs? Turkeys? Nothing?

According to a Lands’ End Corporate Sales Employee Gift Survey, 58 percent of employees believe their employers expend minimal time and effort selecting their holiday gifts. Among the most thoughtless gifts respondents said they had received: a ruler, a can of prunes, a lottery, ticket and an eraser.

In contrast, the right holiday present “shows that your employees are valuable assets to you,” says Vicki Spina, a consultant in Palatine, Ill., and author of Success 2000: Moving into the Millennium with Purpose, Power & Prosperity (John Wiley & Sons, 1997).

Hilary Kleese, marketing manager for Lands’ End Corporate Sales in Dodgeville, Wis., agrees: “It’s an opportunity to show employees how you feel about them and the work they’re doing. In an employee-driven market, it’s important for managers to take opportunities to retain employees.”

Of course, many managers are busy enough during the holiday season with buying gifts for their families, let alone their employees. And most companies don’t offer any guidance. “In the absence of well-defined gift-giving guidelines, managers are left to muddle through holidays, birthdays and a host of other gift-giving occasions,” says Sherri Athay, co-author of Present Perfect: Unforgettable Gifts For Every Occasion (Stellar Publishing, 1996) and co-owner of Present Perfect Gift Consultants in Hyde Park, Utah.

So how can managers tangibly express their appreciation?


Thoughtful gift giving requires preparation. Just like Santa, make a list of the employees you want to present with gifts and then brainstorm. “Shop early. You’ll save time, money and frustration,” recommends Darcie Conran, national sales manager in Minneapolis for the corporate gifts and incentives division of Dayton’s, Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s department stores.

“The main problem is managers don’t know the people they’re buying for,” says Spina. “They don’t know what their employees want.” How can you discover your employees’ hobbies, interests and preferences?

Observe employees’ work spaces. “What kind of things do they have on their desks?” asks Spina. Pictures of sailboats or a golf calendar?

Enlist help. Conran recommends “asking co-workers or assistants” for suggestions.

Listen to what employees do on the weekends. Do your employees attend hockey games? Rent movies? Garden?

Pay attention at company functions. “If you have company picnics, get to know the employees’ spouses and children. You’ll learn a lot about people just from that,” suggests Spina.

Note where employees vacation. Do they go skiing in Colorado? Boating on Lake Michigan? Sightseeing in New York? “The real key is getting to know your employees beyond the workplace. Know the things that are going to be meaningful to them,” recommends Gerry Hodges, regional HR team leader at Schreiber Foods in Smithfield, Utah. Hodges annually exchanges gifts with the employees who report to him. “You can show by the gift that you’ve done some research into the kinds of things they would like.”

Ask the employees themselves. Larry Athay, co-author of Present Perfect, suggests that HR professionals survey employees for suggestions. “If the supervisor is asking directly, it’s awkward. The employees may be afraid of offending the supervisor. But if they can respond in anonymity,” such as through an HR professional, they can hint at what they would like to receive.


“A manager wants to be very careful not to unwittingly give an inappropriate gift,” cautions Cynthia Yates, author of The Complete Guide to Creative Gift-Giving (Servant Publications, 1997). Thus, avoid gifts that are too intimate, such as perfume, toiletries or cosmetics.

Clothing is not appropriate, says Spina, except for work-related items such as a sweatshirt embroidered with the company logo.

“Avoid anything that seems sexist or racist,” warns Yates. “In other words, don’t give the guys in the office expensive pen-and-pencil sets and give the women new coffeepots.” In fact, it is best to avoid gender-specific gifts completely. “There’s too much chance for misunderstanding.”

Gag gifts and cards with lewd jokes are obviously inappropriate. “Bad gifts are anything that embarrasses the recipient, such as a singing telegram,” says Sherri Athay.

Other gifts to avoid include tobacco, alcohol and any foods an individual abstains from for health or religious reasons.

In addition to these taboos, shun gifts that appear generic or thoughtless. “The typical pens, calendars and coffee mugs show no creativity,” says Spina. Employees in the Lands’ End survey ranked mugs and work-related items last as items they would like to receive. And, warns Larry Athay, “Don’t give gifts that hint at self-improvement on the job, like a course in typing.” Additionally, be cautious of gifts featuring the company logo. “Some gifts emphasize the company more than the individual. Be careful that the logo is discreet – not plastered all over the gift,” says Conran.


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