Do corporate Christmas gifts make sense?

12/04/2016 07:21 am ET

Ashtrays with logos, coffee press pots, gift baskets and gift certificates. Do corporate Christmas gifts still make sense or do they represent an outdated tradition from the past that we should get rid of immediately?

I recently heard about a complain-o-meter which purpose was to illustrate the day to day atmosphere of the workplace.

It was a simple system, with balls in different colors that the employees could put in a transparent tube. Red balls meant negativity and complaining, white balls were neutral, and the green balls meant good vibes and positivity.

The vibe-o-meter – referred to as the complain-o-meter by the employees – was meant as an experiment trying to create awareness to the mental work environment in an untraditional way. In the year that the experiment went on, a strange tendency appeared:

December was the month with most red balls in the tube. It is supposed to be the happiest time of the year, where Christmas spirit blooms and employees are spoiled with Christmas gifts and Christmas parties.

So how could that be?

My friend who took part in the experiment thought that, besides from the general Christmas stress, it was due to the corporate Christmas gift. It was a topic that could really stir the pot. No matter what the boss came up with, it generated bad tensions and whispering in the corners/backstage gossip.

The corporate Christmas gift that year was a very traditional one; a gift basket with a turkey, Christmas treats and red wine.

The people that were upset found the gift to be unimportant and impersonal. Some of them were vegetarians, others didn’t drink alcohol, and some were away for Christmas. They rather wanted a gift certificate for a restaurant or a store, or even more options to choose from, where they could tick a box and receive the gift they wanted.

The problem was that the boss had no idea that his gift did not fall in most of his employees taste. He didn’t know until the complain-o-meter turned red in December.

Corporate Christmas gifts that don´t quite hit the spot are not unusual. A report from 2011 shows that one out of five employees is dissatisfied with the gift from the boss. I experienced the problem last year when my son received a coffee press pot from the supermarket he was working at. He was 17, and not at least interested in coffee. So there was a limit to his enthusiasm.

The question is if the corporate Christmas gift still makes sense?

In some countries, employees receive an extra salary in December. Originally, the corporate Christmas gift was traditionally a necessary supplement to the Christmas dinner, in the shape of a gift basket with roasted pork, wine and Christmas treats - many employees depended on that gift basket in order to make ends meet.

But as a society gets richer and most families have more money, it might not make that much sense anymore? The families that really need the support at Christmas time, are often those where mom and dad don´t have a job.

The modern company wants to be creative and innovate, but not when it comes to the corporate Christmas gift. Here you will still find mainstream gifts like coffee press pots, vases and candlesticks.

In the search for making everyone happy, many companies have now provided links to web shops where employees can choose their own gift. But doesn’t the joy of giving a gift disappear then? Isn’t it the equivalence to the husband giving his wife money, so that she can go buy herself a gift from him?

Last year, we faced the same challenge finding a suitable Christmas gift for the employees at Sprout. Therefore, two from the team suggested donating the money to two local children’s homes instead, so that the children could get proper Christmas gifts.

It was a big success.

We received the children’s handwritten wish lists, and went out and bought the gift ourselves. That way we made sure that the money was spent on the right purpose.

Donating the money is not necessarily the right solution for all companies, but I think we should try and reevaluate the meaning behind corporate Christmas gifts, so that they create more joy than complaints.

Maybe you could hand over the responsibility to the employees, and by drawing decide who should buy a Christmas present for who? Or maybe the money could go towards a social activity that everyone could look forward to in the new year?

The purpose of corporate Christmas gifts is still to show the employees extra appreciation.

Besides reevaluating the concept of gifts, it might be about time we redefine what you as employee has the right to. Can you even complain about a gift?

It is difficult to withdraw a tradition that has been here for years, but if it has become an obligation that only generates complaints, then it might be about time we let it go?

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