I recently read an article--[url] Better Software Magazine in which the author stated that he worked for a manager who gave specific personal gifts as a way of rewarding employees. For instance one employee might receive a Starbuck's gift card because the manager knew the employee is a big Starbuck's fan. Another employee might get tickets to the theater because the manager knew the employee loved live drama.

I have two questions:
1) Is it appropriate for a manager to reward employees with individualized gifts?

2) If it is appropriate, how can a manager reward employees when the company has a policy against giving any gifts of "substantive" value? What other types of rewards would be appropriate--i.e., no "substantive" value (key chains, pens, water bottles, etc.), but yet individualized enough that the employee appreciates it?

tcomeau's picture
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Mark mentioned in this thread
that he doesn't like gifts, as there are better ways to build relationships.

I was persuaded by the overall discussion in that thread that I would only give gifts to my friends, not to my directs. (Though there is a little overlap.)

Particularly with a company policy against it, I would avoid gifts. My bosses have always given me holiday gifts, and they never "get it right". I'd rather they did the things required to know me well enough to pick a gift (O3s, feedback and coaching, for example) and then skipped the gift part.


lefonquey1's picture

I don't like to give gifts, myself....

Primarily because I would rather build the relationship by being a good manager (O3's, coaching, etc.) but also because I don't want the employees to feel obligated to do anything for me.

When I have done something in the past, I have given gift cards to places that I know they would like. It's easy for me because I work for a software development company so an iTunes or BestBuy card will always be good.

AManagerTool's picture

I used to give gifts. I stopped.

They crave your attention and feedback more than you know.

Mark's picture
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My earlier mention was about Christmas gifts, to be clear. There are differences.

I don't think gifts are inappropriate as rewards or incentives or thank yous. I think most managers forget how tight money can be a level or two down, and a dinner out or a gift card seems reasonable to me. I think most managers would do so poorly, unfortunately, and it takes some knowledge of the direct and some grace in delivery, with appropriate praise and appreciation, which most managers cannot do well.

But your company has a policy against it, so this question is completely moot.



tcomeau's picture
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[quote="mahorstman"]My earlier mention was about Christmas gifts, to be clear. There are differences.[/quote]

Mark, I apologize for not making that distinction. You are, of course, exactly correct that "holiday" gifts are different from this kind of reward, and I should have pointed out that the other discussion was on that more narrow subject. It was careless of me to quote you without being clear about the context, and I regret that I did so. I'll be careful in the future to reread the thread I'm referring to, so that I can avoid the same mistake.

Again, please accept my apology.


eschenk's picture

I thank you all for your feedback. It is interesting to me the different viewpoints people have. My wife used to work for a company where it was commonplace for managers to give substantial gifts to their directs. At first she was uncomfortable with this because she thought her manager was doing way too much. After a while she began to understand it was just her manager's way of saying thank-you.

My other question was if, as in my situation, there is a company policy against giving any kind of substantial gift, what other ways is there to show appreciation? I think giving "trinket" type gifts--pens, water bottles, company logo t-shirts, etc--is cheesy and sometimes I would like to show appreciation more than just saying thank-you. Any ideas?

Mark's picture
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Say thank you. Take a moment, stop moving, and get their attention. And say,

"Thank you for what you just did. I appreciate the result, and I appreciate the effort you went to, and I really appreciate the attitude you showed. THANK YOU."

When they get off the floor, smile and shake their hand.


(And, well, positive feedback.)

lazerus's picture

Genuine appreciation of a job well done is the BEST gift, by far. I know I like it!

WillDuke's picture
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I agree. There is nothing like a well stated sincere thank you.

And for emphasis, when was the last time you received one? They're not frequent, and you don't forget them. And they make you feel great.

Mark's picture
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NO worries, sir. I did not take offense at all. I think you and a few others here have picked up on the incredible subtleties at work. I knew you knew what I posted earlier...but some times, we just have to be extra super crystal clear.


juliahhavener's picture
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I cannot afford to give 'substantial' gifts to my directs. I give them one on ones, coaching, and feedback of both varieties.

We had one really, really bad week several months ago. Everyone on the team had worked overtime the day before (a Thursday) and we all knew the next day would be just as bad. I had worked just as hard as they had. Friday morning began a new tradition - the Chikfila Fairy arrived at work with me. For under $20, I thanked each of them personally for working so hard the day before and coming in with full knowledge the day's work would be just as hard. I told them each that I figured everyone who came to work after the days before absolutely deserved a hot breakfast on me.

Now every once in a while, I bring in bagels and say thank you. If my night shift group had a rough night the evening before, I will sometimes bring in a special snack for them and say thank you. It's not frequent, and it's not regular, but I've found it's an easy way for me say one more thank you.

Since then, the team has adopted the same tactic - if someone wants to tell their teammates they appreciate them, they bring in food of some kind. The wife of one member made two special desserts (one sugar-free because she knew various health issues) she brought in for everyone. Another one brought holiday cookies and candies. Yet another brings the occassional cake in (usually unfrosted so everyone can enjoy it). One woman brings a huge bag of Twizzlers in every few weeks and shares them around. And the shy person on the team will occassionally step out and stop me just to say thank you...because he knows that, for me, it means everything.

'Things' mean little at the end of the day. The relationships mean a LOT. I know who likes which kinds of bagels and spread. I know who likes Chikfila biscuits and who prefers a fruit cup. They all know I have a weakness for dark chocolate.

They also know that if it's really bad, I'm right there in the trenches beside them. If their personal world explodes, I'm standing there to help them build a bridge to still be effective in their work world. If their work world falls apart, I'm just waiting to be able to help them rebuild.

awalters's picture
Training Badge

The most meaningful 'gift' I've received is a handwritten note of appreciation from the CEO. I wouldn't have guessed such a thing would impress me but even a few years later I am surprised by the power of the gesture. I don't know if a note (not an email) from my direct supervisor would carry quite the same weight, but hey, it's an idea and it seems to be aligned with some of the other feedback on this thread.