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I'm a new manager with a small number of direct reports. My company does a holiday party (virtual in 2020), but we don't have any sort of gifts that are distributed. I'd like to give my employees something small as a token of my appreciation (e.g., a gift card to a local coffee shop or restaurant). Is it appropriate to do this on my own, and pay out of my own pocket? Or does this violate some kind of corporate norms, and I should stick to a heartfelt "thank you" email?

Thanks!

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  • 53
    You should probably check your company's policy on gifts.
    – sf02
    Dec 11 '20 at 21:55
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    I've done that occasionally and was very happy with the outcome.
    – Hilmar
    Dec 12 '20 at 13:47
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    "Or does this violate some kind of corporate norms," - how do we know? As in: "norms" may be specific to one corporation, and be written down in an employee handbook. I would definitely go the official way. Heck, if your company has no way to allocate a small budget for that - time to look for a new company.
    – TomTom
    Dec 13 '20 at 17:50
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    Why are you asking strangers on the internet? Ask your boss, or consult your employee handbook, or at least ask people local to you. Dec 13 '20 at 23:21
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Yes, but:

  1. Try to get a budget for this from the company. It always feels better to spend somebody else's money than your own ;-)

  2. Make sure all employees are included. Even if it's your own money, you don't want to give some people a gift and others not, it will make those people resent you, A LOT. Even if you can make the argument "well it's my money I do what I want with it", that's not going to fly.

  3. Don't spend too much. The main way this is helpful is as a morale-boost for the company. In essence you're donating your money to something to help your company; that's not how the flow of money normally goes, so don't make a habit out of it and don't give the company too much of your money.

  4. You may want to consider something like a Secret Santa as an alternative to this ;-)

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    +1 for the secret santa idea, as long as it's done with low and respected spending limit, though it's likely too late for OP now, as most people already have their December money earmarked elsewhere, joy of the holidays season. Dec 11 '20 at 23:58
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    "It always feels better to spend somebody else's money than your own" They might be able to claim it as a business expense and get it as a tax write-off.
    – nick012000
    Dec 12 '20 at 8:00
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    +1, however "it always feels better to spend somebody else's money than your own" is highly opinionated Dec 12 '20 at 21:17
  • +1 for get a budget for this from the company. You will probably be able to get them more expensive gifts!
    – John Wu
    Dec 14 '20 at 7:49
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You will find that this is the best investment you could ever make.

I had a boss that did this, and I did the same thing when I managed.

These are the people who could make or break you. Take care of your people and they will take care of you. You will end up with people who'd march into hell, and then swear they had frostbite, if you asked them to.

Look at any ten posts complaining about their managers, and understand just how much you will be standing above every other manager out there.

Yes, yes, by all means yes.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Neo
    Dec 15 '20 at 13:12
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Of course I can't tell whether or not giving such a gift would violate some rule in your company. But I can tell you that I would really appreciate it when my manager would buy a small gift for each of us out his own pocket (if my manager is reading along, this is not a hint, there is no need for you to buy me anything, I already appreciate you a lot as my manager). However I think a coupon/voucher in this situation would feel a bit awkward, because it is too "money-like". If you take the effort to give your subordinates something, I think it's better to give something physical, for example a book, chocolate, liquor, a mug with a nice group photo on it.

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  • By giving a physical gift, you risk one or more of the recipients won't want or be able to use it. Sure, some people will appreciate a physical gift more than money, but others will be ambivalent, and yet others would rather have the money. Even though it's impersonal, it's also practical and guaranteed to be useful to the recipient. And given current economic conditions, I'd guess the number of people who would appreciate money more than a physical gift is larger than ever. So I'm a bit skeptical that physical gifts are a good recommendation right now.
    – David Z
    Dec 13 '20 at 1:34
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Is it appropriate to do this on my own, and pay out of my own pocket?

You would be using your own money to further company interests, not something you want to get into a habit of doing as that's a very dangerous slippery slope and you want to keep firm separation of your money vs company money.

If you want to show appreciation to your employees, get a budget to do it, and if you can't then thank you emails will have to do as clearly the company doesn't want to pay for the gift for all of the employees. And if just your employees get something, while rest of the company doesn't, well, that's not great optics for anyone, and you cannot really hide it as people talk, especially when they get stuff.

A bit of an update based on the other answers:

Yes, everyone want's free stuff and it's always nice, and everyone will love you for it. And yet it's not your job to distribute your own wealth to make people you manage happy, same as it's not your job to pay their salaries, health benefits and so on, and bonuses and premiums are as much part of that package as anything else.

So what you have to do is take the discussion up the stream to your boss/manager and see if there is a holiday budget, and if there isn't one - fight for one. That is well within your powers and responsibilities to do. And I know, that's an unpopular opinion - telling someone to not give employees free stuff, but then there is no more expectations of managers to spend their own money on their employers, than there is of anyone else. You get paid to work, not the other way around.

