Are you a team leader, HR leader or someone responsible for company gifts and recognition this holiday season? Although the holidays are typically seen as a joyous time, regardless of which holidays you celebrate, it can also be stressful on everyone. And with so many changes in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, social issues, and political issues, it’s important to give thought and care as you plan. Adding the continuation of remote work and the need to buy employee bulk gifts and it’s a more complex situation than ever before. 

We’re here to provide you with an easy guide as you plan the next few months of celebration and recognition of the most important part of your business-your employees! We’ll cover why holiday or year-end gifts are meaningful, important considerations as you plan, what employees really want, and some great employee bulk gift ideas you can try this year. So, let’s dig in!

When it comes to anything you decide to do for employees, we all know it’s not just about throwing money at a situation. If you’re like me, you’ve worked in plenty of companies that give you branded trinkets for every holiday. Now, don’t get me wrong, a little branding here and there can go a long way in driving brand awareness and pride, but there are always companies that go overboard and have their name and logo everywhere. What that does is dilute the strength of any meaning of the gift. So, let’s examine what makes a gift meaningful.

Creating Meaning with Company Gifts

To have meaning, a gift needs to create some type of positive emotion in the recipient. Do you remember the movie Say Anything? If not, or if it’s been a long time since you’ve watched, it’s the perfect movie that describes teenage angst, love and life lessons in the 90’s. In it, there is a scene where Diane Court (Ione Skye), the “perfect girl,” is breaking up with Lloyd Dobler (John Cusak), our hero. She gives him some long speech about why she’s doing it, then gives him a pen. 

Lloyd rushes back to his friends to tell them about the breakup and says, “She broke up with me. What do I do? Can she come back? How can I get her back? I can't - I can't get her to talk to me. I feel like crying. She gave me a pen. I gave her my heart and she gave me a pen.” It’s a good example of a person giving a gift to someone for an honorable purpose, but it completely missing the mark. In fact, the gift caused more bad feelings than if it had not been given. I share this story because we want to encourage gift-giving that will result in positive feelings of your employees, not feeling underwhelmed with a pen.

In addition to positive feelings resulting from the gift, there are other impacts a well-thought-out gift can provide. Gifts can be a motivator for employees who have been working hard for you. It is also a way to show appreciation for the way employees come together and perform. It shows the employees you are paying attention to their effort and results. By embracing motivation and appreciation and using gifts appropriately, you will ultimately create a culture where people feel valuable. This feeling of value drives retention. And in a time of The Great Resignation, retention is the goal. 

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Important Considerations Buying Employee Bulk Gifts

What factors should you consider when buying employee gifts in bulk? Today, there are numerous issues that impact the ability to buy in employee bulk gifts.  

Availability

The first is availability. Due to the pandemic, there are shipping issues with nearly every provider of goods. As the supply chain broke down and ships began piling up before they could get into port, tensions also rose: “Shipping traffic is up 50% from pre-pandemic levels, contributing to the bottleneck.The bottleneck at the port is due partly to the shortage of trucks and drivers to pick up goods. The ships are carrying everything from furniture to electronics to holiday toys.” Not only are people shifting to online buying since the pandemic began, but there are fewer truck drivers to take the goods once they arrive in port. This impacts not only availability but the cost. 

The goods that make it to store shelves are more expensive and in short supply. Costco is reporting unprecedented increases in their costs. “Both Costco and its suppliers are paying two to six times more for containers and shipping, 4% to 8% more for pulp and paper goods, 5% to 11% more for plastic and resin products such as trash bags, cups and plates and 3% to 10% more for certain apparel products.” Organizations who want to purchase bulk company gifts often rely on Costco and similar suppliers. These obstacles certainly impact those plans. For shoppers struggling to find those perfect gifts, and enough of them for teams of employees, they turn to internet shopping. None of that bodes well if you’re planning to buy in bulk, especially if you have to ship gifts to employees working from home. It may not be easy.

