Why Employee Gifting Is Group Identity

Why do we give gifts at work?

After all, the stress that accompanies picking out just the right gift is in no short supply as the holiday season approaches. Why do we pile it on?

There’s good reason, so I hope you’ll forgive the Grinch for such musings.

The benefits of group gifting have been extolled in many blog posts already—usually boiling down to expressing gratitude, retaining employees, and boosting their morale. Those are great outcomes for any business, sure. But maybe the greatest benefit that giving gifts at work brings is the opportunity to tell a story about who we are as a group of people.

Gift giving is one of the oldest forms of social interaction. It has been documented as a practice throughout human history. When gifting occurs in groups there is often a ceremony or ritual in the presentation of the gifts. Cultural anthropologists believe that this is because in these contexts group identities are at stake. Giving gifts helps us strengthen the bonds between us, reinforcing the narrative we believe about ourselves.

Employee gifting that tells a story

As you plan your corporate gifting this year, consider how the ritual might be an opportunity to build your company culture. Realizing this benefit does require some thought and intention. Yes indeed, it truly is the thought that counts. Here are a few prompts to start the thoughts flowing:

  • Start by thinking about your organization and the things you appreciate about working together. Make a list.
  • Is there a goal or initiative your team has focused on during the year that could serve as a theme for a company gift? A way to say thank you for all their effort in pursuing it?
  • Is there a mission or vision you want your team to embrace that a gift could be meaningfully tied into?
  • Is there an organizational origin story that could inspire a company gift?
  • Are there shared company values that could be illustrated in a gift to your team?
  • Are there recent successes that should be celebrated?
  • Are there difficult obstacles you’ve navigated together? Like perhaps adapting to remote work and supply chain disruptions?

There’s the seed of a story to be told from any of those reflections. Make the story explicit in the presentation of gifts to your team. Give them some clues about how they should feel and what the takeaway is. A story you want your team to believe about themselves paired with the positive reinforcement of a gift can be like fertilizer for the culture you want to nurture.