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  • Brian Reynolds

To Gift or Not to Gift

Meaningful Gifts

Several years ago when I was managing a small team at the company I worked for we decided to have a ‘Secret Santa’ exchange. When the time came to open our gifts to each other there was the predictable, “Oh, you shouldn’t of had” and “That fish plaque with gone fishin’ on it will look great over the fireplace!” My team announced that they had all pooled together and purchased me an extra special gift. I’m thinking to myself “How thoughtful of them.” Inside the smalI box was a four-inch, green plastic army man figure.They laughed! I laughed! We all laughed!

I didn’t Quite Understand the Meaning Behind the Gift

I didn’t quite understand the meaning behind the gift until one of my staff reminded me that I had shared a story with them the previous Christmas about receiving an army action figure from a classmate when I was 10 years old.Remembering, Remembering, I recall my classmate telling me how excited he was to give me this special gift and I was really going to love it. I had purchased a Slinky to give to him and was equally excited. Even as a 10 year old I didn’t quite understand why he gave me this gift when all we talked about was Slinkys, Silly Putty and Batman! (40 years later I realized why my friend gave me this gift but that’s another story!).   

Gifts Don’t Express Appreciation, People Do

Not too long ago I gave a birthday card to a small business owner whom I did some work with. Inside the envelope I included a gift card to a popular restaurant to show my appreciation.I shook his hand and shared how much I appreciated his support and effort. He opened the card and said, “Thanks for the card but I probably won’t use the gift card.” I was shocked and felt like I had wasted my money. It’s not that he didn’t appreciate me giving it to him but if it was a pair of tickets to see his favorite rock group it would have been a different response.

Has This Ever Happened to You?

Has this ever happened to you? How did it make you feel? How did you respond? Peter Bregman,CEO of Bregman Partners says,  “Gifts don’t express appreciation, people do”. In his article, ‘The Real Point of Gift-Giving’ (Harvard Business Review, December 15, 2010) Bregman also writes, “There is no more powerful way to acknowledge others than to be thankful for them just as they are”. Psychologist and author Dr. Paul White writes, “The second key component for an effective expression of appreciation through tangible gifts is: You must give a gift the person values.”1

Knowing What Types of Treats Your Colleagues Enjoy Makes It More Meaningful

If we’re going to give a gift of appreciation to a work colleague we need to understand first, do they appreciate receiving gifts over other languages of appreciation. Secondly, if a gift is most important to them, what types of gifts do they really like? You might be thinking, “We can’t afford to give our employees gifts” or “It should be good enough that we pay them already.” I know a part-time volunteer who brings in home-baked treats and everyone appreciates it! (Except the ones that are counting calories). Knowing what types of treats your colleagues enjoy makes it more meaningful opposed to bringing in a pie that was on the clearance table at the bakeshop. We need to understand what’s important to others which in turn can lead to healthier work relationships.

Motivating By Appreciation Inventory Tool

Over the last few Appreciation at Work sessions I have facilitated it’s no surprise when I see the results of the participant’s online assessment which has indicated receiving gifts is their least preferred language of appreciation. It’s not to say that they don’t like gifts but it’s not the most important to them when receiving appreciation. In fact, the Motivating By Appreciation (MBA) Inventory tool shows that out of over 100,000 responses, 79% of male respondents and 67% female respondents say that receiving gifts (in a workplace environment) was their least valued language of appreciation.

When my staff gave me the plastic army figure as mentioned earlier, I reallllllly didn’t like it. However, decades later I realize that I appreciated them for remembering my childhood story and making the gift somewhat a personal one. (Note to my friends: Please do not give me a army figurine for my birthday, Christmas or any other time!).  

BTW Father’s Day is Sunday June 17th!

1 The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, Dr. Paul White and Dr. Gary Chapman.  

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