Employee Holiday Gifts – Yeah – You Should…

Paul Hebert Employee Relations, Engagement and Satisfaction, Influence, Paul Hebert, Performance, Recognition, Total Rewards

Unemployed for dummies It’s that time of year again and we are staring down multiple barrels of holiday fun.

Thanksgiving is soon upon us and Christmas, Hanukah, Bodhi Day, Festivus, Kwanza, Boxing Day, Feast of Winter Veil and a few other lesser known celebrations are following closely.

It is that time of year when we reflect on the past and plan for the future.  As managers and employees, this time of year we typically think about our work – what we’ve done and what we still have to do – and what we want to do. It’s also the time for the traditional “gift giving” in the office.  You know – when the boss comes by and drops a turkey on your desk – or a gift card – or even some cash – and says the perfunctory “thanks dude/dudette for the effort.  See ya next year.  Don’t forget about that report due on December 26th.”

Before you do that.


Take some advice from both a Manager – and someone who spends 104% of their time thinking about the best ways to engage employees.  Don’t do it.

Find the “Them” in Them

Each employee is different.  They each have a different take on the world.  They each have different tastes and different points of view.  They each value different things.  I know that about 70% of you probably haven’t done a good job over the past 12 months figuring out what makes the individuals on your team, uhm, individuals – but take the time now to get to know your employees and find that one thing that really sets them apart and leverage that.

Books, Baseball, Booze – Whatever

When I had a team of about 20 marketing folks, each holiday season I’d put their name on a list (I love playing Santa – mostly ‘cuz the suite actually fits me) and then next to the name I’d write five or six words that describe that person.  Sort of a stream of consciousness thing.

Then I would choose a category for gifts.  One year it was books.  Another year (and I knew my team well) it was booze.  For the book year, I selected a specific book that matched their personality – but something different – something they wouldn’t have thought of.  For one team member who was a bit more edgy, I picked Dianetics.  Something he probably wouldn’t have bought for himself but matched where his head was.  Another got a military history book.  You get the idea.

For the booze year, I went through a drink maker’s encyclopedia and looked for names of drinks that captured the personality of each team member.  I then bought the appropriate fixins so they could make the drink.  When we did our obligatory holiday lunch (I also did an evening team get-together at my house but those are “members” only stories) – I’d go through the list of people – talk about them individually and why I picked what I did and then give them the gift.

Personal AND Specific  

And here’s the thing they appreciated more than anything.


That’s right.  It wasn’t the value of the gift – nor was it how well I ultimately summed up their personality in the gift.  It was the fact that I actually sat down and thought about each one of them as individuals – not as “my team” but as a person and who they were.  Even those who said I got it wrong – they appreciated the effort.  And truthfully – my mistakes gave me insight for the next year.

Don’t Do Group – Do Individuals

This year, for the holiday season, don’t just get a bag of same-ol, same-ol gifts for your team.  Take some time.  See if you know them well enough to pick out a book for them.  If you do – great – then go shopping.  If you couldn’t pick out a personal book for your teammate – then you got some work to do between now and the holiday party.  Take them to lunch – talk to them (gasp!)  Find out what they like/don’t like, do, or don’t do.

Whatever you do … don’t give the exact same thing to everyone.  Sure it takes time – but they just gave you 2080 of their hours in 2010 – you can spend about 30 minutes on each one now.