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High Performance: ‘Tis the season for giving back

December 8, 2020 -  By
Holiday gift (Photo: photoguns / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Photo: photoguns / iStock / Getty Images Plus

‘Tis the season. Let’s not mess this up.

December is a common month for paying out year-end bonuses, often with the thought to get these thank-you gifts into the hands of their recipients before Christmas. As such, it should be a season of celebration and gratitude. However, gift giving is dangerous territory. We know this to be true since we’ve all received gifts that may have been well-intentioned but led to disappointment.

Not every gift is well-received. This simple truth is sometimes difficult to comprehend, especially in work-related situations. For some reason, it makes sense to us on a personal level but not when applied to work life. I’d like to challenge your thinking in this area.

Many employers believe that any gift, regardless of size or monetary value, should be appreciated by an employee. The gift should be welcomed as an expression of gratitude. Furthermore, the gift should result in a heartfelt response and maybe even an uptick in job performance. This does happen, sometimes. Other times, it does not.

The reality is that a gift conveys a message. If you plan to give a year-end gift, what is the message you want to convey? My advice is to clearly communicate this message personally so that the recipient does not have to make up their own message about what the gift means. A gift delivered with a personal message from the gift-giver is much more likely to be well-received than a gift that has no message attached.

Another reality is that a gift amplifies emotion. If the recipient of a gift already has positive feelings about the gift-giver, a gift will simply amplify these emotions. For example, an employee who feels valued, included and is excited about their future with the company will probably be overjoyed by a year-end gift, no matter what it is.

However, if the recipient of a gift already has negative feelings about the gift-giver, a gift may trigger a negative emotional response. For example, if an employee is bitter about seeing another year go by without a review or pay increase, while the owner is driving a shiny new truck, a year-end gift may feel like a cheap bribe.

Each of my blog posts this year have been focused on specific ways to improve employee engagement — to strengthen the relationship your people have with you as a leader and with your company. If you haven’t made any significant improvements in this area in 2020, my advice is to go ahead with the year-end gift but with a humble message of asking each recipient to help you in 2021 to make your company a great place to work.

‘Tis the season. Now go forth.

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Phil Harwood

About the Author:

Harwood is a Managing Partner with GrowTheBench and Pro-Motion Consulting. Reach him at He is a Landscape Industry Certified Manager, NALP Trailblazer, NALP Consultant, and Certified Snow Professional. Harwood holds a BA in Marketing and Executive MBA with Honors from Michigan State University.

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