5 Gifts Your Employees Actually Want in 2022 - Senior Executive
Human Resources 6 min

5 Gifts Your Employees Actually Want in 2022

While thoughtful gifts build employee loyalty, generic items end up in the trash. Here’s what tops employees’ wish lists.

by Kaitlin Milliken on December 10, 2021


  • U.S. companies will spend nearly $100 billion this year on gifts for employees, an increase directly linked to COVID

  • More employees are opting for charitable donations and gift cards

  • Give experiences or products made in an employee’s state to avoid supply-chain delays

Throughout the year, thoughtful bosses are looking for gifts to recognize their employees. And companies are spending more on corporate gifting than ever. 

A recent study from Coresight Research estimates U.S. companies will spend nearly $100 billion this year on gifts for employees. Over half of respondents noted that their gifting budgets increased directly because of COVID. 

However, getting gifts to your employees has also become more challenging. Port backlogs, high gas prices, fewer workers and other supply-chain challenges will affect your ability to send gifts. To mitigate challenges, start as early as possible. 

Another option is to avoid products shipped from overseas. “Source for different [people] in their state or in their country,” says  Jonathan Legge, CEO of the gifting platform &Open. “You’re cutting many steps out of a global supply chain.” 

With those disclaimers in mind, here’s what actually tops employees’ wish lists.

1. Charitable Donations 

The desire for donations on employees’ behalf rose 5X at the start of the pandemic, according to Greg Segall, CEO of personalized gifting platform Alyce.  While charitable giving has tapered off, he says, employees are opting for donations in their honor two times more frequently than pre-pandemic. 

Senior execs should find the charitable causes employees already support for a personal touch. Jennifer Reyntjes, chief people officer at Strata Oncology, says the most meaningful gift she received from a boss was a donation to the Judson Center where her son had received services for autism. 

“It was…a cause that personally meant a lot… [and] touched me in a way that no other gift would have,” she says, “It’s really about…[finding] something that’s tied to the heart of a person.”

2. Experiences 

Twenty months into a pandemic, many are looking for ways to leave the house, driving a demand for in-person experiences. “Travel by far is the most popular experience option that we have today,” says Rachel Kowarski, head of partnerships at gifting platform Snappy. Snappy’s digital travel concierge helps users gift museum tickets, guided tours and hotel stays. “I’ve also seen a lot of recipients claiming [in-person] wellness options and fitness options,” she says of local experiences.

However, an in-person experience may not be the right gift for every employee. “People are very unique in the way that they approach [the pandemic] and what they feel comfortable with,” Segall notes. He says that employees with children who are too young to be vaccinated for COVID or who live in areas with high case rates may not be ready to embrace outings. Online master classes or virtual activities are better gifts for more cautious employees.

Leaders can also fund virtual team events as experiential gifts. These at-home activities build camaraderie. For instance, Taylor Paone of financial services company DailyPay opted to give her team an online mixology session during the pandemic. Booked through HUNGRY, participants received a custom gift box with DailyPay’s logo that included all the ingredients Paone’s coworkers needed to participate. 

Senior Executive DEI Think Tank is a criteria-based membership community for chief diversity officers and senior-level DEI leaders at large organizations to share difference-making tactics, trade valuable resources, and seek the counsel of experienced peers in a private, confidential setting.

Do you qualify?

3. Gift Cards 

Gift card popularity has increased 60% since the start of the pandemic, according to gifting platform Sendoso’s State of Sending report, while employees’ desire for physical gifts has dropped by 34%. 

“The primary reason for [gift card] popularity is because these gifts ultimately give the recipient more flexibility, and the power of choice, to select what they want,” says Sendoso CEO Kris Rudeegraap. And, if supply-chain issues mean a coveted item is out of stock right now, they can purchase it with a gift card later.  

4. Physical Gifts 

Many senior executives still opt to give physical gifts. Remember to keep gifts personal to forge a connection with employees. AI-powered gifting platforms can make recommendations or allow employees to pick from a curated list of options. 

For example, your fitness-forward employee may not enjoy a basket of cookies and muffins. “It’s not just a thought that counts anymore. It’s about the utilization,” says Segall. “It’s about the… relationship you’re trying to build with a person. … Generic gifts often get thrown away.” 

Consider the following:

  • Gift boxes. Rudeegraap recommends a gift box or basket tailored to an employee’s interests. For example, an at-home cook may be delighted by a gift basket filled with a cookbook and fresh ingredients. As an additional thoughtful gesture, executives can also include “a personalized note, a gift card to their [the employee’s] favorite store or a custom mug with their alma-mater,” he recommends.
  • Team bonding items. Kowarski says that Snappy has seen an increase in orders for gift sets focused on bringing remote teams together. She recommends sending out snacks, beverages or an at-home bar kit for a specific, team-bonding Zoom meeting. 
  • Locally made or sustainable gifts. “People [are] stepping away from the big brands,” notes Legge. Instead, he recommends that bosses look for niche brands focused on sustainable production. That can include looking for vendors in an employee’s city.
  • Special-edition swag. If you’re still hoping to give gifts en masse or include company branding, don’t just slap a logo on a mug. Look for “contemporary takes on the classics,” Legge suggests. For example, instead of a cheap fleece, find a retailer that can make a high-quality blanket with a unique pattern, designed solely for your team. “[Your employees are] all part of that edition… Because it’s a special edition, it becomes unique to that group of people. It frames it as a special gift,” he says. 
  • Books. Sure, gift a copy of your favorite beach read to an employee whom you know shares your love of great fiction. For the whole team, a book on leadership can show your employees that you recognize their potential. Kyle Bailey, CEO of the odor-eliminating technology company NuVinAir, has given Harvard Business Review’s “Guide to Thinking Strategically” to his team. 

5. Cash

Executives still often opt for cash gifting, Legge says. It’s easy and always appreciated. However, a cash gift from the boss’ pocket should feel different from a performance or holiday bonus from the company. To do that, he says, frame the gift around a specific purpose. 

“It’s not that you’re giving somebody $250. It’s $250 to go out for dinner with your partner. Or it’s $250 to buy a tree for their garden because you know they like gardens,” Legge says. “Not that they have to go and spend it on dinner. But it’s showing a sense of thought within the cash… Aligning it [gifts] to context is the most important thing.”

What’s the best gift you’ve ever received from a boss or mentor? Send an email to editor@seniorexecutive.com to let us know. 

Copied to clipboard.