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Businesses rewarding, recognizing employees with special gifts

Businesses give gifts to their employees for a variety of reasons. It could be a reward for meeting a sales quota, safety awards, recognition of the number of years of service or gifts celebrating the holidays. Whatever the reason, businesses are spending more and more on employee gifts.

“This is a $15-billion per year industry,” said Beth Oldham, an account manager with National Awards Promotional Products and Gifts, Jackson. “In the past 10 years, it has grown from a $5-billion per year to a $15-billion per year industry. It has continued to expand because so many companies have seen the value of recognizing their people for a job well done. It also extends to arenas like safety. Insurance costs are lower if businesses have a program that gives employees an incentive to be safe.”

The most popular gift category for employees is electronic items. Particularly popular, Oldham said, are Blackberry cases and MP3 player cases. The items themselves are available as Christmas gifts or incentive items, too.

Corporate jewelry such as watches and rings are next in popularity. And, wearables are really hot. Oldham said that corporate America has become corporate casual, and hence cardigans, jackets and golf shirts with the corporate logo are gifts that can be worn at work. In addition to being a form of advertising, clothing with the corporate logo helps create continuity in the workplace. It also can help people feel part of a team.

“It helps build teamwork,” Oldham said. “In today’s volatile situation with buyouts and layoffs, it has become even more important for people to feel part of the organization and working for a common goal. At the same time, when that employee wears merchandise offsite, they are like a walking billboard for the company.”

Recreational items such as stadium blankets and cooler bags are also popular.

And, of course, so are food gifts, especially for Christmas.
Oldham said that gifts are a great way to motivate employees and customers.

“It is a great industry,” she said. “It is fun to be a part of it. A lot of the awards received by these employees for a job done well or years of service, these are heirlooms. They will be saved to be passed on to children or grandchildren. So we take it very seriously. It is more than just selling a plaque.”

Brenda Fiscus, sales support, National Awards Promotional Products and Gifts, Jackson, said combining functionality with recognition works well. For example, instead of a plaque, give a plaque with a clock on it. Or a picture frame.

She personally favors jewelry. Many companies will give lapel pins with precious stones that indicate the number of years of service: one year is a pin with the company logo, five years is a lapel pin with a ruby, ten years is a sapphire, and 15 years is a diamond.

“From then on you get diamonds,” Ficus said. “My company actually did give us pearl necklaces. They add five pearls each Christmas. That’s very popular. If you get pearled out in the necklace, you go on to a pearl bracelet, and earrings.”

For employee recognition, gifts can include leather wallets, luggage and crystal.

Crystal with etchings and engravings is a particularly nice gift, particularly for retirement.

Jack Garner, president of The Ramey Agency, Ridgeland, said almost any gift is a nice gesture of appreciation. But gifts with the company’s logo are an especially good idea.

“Every time the employee uses it or wears it, it is a win-win for the employee and the employer,” Garner said. “If employees take pride in their job relationship and are willing to show that on the clothes they wear, there is an important message there that says a lot about how they feel about their employer. It is not unusual for The Ramey Agency to have a cap or t- shirt to give to employees to mark significant event for our company such as signing a significant new client. Items with a company logo are special. A lot of times when the baseball cap gets old and ragged, you are reluctant to throw it away because it reminds you of a special association.”

Another gift that employees really value is additional time off.

“I’ve always thought that being able to give people additional time off from work is a nice gift,” Garner said. “It is one that the employees almost always appreciate. Time is the most precious gift of all.”

Even better might be time off taking a cruise or some other type of travel.

Peggy Shamburger, leisure and group specialist, Avanti Travel Inc., Jackson, said incentive travel promotes good company morale.

“When you travel, usually for rest and relaxation, you go somewhere fabulous,” Shamburger said. “Also, if you need to reward someone for a job well done, it is certainly a good way to do that because working through us as a travel agent, the person never knows the exact cost of the trip.”

Some companies that use incentive travel plan all the details themselves. More often, companies will leave the details to a travel agency. And while solo travel is used as a reward, sometimes companies will send 10, 20 or more employees on the same trip.

“We have one group of 80 that travels every year,” Shamburger said. “Some of these incentive trips include cocktail receptions or banquet awards, and certainly there is social time for everyone to get to know each other better. But other companies don’t choose to do that. They just give the employees trips, and the people do it the way they want to do it.”

While not as exotic as a trip to Tahiti, a favorite with employees is a turkey or ham for the holidays.

“All our employees get a turkey and ham each Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Amy Barnett, sales person, Heavenly Ham, Vicksburg. “I know I appreciate mine every year. A lot of bigger companies in Vicksburg give out gift certificates for turkeys or hams. We see the same repeat customers each year.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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