Inclusivity

A pre-pandemic gift giving challenge was finding gifts to appeal to a wide array of people. Today, leaders are even more mindful of creating inclusion when giving employee gifts. 2020 and 2021 have seen a rise in political and social unrest that divides our employees. With BLM, Black Lives Matter, the #MeToo movement and other moments of unrest, we now understand how being divisive actions create a ripple effect of negativity over time. Using what we’ve learned from these, we know it’s important to build gifting approaches that consider where people are from, what shapes their experiences, how they like to be communicated with and the different ways people feel valued.

Location

Where employees live is another major consideration when buying gifts in bulk. What percentage of employees are still working remote? Will you need to not only leave time to buy the bulk gifts but also time to ship them to your employees’ homes? Additionally, there’s the consideration of whether the employee gifts you select even apply to those workers who are remote or working flex schedules. And speaking of remote workers, if you give a gift card to a specific restaurant, that restaurant may not be near that employee’s location. As you think through locations, apply timing to that as you plan.

What Employees Really Want

If you’ve worked in Human Resources very long, you know that figuring out how to consistently motivate employees is an ongoing challenge. Employees want gifts that are personal to them, that strike a chord or feeling, that make them feel valued, and that are memorable. What they don’t want are trendy gifts. For example, organizations are currently pushing meditation as part of their wellness programs. Studies show that only 14% of American adults are doing that. So, when selecting employee gifts, be sure that you’re not picking something you’ve heard a lot about but that has no real lasting meaning.

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Top Company Gift Ideas for 2021

As mentioned before, a risk of buying company gifts in bulk is missing the mark on personalization. We want each employee to feel valuable and appreciated. To have the best opportunity to offer flexibility and meet the most employees' needs, gifts are broken down into two categories: food and experiences. Let’s look at how each offers numerous benefits.

Food

There are many compelling reasons for giving the gift of food. In a recent survey by DoorDash, “49% of those surveyed said they’ve had at least one work failure, including missing a deadline, a call, or other work matter, due to a need to prep food for themselves or family.” It is not only good for your company from a purchasing perspective, but also for the employees. Food hits on some of our most basic human needs. Food represents comfort in that it can bring up good memories associated with the food. Food reinforces sharing and a sense of connection as employees consume it together or with their families. Food can also be a way to share and learn about different cultures. Lastly, food evokes memories. Those memories can be shared with the team and gives the opportunity for greater inclusion and appreciation of the diversity each of us brings to the job. Food delivery is also changing the game when it comes to rewarding employees. Here are a few ways you can incorporate food as gifts this season.

Free Delivery

DashPass for Work is a great idea for companies who want to give a gift that keeps on giving. For less than a $100 gift card, you can give your employees a year-long membership to free delivery on all their grocery orders, restaurant orders, convenience store deliveries, liquor store deliveries, and more. It’s easier to set up and shows employee appreciation year-round. It makes their life so much easier. A customer of the DashPass for Work, Synopsys, recently shared some results of their use. Ordering an average of 1.8 times per week, this Fortune 500 company gained over 32,000 hours of productivity per month and saved an average of $5.56 per employee per order. You can see that using DashPass for Work as an employee gift not only consolidates ordering, it has many other valuable effects in the workplace.

Restaurant Gift Cards

DoorDash Gift Cards are another great option when buying employee gifts in bulk. It’s not like any other gift card; it gives each employee that personal experience we’ve been planning for. It allows employees to buy food from any of their favorite places which can trigger those positive memories food brings. During the holiday season, it can also treat employees to their favorite holiday treats. They can be used at 450+ restaurants across the country and can easily be sent via email with a personalized note to your remote workers, avoiding the hassle of having to figure out shipping and gifts arriving on time.

Free Meals

DoorDash Expensed Meals is the way to go when you’re looking for ease, scalability and flexibility. It’s easy because the program lets you set a budget for your employees each month, then forget it. Employees spend against the meal budget and are not required to submit receipts, so it’s easy for them too. It’s scalable because you can gift as many employees as you’d like at once. And it’s flexible because it supports employees being able to spend their budget in 450k+ restaurants. Meals are automatically expensed to the company account so that employees can focus on what they are eating and not the mechanics of the program. It takes holiday stress out of the lives of everyone when you gift with Expensed Meals.

