TV characters Johnny Rose, Claire Dunphy and Tracey Jordan all have one thing in common with Clark Griswold’s boss in “Christmas Vacation.” They’re bad gifters. It’s a common problem and running joke in our society; consider Rachel Green in ”Friends” who returned every gift people gave her to buy what she really wanted. The sting of a gift falling flat can be emotional, but for businesses, the wasted time and money spent selecting employees’ holiday gifts directly affects the bottom line.

This is not the year to haphazardly recognize employees, give them something they hate or not give them anything at all. People are quitting their jobs in record numbers and many are still adjusting to working remotely. Add the fact that a global supply chain crisis is in full-swing and expected to get worse and employers have a recipe for a holiday disaster. Employers need to gift smarter to help keep their employees-and keep them engaged and productive. Thankfully, new research from global payments provider and incentives leader Blackhawk Network sheds some light on the situation and can help employers win the holidays.

Blackhawk’s holiday forecast survey examined consumers’ attitudes and behaviors around holiday gifting, including peoples’ expectations of their employers. Bummer alert: the research found that about half of Americans (49%) consider employers bad gifters. And the hits keep coming. A significant number of respondents-including half of millennial and Gen Z respondents-reported that gifts from employers are never what they want. The final blow? About half of all respondents report that gifts from employers are underwhelming. Basically, employers are missing the mark when it comes to gifting.

“Through the years, employers have become somewhat tone deaf when it comes to giving people gifts they don’t want or aren’t appropriate for certain individuals. Their hearts are usually in the right place, but execution is often flawed,” said Theresa McEndree, global head of marketing and corporate brand, Blackhawk Network. “This year more than any ever, the right holiday reward matters. The Great Resignation is upon us, and people everywhere are feeling the long-term impacts of the pandemic-including worldwide supply chain challenges that will impact their own personal gifting strategies. Smart gifting is a must this season for employers, and that means giving people the gifts they want most. Our research helps employers take the guesswork out of the equation, can help save time and resources, prevent holiday returns, avoid potential supply chain hiccups and make sure employees get what they actually want.”

Here’s what else the research found that employers need to know:

  • People want holiday gifts and rewards from their employers-especially Gen Z and millennials-but few expect to actually get them. August research3 found that about 50% of respondents feel it is important to be recognized and thanked for workplace accomplishments, workplace contributions, work anniversaries, and personal achievements. Gen Z and millennial respondents in particular value holiday rewards and are significantly less likely to quit a job before the holiday season because they want their gift or reward-and 40% reported that they would plan to leave a job post-holiday if they don’t receive a holiday gift. Cue the holiday blues: only about a third (37%) of US employees surveyed believe they will receive a holiday gift in 2021. Take it from Blackhawk: forgetting your employees like the McCallisters forgot Kevin in “Home Alone” is a major no-no, and blaming the supply chain for falling flat will come across very Scrooge-like.
  • People overwhelmingly want gift cards. Respondents reported valuing holiday gifts that allow them to be able to get what they need or want, and nearly two thirds (65%) have gift cards on the top of their wishlists-not trinkets, tchotchkes or other forgettable memorabilia. The cards let people shop when they want and how they want (in-store, online or via a merchant’s app), and can be highly personalized. Employers can include names and custom card backgrounds for individual recipients, and can even include their own logo on the card to remind employers who gave them their awesome holiday gift.
  • Your bad gifting can be hilarious, but cringeworthy. Among the most notable bad gifts people reported receiving, there was a common theme: lack of understanding of the recipient, zero attention to detail and lack of thoughtfulness. People don’t want a “jelly of the month club” subscription. Some of worst gifts respondents reported receiving (and likely went straight to the trash) included: expired candy, a coupon to a fast food restaurant, and a ham that had gone bad.
  • Digital gifts should be in the mix. An August study of workplace composition2 found that 29% of respondents work virtually full-time and 28% work virtually part-time in a hybrid model. As “back to work” situations remain in a state of flux and people continue to show an increase in digital shopping, giving digital gifts can help ensure employers reach employees where they are while also letting employees use their gifts in a way that best fits their lifestyle. Here’s the bonus: digital gifts can also help employers avoid supply chain issues impacting physical gifts this year-getting holiday gifts to employees on time and without any drama.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the turnover rate in 2021 is 57%; the price tag that goes with that high level of attrition is staggering. Add to that the fact that Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) predicts a “turnover tsunami” when the pandemic ends and employers have their work cut out for them. There’s an enormous opportunity for employers to ‘wow’ people this year during the holidays. With so few people thinking they’ll get gifts, and many physically working away from their peers, providing employees with something they actually want will be felt at a deep level and likely pay year-long dividends long into 2022,” McEndree added.