executive 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 But as the number of people who work remotely tripled in the last two years, these might seem outdated, especially if employees are scattered across the country.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.

“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

– Scott Poniewaz


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.

Executives typically have several different ways to save for retirement: deferred compensation, company stock, pensions and, of course, the good old-fashioned 401(k), to name a few. However, in my experience, executives don’t have the time to maximize their 401(k) plans—they’re too busy running companies and have more pressing decisions to make—but this can be a mistake as certain 401(k) contributions could help you save on taxes in retirement. Let’s look at a few ways you can maximize your 401(k) with this brief tutorial on which contributions to make—standard pre-tax 401(k), Roth 401(k) or both.

The Basics of 401(k) Contributions

If you’re unfamiliar with 401(k) contributions and how they work, here’s a quick breakdown:

  • The maximum contribution to a 401(k) in 2022 is $20,500, unless you are 50 or older, in which case you can contribute an additional $6,500 in “catch-up contributions.” 
  • Many employers will match contributions up to a certain percentage, and while you may have a choice between making pre-tax or Roth contributions, depending on your plan, employer contributions are always made into the pre-tax account. 
  • Pre-tax contributions to your standard 401(k) reduce your taxable income today, which should help you save a few bucks on your tax return. However, withdrawals in retirement from pre-tax accounts will be taxed then. Let’s say you take $100,000 out of your pre-tax 401(k) in your first year of retirement. That’s $100,000 of taxable income that will be treated as such come April 15.
  • A Roth 401(k) is the opposite: No tax deduction today on your contributions, but qualified withdrawals in retirement will be tax-free. In this case, “qualified” means you are over 59 ½ and have had the Roth account open for at least five years. 

So, which is better, standard 401(k) or Roth 401(k)?

Pre-Tax 401(k) vs. Roth 401(k) Contributions

Is a Roth 401(k) right for you? It depends on your future tax rate. If you expect your future retirement tax rate to be the same, it makes no difference from a tax perspective in the long run whether you fund a Roth 401(k) or regular 401(k). If, like many high earners, you expect to be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, then a regular 401(k) contribution today makes sense for you. However, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket in retirement, then the Roth 401(k) should pay off in the long run since that withdrawal will be tax-free. The problem, of course, is most people don’t know which tax bracket they will be in during retirement. For this reason, I generally recommend a hybrid 401(k) approach to my clients.

The Hybrid Approach to 401(k) Contributions

If your 401(k) allows for it, you may be able to make both Roth 401(k) and regular 401(k) contributions – say, 50% into the standard pre-tax 401(k) account and the other 50% into the Roth 401(k). (Note: Not all 401(k) plans allow for a Roth contribution, so check with your plan provider.)

The hybrid approach is a hedge: If tax rates jump up once you reach retirement, you’ll be grateful you made some Roth 401(k) contributions now. If you find you’re in a lower tax bracket in retirement, then you’ll be glad you contributed to the standard 401(k). In practice, I find clients usually put a higher amount into the pre-tax bucket to save on taxes today. Usually, 75%-80% of their contributions go into the standard pre-tax 401(k) account, and the remaining balance goes into the Roth.

The Exception: Income Diversification

Of course, every rule has an exception. For those nearing retirement who may have made exclusively pre-tax 401(k) contributions throughout their career, switching future contributions entirely to the Roth 401(k) can make sense. This is called income diversification. Diversifying your future income can prevent what we advisors call “bracket creep,” or getting bounced into the next (and higher) tax bracket.

Here’s how it works. Let’s compare taking $100,000 out of a pre-tax 401(k) in retirement versus withdrawing a mix of $100,000 from a standard pre-tax 401(k) and your Roth 401(k). If you withdraw $100,000 from your pre-tax 401(k), your estimated federal tax on that income would be $13,234 (ignoring deductions and credits for simplicity’s sake). If instead, you withdraw $83,550 from the standard pre-tax 401(k) account and the balance—$16,450— from the Roth 401(k), then your $100,000 in income includes only $83,550 in taxable income to land you in the 12% tax bracket. You would pay no tax at all on the $16,450 from the Roth 401(k) – and lower the tax rate on the remainder of your income! All else being equal, the savings is about $3,619 in federal taxes.

Married Filing Jointly Taxable IncomeBase Amount of TaxPlusFederal Tax RateAmount Over
$20,551 to $83,550$2,055+12%$20,550
$83,551 to $178,150$9,615+22%$83,550
Table 1: 2022 Income Tax Brackets (selected)
Source of WithdrawalsBase Amount of Tax
Plus Tax on Marginal Amount
Total Federal Tax
$100,000 from standard pre-tax 401(k)$9,615$3,619$13,234
$83,550 from standard pre-tax 401(k) and $16,450 from Roth 401(k)$2,055$7,560$9,615
Table 2: Taxes on Withdrawals From 401(k) and Roth 401(k) Accounts

Required Minimum Distributions

Unless you’re still working, all 401(k), Roth 401(k) and regular IRAs require you to start withdrawing money at age 72, even if you don’t need it. For high earners who have maximized their 401(k) over the years, a required minimum distribution (RMD) from these accounts can mean substantial taxable income that, added to other taxable income, can push you into the highest tax brackets. Pro tip: There are currently no RMD from a Roth IRA. Once you leave your employer, roll your Roth 401(k) into a Roth IRA, and never face a required minimum withdrawal on that money.

