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Corporate Gifts To Avoid: When Generosity Hurts Relationships

I first heard this question reiterated to me by our Sales Team manager as coming from one of the corporate customers of Gift Baskets Overseas. Can gifts really hurt productive work or business relationships? What exactly should one consider to make a gift efficient and help secure a deal or improve loyalty, not decrease it? It’s something gift consultants deal with all the time. Ethical and cultural aspects relevant both for the gift giver and the recipient, what’s appropriate and what can be a bit too much, how to not overstep… So, today we are diving into the topic of corporate gifts to avoid!

Corporate Gifts To Avoid: Listen as a Podcast

Corporate Gifts To Avoid: When Generosity Hurts Relationships

Corporate Gifts to Avoid: Is There Such a Thing?

That’s where the first-time customers usually start. Are there any corporate gifts to avoid? What should we keep in mind when selecting gifts? What are things that can actually hurt relationships instead of improving them? Gift consultants usually reply to that: it depends.

The recommendation is to learn as much as possible about the recipient. There are several main criteria you have to check your gift selection against prior to making the final decision:

  • – Cultural background of the recipients
  • – Their relation to your company or team
  • – Personal preferences and restrictions

Depending on geographical location, religious beliefs, and current economic context, your recipients may perceive different things as appropriate corporate gifts. As an example, I can share a story of one client company based in the United States that wanted to send an expensive brand of whiskey to their partners in India as a token of appreciation and respect. The corporate gift consultant who worked on their case had to recommend changing their strategy. While high-quality gifts are universal in meaning, alcohol is not acceptable in many geographies, including some regions of India. In this case, the suggestion was to send a gourmet and wellness-oriented gift instead. The post-purchase survey that we conducted indicated this substitution worked well!

Gourmet gift with or without alcohol? It depends, corporate gift consultant says

Speaking of possible issues with your corporate gift campaign, think about cultural, religious, and personal preferences such as allergies, intolerances, and tabus. In order to define an appropriate budget per gift, we would recommend that you consider the relations between the recipient and your company or team. Depending on the kind of collaboration you have, it’s possible to allocate gifts that are neither too expensive nor too cheap so as not to alienate your partners.

Learn more about corporate gift etiquette with our blog here>>

Is gift giving ethical or unethical?

What if you choose to look deeper into the topic of gift giving to understand which corporate gifts to avoid? Indeed, are corporate gifts ethical as a whole?

The Institute of Business Ethics, in their material on The Ethics of Gifts and Hospitality, calls attention to the following:

The acceptance of gifts, services and hospitality can leave an organisation vulnerable to accusations of unfairness, partiality or deceit, or even unlawful conduct. Commercial relationships may be subject to bias and an organisation’s reputation for ‘doing business ethically’ will be put at risk.

They list two points for consideration when assessing the ethic behind corporate gift giving. First, you need to understand what’s appropriate in a current context. You can use the framework that we outlined in the previous section to assess the appropriateness of the gift. Secondly, according to the IBE recommendation, you need to understand if this gift can make an impression of bribery. The simplest way to do this is to ask yourself whether the gift’s only intent is to influence the attitude of a decision-maker. Many companies have distinct policies regarding gift giving and receiving that can help ensure you don’t overstep in generosity.

We encountered a situation with a corporate gift recipient who refused to accept a gift because of the policies of their company. In such a case, it’s wise to have an alternative option for those unable to receive a gift. For example, having an opportunity to donate the amount equal to a gift budget to charity can totally resolve the issue. (Disclaimer: selecting a gift within budget and having a selection of charities to donate its worth to is something Gift Baskets Overseas offers to its corporate clients).

Corporate Gifts To Avoid: Can you say when a gift is unethical?

How effective are corporate gifts?

Another consideration that potential corporate givers have regarding their first gift campaign is its effectiveness. While loyalty and better perception are relatively hard to measure, it is still possible. In the survey that Forbes conducted in 2021 80% of respondents said gifts have improved relationships with employees and clients. A whopping 48% admitted that gifting delivered a substantial benefit.

Thw Gift Baskets Overseas team regularly reaches out to the returning customers to learn how effective their campaigns are. Usually, the best approach to measure it is to compare KPIs meaningful to your business before and after the gifting campaign. For example, let’s say you are looking into the employee retention rate. Then, you will need to compare similar time periods with respect to seasonality with and without gifts as part of your internal loyalty program.

What should you not give as a gift?

When talking about corporate gifts to avoid, there are several general recommendations you need to keep in mind. First of all, we recommend that you avoid gifts that are too personal. Avoid cosmetics and fragrances, especially if you are not 100% sure of your recipients’ preferences. Then, it’s better to refrain from humorous gifts in a business context. No matter how brilliant a joke, there are significant chances of misunderstanding. Too dull can also be an issue. For example, if you give your employees a coffee mug every year, bets are high they will not be happy with another one. And finally, don’t over or underfund it.

To put it short, it’s better to exclude gifts that are:

  • – too personal
  • – overpriced
  • – too cheap
  • – excessively funny
  • – pets. Just don’t ^_~

What culture does not accept gifts?

Gift giving is a universal tradition that is normal in this or that form for all cultures around the world. However, there are local differences among cultures regarding how exactly to accept or in which cases to reject gifts. For example, it’s being said that it’s typical for many Eastern Asian countries for their people to refuse business gifts up to three times before accepting them.

Asians are more likely than North Americans to refuse a small gift […] in order to avoid the feeling of indebtedness they would experience if they cannot reciprocate. North Americans […] are more likely to base their acceptance of the gift on its attractiveness without considering their obligation to reciprocate.

“Cross-Cultural Differences in the Refusal to Accept a Small Gift”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology

You can approach cultural differences in corporate gift giving in a way that is pretty much the same as what you would do in a personal relationship. Conduct a small research about the traditions. Then, go with the safest option possible.

Corporate Gifts to Avoid: What if recipient refuses the gift?

What is an appropriate business gift?

As I have outlined in the first section of this blog, the answer to this question hugely depends on the context. However, if you cannot be sure whether any cultural, religious, or personal restrictions are applicable in a particular case, you can retreat to the following safe options:

  • – Gourmet gifts that do not include alcohol or items they are likely to have an allergy to.
  • – High-end stationery, potentially including branding
  • – Healthy selection of products for teams to share

If you really want to step up what gifts can do for you and your business relationships, make taking about them standard practice. When onboarding a new employee, or entering into a new partnership with another business, ask them about their preferred kinds of gifts and gifting occasions. This sets you apart as someone who cares about them as an individual and what they can do for your company.

Now You Know Which Corporate Gifts To Avoid: What’s Next?

I recommend the following next steps:

Good luck with your next gift campaign!