So Many Ways to Say Thank You

So Many Ways to Say Thank You

A Manager’s Gift Giving and Employee Appreciation Guide for the Whole Year

By now, we’ve all seen the studies, heard the anecdotes, probably been convinced that when employees feel appreciated and thanked at work, those feelings translate into better retention, higher productivity – and, plainly put, more fun on the job. Yet, according to a recent study, only 53% of American employees actually do feel appreciated at work.

Think about that. That’s barely half.

I’ve been thinking about it, especially during the past few weeks. As we round the corner from Thanksgiving to year-end, I’m noticing a lot of managers looking for “more meaningful” Holiday gift ideas for their employees. It seems that there is a growing employer awareness of the messages we send when we bestow gifts on our employees. And I applaud this effort to choose a gift that more sincerely expresses gratitude. Yet, I should add that, most of the time, these conversations about Holiday gift giving raise a question for me: why is this so hard to figure out? Is it because we see this as a once-yearly requirement? A single day event? I would argue that, when we cram most of our gift giving and employee appreciation efforts into a once-a-year task, we turn the whole thing into something that looks more like a requirement than a heartfelt expression. It feels forced, artificial. And our team members pick up on that.

So, how can we all do a better job of giving gifts that are truly meaningful – for each, individual employee – without breaking the bank? Here are some of the best ideas I’ve come across for doing just that.

1. Cut out the cookie cutter.
Sure, it’s easier for you to purchase a quantity of gift cards, frozen pies or other identical items. It’s also quicker to write or say something like, “thank you for all of your hard work this year!” But these gestures often backfire simply because they are so generic that they actually suggest that you notice very little about the unique qualities and contributions each individual employee brings to your team. You end up saying, “you’re not that special.”

2. Customizing and personalizing isn’t that hard.
But it does require that you get to know each employee, not just from their project updates, but from your conversations with them and from your observations of who they are and what they value. Different people enjoy and appreciate different things. And keep in mind: this is the holiday season. Ideally, your gift will be something that is both meaningful and, in some way, beneficial to each individual. And the accompanying note should focus on the qualities and character each person brings to the workplace, not just the cold, hard facts of their performance results. When deciding what do give and say, remember not to project what you would like onto other people. Your personal tastes, needs and values might not be theirs.

3. Start with the unsung heroes.
Maybe the receptionist doesn’t report directly to you. But do you benefit from his efforts throughout the year? If your true goal is create an everyday environment of gratitude and appreciation, start with the people who rarely get the glory. Again, the key to making a truly meaningful gift and gesture of thanks is to keep it detailed, authentic and beneficial to the recipient. A coffee mug is probably only meaningful if you’re giving it to a coffee fiend or mug collector. And it loses its luster if it doesn’t come with a note that describes how the recipient makes your workday easier or more efficient or simply more fun because of specific things they do and the way they do them. (Hint: you can’t copy-paste those words. You need to insert actual, real-life details.)

4. Stay consistent with organizational values.
As the boss, you’re always responsible for representing your employer’s core values. While you don’t have to tuck a copy of the mission statement into every gift card, you do have to make sure you don’t do, say or imply anything that is inconsistent with the mission or values. Beyond that, do try to reference your team’s values or goals. Here’s why: when link your appreciation of an individual to the company’s needs, you tell that employee, “you belong here.”

5. In challenging times, don’t jettison the holiday gifts.
They’re more important than ever. But giving them is a trickier proposition. If your team or entire company is experiencing current or potential layoffs or any other financial uncertainties, tread thoughtfully. Doling out items that are – or even appear to be – expensive makes you look disconnected from the pain of the moment. (“Sure, she can spend all that money on presents but the company couldn’t afford to keep everyone’s jobs…”) Instead, consider gifts of smaller monetary value. Then put the bulk of your investment into heartfelt, handwritten notes thanking each individual, expressing your gratitude for who they are and what they do.

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