The Mega-Back-Door Roth IRA

One last uber-valuable tip for high earners: The annual maximum 401(k) contributions – in 2022, $20,500 plus $6,500 more for those 50 and older – that you hear about refer to pre-tax and Roth contributions. But your 401(k) plan may allow you to contribute additional after-tax contributions as well, and you should take advantage with Roth IRA benefits in retirement in mind.  The earnings on those after-tax contributions to your standard 401(k) will be taxable upon withdrawal in retirement. However, after leaving the company, you can roll over those after-tax 401(k) contributions—not the earnings, only the contributions—to a Roth IRA tax-free. This is another way to increase your Roth account. This is called a “mega-back door” Roth IRA and is a great way for high-income executives to sock away more in the Roth.

Disclaimer: Investment advisory and financial planning services are offered through Summit Financial LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Adviser, 4 Campus Drive, Parsippany, NJ 07054. Tel. 973-285-3600 Fax. 973-285-3666. This material is for your information and guidance and is not intended as legal or tax advice. Clients should make all decisions regarding the tax and legal implications of their investments and plans after consulting with their independent tax or legal advisers. Individual investor portfolios must be constructed based on the individual’s financial resources, investment goals, risk tolerance, investment time horizon, tax situation and other relevant factors. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be attributed to Summit Financial LLC. Summit is not responsible for hyperlinks and any external referenced information found in this article.

Savvy executives know that effective employee communication is equally as important as balancing the budget, turning a profit and building a devoted following on Instagram. For the last 20 years, I’ve worked with leaders across industries to improve their communication skills, and I’ve never seen such a rapid shift in workforce communication challenges as we have these past few years. Now more than ever, as hybrid and remote workplaces continue to evolve, executives must prioritize communication, with workers both inside and outside of their company, if they want to succeed.

Simply said, failed communication results in lost revenue. A recent report conducted by Grammarly and The Harris Poll estimates a $1.2 trillion annual loss among businesses due to ineffective communication. Of those surveyed, business leaders estimate a loss of 7.47 hours a week, nearly an entire day, due to poor communication. The communication gaps translated into an estimated loss of $12,506 per employee every year, according to the study—and those dollars add up fast.

The bottom line: good communication is no longer merely a wish-list skill to develop; it’s a must-have for modern leaders. It is essential for efficient and quality leadership in our ever-changing world. As an executive, what steps can you take to lead your team into the future, especially if your organization is partially or fully remote?

Increase Touchpoints

The topsy-turvy workplace that emerged during the pandemic taught executives the overriding importance of good communication. As businesses turned to hybrid models or switched entirely to remote operations, effective communications equaled survival of the fittest. Successful teams adopted innovations to facilitate communication in a changing workplace, such as:

  • Daily check-ins in the form of videoconferencing for improved accountability 
  • Implementation of “shout-outs” to recognize employees’ on-the-job accomplishments
  • Messaging with workplace communication tools such as Slack or Google Chat
  • Use of project management tools such as Basecamp or Monday.com for organization

Ultimately, in order to successfully lead a remote team, you’ll need to implement more touchpoints than you would if your team was working in person, but not so many as to become a burden or produce redundancies. Striking the right balance might take some trial and error, but if something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change course.

Train the C-Suite

Good communication skills are necessary to achieve growth, increase profitability and improve the employee experience, and good communication starts at the top. If you aren’t able to clearly communicate your goals to your team, how can you expect them to deliver those goals? If you can’t model effective communication, how can you expect your managers and employees to communicate effectively with one another? While it may come naturally to some, communication skills may not be part of every executive’s skillset, so it is safer to train and educate everyone in the C-suite. Here are a few key skills leaders should home in on: 

  • Using both words and actions to communicate your message.  
  • Delivering your message in the appropriate context. 
  • Using specific metrics and goals to amplify and underscore what you want to say. 
  • Supporting your viewpoint with evidence and facts rather than opinions. 
  • Being direct and clear about what you want to discuss. 
  • Providing clear feedback. 
  • Fine-tuning your listening skills. 

“The bottom line: good communication is no longer merely a wish-list skill to develop; it’s a must-have for modern leaders.”

Evan Nierman

– Evan Nierman


Outsource to the Pros

While every executive should receive communication training regardless of the company’s external communication and PR strategy, those that struggle with internal and external communications should consider outsourcing communications to a third party, such as a professional PR agency.

Let’s face it, businesses often struggle to cut through the noise and connect with managers and employees. Skilled communications professionals know how important it is to keep information flowing at all levels so everyone at your business knows what is going on and what is expected. Outsourcing your communications strategy to public relations experts is one way to meet your goals and pinpoint areas for improvement.

But before you bring any outside parties on board, ensure they can deliver samples of previous work that demonstrate they’ll be able to provide what you need. A good PR firm will talk about what it can do. A great one will show you what it can do and will have examples to back up its claims.

