Are Donations an Appropriate Holiday Gift?
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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We are going to have an offsite toward year end when most people aren’t working. All nine of our team members want to do this. We planned to make sure it wasn’t going to interfere with travel or family plans.
We have a good agenda and I am confident this will be time well spent. We are going to do this in person at our offices, and we have a separate area where we will be away from phones and computers.
Given it is a holiday time and we are taking people away from their families, would it be appropriate to have their families join us at the end of the day for a New Year’s celebration? We’ve never done anything like this before and we have people at varying stages of life, some with small children, some with grandchildren and some with no children. Is this a good idea or a recipe for disaster?
I’m curious why you asked your team members if they liked the idea of having the offsite during this “off” week, but why you are not asking them about this idea that would include all of their family members. Is this meant to be a surprise and you don’t want team members to know you are planning it? Are you hesitant some people will say “great idea” and others won’t like the idea at all? You ran the risk proposing the offsite during the last week of the year. You don’t mention if all nine were on board or whether it was a democratic vote wherein the largest number won and the others agreed to go along with it. But I imagine there were some differences of opinion.
What is the purpose of this event? Is it a thank you for the family members for supporting the team? Is it a fun holiday time to enjoy being together? Is it to decompress after a long day of working together at the offsite? Define the purpose clearly so you can explain to the team why it’s an important event and why their family should care.
If it isn’t meant to be a surprise, ask team members what they think about this idea. There are a few negatives: People could be done with events at that point in the holiday process, or they might not want to go somewhere with work colleagues whom their family members don’t know. Some people are more private than others. Maybe they don’t want to include their family in what was a day-long work-focused discussion. Some families with younger children might not want the hassle of finding a sitter or bringing their children to a work event. The idea is always nice to include family and make them feel welcome. But I see more downside than upside for the time of the year you’d be doing this.
That said, if you are going to create a big event with activities, maybe some small gifts, opportunities for interaction and engagement, then your team members might find it a nice relieving activity to end a long offsite day.
Get clearer about what you are doing and why, and then share the idea to socialize it with a few people on your team who might have the best pulse on how the team will respond.
This is the first year we’ve not done gifts for all our team members. We have been around for 13 years, and I have done personalized gifts for every year, sending them to everyone’s homes last year during COVID. The business exploded over the last year-plus, and we now have 17 people, which is five more than we had at year-end last year. I don’t know everyone as well and I don’t interact with some because we still are not all back in the office. I didn’t believe I could be credible giving people personalized gifts when I don’t know the newer ones. In the past I might have picked a designer I know someone likes, or a special bakery, chocolate or even coffee company.
This year I made sizable donations to five different charities that our team has either donated to, volunteered with or otherwise supported throughout the last 13 years. Our team members know many of the people who run these organizations and they’ve been great supporters. I put together a nice email letting everyone know I’d done this. The comments started to come back accusing me of not caring enough to do something personalized again this year. We’ve had our best year ever and I have rewarded (with monetary bonuses) much of our success and I’ve publicly thanked people.
But why don’t they see my appreciation in action and how could they be upset about donations to organizations they care about? What is the appropriate response? I want to be angry and defensive, but I know that won’t be good in the long run.
In neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), there is a saying about intention versus action. In many cases we have good intentions, but the actions or outcomes don’t go quite as we intended. People focus on the actions, not the intentions and then we are stuck because we are defending our actions when our intentions were good and genuine to start with. NLP recommends approaching everyone with the assumption that there are positive intentions even behind what appears to be negative behavior.
I’m not saying your behavior was negative, but look at your intentions and make sure they were about the best interest of your team.
I’m keying on the fact that you made the decision you did because you didn’t know the new four team members well enough to choose highly personalized gifts for them. It sounds like you have been able to do this for the original 13 people and so you established an expectation you would continue to do this. Once people have been trained to expect something, especially something personal and important to them, it’s hard to revise this without explaining your rationale for doing so. I wonder if it would not have been better to spend a bit of time, even virtually, with the four and inquire about their lives and interests and get to know them a bit. Or to have asked other team members who might know them well for insights and ideas.
If you didn’t want to take the time and exert the energy for 17 individualized gifts this year, which I respect and understand, then explain to team members that while you enjoy doing this, it is becoming unwieldy with the growth you are experiencing. Things do change as organizations grow because you lose that small firm feel and approach. I bet your team members would have been disappointed but not surprised that at some point it became too much for you to execute.
The problem with giving to charities, especially those team members know and work with already, is that they likely suspect you might personally or through the firm already be donating to those causes. This would mean that team members are not getting anything special or personal from you but rather you are using these donations to honor them. But is it a personal touch?
Again, I’m not accusing you of negative intention and I’m not suggesting you performed in a negative way. I’m asking you to think about the outcome from the seat of your team members. It is nice for any of us to feel known and appreciated. People like to know their leaders care about them enough to know and understand them. It sounds like historically you have done a lot to communicate this to them. To have it taken away without explanation is difficult for many. It could be the thing they most look forward to every holiday season!
Step back and explain your thinking so they have insight.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.