The View from HR

Giving tangible gifts to employees during the holidays can send powerful message

CorrespondentNovember 2, 2013 

For nearly 30 years, I have listened to passionate debates about providing holiday turkeys to employees.

In the past, giving a fresh or frozen turkey was common at Thanksgiving or Christmas in many manufacturing, processing and distribution companies. I am talking about a real bird handed to a real person and taken home.

Some of these companies switched to gift cards and grocery store certificates. It cuts out the trouble, logistics and possible mismatch with employees who do not cook or eat turkey.

Forget all the bad jokes about turkeys handing out turkeys, and look at what is really happening here.

I like the tradition, and this is why. Whether it is a turkey or some other tangible item, the physical act of handing an employee something you selected, ordered and gave to them and their family is very powerful.

Downside of debit cards

Think about the difference between a tangible good that supports life and affects the family versus a debit card.

Which do you like better: “Honey, look at this debit card my employer gave me. We will use it the next time we shop and reduce our total expenses,” or, “Hey everybody, look what I brought home from work. When my manager gave it to me, she said to have fun finding new ways to cook a turkey breast with these cool recipes, and she hoped we had a good holiday together. She even gave me her favorite recipe from home. Want to help pick one out?”

Maybe a tangible food item is not right for your workplace and employees. But please reject the idea for good reasons, not because it sounds like another day and time or is hard to execute. The strength of the idea might actually come from being offbeat and dated!

Making a connection

Managers who make real connections with real people, showing genuine concern for individuals and families, are rewarded in multiples. I can tell you many of the organizations and managers who gave me and my family meaningful, tangible gifts (usually food items) at holidays or other important events. I have a hard time thinking of my most recent gift card.

This is less about turkeys and holidays and more about connections and touch points. If you see an internal discussion about one of those traditions veering off into the “too much trouble/tired of doing that” direction, raise your hand. What is the lost value of the doing and the physical giving? How do you feel about agreeing on an electronic placeholder for the sake of avoiding a takeaway, when in fact you took away the real value anyway?

Employees, tell those turkeys at work that you value personal gestures and you would like opportunities to do so for other employees and your community. Both giver and receiver will benefit from every transaction.

Bruce Clarke, J.D., is president and CEO of CAI Inc., a human resource management firm with locations in Raleigh and Greensboro. CAI helps organizations maximize employee engagement while minimizing employer liability. For more information, visit www .capital .org .

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