Ready, Set, Communicate

Company-wide communications can no longer be an afterthought. Communication is part and parcel of everything that goes on in a business and must become a priority for companies to succeed in workplaces that continue to evolve from in-person to hybrid to remote environments. While there are steps you can take today to improve your communications, ultimately, it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and you must have a strategy in place for approaching communication with your team.

“Business or pleasure?” A question once heard in every airport terminal and hotel lobby may now be obsolete. As mask mandates lift and other COVID restrictions loosen, many are eager to get back on the road and in the air, with experts predicting air travel to reach pre-pandemic levels as soon as 2023. But even as we inch closer toward normal, the way we travel has changed forever, especially when it comes to business travel. Corporate travel managers, CFOs and CHROs, I’m talking to you: Gone are the days of the road warrior. Welcome to the era of “bleisure.”

What Is ‘Bleisure’?

A combination of “business” and “leisure,” bleisure is exactly what it sounds like: a single trip that fuses the personal and the professional, and it’s the latest evolution of our post-COVID reality. When the world shut down in March 2020, the lines between home and office blurred beyond recognition, leading many to work longer hours and burn out as they struggled to disconnect. But now? Most workers would rather find another job than return to the office full-time. And while we’ve technically had the tools and technology that allow for bleisure for some time, it wasn’t until the pandemic normalized things like video conferencing and highlighted their efficiency that the necessity of business travel was seriously called into question. These days workers are demanding work-life balance, and they’ve realized that a trip doesn’t have to be business or pleasure—it can be both. 

In practice, bleisure travel can take many shapes. For example, let’s say you have to go to New York City on a Monday for a client meeting on Tuesday. In 2019, you would have been likely to catch the first flight out of LaGuardia on Wednesday morning in order to get back to the office and your partner ASAP. These days, your partner might tag along from the start, and, after your meeting on Tuesday, you’ll both work remotely for the rest of the week before spending the weekend sightseeing. Or, perhaps you’re like me and would prefer more of an extended getaway. A few months ago I spent some time in Tarifa, Spain, and I was able to spend the mornings learning to kiteboard and still work east coast hours, all without missing a beat.

Embracing bleisure is another way organizations can acknowledge and honor employees as people with lives outside of their home offices. Just as we’ve adjusted to children running around in the background on Zoom calls and more flexible work hours, incorporating bleisure into your corporate travel policy just makes sense.

“These days workers are demanding work-life balance, and they’ve realized that a trip doesn’t have to be business or pleasure—it can be both. ”

Scott Poniewaz

– Scott Poniewaz


3 Tips for Corporate Travel Managers

If you’re in any way involved in making or approving travel plans for others at your company, you’ll need to keep bleisure top of mind as you make arrangements. Once it’s been determined that video conferencing won’t suffice and travel is necessary, incorporate these three tips to increase retention and maybe even save a few bucks. 

1. Let employees call the shots. If we’ve learned anything from the Great Reshuffle, it’s that employees want more control and more flexibility. From remote work to better benefits, employees currently wield more power than any time in recent memory, and when it comes to corporate travel, you should expect much of the same. 

Rather than dictating to traveling employees when they’ll take off and touch down, where they’ll stay and eat and drink, consult employees on their preferences. Would they rather fly out in the morning, afternoon or evening? Would they like to stay in the conference hotel or a bit outside of downtown, away from the hustle and bustle? How many days will they be gone? If they are extending their stay, what hours would they like to work, if any?

Of course, stay within your budget, but be transparent with employees about their options and allow them to make as many selections as you can. Consider implementing a stipend program and let employees know in advance how much the company is able to cover. This can be done in several ways: by giving employees a single budget for the whole trip or breaking it down into more specific categories (e.g., $200/night maximum for accommodations). Start by polling employees on their preferences and go from there.

2. Upgrade where you can. According to a recent Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) survey, 45% of respondents stated they’re more anxious or stressed about business travel than they previously were, and it’s easy to understand why: Flight cancellations and delays are soaring, and COVID (re)infection is still very much a possibility. 

Although so much is out of our control when traveling, there are ways to make the journey less stressful with certain upgrades and luxuries such as upgrading to business class seating, lounge passes for frequent travelers or spa/fitness credits at a nearby wellness center. Show your employees you’re invested in them and appreciate their efforts by going the extra mile—they literally did for you! 

3. Take advantage of discounts and deals. Travel upgrades don’t always mean paying more. In fact, there are plenty of discounts and deals to be had on luxury travel, particularly for the bleisure traveler. Consider opening a travel credit card or joining a travel rewards program in order to gift your employees luxury travel experiences without breaking the bank. The options are endless and will save your business money in the long run

Bleisure As a Benefit 

Just as business leaders and employees together redesigned the way we work, corporate travel managers and their colleagues can also seize this opportunity—yes, opportunity—to reimagine how and why we travel. According to one GBTA study, a seamless travel experience overwhelmingly influences employee retention, recruitment and results, with 79% of business travelers saying that their experiences traveling on behalf of the company “impacts their overall job satisfaction.” Build bleisure benefits into your corporate travel budget, and watch employee retention rates soar.