The Evolution of Corporate Holiday Gift-Giving Can Actually Improve Workplace Culture

A personalized mug or keychain won't cut it anymore

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This year, we’ve seen that companies are spending twice as much on their employees this holiday season to show them love. Why’s that? Volume hasn’t doubled, meaning that companies are simply spending more money per gift for their employees to make an impact.

Traditionally, promotional gifts have been more affordable items that can be branded and bought in bulk. (The best gift I ever received was a Sherpa-soft branded blanket, which has kept me warm and comfortable during extended stays at home. One gift I didn’t love was a pair of generic headphones because I prefer my own.)

However, we’ve all seen a shift and evolution of corporate holiday gifts over the years. The morning coffee mug has evolved into a sophisticated, insulated hand-held appliance capable of keeping beverages hot (or cold) all day. Low tech earbuds have been upgraded to premium AirPods and Beats headphones.

But it’s more than a price tag. Here is a closer look at the role corporate gift-giving plays in company culture during a time when employee fulfillment is absolutely critical.

Staying connected with remote employees

Once employees started working from home, managers sought ways to keep employees engaged and provide a sense of belonging to new employees. Office happy hours, once the staple of inner-office bonding, turned into Zoom “parties,” which usually looked like casual meetings. Workers could no longer cheer a glass together, and managers had to figure out a way with their cohorts to find a suitable alternative.

One such alternative were bars-in-a-box: happy hour cocktail kits and other premium mixology bundles that employees could use to mix drinks during virtual soirees. Just like workers would order their own cocktails at a happy hour gathering, they could now whip one up at home and cheers to their camera screen to celebrate a job well done. And who doesn’t love a free bottle of wine?

The Great Appreciation

One of the many challenges that came with working through a pandemic was ensuring company culture stayed intact. Companies have seen a tremendous shift in workers leaving their positions and finding new employment, known by many as the Great Resignation.

There are several reasons attributed to this trend, but keeping employees happy is paramount to countering the effects of the Great Resignation. In addition to highly desirable benefits like high salaries, bonuses, PTO, investment options and professional development, corporate gifts are used to improve moments throughout employees’ days. The satisfaction (and dopamine hit) people get from receiving an Amazon package is second to being surprised with a gift out of nowhere.

Companies need to pull out all the stops to keep their employees happy during this competitive job market. The cost of losing someone and hiring their replacement is sky high. Companies are coming to the conclusion that an investment in unexpected gifts is worth the money when it positively affects employee happiness.

Opportunity to improve WFH life

Employees have come to expect a certain level of luxury with their gifts. Everything in their lives is delivered, so these gifts need to make a statement. Gone are the plain white T-shirts with a giant company logo. Instead, the trend is highly functional athleisure wear, fleeces, vests, joggers, leggings, yoga pants, socks and even shoes.

The gift expectation doesn’t end at apparel either. Branded clothing will always be a popular option, but it’s commonly paired with a comfort item, food gifts or electronics. With home offices on the rise, corporate gifts have subtly been used to maximize convenience and productivity. Headphones were traditionally a consumer product but have exploded in popularity as both wired and wireless options.

Gift buyers narrowed their focus to a dozen or so premium retail companies across drinkware, electronics, apparel and athletics. The most popular brands purchased by employers are Skullcandy, Bose, Nike, Rocketbook, Tile, Allbirds, Hydro Flask, Beats, Tumi, Yeti, Under Armour, Apple, The North Face, Marmot, Corkcicle and HidrateSpark.

A personal touch can go a long way

Employers aren’t just spending money to show their appreciation—they’re getting personal. There has been a dramatic shift in purchasing psychology to ensure the recipient feels a personal connection once the gift is opened.

And this doesn’t just mean the traditional personalized whiskey bottle with someone’s name on it. These gifts are now centered more around the individuals themselves—from favorite activities to maximizing workouts to contributing to social causes.

At the end of the day, several workers want their work gifts to center around being valued. And as we look to turn a tide in the Great Resignation, they’re not wrong.