Languages of Appreciation: Tangible Gifts


Gary Chapman and Paul White are the authors of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.  Their book discusses why appreciation is one of the most important elements of employee motivation and satisfaction.   In this post, we get to the language that is at once the most obvious and the hardest to implement – the tangible gift. 

For starters, gifts cost money.  (And while we’re on the subject, cash is almost never the right gift, in case you were wondering.) Money  subjects gifts to constraints that the other languages don’t have – you can always find more words of praise, but you probably don’t have an unlimited budget. There’s also the policy decision about whether the company’s budget pays for gifts or the gift comes from you personally.  In some companies, the value and the propriety of the gift is ruled by policy, ethics and even public perception.  A worker who accepts the wrong gift can be disciplined or fired. If you’re thinking of giving a gift, you have to know the rules.

The good news is that the gift doesn’t have to be expensive to be terrific.  A very modest gift that really shows you care can be a big hit.  The note you leave or comment you make when you give can be a big part of how meaningful the gift is.  “Here’s a copy of the book you mentioned last week.  Now you don’t have to wait for the library copy you have a hold request for.” “You did a great job of organizing our intern experience this summer.  Here’s a framed copy of the photo we took of the interns with you at orientation.” 

Choosing a gift can be complicated if you don’t know the recipient well.  Your choice of gift will speak volumes about what you’ve been paying attention to over the course of the relationship (guys – I’m talking to you.)  Yes, your gift choice matters, so don’t delegate the task to someone who is not familiar with the person you’re giving to.  Be sure that she’s a football fan before giving tickets to the game; be sure he eats meat before giving a steak house gift certificate. It’s almost always a good idea to make the gift substantial enough for two, even if the recipient isn’t married.  No one likes to lunch or dine alone, and there’s no guarantee that her friends can afford to go with her.

There are times (like the holidays) when you may give a gift to several staff members or coworkers. Chapman and White remind you that the gift will not matter as much to some of them, and that’s OK.  Don’t be upset if some staff members love the gift and some don’t seem very interested.  Even on special occasions, not everyone chooses gifts as their preferred language of appreciation.  You’ll be more successful if you customize the gifts just a bit for each individual.  If everyone gets a gift certificate, give each of them one that shows you’ve been paying attention to their interests and hobbies.

Don’t forget that time off can be the most valuable gift of all.  If company policy permits, giving time off to shop for back to school or the holidays can be a huge stress reliever.   If you have a mother of a young child, show you care by giving a morning off on the first day of school.  She will hate to ask for it if there is a deadline looming, and she’ll remember the gesture forever. Add in a picture frame for the photo she takes that morning and a box of tissues and you’ll have won the Gift Giver Lifetime Achievement award.

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