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December 15, 2015
Are the Holidays the Worst Time to Give?
Thanksgiving is over, and now everybody is getting ready for the big one: Christmas. Stores have broken out the holiday lights and the pine trees, and you can’t move at the mall without bumping into an elf or a reindeer or Santa Claus himself. The good folks at Hallmark are rubbing their hands together with glee as every last store is emptied of cards by hordes of people wanting to show colleagues, friends, and families that they care.

The office is no less chaotic. Financials are being wrapped up for the year, and every desk has been invaded by a gift basket or honey-glazed ham. Your colleagues are looking forward to the Christmas party while you’re sitting at your desk stuffing Christmas bonus checks into an endless stream of generic greeting cards.

Sound familiar? Perhaps this year, it’s time to try something different.

Look Beyond Christmas
The Christmas bonus is a business staple, but is this the right time of year to show your talent you care? There’s so much noise, distraction, and insanity around Christmas that it’s hard to get noticed, and if your bonuses are wrapped up in an employee’s direct-deposited paycheck, it can disappear without a second glance.

If you give gifts instead, you’re competing with spouses, kids, friends, and relatives for attention. Can you honestly say you know your employees better than their loved ones? Will your gifts show you really care about your employees?

Send it in August and it just might have that effect. People love to have their expectations exceeded. It’s what we call The Ritz-Carlton “surprise and delight” mentality, and the best way to achieve this effect is by giving all year — not just at Christmas.

Practice Regular Giving
One way to do this is through monthly subscriptions. For the fastidious and always clean-shaven gentleman in your team, why not buy a subscription to the Dollar Shave Club? And for the lady who is always perfectly poised and never has a hair out of place, Birchbox is perfect.

There are plenty of other options available. If Grant in accounting is always circulating pictures of his dog playing dead or dressed like Darth Vader, BarkBox could be perfect.

These gifts aren’t generic statements of appreciation; they’re personalized efforts to make your employees’ lives better and easier. At the Ruhlin Group, we have a lot of working moms, and we like to show them we care by paying to have our employees’ homes cleaned every other week. It’s not cheap, but it cuts down on their chores and gives them time to spend with family or to try new hobbies. The loyalty it creates is well worth the expense.

Celebrate Alternative Holidays
If biweekly or monthly isn’t your thing, try choosing four holidays to celebrate each year, and change them regularly. Last year, we went with Valentine’s Day, the opening day of the baseball season, Fourth of July, and Halloween. We take the opportunity to get our families involved as well.

People make a lot of sacrifices for work, and they appreciate it when that sacrifice is recognized. If you’re going with Halloween, then why not involve the kids? Valentine’s Day is a no-brainer for couples, and the Fourth of July has “family” written all over it.

By changing your holidays from one year to the next, you prevent things from getting stale. People start to wonder what’s coming next, and that creates a real buzz around the office.

If you like structure (and the idea of constantly shifting your gifting schedule makes you sick), go the extra mile with your gifts and events.

We work with a company that has an event for investors at the annual golf Memorial Tournament. It’s so easy for these things to go stale, so last year we commissioned $300 leather shave bags for every investor with his or her initials embossed on the front.

Personalization is my personal favorite. I love to send my staff sets of handcrafted Cutco knives, and every blade is engraved with the recipient’s name or initial. This gift is about them, not me, and so my company logo is nowhere in sight.

The Handwritten Note
And, of course, there’s always the old standby: the handwritten note. I take time out of every month to write notes of appreciation for my clients and staff, but these aren’t on standard paper.

We use metal letterhead. It costs $8 a pop, but it’s worth it because the finished article is like a work of art. Four out of five employees feel motivated to work harder when their boss shows them they’re appreciated. Something as simple as a note can have that effect, and it can also help your recruitment.

People show our notes around to family and friends, and this is great for the brand’s reputation. There’s no better recruitment tool than a satisfied employee, so if you want to attract the best talent, keep the talent you already have happy as well.

Don’t just show appreciation one month out of the year. If employees aren’t happy the other 11 months, keeping them sweet in December won’t mean a thing. You have to show your appreciation 365 days a year.

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John Ruhlin is the founder and CEO of the Ruhlin Group, a firm that specializes in high-level gifting plans to build relationships and acquire new clients. The Ruhlin Group’s partnership with Cutco has enabled it to become the No. 1 distributor of Cutco in Cutco's 60-year history. John is a sought-after speaker on the topics of C-level selling, relationship development, and strategic gifting; he is also the co-author of the best-selling book, “Cutting Edge Sales.
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