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Why Employee Gift Cards are Better than Sunglasses

employee rewards quoteMy friend once received a pair of Prada Sunglasses as an employee reward for completing a project. She loves Prada, so you’d think she’d appreciate the gift. But every other woman on the team received the same pair of specs. “Twinners are winners” in elementary school, not in the office. Thanks to this oversight, the company’s well-intentioned morale booster turned into a poorly-received morale buster. When employee rewards go right, the positive buzz in the office can last for days. When employee rewards go wrong, the vibe can last much longer.

Another friend told me that she’d ordered a camera from the employee rewards catalog at her office after the completion of a successful endeavor. But when the camera didn’t work very well, she was disappointed in the camera and in her employer. (“So much for the thank you!”)

Cash or Cards

At a recent barbecue, my friends and I talked about employee gifts we’d received. We all lamented over the useless paperweights, plaques, and trinkets we’d been given over the years–wishing we’d received the cash equivalent instead. And we all agreed that gift cards are the next best thing. Maybe it’s the economy we live in that has us hungering for basic rewards. But since our paychecks don’t stretch as far as they used to, a crystal vase that says “well done” isn’t nearly as meaningful as a bonus check or a gift card that says, “You earned this. Now treat yourself.”

Great Employee Gift Card Examples

Employee rewards quoteNot only are gift cards great for end-of-project rewards, but they can be used to lift spirits at any time. Below are a few ways I’ve seen gift cards have a positive effect on employees:

  • Impromptu Pat on the Back. A manager at my husband’s company keeps a stack of gift cards in her office so she can offer impromptu rewards for a job well done, a kind deed, extra hours put into a project, and so forth. She says that giving cash might appear tacky and it’s easier for her to expense gift cards than to cut checks.
  • Holiday Thank You. Another manager at my husband’s office sent him a live lobster (no joke) that had to be cooked right away. We weren’t planning to eat (shell, cook, or clean) lobster that night, but suddenly we had no choice. The gesture was nice. But the holiday gift card he received from an associate a few days later was far more convenient and we were able to use it for relaxing dinner with the family.
  • Employee Catalog. My girlfriend received 2000 “points” to spend in an employee rewards catalog. Rather than order merchandise, she ordered gift cards to her favorite department store to buy clothes for herself and bought a few gift cards to restaurants that she gave to friends and family for Christmas. Having gift cards as an option allows employees to buy the reward they want, at a store other than the catalog.
  • Employee Christmas. My brother received 800 points to spend in a rewards catalog as well. He exchanged all of his points for gift cards to a single discount department store. Then he and his wife did all of their Christmas shopping at that store, effectively eliminating their holiday expenses for the year.
  • Small Payment. When a friend of mine invited my kids as well as several other families to help shoot a commercial, she arrived with a 50 dollar gift card for every person who participated. We had so much fun, the kids would have done it for free. But the gift card goodwill lasted for weeks as my kids thoroughly enjoyed having a “card” in their wallet to spend however they wanted.
  • Anniversary. At, employees receive a gift card when they hit significant anniversary dates. I just received a local gift card for my one year anniversary that I’m planning to use to treat my family to dinner. Having me work full-time has been a big adjustment for everybody. They all need to be part of the anniversary celebration.

Employee Gift Card Suggestions

I think one of the reasons employers like to give trophies and plaques is because they want to give employees a way to remember the gesture. Management wants us to look at the paperweight on our desk and feel proud of the accomplishment that earned it. But I think employee gift cards can be just as effective and a little more satisfying. Below are a few suggestions I have for delivering an employee gift card in a way that can still be memorable:

  • Family Time. We work hard for the money–sometimes at the expense of seeing our families. A gift card that promotes family togetherness can make up for extra time spent at the office. Treat employees with a gift card to an amusement park, the ball game, or even just the movies. Throw in an extra day off to use the gift card and you’ll really create something special.
  • Dressed for Success. I remember when my former company implemented, “Casual Friday.” Along with permission to dress more comfortably came a list of things we could and couldn’t wear. What a great time that would have been to give everyone in the office a gift card to a work-appropriate clothing store.
  • Numerology. With performance goals and metrics all around us, reward employees by hitting their numbers with the actual numbers. 100 dollar gift cards for 100 percent of quota or 100 percent attendance.
  • You Name It. The simple play on words works every time. Tell employees, “You rock!” with a music gift card, “We appreciate your sweet way with customers” with a candy gift card, “You raise us up!” with a gift card to the bakery, and “Working with you is a piece of cake” with a gift card to the dessert shop. In lieu of retail brand gift cards, you could put that same imagery and a custom message on a personalized Visa® gift card.

While I’m partial to gift cards for every occasion, I think they are especially fitting in the workplace. And from conversations I’ve had with other people, I’d say that I’m not alone in my thinking. I have literally never met anyone who prefers to get anything other than cash, time off, or gift cards as a reward for a job well done.

Heppy Gift Carding!

~ Gift Card Girlfriend (GCG)

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