employee engagement Archives - Senior Executive

Gifting has long been a celebrated part of corporate culture during the holiday season. It’s a great way for employers to show their employees how valued and appreciated they are, as well as clients. However, as the holidays approach, it might be challenging to address gifting in the climate of remote work.

Since the pandemic, remote work has become the new norm for many companies. It’s changed the way employees view their relationship with work, socialize with colleagues, and navigate virtual challenges around workplace etiquette. The holidays are no exception. Traditionally, you might expect festive office parties or a White Elephant gift exchange—circumstances that require a physical presence. But as the number of people who work remotely tripled in the last two years, these might seem outdated, especially if employees are scattered across the country. 

Change isn’t always a bad thing. With the rise of remote work comes new opportunities around holiday gifting, a chance to adapt to our evolving wants and needs as consumers. In my work for EXEC, a travel and lifestyle benefits program, I’ve noticed people are hungrier for things that bring them personal value. This doesn’t necessarily mean products; in fact, it’s more about unique and enriching experiences. 

Holiday gifting during the work-from-home era may not look the same as it did pre-pandemic, but it might actually be more personalized in a lot of ways. Here’s how you can do it. 

Adapt to Changing Times

The pandemic has shifted our expectations and outlooks on life, as well as our desires and preferences. There’s a term for this: the experience economy. More and more people are starting to crave experiences over commodities. While this phenomenon has roots in the 90s, it’s grown even more post-Covid as people realize the value of experiences over owning possessions.

Experiences don’t have to be adrenaline-filled like bungee jumping or racing Lamborghinis around a track. It can also look like a luxury hotel upgrade. Gifting someone an experience provides them access to a higher level of treatment, or an opportunity to try something they’ve never done before. Experiences are more memorable because they provide you with a feeling to remember it by. They empower us to connect with ourselves and with others, and play a bigger role in how we view the world than material things usually do.

Gifting an experience also plays out well in the virtual space. When it comes to holiday gifting in remote work, it’s important to adapt to the changing times. If you are thinking about gifting a physical item, walking three feet over to someone’s cubicle is no longer feasible. But without an office address, asking for and giving out home addresses can potentially feel invasive and uncomfortable from a professional standpoint. However, you can easily send a gift card or discount to an employee or client over email.

Be Intentional

You don’t want to give just any experience to someone—you should be intentional about it. Get to know the person you’re planning to gift to, whether that be your employees or your clients. What are their basic likes and interests? Are they outdoorsy or do they prefer the city? Do they like to travel? These are important considerations to think about. Identify traits that are unique to someone’s personality, so it shows that you share a deeper understanding of them. 

Holiday gifting is a great way to be a part of your employees’ or clients’ lives, even if you’re not physically present. Going the extra mile to ensure they have a meaningful experience can go a long way. It shows your willingness to still take care of them, wherever they are in the world. Consider how the gift of experience would make them feel. Maybe it can be a business class upgrade that reduces their stress with travel. Or it can be a sporting activity somewhere unforgettable. Gift-giving is more than just being kind during the holiday season, it’s also about caring for who you work with.

Scott Poniewaz

“With the rise of remote work comes new opportunities around holiday gifting, a chance to adapt to our evolving wants and needs as consumers. In my work for EXEC, a travel and lifestyle benefits program, I’ve noticed people are hungrier for things that bring them personal value.”

– Scott Poniewaz

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Build Relationships

As a global entrepreneur who has spent years partnering with and developing companies, I understand that gifting is a huge part of relationship management at the workplace. Holiday gifting is integral to building and managing workplace relationships in a way that’s simple, personable, and sincere. It can also manifest long-term effects in building morale and culture, long after the holidays are over. As a result, employees are more likely to report higher job satisfaction, which can last up to a year or more. 

When employees have more job satisfaction, they’re more likely to have higher engagement. Clients are more likely to want to continue doing business with you. Holiday gifting can bring joy and beyond. The more you can contribute something fulfilling to their lives, the more valued they will feel.

There are a few things to keep in mind about gift-giving etiquette, however. 

  1. While gifts are a great opportunity to show employee recognition, note that holiday gifts are not performance bonuses and they should not be given near performance review time. They should be sent separately.
  2. Keep it practical and safe. Avoid overly personal gifts. It’s smart to be personal, but to a reasonable limit. Remember the relationship is still professional. 
  3. Think clearly about how others may interpret the gift. The wrong gift might feel worse than receiving no gift at all.
  4. Make sure the gift reflects your brand and the value of the client or employee. No matter what you give, it must be a quality representation of your company. 

