In lieu of parties, please send gifts

Companies are upping their employee gift budgets as in-person holiday parties get canceled once again.

VRBO corporate branded gift

Companies are upping their budgets for holiday employee gifts.

Photo: Whitestone Branding

As the pandemic rolled in, companies have leaned more toward sending out elaborate holiday gifts to show appreciation in lieu of swanky holiday shindigs. And the benefits have been twofold: Employees feel recognized by management and no one has to pretend to enjoy their co-worker’s karaoke rendition of The Little Drummer Boy.

Holiday gifts from employers might also increase employee engagement:

  • A recent survey from Snappy, a personalized corporate gifting company that allows employees to pick their own gifts, looked at the effects gifts have on workers. No surprise, many responded that it helped boost their engagement.
  • The biggest finding? Gifts have the potential to encourage retention. 59% of the over 1,000 survey respondents said, “they would be more likely to stay at their job if they received meaningful holiday gifts from their employer.”
  • While some might expect employees to prefer benefits like a bonus or a raise at the end of the year, over half of the survey respondents (52%) said what they were most looking for was appreciation or recognition.

From the looks of it, companies have been listening. Joseph Sommer, president of Whitestone Branding and Aster Gifts, has seen the interest in corporate gifts explode since the start of the pandemic, especially around the holidays. The company, which specializes in corporate gifting, has seen its revenue more than double in 2021 and its growth is up 154% year-to-date, said Sommer. The reason? Holiday gifting budgets have ballooned as corporate event budgets have gotten smaller amidst the pandemic.

  • “So here's what we've seen: In the past, if a company was only going to spend $5,000 on swag for an event, now that they don't have travel they're not paying for airfare or hotels, they're not paying for food or catering. More budget is allocated to the swag,” Sommer told Protocol.

Not only have budgets gotten bigger, but the breadth of the types of gifts employees are receiving has changed. Gone are the days when you would simply get a mug with your company’s logo slapped on the side.

“I think what used to happen was a company would say, everyone's coming to the holiday party, and we will have either a water bottle or a Christmas ornament that is at the gala, or the end of your holiday party,” said Sommer. “But now people are in their homes and companies really want to show their appreciation in a different way.”

According to Sommer the most popular corporate holiday gifts being ordered this year run the gamut, but clothing reigns supreme:

  • Holiday apparel gifts have been the most popular, including everything from Arc’teryx and North Face jackets to ugly sweaters. Sommer shared they have also gotten a sizable number of requests for full-piece onesies.
  • Overall, what’s popular for gifting tech employees has remained relatively the same over the years. He refers to this as the “Swag Five:” the traditional piece of apparel, a journal, a tech accessory, like a power bank or a pop socket, a water bottle and a bag, like a tote or a backpack.
  • Redemption sites, much like what Snappy offers, have also become popular for holiday gifting this year. Employers are able to set up a site with the gifting companies on which employees can go online and pick a gift that they actually like. “They’re customized to be on brand to the businesses that we're working with and they really allow their people to have a selection of what they would want to receive, which is just a little bit more personal,” said Sommer.

Sommer is also seeing more holiday gifts tailored to people working from home. At the time of the interview with Protocol, he shared that Whitestone had just sold 500 Google Nest Hubs to a company for its employees. Definitely not your parents’ corporate gifts.

So what shouldn’t you get your employees for the holidays this year? Gift cards. 56% of people said they forgot to use the gift card or lost it before ever redeeming them, according to Snappy’s survey. Save that Olive Garden gift certificate for the cousin twice removed who you forgot you were seeing over the holidays.

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