Don't Be Surprised When Employees Don't Value Your Impersonal Gift

When a gift card -- or even a gold watch -- isn't the best way to show your employees they matter.

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By Paul White

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At an HR management conference recently, I was somewhat surprised to learn that there is an attitude that is still hanging around, which is that companies still believe and employ the method of giving their employees "stuff" to show their appreciation. Giving away things is not necessarily a bad thing, but if it is not reinforced with other forms of appreciation, it will not have its intended effect.

In fact, our research with over 55,000 respondents shows that less than 10 percent of employees choose receiving a gift as the primary way they want to be shown appreciation. So while employers spend millions and millions of dollars on "rewards" for their employees, most companies are largely wasting their money (if their goal is for their employees to feel valued.)

Related: 20 Rewards Your Employess -- and Budget -- Will Love (Infographic)

Why? Because when a person receives a generic gift (that is, everyone receives the same certificate of recognition and the same $50 gift card), it feels impersonal. Sure they'll take the gift but it doesn't communicate (at all) "I know you and what you like." (Do you want to add another component to make the gift feel totally impersonal? Give them "points" to choose whatever they want from a catalog provided by the company. Remember: this comes from the company and doesn't cost the supervisor or manager anything.)

Related: Seven Ways to Boost Employee Morale

The result becomes even worse when the employee is not exactly sure why they received the award and especially when the manager or executive presenting the award to them doesn't know them or what they do! The result? Depending on the recipient -- disbelief, disgust, sarcasm, cynicism or an attitude of "Hey, if you want to give me stuff, I'll take it, but it doesn't mean anything to me."

Most of us tend to communicate in a way that makes sense to us, instead of taking the time to get to know someone to see how an individual best receives appreciation. We've identified five "languages" of appreciation, and some of the statistics about these methods of appreciation may surprise you. While most traditional large group employee recognition programs focus on gifts and rewards, we have found that 68 percent of employees report that receiving gifts is their least desired way of being shown appreciation.

Related: 3 Ways to Make Employee Gifts More Meaningful

Our work with hundreds of employees across the country and across industries has indicated that employees desire to feel appreciated regularly, in the language that resonates with them, and in a way that is personal and authentic. To learn more about how employees want to be shown appreciation, read this.

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