Written by Shawndra Russell
Planning on some workplace gift giving this holiday season?
Don’t stress out—we’ve got some solutions for you!
Noun: something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present; something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.
Verb: to present with as a gift; bestow gifts upon; endow with;
to present (someone) with a gift.
Have you made your list and checked it twice? No, not for your family and friends—for your clients and employees. While clients may not expect gifts, sending something thoughtful can help cement the relationship and keep you in their good graces well into the New Year. Plus, you can deduct up to $25 for each client and employee gift on your taxes, so it’s a no-brainer to send gifts, especially in our increasingly competitive and crowded global economy where businesses must continually woo both clients and employees in order to thrive.
According to the 2015 Advertising Specialty Institute Report, those buying for clients spend about $48 per client—a nine percent increase from 2014—while employee gifts came in at around $44 each. Respondents used words such as “appreciated,” “grateful,” and “valued” when asked about receiving gifts from companies, and these positive feelings will continue to be associated with your company long after the gift has been consumed, used, or displayed. This data aligns with local gift-giving expert Melissa Clonch, of Mills River-based Gift Baskets by Melissa, who confirms most businesses she works with spend $50 for each client gift. She urges gift givers to remember, “Holiday corporate gift giving is a way to say ‘thank you’ and show appreciation. It is not intended to be a marketing strategy.” This means staying away from passing out promotional products that have been collecting dust. If you can’t resist slipping in a pen, magnet, or other company-branded items, Clonch advises, “Make sure to include other useful items as part of the gift.”
John Ruhlin, Giftology author and strategic gift consultant for large corporations and professional sports franchises, recommends gift givers to strive for uniqueness—which means no chocolates, branded swag, and fruit baskets. However, he also assures business owners that there’s no need to spend big bucks. “You can’t buy people’s loyalty and business, and even if they accept an expensive gift it often makes them feel uncomfortable because they end up beholden to you,” Ruhlin told Forbes, in an interview earlier this year. He pointed to one memorable gift that displays his philosophy of “radical generosity”: Bluetooth speakers fashioned from scratch out of the wood from the Chicago Cubs’ original locker room, gifted to top club box and sponsorship clients on behalf of the organization.
Celia Naranjo of Asheville Goods echoes Ruhlin’s advice. “The monetary value of the gift should not be so outrageously high that the employee or clients feel some obligation to repay the gift or feel indebted,” she says. “Conversely, the gift shouldn’t be so chintzy as to make the receiver feel slighted or dismissed.”
Corporate and Client Gift Giving
So what unique, memorable gifts fall between too expensive and too cheap that can also help drive your business forward without coming across as “market-y”?
For starters, make sure that the company actually allows for gifts. “To make a lasting impression, be aware of the recipient’s company guidelines on accepting gifts. Many businesses and agencies prohibit or limit gift-giving,” Clonch says. In general, many financial services, insurance, government, media, and medical institutions prohibit gift giving, but you should check company policy or ask beforehand. As the etiquette experts at The Emily Post Institute advise, “Never give a gift to an outside business associate who is either currently involved in a bidding process with your firm or receiving a bid from you or your company,” as this crosses over into bribery territory. No cash or checks, either, and if you want to go the gift card route, be thoughtful. “On the one hand, if you give your client a gift card to a large department store, then this could indicate that you didn’t put much thought into the gift. On the other hand, if you give your client a gift card to his or her favorite lunch spot, then it stands a better chance of being used and appreciated,” explains Tim O’Brien, for Public Relationship Society of America.
Throughout Western North Carolina, gift givers have an array of local goods to consider sending, which helps strengthen our local economy while also giving the recipient a taste (literally or figuratively) of our region. One easy solution is curated North Carolina or regional-specific baskets filled with sauces, cookies, candies, mustards, and more, which you can find at Gift Baskets by Melissa and Asheville Goods, among others.
Of course, doing a little research and understanding your clients’ personal interests can go a long way and should influence your purchases. If they are outdoorsy, a locally made ENO hammock might be appreciated, while those who love to entertain might like platters or trays made by The Village Potters. For those clients that you want to give lower-priced gifts, locally made STILL candles can fit the bill nicely, starting at $25. Owner Stephanie Smith shares that their top sellers for the holidays are Mistletoe, Hearth, Moss, Whiskey, and Sugar Magnolia, but says their new fragrance-free Shootin’ Blanks “is always a good choice when you are unsure of a person’s specific tastes.” They also offer bulk discounts, which could make for a handy employee gift instead, especially for companies and employees that prefer to support local.
