Editor's note: Welcome to Resource Actions, our occasional, back-and-forth column covering everything from the bizarre to the day-to-day that, despite everything, impacts HR departments. Please feel free to send all tips, thoughts and cookie plates to [email protected] and [email protected].
Kathryn Moody: Like Pinterest giving parents unrealistic expectations for their kids' birthday parties, some employers have unnecessarily and very publicly upped the game on — or at least, made a splash regarding — employee gifting. One Wisconsin glassware company, for example, gave all its employees a gift card to redeem "for a gun of their choice," BuzzFeed reported.
That's one way to show you care, I guess!
Ryan Golden: It just wouldn't be early December without the "worst gifts ever" lists cropping up and causing the rest of us to ask: Why?
You'll find some truly bizarre supervisor-gifted examples out there, including a few selections cited by career site Ladders: multivitamins, a copy of "Magic Mike" and a "urinal with popcorn in it."
Kathryn Moody: So, what makes a good employee gift? Something lighthearted but meaningful? Something fun but not too fun? Some companies offer employees a personal experience for their year-end gift, as Acceleration Partners does. Similarly, HR Dive's parent company has opted to reward employees with money to put toward an "experience" after meeting year-end goals.
Such gifts reflect the pressure on employers to create a strong employee experience through culture and benefits (and I'd definitely call gifts a benefit) — and a thoughtful monetary gift that allows for personalization can go far.
Ryan Golden: It doesn't have to be elaborate, either. "The best holiday gifts aren't necessarily the most expensive, but show an understanding of the recipient," Stephanie Naznitsky, executive director of OfficeTeam, said in an email to HR Dive. So whatever the choice, a short, handwritten note can be a great add-on to any gift.
Employers also could go with the annual holiday bonus. Workers obviously value a paycheck boost, Naznitsky said, so it's a good option if you can afford it. But follow-through is important should you want to avoid resentment, à la "National Lapoon's Christmas Vacation." Employers will also need to ensure fairness in distributing bonuses, which can exacerbate any pay gaps.
Kathryn Moody: Perhaps the easiest way around the gift dilemma while still encouraging holiday cheer is an optional white elephant or "Secret Santa" gift exchange. With set rules on price and content, these exchanges can be funny, friendship-building experiences (we hope). Generally discouraging gift giving to managers, however, can prevent accusations of brown-nosing, according to Rob Wilson, human resources expert and President of Employco USA.
But if such activities would make your employee base recoil in disgust, perhaps direct all gift-giving energy to the community instead.
"Rather than deal with the stress of Secret Santa or the distraction of a white elephant game, ask for employees to bring in one unwrapped toy to give to kids in need," Wilson said in an email. "Then, you can drop the toys off to a local YMCA, Toys for Tots, or similar charity. Not only will this remove stress about holiday giving in the office, but it will increase holiday spirit and joy in the office."
Ryan Golden: Of course, all of these options are highly dependent on the culture of your organization. It's one thing if everyone works in the same central office, but what if your workforce is all remote, or if employees are spread throughout different worksites?
The bottom line: listen to your workforce. What do they value?
Kathryn Moody: Employees want to work somewhere meaningful — somewhere that supports their own values and makes a difference in the community. The winter holiday season is the perfect time to double down on that.
But if you are still stumped, you still have one more option: giving everyone a day off. As it turns out, that's what most employees say they want, anyway.