Experiences

Employee experiences are another great way to reward in bulk during the holidays. By taking all the things above into consideration as you plan, you can create positive memories and bonding for your team. Experiences are good if you’re short on budget for the rewards. Like buying bulk employee gifts, it enables you to reward everyone with something and there are even ways to make it feel quite personal.

Concert or Sporting Event

Group outings are a fun way to engage employees in local venues. Right now, these venues have been struggling getting customers during the pandemic. They will be anxious to host your event and it doesn’t have to break the budget. One consideration is to gift tickets to a local concert, play, or sporting event. Buy seats together for the group. Then, add on a contest for a special “VIP experience” that a couple employees can win. Purchase a few tickets in the front row and raffle those off to the employees. It will be a fun gift for all involved.

Theater night

Like the concert or sporting event idea, a movie night is another great group option. Local movie theaters are also offering specials to rent out an entire theater. This is good if you would like employees to have the ability to have space between them. You can also invite their families too, depending on how many employees you’re bringing. Pick a PG rated movie that may appeal to everyone or rent out two theaters with different movies and offer the group a choice. Arrange for employees to have popcorn, candy, soda, etc. available. 

Cooking class with a chef

Hiring a chef to do an in-person cooking class that is also broadcast for virtual employees is another interactive idea. Gift each employee a box of goodies used to make the dish they will be learning to make. Or maybe the gift is a cookbook authored by the chef. Either way, it’s not just a bulk employee gift, but a whole experience and memories to go with it. Employees will learn a new recipe and have a skill to show off to their own families during the holidays.

Corner office

This is a good way to reward on a budget. If you have employees onsite, gift them each a day to work from a coveted corner office. Make sure the office is stocked with a mini fridge filled with goodies for them to enjoy on their special day. Give them access to an assistant and maybe even a DoorDash gift card so they have their lunch covered too!

Bulk tasting experiences

Have you heard of tasting experiences? I recently had the opportunity to experience a virtual vinegar and oil tasting and it was interactive and inclusive. Since it was virtual, each participant received a small sample kit of the vinegars and oils. Then, an expert purveyor guided us through how to assess each one. Not only was it a great learning experience, it was quite tasty and appealed to a diverse audience. 

Care package w/ meaning

During times of great stress, like the pandemic or upcoming holidays, employees need to feel cared for. Send out a care package to each employee. Consider options like a breakfast foods care package, a snack time care package, or other comfort foods. It is a fun way for them to share with their family and feel special at the same time.

Choose your own experiences

Like in the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, offer a bulk gift that allows employees a set spending limit on wellbeing options. They can “choose their own care” by selecting from things like a therapy app membership, gym membership, meditation app, Masterclass training, or similar. It’s a nice thing to let employees have the flexibility to choose the gift that means the most to them.

As you make your employee bulk gift purchases, the last thing to remember is to appeal to the 5 senses. Think about how the experience registers differently in the brain the more senses that are activated. Give the giving a theme like “Winter Adventure” or “Comfort foods from around the world”. Themes tell the employees there was thought and purpose to the gifts given, even though they are bought in bulk. Finally, add a challenge to the process and encourage employees to share their thoughts. Whether internally on the intranet or externally on social media like Twitter or TikTok, reward employees who share their reactions to the gift. This can be photos of them enjoying the gift, videos, eating or cooking with the gift, doing something physical, using art, music or dance. 

There are so many ways to enjoy the upcoming holiday season. Having a plan, taking employee value into consideration, and finding exciting bulk gift options are ways you can create an enjoyable holiday for your employees. For more suggestions, learn about the impact a DashPass for Work membership had at Synopsys and have a wonderful holiday!

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Trish McFarlane
Trish McFarlane
CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors

Trish McFarlane is the CEO and Principal Analyst for H3 HR Advisors.  As a former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience in Big 4 public accounting, PR, healthcare, manufacturing, and IT, Trish brings that knowledge to her clients as an analyst and advisor.  She has been the author of the Trish McFarlane blog (formerly known as the HRRingleader blog) since 2009.  In addition, she began the HRevolution un-conference in 2009 and was a founding member of the Women of HR blog.