Giving in the 2021 holiday season takes some creativity, especially if you’re just starting to shop. Think experiences, small retailers that will add that personal touch and creative ways to show appreciation for employees, no matter where they’re working.
Last year we rounded up WFH-appropriate gifts for everyone from the parent-turned-homeschool-teacher to the ex-road warrior that remain appropriate for hybrid workforces. And in 2019, we recommended unique gifts for coworkers in the form of 17 subscriptions and services, with something for everyone. We checked, and those companies weathered the pandemic, so if these suggestions aren’t a fit, click over and check out the Dive Bar Shirt Club, Society Socks or Murray’s Cheese of the Month Club.
7 Experiences That Make Great Employee Gifts
These companies can facilitate sending this year’s hottest gift: a fun and personally rewarding experience, pretty much anywhere around the world.
Live or virtual team-building
Giftees: Teams whose members like one another
Company: Let’s Roam
Cost: $30 to $50 per person, with discounts for large groups and multiple-event packages
Let’s Roam operates in more than 400 cities and provides in-person or virtual scavenger hunts, bar hunts, ghost tours and more.
Live or virtual cooking or mixology class
Giftees: Foodies and those who like a craft cocktail
This Boston-based company offers live and online classes taught by world-class chefs and mixologists. Live events are available in cities across the country including Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Boise, San Francisco, Omaha and New York. Virtual classes are interactive and limited to small groups.
Service, class or experience
Cost: $1 to $100+
Groupon has curated a gift shop where you can browse gifts sorted by gender, location and more. For giftees in the Boston area, the shop suggested the Mario Andretti Racing Experience in New Hampshire, a CocuSocial sushi making class and a variety of yoga classes and day spas. Or, send a Groupon gift card in any amount so employees can choose their own experience.
America the Beautiful Pass
Giftee: Outdoorsy families or individuals
Company: National Park Service
The pass is good for a year’s worth of visits to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country, including all national parks. If you purchase through REI, the company donates 10% of the cost to the National Park Foundation.
Sports and adventures accessible to all skill levels, anywhere in the world
Giftee: Really outdoorsy types
Cost: Suggested $100 minimum, but all amounts available. Easy to send multiple cards.
There are 57 hours from 3:00 p.m. Friday to midnight on Sunday. The founders’ premise is that those hours should be used to climb, hike, ski, run or sail. The company also offers webinars on topics ranging from hiking in Iceland to back-country skiing safety for beginners. Gift cards are available here.
Experiences tied to an employee recognition platform
Giftee: Employees that companies want to reward on an ongoing basis
Blueboard bills its experiences as “powerfully personal, life (and business) changing moments that people remember forever,” from ziplining to mixology classes. Companies can administer ongoing rewards with enterprise-level integrations, reporting and security, and Blueboard offers anniversary awards and a “president’s club” program for top performers. One note: This isn’t for one-off gifts. You’ll need to set up an account. But if you’ve been considering a rewards program, this is a leading provider.
Experiences tied to employee recognition, but without the ongoing commitment
Giftee: Employees that companies want to reward on a customizable basis
Cost: $10+ for gift cards, $59+ for experience packages
Tinggly offers experiences in a limited number of states as well as internationally. From hotel stays and food tours to museum tickets to bungee jumping and race car driving, recipients will find something that works for them.
5 Great Employee Gifts From Small Retailers
These companies came up with great ideas and have scaled enough to fulfill gift orders nationwide while keeping a small-retailer customer service mindset.
Giftee: Chocolate lovers
Company: Undercover Snacks
Cost: $39 for an eight-count case of 2 oz. bags
This small snack maker certifies that its chocolate and quinoa crisps are delicious, healthy and all natural. It gives back to the community and manufactures all its products in a U.S. plant that is free of common food allergens like wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, soybeans, fish and shellfish and sesame and poppy seeds. For a limited time, shipping is free.
Consistently chilled vino
Giftee: Wine lovers
On a hot day in Austin, VoChill’s founders sought a way to keep wine cool without watering it down. The VoChill is available in four colors and keeps white, rosé and sparkling wines crisp and cool while bringing reds to cellar temperatures in minutes. Gift employees a VoChill setup for $44.95, or send a pair for $84.99. Gift cards and extra chiller inserts are available.
Natural soaps and hygiene products for men
Giftee: Guys who appreciate nice grooming products
Company: Dr. Squatch
Cost: Bundles start at $33; gift cards and subscriptions available
Dr. Squatch’s founder began by milling soap in his garage. Now, the company offers a range of natural products, including beard oil and cologne, and is on a mission to change the way men approach their personal care. Scents include pine tar, bay rum and sandalwood bourbon.
Giftee: Who doesn’t like a houseplant?
Company: The Sill
Cost: Subscriptions start at $50; individual items are around $30 plus shipping
This small company, founded in 2012 to share the joy of horticulture, now has locations in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. The Sill offers three- and six-month digital subscription gift cards as well as a wide selection of individual plants. A nice touch: You can choose from a pet-friendly lineup.
A more organized bag, briefcase or backpack
Giftee: Options for men and women
Company: On the Go 247
Cost: Items start at around $50
As employees start traveling again, many have likely gotten out of the organization habit. Before they start stuffing keys and pens in plastic zip-top bags, hook them up with a gift card to OTG|247, which provides a variety of clutches, cross-body bags and organizers.
5 Out-of-the-Box Employee Gift Ideas
Companies looking to do something different this year might consider a creative alternative, such as combining team building with giving back.
Group fun fund
Giftee: The whole team
In this DIY arrangement, companies put a set amount per month, or flexible depending on performance, into an account. When the kitty reaches a predetermined threshold, teams decide how to spend the money. Geographically proximate groups may choose to share a meal, while a dispersed team might decide on a virtual class.
Charitable donation or volunteer project
Giftee: Socially conscious employees
Many large employers have matching donation programs, and some sponsor employee volunteer efforts and pro bono projects. Smaller companies that may not be able to match all employee gifts might set aside a significant amount and allow employees to vote on which nonprofit should receive the funds. Sponsoring corporate volunteer days at local charities also builds visibility and team morale while giving back.
Remote work in an exotic locale
Giftee: MVP employees with the travel bug
Company: Remote Year
Cost: About $2,250 per month
Looking to go big? You can treat an employee to a week, a few months or a year working and living in a city across the globe, from Lima, Peru to Osaka, Japan. The fee covers travel to the destination and back, accommodations and utilities including Wi-Fi and professional and cultural experiences. The employee is responsible for food and other day-to-day expenses. Remote Year programs can be competitive; alternative providers include Coworkation, Behere and WiFi Tribe.
Custom avatar or emoji
Did you know that you can add custom emojis on Slack? Engage an artist to turn your employees’ photos into custom avatars so they can add zing to their social and internal profiles.
Professional or personal development allowance
Giftee: Individuals or teams
Think beyond certifications. Allocating a budget to reimburse learning allows employees to pursue their interests, whether maker classes or developing a new skill that could help them advance in the company.