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13 Dec 2022
by Emile Elwin-Ball

How to make a ‘thank you’ at Christmas have meaning

Why generic cash rewards, gift cards and nondescript trophies just don’t cut it when it comes to creating memorable moments

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Christmas provides the perfect opportunity to show employees that you appreciate them, with end-of-year awards ceremonies and the exchange of gifts commonplace.

But how can you say ‘thank you’ in a way that’s truly meaningful to both the giver and the recipient, rather than transactional and easily forgotten? The key is to magnify the recognition moment with symbols of gratitude and personalisation.

It’s human nature to be attracted to and intrigued by symbols, from a simple button badge etched with the school emblem, through to The Statue of Liberty. They represent something powerful and worthy and often elicit an emotional response.

For example, children are often thrilled to receive a ‘Star of the Week’ certificate from a teacher who passionately explains what a great job they’ve done. Would the response be the same if the teacher gave a pound coin to the child with a muted and uninspiring explanation of why they deserve to be recognised?

Many of us will also relate to the emotion of receiving tangible Christmas presents as a child – gifts which holds memories, connections and a sense of fulfilment. Compare this to the impact of receiving cash or a gift card which are, of course, appreciated, but such moments are easily forgotten and often unremarkable.

Unfortunately, cash bonuses just don’t have the same impact as symbolic gifts, even during a cost of living crisis. We may grow up, but our love of symbolic awards doesn’t fade and this must be harnessed when giving recognition this Christmas.

So focus on recognising employees with symbols of gratitude for their great work throughout the year. It could be a pin badge embossed with the company logo or a trophy tailored to the recipient’s role and achievement.

Whether it’s a simple or more expensive symbolic gift, it must be rooted in context so that the recipient is clear about the meaning it carries and the story behind it. After all, every gift must be an embodiment of pride, teamwork, triumph and inspiration.

Latest O.C. Tanner research highlights the power of symbols when used alongside recognition, revealing that thoughtful and high-quality symbolic awards that align with a cultural element produce the most positive employee sentiment.

Generic awards like impersonal certificates, nondescript plaques, or plain trophies produce neutral sentiment. In other words, when a gift/reward is generic, it just doesn’t mean as much and has little affect on how the employee remembers their achievements.

Plus, how the symbol is presented is just as important as the meaning behind it. The giving of the symbolic gift must be part of a personalised and authentic recognition experience in which leaders and peers deliver a genuine, tailored and heartfelt ‘thank you’. Whether in person, by email or in a personalised note, it’s vital that the reason for giving of the symbol is clear to all, helping to deepen connections between the giver, the receiver and the witnesses of the recognition moment.

So, as we approach Christmas and leaders and rewards professionals consider how to best show their appreciation, forget the generic cash rewards, gift cards and nondescript trophies.

In their place should be symbolic gifts that are thoughtful and meaningful, given as part of a personalised recognition moment. This not only emphasises the significance of each employee’s contributions, but strengthens their bonds to organisational purpose, their accomplishments and each other.

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