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Tis the season – gifts, appreciation, and inclusion

For many organizations and managers, this is the season to show appreciation. With the spirit of the holidays, under the distracting buzz of a year coming to a close, holiday planning, general festivities, bonuses, gifts and other friendly gestures choke the real and virtual halls of organizations to celebrate the employees that made the achievements of the year possible.

Over many years, I have partaken in this ritual both as a giver and receiver of these appreciations. Some were fantastic, some were routine, and a few have stuck with me as brilliant lessons on the true nature of inclusion.

Here are two of them:

I value you, generic person

After a long year, littered with accomplishments, scrambles, late nights, and long travels, we finally reached the year’s end and the holidays were upon us. I was one of six on my team and we were all trading well wishes over office cookies before leaving for the holidays. My boss joined us and handed us each gifts from him and the organization in recognition for our hard work. They were all the same. Professionally wrapped tall boxes with a bow and card.

“Merry Christmas” my boss said, as he handed me one of the six generic boxes.

I thanked him with a smile as I accept the gift. Bright red and green paper topped with a card showing a tree and “Merry Christmas” in gold lettering followed by my boss’s signature in black ink. It was a bottle of wine.

My teammates snickered and shrugged as I looked down at the bottle.

It was a nice gesture, I suppose. But honestly, I was disappointed and hurt. There were only six of us on the team and my boss had known me over a year. And yet, after all those business trips and events, late nights and scrambles, he never bothered to notice that I don’t drink or that I’m not Christian? Facts that clearly the rest of the team knew well enough.

It was a nice gesture that left me feeling invisible.

I know and value you and you’re difficult

Fast forward years later and in a different organization. It was the close of yet another year. It had been a good year, a busy year, a successful year, though not an easy year. But we had made it, and in only a few short hours the holidays would begin. The office was a frenzy of well wishes, laughter and cake (lots of cake). My boss called us into his office. There were about 10 of us.

Lined up behind him were a bunch of beautifully red-wrapped tall boxes with bows and cards. He thanked us all in a simple yet sincere little speech, then began handing out the boxes with a “Merry Christmas”. Each of his direct reports grinned widely as he handed them their box. Several peaked inside and their smiles widened as they saw the vintage. “Nice”.

He got to me and picked up a squat box wrapped in blue.

“You are so difficult, Melissa,” he said with his custom playful expression – a mix of grimace and grin. “Everyone else I can just get wine and they are thrilled… but not you!”

He handed me the box. “Happy Hanukah.”

It was chocolate.

I gave him a huge smile. I love chocolate.

Inclusion is in the details

Gifts are a wonderful way to show appreciation to employees, customers, and partners. And, for many the gesture itself is enough – after all, it is the thought that counts, right? Especially when those gestures go to tens or hundreds of people.

But when the team is small and the setting is more intimate, such as a manager and their handful of direct reports, generic gifts may end up showing no thought at all and leave the recipient feeling less appreciated than a genuine “thank you”.

For those that are shopping for small teams this holiday season, make it a true thought so it counts for everything you intend. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. A small gesture that shows you know and value someone for who they are can make a lasting impact.

Don’t have any ideas? Here’s a tip: forget the personal touch with the gift and put the thought into the message. Rather than scribble your name, write something that celebrates their accomplishments or what you appreciate about what they did over the course of the year.

Have a wonderful holiday season!

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