Bottom line: Expressing your gratitude to your work relationships through holiday gifting is an understated way to give back. It demonstrates that you are listening and understanding, and most importantly, acknowledging. When you dedicate a little extra effort to make the holidays that much better for the people you work with, everyone benefits.

It’s time for a reality check on your data-gathering efforts. You’re probably monitoring basic workforce demographics, and you should feel good about the weekly “pulse” surveys you’ve implemented to broadly track employee satisfaction.

But what about specific departments? Do you see data that would reveal team-wide disengagement before it becomes a retention problem? Do you act on it?

Or even a specific worker, one of thousands of employees… working in a remote country? Is he happy? Does he have any lingering questions or concerns about employee benefits or company policies?

“The biggest handicap I see for HR individuals and HR executives is [not] having real-time data and metrics,” says Patricia Sharkey, senior director of human resources at IMI, a company that provides resources and software to automate distribution facilities across the globe. “That’s the way we’re going to be taken seriously.”

The company uses a homegrown, AI-driven HR platform called Rhonda to engage employees regularly, execute key HR functions such as performance reviews, and collect and analyze data to identify HR hotspots for leaders to act on. “What Rhonda does for HR, and what it brings to this company, is that our CEO has real-time metrics and data that he can make decisions based on,” Sharkey says. 

Senior Executive Media recently interviewed Sharkey about the company’s approach to employee communication and engagement. Read on for edited excerpts from our conversation.

Headshot of Patricia Sharkey

“The biggest handicap I see for HR individuals and HR executives is [not] having real-time data and metrics. That’s the way we’re going to be taken seriously.”

– Patricia Sharkey

Senior Executive Media: How is Rhonda regularly engaging employees and improving employee retention?

Patricia Sharkey: We have weekly surveys that go out, and employees rate, on a scale of one to five, how their week has gone… It’s a simple weekly, like, “Hey, please let us know how you’re doing.” And this goes out to the entire company. If an employee scores a three or lower, they’re going to get contacted by their manager, or by HR, and in some cases by the CEO directly, which is awesome.

I have employees that, every once in a while, I think they want to put a two because they want to talk to [CEO] Rudi [Asseer] because it turns out things are pretty good.

We run weekly reports that measure how many people are responding to us… I receive weekly reports of who’s engaging… If they’re not responding, or we’re getting a low response, we ask the manager, “Hey, how come your team isn’t responding?”

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Senior Executive Media: What else does Rhonda do?

Patricia Sharkey: It’s a big part of the safety culture. We send out safety messages every Thursday. People can talk to us about any safety concerns.

We also have a weekly “hustle” that we send out via Rhonda, which is a newsletter, which reminds employees to respond to Rhonda and lists the employee of the week, by the way, too. So they’re engaged in the employee hustle because they may also see rewards.

Our employees can ask questions to Rhonda, like, “Hey, what’s up with my bank account?” … While we have an HR help desk and different areas where employees can contact us, the most successful is the AI application.

And with AI, it’s been much easier for us to get [performance] reviews back from the employees… This approach has increased accuracy, speed and employee satisfaction because it’s so easy for them to complete.

Senior Executive Media: During the actual conversations within the performance review process, how does the data you’ve collected come into play?

Patricia Sharkey: Managers… talk to their employees about their [self-evaluations] and how, say, for example, the employee gave themselves a three [in a certain area], but the manager scored a four for them.

Then I’m given all that information as well. Not only am I able to see the scores of each employee and what the managers are giving them, the AI also does the average of what the department’s overall score is, which is pretty interesting—great data for the CEO. Because it takes some of the subjectivity out and goes, “Alright, you’ve got your divisional lead, maybe saying he has the greatest department in the company. But look at these overall scores.”

Senior Executive Media: You’re gathering so much data. What are the most important or most interesting metrics that you specifically look out for?

Patricia Sharkey: What I’m looking for, as I’m doing a temperature gauge on my employees: Are they happy? Are they going to stay with us? Through data, you can see patterns of behavior, right? I can tell if someone’s not happy if I see that I’m getting a lot of twos, right? I have to not only do a one-time check in, but now I have to go and say what’s going on? What systemically is happening in this department if I see, you know, in one department, I’m getting lower scores, or people not responding? (People not responding is almost the same thing as giving a low score, in my opinion.) And the question is not about the employee, it becomes about the company and systemic practices. What are we doing well, and what aren’t we doing well?