Gifted thinking…

Jonathan Haskell weighs up the pros and cons of selecting corporate gifts

When it comes to gifts, what is considered highly desirable in one country
can be boring, uninspired, or even offensive in another. A bottle of quality vodka
may please a Canadian worker, but may be standard and rather dull for a Russian
employee and downright offensive to a Middle Eastern staff member. And though
the latest designer electronic gadget may not impress a Japanese executive, it
would probably thrill a European one.’s data analysis shows that corporate gift choices are
immensely varied across Europe. Belgium’s top three gifts, for example, are
binoculars, radios and champagne flutes, while Germany’s are juice extractors,
cutlery and cocktail shakers, and Sweden favours cappuccino makers, decanters
and CD players.

Ultimately, gift choices always depend on the selections chosen by HR
managers and the choices available to employees. But these examples show that
even staff in neighbouring countries have widely different preferences, and
they should be recognised and accommodated by reward programmes.

Although some HR managers try to kid themselves that everyone wants an
enamelled gold pen or classic crystal ware, the truth is that the world’s 6
billion citizens are individuals – with individual tastes.

This delicate issue often causes headaches for HR directors trying to
introduce and subsequently administer an international reward programme with
minimal time, effort and expense. However, some simple solutions can be

The sensible way to create a reward scheme that meets the interests of
global employees, is by allowing them to select their own gifts. The three most
popular gift selection options are online rewards, vouchers and brochures.

Each system has its benefits and pitfalls, which must be considered bearing
the different international gift preferences in mind. They are:

Vouchers – the pros and cons

– These flexible rewards can be redeemed for chosen items

– Employees know the monetary value of the gift and may be delighted, or may
equally take offence if the company is perceived to have been less than

– If the voucher redeemable in a specialist retailer, (such as a music
store) the gift options may be limited

– The onus is on the employee to redeem the voucher. This is great if staff
are shopaholics and the retail outlet is nearby, but difficult for shopaphobics
having to visit an inconvenient location to find the item they want

– Although vouchers are viewed by both HR managers and employees as
convenient, they may be regarded as unimaginative and lacking in thought and

– Some HR managers are reviewing their use of vouchers and considering more
personal, innovative gifts as rewards

Brochures – the pros and cons

– They allow employees to choose their own gifts which have been selected by
the HR department, and are more relevant to the individual workforce

– Agreeing gifts and producing the brochure can be expensive and

– Staff cannot resist looking at the sections of the brochure that don’t
apply to them (such as the staff receiving a gift for five years’ service
looking at the gifts for 10 years’ service). They may be then disappointed with
their own selection

– Gifts run out of stock and the employee may be unable to receive they gift

– If several gifts are no longer available, the company has the expense of
producing a new updated brochure

Online reward schemes – the pros and cons

– These dispense with all the common problems of vouchers and brochures

– Staff only choose the gifts made available to them – unaware of any other
employee reward levels

– Gift selection can be swiftly changed if stock runs out without cost or

– Programmes can be easily tailored for individual departments, countries or
religions so that relevant gifts are available

– Online accessibility is available on a global basis (with real time data

International considerations

However, evaluating the correct system for the company is not the only
important issue when implementing a global reward programme. There are other
considerations which are often overlooked.

Currency can be a real challenge for international gift schemes. For
example, what if the global HR director decides that for two years’ service,
all staff will receive a gift to the value of $250 (£159). In the US, England
or Japan, that wouldn’t be enough for a night for two in a top hotel. But in
Turkey, it would cover the hotel and the spending money too. And while $250 may
be appropriate for an employee of a wealthy country, it would be an extravagant
sum in less affluent locations.

Gift values should be rewarded as a percentage of income, rather than a flat
currency rate. If all staff receive a gift that is 10 per cent of their pay,
the relative value will be the same regardless of the country or currency.
Companies operating international programmes such as Dialog and Sungard have
successfully implemented this measure.

An extensive logistics network is essential for international reward
programmes, and HR managers should expect detailed explanations of systems
before signing up with providers of vouchers, brochures or online services.

In the case of Dialog and Sungard, the key elements of their reward
programmes are flexibility, evaluation and delivery. Both companies recognise
the importance of assessing the programme and providing the opportunity to
change requirements at any time, as well as prompt delivery of gifts – usually
within days of selection.

Dialog’s programme covers nearly 400 employees in Belgium, Denmark, France,
Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and
the UK. In a typical year, approximately between 100 and 150 employees will
receive a gift. HR directors must consider the pros and cons of each programme
before making an assessment on which is best for them.

Jonathan Haskell is managing director of, a UK and Europe
online incentive, reward and motivation supplier

Essential questions every HR manager should ask their online gift

– Do you have distribution systems
that ensure rapid delivery of gifts?

– What happens when a gift becomes unavailable?

– If an employee is unhappy with a gift selection, what
processes are in place for complaints?

– What kind of data will be available for evaluation and

– What gifts are available? Are big brands included?

– Can gifts be personalised or branded? Will this take extra

– What is the contractual commitment?

– Can the gift selection be tailored for international

– What security and data protection systems are in place?

– Can my company start on a trial basis?

– Approximately how many hours per week will my HR department
be spending on administering the programme?

– Can I change the gift selection whenever I choose?

– What can be arranged for employees who do not have access to
a computer?

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