By Diana Rogers Jaeger
December 7, 2021

Employee gifts are overrated

Employers, are you making these mistakes during the holidays? There are better ways to show your employees appreciation.

It’s the time of year when people begin to search and shop for the best holiday gift to buy their employees.

A Google search of “best employee appreciation gifts” will reveal numerous unique and popular gift items. Which one should you pick? Which one will let your employees know how much you appreciate them? Before adding anything to your shopping cart, there is an important fact you need to know: Gifts are highly overrated.

Only six percent of employees choose tangible gifts as the number one way they want to be shown appreciation, according to research by Dr. Gary Chapman and Dr. Paul White in their book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. Gifts, even very nice ones, aren’t effective in making everyone on a team feel valued.

There is always room for employers to improve, but that starts with ditching the old ways of showing employees appreciation. Let’s dive into it and talk about the mistakes employers often make.

Mistake #1

Focusing exclusively on gifts

While gift-giving is a common ritual in the American workplace, only a handful of employees find gifts important or meaningful. In fact, the vast majority of employees consider gifts their least valued language of appreciation, which means money spent on gifts is mostly wasted. They develop warm fuzzy feelings from other types of appreciation.

Mistake #2

Communicating appreciation at the group level

All human beings have a need to feel appreciated. While group appreciation has its benefits, it doesn’t create a deep emotional impact. Appreciation communicated at the individual level sends the loudest message of, “You are important, and you make a difference.” Higher levels of employee motivation and retention come from recognizing a person’s individual worth.

Mistake #3

Not understanding that employees feel appreciated in different ways

When it comes to appreciation, there is no one size fits all. Just as employees have different favorite foods, employees crave different types of appreciation. Treating someone to a steak dinner when they go crazy over fish tacos won’t leave them feeling as special as you intended. Employees must be shown appreciation in their favorite way for it to be meaningful and remembered.

Research shows there are five universal ways individuals like to receive appreciation. The five languages of appreciation in the workplace by employee preference are as follows:

  • Words of Affirmation (47%) – receiving praise
  • Quality Time (25%) – receiving focused time and attention
  • Acts of Service (22%) – receiving help when it’s not required
  • Tangible Gifts (6%) – receiving a gift they value
  • Appropriate Physical Touch (<1%) – receiving high fives, handshakes, and pats on the back in celebration

Being good at employee appreciation requires understanding someone’s preferred language of appreciation and speaking it to them. So, how do you do that?

Learning someone’s favorite language can be accomplished by observing how they show appreciation to others. Most people communicate appreciation in the same way they like to receive it. For example, writing thank you cards shows a person values words of affirmation. Someone who helps clean up after an event is performing an act of service.

A favorite language of appreciation can also be determined by simply asking, “If I wanted to show my appreciation to you, what would be the best ways to do it?” The power of appreciation lies in their answers. It takes caring enough to ask the question in the first place.

The perfect employee appreciation gift is right in front of you! It can’t be bought because it’s priceless. It’s making the commitment to let individuals know they matter every month of the year, not just during the holidays. It’s the gift that keeps on giving because small, meaningful acts of appreciation have the power to change behaviors and make lives better.

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About Diana Rogers Jaeger

Diana Rogers Jaeger, APR, M.Ed., started her consulting practice for a single purpose–to help organizations harness the power of culture to achieve greater success and employee engagement.

As a results-driven consultant and trainer, she develops workplace cultures that lead to improved employee morale, productivity, and retention. She is a certified facilitator of the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace and motivates groups to show appreciation in ways that are both meaningful and effective.

She is a go-to speaker on the topics of employee engagement, organizational culture, and the 5 Languages of Appreciation for conferences, luncheons, company meetings, and retreats.