They say it’s better to give than to receive, but does that hold true in the office? Many leaders think, “Gifts are great for loved ones, but do I really need to give them to my employees? Isn't a paycheck and benefits enough?” While those are the baseline for employee satisfaction, most employees would love to receive a thoughtful gift from their employer.
This guide will go over the psychological benefits of gifting at work, give examples of when you should give gifts, and help you think of gift ideas that will really show employees you care.
The Psychology of Gift Giving: Why Employee Gifts Matter
The act of both giving and receiving a gift can have massive psychological benefits for both the giver and the recipient. For the giver, the act of spending money on someone else promotes feelings of happiness and pleasure. It also releases oxytocin, a chemical that signals trust, safety, and connections.
The whole experience of thinking of what gift to buy, buying the gift, wrapping it, and giving it to someone is full of oxytocin (as long as you don’t overly stress during the process—but more on that later!).
For the recipient, if you’re given a gift that you love, it yields a very similar chemical response—that is, a response of greater happiness, trust, and feeling of connection. But the key here is that the gift has to be meaningful to the recipient, or it may backfire.
When leaders put effort into giving meaningful gifts to their employees, both parties are happier, increase mutual trust, and build connections.
When is the best time to give employees gifts?
Giving meaningful gifts is always a good thing, but you don’t want to dilute the impact or blow your budget by giving gifts all of the time for any old thing. Here are some of the best occasions that you can plan on giving employee gifts to maximize their impact:
- Holidays. Generally the holidays at the end of the year are a great place to start. You can also celebrate other holidays that fit in with your company culture like National Eat What You Want Day, National Wear Your Pajamas to Work Day, etc.
- Work anniversaries. These are great to celebrate because, just like in any other relationship, it’s good to take time to appreciate the time you’ve spent together. Treat it like the special occasion that it is and show employees that you appreciate the time they’ve spent with you.
- Company-wide celebrations. Celebrate when you hit a big goal as a team, celebrate the birthday of the company, celebrate big announcements, celebrate when you rebrand, etc. Gifts for the whole company will go over great at events like these.
- Employee Appreciation Day. It’s on the first Friday in March. Put it on your calendar, and never skip over it. Besides Christmas, this is the best time to offer gifts to your employees that really show how much you value them.
- Life events and milestones. You can celebrate the personal events in an employee’s life like a wedding, graduation, having a baby, adopting, buying a home, etc., and you can offer gifts that fit the situation. For example, a kitchen gadget or some baby clothes.
- Achieving specific goals as individuals or a team. Did an individual or team smash their quarterly or yearly goal out of the park? Reward them for their hard work with a gift that conveys your appreciation.
- Just because! Surprise gifts are often the best gifts, and giving employees gifts on a random day can be the perfect way to say “thank you” for all of their hard work.
There’s no right time to give employees gifts. However, hopefully these guidelines will help you create your own schedule for giving sincere gifts.
What are some good ideas for employee gifts?
Let’s do a quick exercise: what does a diamond necklace, a lunchbox, a pack of snacks, and a set of golf clubs have in common? They’re all gifts that employees may love or may hate, but it’s impossible to guess which gifts will create which response.
For example, diamond jewelry may be expensive, but what if most employees don’t like wearing jewelry? And a simple lunchbox may seem boring, but what if an employee collects them?
As you can see, giving employees impactful gifts completely depends on the employees themselves. You have to think about what the employee will like, not what will make the company look the most generous. And you have to show that you pay attention and know what employees’ interests and personalities are.
Corporate gifts have a reputation for being boring or unoriginal, but they don’t have to be. Here are some ideas for giving gifts that will really make an employee’s day.
There are plenty of gadgets and gizmos around now, and many of these make great gifts—especially if you have employees who work from home! Here are some ideas:
- Headphones or speakers
- Ergonomic office equipment
- Massage guns
- Oil diffusers
- Digital picture frames
- Wireless charging devices
- Kitchen gadgets
In today’s world, tech gadgets are great for basically everyone. It’s just important to always pick something that will speak to the individual.
Give employees the gift of a life-changing experience. And no, it doesn’t have to be an all-expense paid trip to Europe. Things like the below are great:
- Online courses or subscriptions to MasterClass for those who want to learn new skills
- Hobby supplies for those wanting to take up a new activity (musical instruments, art supplies, etc.)
- Event tickets to concerts, games, or entertainment venues
- Gift cards to one of the fancier restaurants in your area
These are just some ideas to help you give gifts that will let your employees have an experience, big or small.
It’s no secret that many employees want their employer to care about the planet. So show them that you care with an eco-friendly gift that’s meaningful to them. Examples include:
- Reusable notebook for the more bookishly inclined employees
- Plant kits or gardening supplies (indoor gardening kits are great for cities!)
- Compost bin
- Self-care products or cleaning supplies with reusable glass bottles
As always, think about your individual employees and decide which sustainable gift will mean the most to them.
Everyone likes food. So why not provide fun and tasty snacks as a gift? As long as you know about food allergies and the like, edible gifts can be a unique way to show your appreciation. Here are some ideas:
- Gift cards to dessert shops, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.
- Catered lunch in the office
- Gourmet gift baskets delivered to employees
- Edible arrangements of fruits
The most important thing for edible gifts is to find something that each recipient will enjoy. Don’t give everyone gift cards to an Italian place when some people prefer Asian or Mexican food.
The Art of Personalization: Making Each Gift Meaningful
There’s one realization every gift giver has to make before they’re able to give meaningful gifts: what seems ideal to you isn’t the same as what’s ideal for the recipient. So that expensive cooler or that brand-name jacket, while cool for some people, isn’t going to leave a good impression on everyone.
It all circles back to making gifts more personal, personalized, and impactful for each employee. And that doesn’t mean you have to find unique gifts for every single person—we understand that you have other priorities asking for your time.
But what it does mean is that a one-size-fits-all mug doesn’t cut it. Send out surveys and rely on managers to learn more about employees’ personalities and interests, and then offer gifts that match those.
Is Company Swag a Good Gift?
Company swag can be a great gift. It can build up a sense of team pride and build your culture. But you have to remember about making it meaningful for each employee. Here are some tips:
- Get the right size. The easiest way to do this is to ask. You can send out a Google Form to collect accurate information. If possible, include a sizing chart of the item you’re ordering. Everybody is different, and it’s nice to get something that actually fits.
- Make it quality. Some of us have drawers full of t-shirts. Which ones do you reach for? The ones that are soft and fit well. If they aren’t high quality, they’re going to end up at the local thrift store and no one there wants to rep your brand.
- Don’t make it too swaggy. Most people enjoy repping their company, but a nice jacket with a massive company logo on it may be a bit much. Consider designing swag with minimal company logo and color designs.
- Let them choose. With Awardco, you can create a company store where employees can choose the swag they want. Just give them points in the swag category and they can buy a jacket, hat, bag, water bottle, blanket, or whatever they want.
Give the Gift of Good Gifts
Employee gifts are a great way to help build culture and spread feelings of happiness and value throughout the company. With meaningful, impactful, and personalized gifts, you’ll be able to make holidays, birthday, and events more fun for everyone.