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Should I give my Employees Gifts?

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Whether it’s the holidays, Employee Appreciation Day, or another special occasion, you may be agonizing about gift-giving in the workplace. While you are invested in your employees and their success, does this really mean you must also give them gifts?

To gift or not to gift, does it really matter? Some businesses show appreciation with a bonus, award, or tangible gift. Others give a note of thanks. And some don’t do anything at all. It might be a concern about cost, too much…too little, they won’t be happy, so I won’t do anything at all, or they may think it just isn’t that important.

So, should I give a gift? The short answer is yes, but it’s not what you think. Recognition and appreciation are the key, and a physical gift is just one possible form of recognition. Showing appreciation for your employees is critical, and there are many ways you can do this.

Gifts & Recognition Communicate Appreciation

Whether in the workplace or at an organization where people are volunteering their time, employees thrive in an environment with positive recognition. Conversely, employees may fail to reach their potential when they do not believe they are valued or seen. HR leaders, managers, and business owners can demonstrate to employees that they are valued in several ways. Identifying successes and showing recognition motivates employees and incentivizes productivity.

One way to determine how to best celebrate your employees is to use one of the 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace. Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White developed this system for honing in on the needs of employees and connecting in an effective way. The idea was adapted from their original book, The 5 Languages of Love, which offers a system for better showing and receiving love in relationships. Similar principles apply in The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

The 5 Languages & How Each Can be Used to Honor Employees

Words of Affirmation – Use verbal or written words to describe what you appreciate about your employee. Share these accolades in a one-on-one, company-wide email, office meeting announcement or in a simple card.

Quality Time – Use literal minutes or hours during the workday to engage with the employee. Spend time listening to their ideas, responding to their insights, and focusing solely on them. Schedule uninterrupted time in the office, at their desk, off-site, in a meeting room, or for an extended virtual call. Offering your time to encourage, train, or check-in, demonstrates how you are invested in their success.

Acts of Service – Show your employee – with actions – that you support them. Help to resolve any pressing issues, concerns or other vocalized needs. This requires leaning in to determine where employees need help. It could be anything from making sure the soda machine is stocked with their drink of choice, to introducing them to a coworker who can assist with a project they are stuck on, to communicating through chat instead of at their desk. Employees may appreciate a range of service acts, and your job is to find out which will be beneficial to everyone.

Tangible Gifts – It could be a small present with a bow or even a gift certificate for time off. Show appreciation by giving something that is physical, useful or even edible! Make this effort all the more meaningful by learning about your employee first. Avoid giving chocolate to an individual with a non-dairy diet. Learn what employees are excited about and then find an item that celebrates that favorite movie, outdoor hobby, food, or family time.

Physical Touch – Communicating through contact in a professional setting requires tact. In certain scenarios, a handshake, pat on the shoulder, fist bump or high five can provide affirmation or encouragement. For emotional times, a brief hug can demonstrate empathy and kindness.

Getting to Know Your Employees

Deciphering which language of appreciation each employee values most is an ongoing process. It requires that you spend time with employees, recognize needs and affirm how every individual contributes to your organization.

You may also have to push outside the bound you are typically comfortable with. While you may be somewhat reserved and dislike attention, you need to meet your employees where they are. Vocally praising an employee’s work may not be what would motivate you, but it can strike the right chord with certain individuals. Providing support and showing appreciation can take some hard work, but it also can make happy work.

Who doesn’t like to unwrap a gift found on their desk? In the end, whether it is a small gift for the holidays, a Publix gift card to cover Christmas dinner, the year-end bonus, or a note to say thanks, remember to stop and appreciate all you employees.


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