Whatever you buy, experts agree that a handwritten note is a must. “Gifts given sincerely and with an individual note of appreciation will be most valued,” says Asheville Goods’ Naranjo. Online professionals’ hub OfficeNinjas agree that handwritten notes should be included with every gift because “in our digital world, a touch of humanity is invaluable. Tap into the power of the old-school greeting card and include a handwritten note with every gift.”
Or, take heed of the advice from Smith, who is also the Principal for The Brite Agency when she’s not pouring candles: “One holiday season, we took all Brite Agency clients out on the town. About 30 of us gathered at a restaurant up on Pack Square for nibbles and cocktails. Then we all boarded the LaZoom bus for a comedy tour. Combine that with people from different businesses meeting for the first time and Sister Bad Habit, well… let’s just say no one has forgotten that Brite holiday gift!”
Employee Gift Giving
The competition to attract and keep top talent is fierce. Some companies go the way of Google and try to entice quality team members with fancy offices and gourmet meals, while others forgo office space so employees can work from home. Whatever the company structure, employee advocacy is becoming more and more important for brands that want to succeed in our fast-paced, digital world. In fact, Altimeter, a research and consulting firm that focuses on digital disruption, recently shared that 90 percent of today’s companies say they’re embracing employee advocacy, a four percent increase from 2015.
In terms of employee gifts, companies need to adhere to many of the same tenants as corporate gift giving: Keep it appropriate and thoughtful. Gift Baskets’ Clonch recommends, “For employees, be consistent in your gift-giving and remember everyone. Employee gifts can be more personable, as you may know more of their likes and dislikes. If you give an employee a gift that is different, do so outside of the office setting. Employee gifts do not have to be the same, but should be of equal value.”
What if you’re the employee? Don’t get a gift for your boss. As Naranjo explains, “Gift-giving in an office should be from the top down, not from the bottom up. So unless your office culture is something else entirely, employees should not give bosses gifts.” She also reiterated Naranjo’s budgeting advice: “Gifts to employees should all be the same value with the exception of a personal assistant. And everyone should be given their gifts at the same time to avoid people feeling left out.”
With that etiquette in mind, it is important to note that what people want most is a raise, a bonus, or a useful gift card (think Amazon), according to Inc. magazine. If these aren’t an option for your company, consider other valuable gestures, like flexible hours during the holidays, or additional paid time off.
Tick Tock’s owner, Kara Elizabeth Candler, recommends these gift ideas:
but be mindful as to whether someone is a vegetarian or has food allergies.
Liquor and Wine
such as a great Scotch to a client who collects, or the perfect French Burgundy with a cigar.
*Note: see the caveat on alcohol in the sidebar on gift faux pas.
Personalized note card set
with a fabulous fountain pen.
to their favorite concert or sporting event.
for the office or home.
given in the recipient’s name.
How to Get Your Shopping Done
Suffice to say, we are getting more burned out as a society with how much is on our plates (just another reason people flock to Western North Carolina’s slower pace and creative lifestyles), and the holidays pile even more on. So, it’s no wonder the concierge industry in the United States is growing, with an estimated 31,000 people employed in this industry as of May 2015, according to the United States Department of Labor. These Santas of sorts will do a wide variety of tasks, from booking travel to going grocery shopping—both also handy ways to save time during the holidays—as well as gift shopping.
In the mountain area, we have numerous concierge service providers, among them:
Blue Vista Concierge
Country Home Concierge
All Seasons Errand Service
Your Lifestyle Assistant
Tick Tock Concierge
Worry Free Concierge
Fusco’s Concierge Service
Time Genies LLC
Each of these local companies provide personal shopping services, and a multitude of other services that can help you put a little more joy in the holidays this year. And their experience gives them expertise when it comes to corporate and employee gift giving.
Tick Tock’s owner, Kara Elizabeth Candler, notes, “Consider giving your yearly gift during a different holiday and not just Christmas time to stand out—especially on anniversaries of your business or client birthdays.”
