You don’t often hear about employees returning holiday cash or check bonuses, but research indicates that non-monetary, more personal gifts may have a greater, longer lasting impact on employees. Further, Beverly Kaye, founder and CEO of Career Systems International and co-author of “Love ’Em or Lose ’Em: Getting Good People to Stay,” said that the holidays offer executives the perfect opportunity to build goodwill that will last all year long. For CLOs, this can mean finding creative ways to reward your team of learning professionals.
“I think that in the rush of life and work nowadays, we often miss the chance to stop and recognize small and big contributions and just say, ‘Thank you. I noticed. I appreciate,’” Kaye said. “The holiday season provides an opportunity for us to say, ‘This is what I’ve appreciated about you all year,’ or ‘This is what I appreciate about you as a member of my team.’ I just finished the end of the year with my whole company, and I have a virtual company so people fly out from all over. I gave everybody a very tiny gift, but I wrote each person a personal note telling them precisely what I appreciate about them and how much I look forward to working with them in the next year. I think the note meant much more than the gift. The gift was symbolic of the note. People said, ‘I’m going to save this,’ and ‘My own mom never said anything this nice to me.’ It’s a chance to remind we who manage others that we have to stop and say thank you.”
According to Kaye and her co-author Sharon Jordan-Evans, annual bonuses and company perks are no longer seen as special. Now, they might even be expected, which requires that senior-level learning executives must employ more creativity to find other tokens of appreciation that work. “A reward is not a reward if it’s expected,” Kaye explained, quoting a reward rule from her book. “Second, a reward is only a reward if it meets somebody’s needs. You want to think about, ‘What does this person want and need? What would they appreciate? Who are they? What do they love doing?’ Put some thought into the way you say thank you. It doesn’t have to be a big gift. The statistics and theory about dollars is that bonuses are wonderful. They do mean a lot, but the memory of a bonus lasts only two to three weeks. Ways to extend the memory are to more publicly say to the person, ‘Here’s why you’re getting this. Here’s what I appreciate. Here’s what I loved that you did for me.’ All of that has to go with it, and that’s not done enough in our workplace.”
Here are some holiday gift ideas that don’t have to be purchased:
- Offer an opportunity to lead a development project, even a learning intervention that you might have wanted to lead yourself. “Our retention research says that for many people it’s all about challenge,” Kaye said. “If I’m challenged, if I’m learning, if I’m growing, then I’m happy at work. For many people the opportunity to lead a project or to be the head of a task force, to run something their way is a great opportunity for learning and growth.”
- Ask employees for ideas on how they would like to be rewarded. The only rule is that half the ideas need to be low- or no-cost, and be beneficial to the organization’s overall learning and development mission, or some specific facet of it. “If you’re stumped on what to do, then do some brainstorming with your own people. Ask what are some of the things that would make your work life easier? What are some of the things that would make doing your job easier? Listen to their ideas for things that they would like that would be easy for you to give. I think when we hear what is meaningful to someone and it is an easy thing for us to meet, it becomes a very elegant form of currency,” Kaye said. “They appreciate it, and we offer it. It could be a day off. It could be coming in late every other Friday because their kid has a soccer game. It could be time alone with you that is a great gift, and none of those are costly.”
- Ask your employee for the name of someone in the organization that he or she would like to meet, then create that link and provide that introduction. “Often many people are in their own silos. They’re boxed in. They’re not well networked, and there are people in the organization who they’ve always wanted to meet, talk with and learn from. We’ve found in our retention research that the degree to which you can build links and networks for people is very much a part of why they stay and what holds them at work,” Kaye said.
- Have an honest talk about the future. Offer to hold a career conversation. Talk about career goals, talents and future opportunities to expand knowledge of learning and development best practices. “One of the top five stay factors in our research was, ‘I stay if my career feels like it’s going somewhere. It doesn’t have to necessarily go up the ladder, but I feel like someone is interested in my career. Someone is talking with me about what they see in the future.’ I ask each one of my people, ‘What do you want more of, less of, and what do you want me to continue doing in the future visa vie you, your job and your work?’ It gives them a chance to say, ‘I really want to learn this. I really want to do that’. Some of it you can meet. Some of it you can’t meet, but at least you have that data.”
“Your words on paper mean so much,” Kaye said. “People will hang onto a compliment from a senior member of the organization that is verbally very appreciative, and boy is it ever appreciated when it’s written. I think senior leaders have no idea that people literally take home a note, show it to the kids, show it to their spouses, etc. If they can take the time to say, ‘Thank you here’s what I care about,’ and put that thank you in writing, sometimes it carries more weight than a gift does. Or it amplifies the actual giving of a gift. It is the notion that little things mean a lot.”