Corporate gifting needs to be done right, or not done at all. Recognition needs to be given, but if tangible items are given along the way, those items will be judged, and harshly. A bad gift can be much more disrespectful than no gift at all. So, how can you ensure that your corporate gifting goes well and doesn’t breed resentment between employees and management, or between different groups of employees?
We're all familiar with gifting. Birthdays, holidays, and special occasions are many reasons why sending a little something to someone else is expected. That's why many businesses use it to increase engagement and morale; it shows that the company is just as close as your friends and family and should be treated as such.
If we ignore the ethical ramifications of the practice aside for the moment, corporate gifting has come to be a common practice. Unfortunately, it's also one that goes wrong far more often than it should.
Just consider the plight of the modern nurse. Nurses work for hospitals that are typically run as businesses, at least in America. There have been numerous pushes to respect, praise, and recognize nurses across the country during the pandemic. From murals depicting them as superheroes to Twitter threads of nurses posting their "gift bags" with $3 worth of old Halloween candy and vending machine items, it becomes clear just how much management really respects people putting their lives on the line every day.
This is why corporate gifting needs to be done right or not done at all. Recognition needs to be given, but if tangible items are given along the way, those items will be judged and harshly. A poor gift can be much more disrespectful than no gift at all.
And, of course, it's even more galling when executives walk away with million-dollar bonuses at the same time.
So, how can you ensure that your corporate gifting goes well and doesn't breed resentment between employees and management or between different groups of employees?
Why are you gifting in the first place? If you don't have a reason, employees might get suspicious. Is this a way of buttering them up because unsavory changes (like a merger, layoffs, or change in policy) are coming down the pipe? Is it a holiday where gifts aren't going to raise any eyebrows? Is everybody getting a gift, or just select employees?
Corporate gifting has several great results if you do it right. These include:
Gifting is about more than just the value you get out of it, though. If you treat it as purely transactional, people will know, and the gift will fall flat. Gifting needs to be part of company culture.
There are two circumstances where a gift might not be a good idea.
The first is if the client or individual you want to send a gift to works in an industry where they cannot accept that gift. In particular, people in positions of power, particularly governmental positions, often require their employees to reject gifts. Otherwise, this creates an incentive to spur an "arms race" of gift-giving to influence the power of the individual. You don't want people to send the President gifts to win his favor. The SEC also has rules about this.
The other circumstance is in cases where an individual's culture means a gift is looked on as a faux pas. In some cultures, giving a gift at the close of a contract with a client can be seen as rude or devaluing the deal or skewing it, in a "well, now you owe me" kind of way. Do your research, mainly if you're working with international clients.
Planning is an integral part of corporate gifting. Many different gifting occasions, like the end of a significant project or a major holiday date, are predictable. That makes it even more apparent if a gift is an obvious last-minute thing.
Plus, planning allows you to spend more time thinking about a gift of an appropriate value, which makes the reward feel truly rewarding rather than an obligation, as corporate gifts so often are.
There are two forms of corporate gifting. The first is time-based; everyone gets a gift when a major milestone or a holiday is reached. The archetype is Christmas, of course, but the close of a financial quarter, the completion of a company-wide project, and a new product launch are all similar all-encompassing gifting occasions.
The other is achievement-based gifting. These tend to go to individuals unevenly, making them more meaningful and challenging to distribute fairly. For example, suppose you give a gift to a salesperson when they close a big deal, or to a small team when they finish a significant deliverable, or to an individual when they finish a new essential piece of training. In that case, you recognize them as having done something special.
Either kind of gifting needs fairness and equity across the board. Giving everyone a gift for Christmas, but some people get much better gifts than others, breeds resentment. It's a little easier with achievement-based gifting since you can set a specific gift as a kind of "bounty" for success, and anyone who can earn it can get the gift. Just make sure there's an avenue present for everyone. Giving a team a gift when they finish a major project doesn't do much to encourage the people on teams tasks with maintenance and no significant deliverables.
Gift-giving can go to different targets for different purposes. A gift for a client, a potential customer, a gift for an employee, and a gift for a friend can all be different experiences with different outcomes. Every gift you give, for every occasion, is essential and unique. Give it the thought it deserves. Otherwise, you're liable to end up missing the mark and fostering some of those negative feelings you want to avoid.
If you want to play it safe, you could get everyone on your team the same gift or buy them something that everybody can enjoy, like a holiday pizza party—more on that in a bit.
The best corporate gifts tell a story and help bring people closer to the company and each other. For example, a company that hits its 20th year in operation can use it as a theme. Perhaps "longevity" or just "20" as a driving theme. Then you could have gifts, such as "things that last forever," which can include everything from goofy treats like twinkies to honey, to small diamonds, or even something notoriously long-lived like a cast-iron pan. The theme helps bring people closer to the idea and shows that you put real thought into choosing the gifts.
At the same time, it's essential to consider the connotations of a gift. Think about what a gift might mean from other angles, with different symbolism, and even in other cultures. The last thing you want to do is offend someone on your team.
Different kinds of gifts can go over in different ways with various people. For example, if someone on your team doesn't drink, getting everyone a whiskey sampler leaves that individual out of the celebrations. Accommodating them is crucial, but you need to pick something of equivalent value and connotation. Replacing the gift with an equal-value gift card is a low-effort replacement that doesn't help perceptions.
You can also offer choices from a gift package or catalog. Think about "rewards points programs" and how people can earn points to spend in a limited store, with different items worth different values. Corporate gifting guides generally recommend one gift option for every 200 or so people receiving a gift, though this is mainly aimed at huge companies, not the startup with 20 employees. Scale it appropriately.
One key is to avoid analysis paralysis. People are presented with too many choices and spend all their time agonizing over their pick, thus ending up never picking anything (or worse, having the gift picked for them and regretting it.) That's why you want to limit the number of options you offer.
A good gift is as much about the experience of receiving it as it is about what's inside. Presentation is important. The display is why so many companies have sprung up that organize and deliver gifts to a roster; they can spend their time creating a unique package, so you don't have to.
The worst thing you can do is drop an item on someone's desk or toss it in a Ziploc bag. You need some real panache to pull off a good gift and make it an experience, not just an item.
Depending on the kind of gift, your gift might be tax-deductible. According to the IRS, up to $25 per individual per year can be deducted from corporate taxes. Now, $25 isn't a huge budget, especially for once-a-year, high-profile gifts, but it's still something that can help ease the burden of paying for a bunch of gifts if your budget is already tight.
Remember that purely monetary gifts like money, a bonus, or a gift card are 100% deductible. That's because money is considered income. However, that does mean that the gift needs to have taxes withheld as well. This situation can foster many bad feelings, particularly amongst people who don't quite understand tax brackets, so be cautious with monetary gifts.
When it comes time to pick a gift, what should you choose? What sort of gifts are best suited to your team?
While this is a very individualized and personal decision for your corporate entity, here are some ideas.
Picking the right corporate gift, delivering it at the right time and for the right reasons can be a highly complex endeavor. Luckily, we're here to help! We'll provide the motivational blog posts and the pizza party, and all you have to do is sort out the little details, like what gift to get, when to get it, how much value it should contain, what the tax implications will be, how to present it and deliver it, and so on. Don't worry; it's easier than it sounds!