Karen Tonks, of Hickory-based Time Genies concierge service, suggests that one way to take the guesswork out of the equation is the time-honored tradition of giving a gift certificate—even a gift certificate for a concierge service. “For employees or clients,” Tonks says, “it shows that you care and that you aren’t just giving them a generic gift that most companies do. It’s very personal and thoughtful. They are able to use the gift either in the workplace or at home—wherever it is most needed.” She adds that the minimum time one can typically buy from a concierge is two hours “but there is no maximum. How much one spends is totally up to the person buying the time.”
Ghosts of Christmas Past: Faux Pas Edition
Or, what not to buy your clients or employees.
Alcohol, unless you’re absolutely certain of their favorite kind and that they are not a recovering alcoholic.
Clothing—too many variables to screw up, including size, color choice, and fabric.
Anything that could be construed as intimate, including lingerie, gift certificates to places like Victoria’s Secret, or perfume.
Toiletries or beauty products (again, allergies, but also because it could be seen as a criticism on their current beauty and health).
A 10% off coupon—perhaps the lamest gift on this list!
Gag gifts, unless your company insists everyone bring one for the holiday party.
Another option is to attend one of the many events happening during the holiday season in our area to find unique gifts created by local makers, such as:
Art After Dark, an after-hours gallery stroll through Waynesville’s shops.
1st Friday Art Crawl, Boone, local artists selling and greeting.
Toe River Studio Tour, area, with work by 100+ artists on display and available for purchase (Burnsville).
Asheville Downtown Gallery Art Walk, another after-hours event.
December 3 and December 10
Guild Artist Holiday Sale at the Folk Art Center, great for finding deals as you’ll find plenty of discontinued stock, over-runs, and studio seconds.
Holiday Market at Riverview Station at The Village Potters (Asheville) showcasing work by 40+ artists.
The Big Crafty at The U.S. Cellular Center (Asheville), hundreds of artists and craftspeople displaying their wares.
Consider Giving Experiences Instead
As we often heard in recent years, experiences tend to outperform possessions when it comes to happiness. In addition, researchers from Cornell University spent a decade studying happiness in relation to purchasing. Among their findings was, “People derive more happiness from the anticipation of experiential purchases, and that waiting for an experience tends to be more pleasurable and exciting than waiting to receive a material good.” A few ideas:
Tickets for a local museum, botanical garden, or another popular attraction.
Event tickets (for example, to a local symphony orchestra performance).
Gift certificate for a nice/beloved restaurant.
Educational experience, like cooking classes or even a Wild Food Foraging Tour.
Massage or spa certificate.
Donation to a local charity in their name.
Bonus: A study published by the Association for Consumer Research (Acrwebsite.org), “Experiential Gifts Foster Stronger Relationships Than Material Gifts,” shows that “the gift of an experience increases the social bonds between the gift giver and receiver. When recipients receive an experience, regardless of whether they share in that experience with the gift giver, they feel more connected to the gift giver as a result of it, compared to receiving a material gift.”
Or, take note of STILL’s Smith’s go-to holiday experience: “I like to do something special for my employees each year, so I invite them to my home for an afternoon/evening of food, drinks, and fun. Everyone participates by making a dish and bringing a white elephant gift. We play games, hula-hoop in the yard, wear silly hats—but we don’t talk about work. It is an opportunity for us to engage socially, spend time with the significant others, and get to know each other on a more personal level. With such a tight-knit culture at our agency, this sort of bonding is important and teaches us how to better understand each other.”
Mallory Flynn, a member of the Biltmore Company’s public relations department, agrees with the idea of a fun evening out serving as the employee gift. “Today, Mr. Vanderbilt’s descendants—the Cecil family, now the Estate’s owners and caretakers—host the annual employee holiday party, a tradition first established by the Vanderbilts. The Cecil family ensures that each child of each estate employee receives a Christmas gift, a custom first started by Edith Vanderbilt when she was a young mother and hostess of the Biltmore Estate.”
Whatever you decide to buy employees or clients this holiday season, know that most gestures will be appreciated, since the old adage It’s the thought that counts resonated throughout our research. However, keep in mind what one anonymous Inc. employee shared: “Truly, from bosses I liked, anything was great because I appreciated that they thought of me. From ‘bad’ bosses, anything would annoy me. You can’t make up for being a jerk with a token of any kind once a year.”
Ouch. Perhaps the best gift you can give is a strong, supportive, and fulfilling company culture in 2017.
to consider as gifts for
local employees and clients
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