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  • ? For starters, a managers bonus is significantly higher than that of his underlings, and it often depends largely on their productivity. In other words, if they run the extra mile during work hours, you don't have to do it in your overtime.
    – Karl
    Dec 13 '20 at 16:59
  • @Karl "For starters, a managers bonus is significantly higher than that of his underlings" that is far from being a universal fact actually and varies greatly from one industry to another. Dec 13 '20 at 17:17
  • I'm sure there is a wide span from +20% to 20x as much, but can you give me one counterexample? :-D
    – Karl
    Dec 13 '20 at 17:36
  • @Karl Sure, in last 2 companies I worked with. There managers only earned a sensible wage IF they hit all their bonuses. And that still was below salary of most people they've managed (non-junior software devs). In quite a few places managers a plenty which drives the price way down, and more and more of it into bonuses. Especially in IT non-technical managers routinely make less than their 'underlings'. Dec 13 '20 at 17:41
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In general, it's a great idea! But with many pitfalls...

  • In my opinion a gift card or voucher needs to be of substantial value, to provide something the employee would not normally buy for him/herself. This can become expensive really quick.
  • On the other hand a cheap (store-bought) generic gift I feel is not able to convey your appreciation.
  • I do like the idea of something handmade as noted in @displayName's answer. It's not so much expensive but very meaningful in thought. But look out for pitfalls:
  • Any gifts have the danger of going against a person's preferences. E.g. with sweets, a person could be diabetic, or have philosophical/religious rules that a food/drink gift might offend. As a good manager, presumably you would be aware of each person's preferences :-)
  • Also, the mere act of gift-giving at Christmas (or "Secret Santa-ing") might offend some peoples' philosophical/religious convictions (Easter and Valentines day are other sensitive times, among others.) It might be better to decouple it completely from cultural (secularized religious) traditions and make it a strictly work-related event - the company slowing down and many people leaving for some holiday is a good excuse.
  • Again opinionated, but I feel a hand-written, personalized (short) letter (along with a gift or without) goes much further than a generic note. So instead of "Thank you for your hard work through this year!", rather write something along the lines of "Dear Jenny, you have contributed to this team by always staying positive and encouraging us when we are under pressure, and I want to let you know how much I and the rest of the team value you." People like to be seen, and it's especially impactful if you have noticed something that usually goes unseen. (You will encourage that action so be sure to mention something positive of which more will not be detrimental :-) )
  • Also, if you are a good manager such an action would sometimes elicit the need from employees to reciprocate. It helps if your sign of appreciation is of a level they are able to match.
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There are plenty of answers here describing how to do it the official way. I want to share the story of my manager. He is a genuinely good person.

Week before Christmas, he brought a few little cardboard boxes in the daily meeting. When we opened them, they had 4-5 handmade cookies with properly wrapped in paper etc. He spent time making those cookies on the weekend and then decorating them in Christmas theme. And this is from a guy who is overly busy and has loads of work to do.

I respect him a lot anyway, but I could not help myself from sincerely thanking him again in the meeting itself. If his goal was to convey his appreciation of us, it was met without a doubt.


Also, I want to highlight, that my team members did not wait for specific events to convey our appreciation. Someone or the other would often get homemade sweets in our daily meeting and the we would finish the entire box within those 30 minutes! We respected each other a lot and therefore it was often visible naturally.

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    I like that - your manager invested time and skill, more than money, into their gifting and that is a great way to show appreciation.
    – Rob Moir
    Dec 13 '20 at 9:42
  • This post reads as if you wanted to promote SCRUM.
    – guest
    Dec 14 '20 at 12:02
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    @guest: Updated. Dec 14 '20 at 21:58
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I feel strongly that you shouldn't pay out of your own pocket for gifts - at least nothing substantial.

You can and should lobby for a budget to do this via the company, but the best gift you can give your team as a manager is the gift of being a good manager. Spend your professional and career capital on your team before your personal financial capital.

A manager that 100% supports their team with their career growth, helps them work through work/home life issues in a constructive manner (e.g. effectively ensuring safety during Covid is a timely example), and so-on is likely to be remembered far more fondly than the manager who doesn't support or develop their team but drops the occasional Starbucks gift card on them at Christmas.

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As an alternative point of view, it's totally OK to NOT give Christmas gifts. The best way to show appreciation is to do it throughout the year, not just Christmas. Christmas rituals are often insincere pro-forma obligations. Doesn't everyone experience enough of that around this season? If you've been a good boss, no one will care about gifts.

For many of us, the annual holiday party is yet another tiresome grind in the season, and we're thrilled in this pandemic year to NOT have to watch the sales team do competitive karaoke while buzzed on heavily spiked egg-nog.

If your org has to do something, what's wrong with a tray of cookies in the break room?

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For me, the problem with a gift from the boss is that it seems like a gift from the company, and the company should pay me for my work. Even if you pay for this yourself, you're paying for it from a bonus that you get for making us work harder.

If there are people on your team who feel they missed out on a pay rise/bonus, or worked unpaid overtime every week, then a gift card (or anything else that feels like money) doesn't even come close to balancing the debt. In fact it feels insulting.

So my advice is only to do this if you can find a gift that doesn't feel like money. Take the team to the coffee shop during office hours, buy them a drink and have half an hour relaxing. Someone else suggested baking cookies, which I think is a lovely idea. My current company gives out company-branded gifts, which works because morale is high and they're well chosen - but the same thing failed a previous company where morale was low.

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