“Ho...Ho...Oh…” - Employee Holiday Gifts Gone Wrong

Anna Straus, CEO at Sparck December 17, 2019

With the holiday season in full swing, you’re probably starting to think about what gifts to get your employees.  But what to buy? Ah yes, the annual conundrum! Let’s start by asking what’s the purpose of employee gifts? If you answered to make your employees feel valued and appreciated, you’re on the right track.  However, while you may have great intentions, the wrong kind of gift can have the exact opposite effect.

So, what kind of gifts should you be giving your employees to ensure they feel as appreciated and valued as you think they are?  The key here is to know your employees. As we’ve said before, “one size does not fit all.” What one employee may love, someone else may not.  There is no hard and set rule that says you must get the same gift for everyone. 

Go-To Employee Gifts

With that said, let’s look at some of the “go-to” employee gifts and the potential pitfalls of each.  Again, some employees may love receiving these gifts, but if you don’t get to know your employees on a personal level, you run the risk of delivering a big “ho…ho…oh.”

  • Branded Gifts – some may feel like walking billboards instead of valued employees.  
  • Gift Cards - this can work IF you know your employees.   If an employee really loves a restaurant, getting an individual gift card can be a great idea.  But be careful about getting the same gift card for everyone. For example, you wouldn’t want to give a gift card to the local steak house to someone who is a vegan. You’ll come off as out of touch and uncaring.  One more thing to consider. You must keep in mind the dollar amount. A $25 gift card to the area’s most expensive restaurant is likely to be received with a bit of resentment.
  • Company plaques are not a holiday gift.  We repeat…company plaques are not a holiday gift
  • Office supplies – need we say more?
  • Scratch off lottery tickets – unless you know it’s a winner, this may not be the greatest idea.
  • Jelly of the Month Club – ever see National Lampoons Christmas Vacation?  If you have, then you’ll know why this could be a potential disaster. But again, if someone loves jelly, it’s great!  By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie, you should. It’s a great movie in our opinion!
  • Food baskets – it’s not that these are bad gifts.  In fact, some are awesome. However, allergies and food preferences can quickly turn your good intentions into trash (literally).

The Incentive Research Foundation recently published its Industry Outlook Forecast for 2020.  Logoed brand-named merchandise is expected to remain the most common reward among corporate respondents.  Believe it or not, sunglasses are expected to be among the most common corporate gifts. However, do all your employees want the same pair of sunglasses?   Unless you’re including an all-expense paid trip to the tropics, the answer is probably no.


Meaningful. Thoughtful. Individualized.

Your holiday gift will be much more impactful if you take the time to get to know your employees. 

  • Perhaps Bob is a huge fan of the Sacramento Kings (parenthetically we should state that we’re headquartered in this great city) and two tickets to a game would be a memory that would last a lifetime.  
  • Maybe Claire is an avid golfer and would love a tee-time on that “hard-to-get-on” golf course down the road.
  • Then there’s Jamie - he’s a volunteer at a local charity and a donation on his behalf would mean the world to him. 
  • And let’s not forget the obvious. Everyone could use a little bit of extra cash during the holidays. A Christmas bonus to show your appreciation of your employee’s hard work all year is always a winner!


What Do Your Employees Want?

Here’s something to make your head spin! There’s no rule that says you even must give a tangible gift.  What?!? Out of 100,000 employees surveyed, only 6% said they prefer gifts! Most employees surveyed said that words of affirmation, quality time with co-workers/supervisors, and support on projects would mean a whole lot more.

Consider pointing out how each of your employees has contributed to the company as a whole over the past year and how much you appreciate the impact they’ve made. The better they understand the “why” behind your appreciation the more powerful it will be to show them you’re paying attention.

Remember, holiday employee gifts don’t need to be wrapped in a bow, take a moment to reflect on the year and your team’s impact in 2019. The numbers don’t lie, like we mentioned only 6% of employees are looking for gifts the others want quality time, project opportunities and appreciation; we challenge you to have that time with your employees and thank them for one thing they did that contributed to the success of your year – whether it was a new idea that was implemented, delivering a pivotal client experience, a time they stayed late to complete a project, etc.… – find one moment out of the 365 days to ignite the feeling of appreciation for 365 more.

Yes, it’s cliché but it’s true.  In the end it’s the thought that counts.  So, go out there and put some “ho…ho…HO” in the office, spread some holiday cheer and show your employees how much you appreciate and value them…not just at the holidays, but every day of the year.


Happy Holidays from all of us at Sparck! 
May the season bring happiness and joy to you and your families.


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