It's the gift giving season. That doesn't mean you need to embrace it as a manager. You should be authentic and if giving gifts just isn't your thing, show your appreciation in other ways and don't force it.
I like giving gifts! It's something I grew up with and with friends and family I try to find things that really speak to them. Things that really show I understand who they are. It's thoughtful work, but I feel rewarded by it.
I take a different approach to gift giving with direct reports. I take the opportunity to share something with them that isn't work, but that I think is worth sharing.
There are a few things you should consider when giving gifts:
- You should give everyone a similar gift. Naturally you will know some people on your team more than others, and that can create a lack of perceived parity. As a manager, I think it is very important to demonstrate impartiality. So while coming up with the unique, Leslie Knopian, gift is a nice thought, it can backfire and show favoritism, which you should avoid.
- I prefer to pay for the gifts rather than expense them. This may be a personal preference, but for a gift to be authentically from me, I want to be the one buying it.
- If you have a lot of direct reports, gift giving can be taxing. Come up with a gift you can give everyone, and spend the extra time personalizing it with a note. The note, a lot of times, will be more memorable than the gift itself.
- I keep gift giving to direct reports only, rather than an entire organization.
I don't think any of my current direct reports keep up with this blog, so I hope this doesn't ruin any surprises, but this is how I approach gift giving:
Everyone who I manage for the first year (or partial year) I give them a gift of Paulo Coehlo's The Alchemist. It's one of the few books I read regularly and it always inspires me. I want to share that inspiration with my team. It's also a short, quick read, which I hope entices them to actually enjoy it.
If I've already managed you for two years (and thus you already have your trusty copy of the Alchemist) I gift Six Seasons by Joshua McFadden. This book got me into cook books and is vegetable forward and should be useful for people of all dietary persuasions. It's a great book, and highly recommended.
Finally, if I've managed you for three years you'll get Volume 1 of Moomin Deluxe. Moomin is a big character in Europe and Japan, which I hope means it will be a new introduction rather than something someone has already read. The comics are delightful. Tove Jansson pairs great story telling and unique characters with great art work. My 5 year daughter and I love this book.
Overall, books are a great option, again if that aligns with you authentically, but try to pick titles that won't be misconstrued as work, even if it is a text you find important. Save the business books for the expense account and bring them into the fold when they are business appropriate.
If you are going to order books, I recommend going through a local bookshop. Just give them a call, have them order the books and pick them up (or have them run them out to you). It's a great way to support local businesses during Covid and bulk ordering books this way is only moderately more work than Amazon. In SF, we go to Folio Books in Noe Valley ((415) 821-3477) and in Madison, WI (where I'm at presently) I recommend Mystery to Me (email@example.com). Back in the day, I'd hand the book with an inscription to my direct, but this year, I'll get the book, inscribe it, wrap it and send it to them.
This is a more process oriented approach than my normal gift giving, but I feel it both shares something important with the people I work with, while making sure I am not playing favorites or spending undue time agonizing over what to give. It's authentic and efficient and brings me joy to share things I have found to be lovely.