8 Great Year-Round (Free!) Gifts Everyone on Your Team is Guaranteed to Love

Give a gift every day for 29 days straight? Yeah, right – as if I have the time (and money), with everything I’m already juggling! But that’s what a colleague just invited her friends to do.

When she explained that such gifts can be as simple as starting a conversation with a downtrodden stranger, making an extra container of soup for a sick neighbor, or even just giving someone your undivided attention for more than five minutes, I was hooked. After all, I wouldn’t have to buy anything, and didn’t need to put aside much extra time.

Turns out, my friend was inspired by the best-selling book 29 Gifts by Cami Walker, along with close to 20,000 other people in 43 countries who have joined this global giving movement. The aim: Change lives in ways large and small by reviving the giving spirit in the world.

So with all this talk of giving, I got to thinking: How can we offer meaningful gifts to those we work with, especially those who are far away? And not just for holidays or birthdays or when we’ve achieved certain milestones – but on a regular basis, as a routine part of how we work together. How can we invoke this spirit of giving in such a way that it becomes second-nature?

Here are some gift ideas that will strike a chord with team members near and far. They require very little extra time, and for the most part, they don’t cost you a dime.

  1. Call someone simply to check in. It’s really that easy: Pick up the phone, dial a number, and say hello. Resist the temptation to send a meeting request or an IM to schedule the time, even if you’re pretty sure you may have to end up leaving a voicemail. It’s the element of surprise, the fact that there’s no agenda whatsoever, that makes this such as special gift. (Leave a voicemail if you must, letting her know you called to say hello, suggesting some good times and the best number to reach you so you can catch up.) And when she calls you back, make the time to speak, without distractions. (Don’t be tempted to ask the status of that important deliverable – make the call all about just saying “hi.”)
  2. Say thank you. Few things are easier to do, and yet, only 10% of adults say thanks to a colleague each day, and just 7% express daily gratitude to a boss, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Sue Shellenbarger, aptly entitled: “Showing appreciation at the office? No, thanks!” Whether you express appreciation by sending an email or instant message, by calling, or sending a handwritten note to your hard-working employee (and perhaps to his family as well), he’ll see this gratitude as a gift unto itself, given how rare it is for busy people to take the time to say thanks in a special way, especially when employees are out of sight. And if your organization is one of many that has cut back on recognition programs over the last six or so years, your personal thank-you will make an even more memorable gift.
  3. Send something that says “I’m thinking of you.” This might take the form of a URL, a PDF file, or a link to a series of articles or blogs. If pushing this out via email, personalize your message, explaining why you were moved to send him this piece. (Example: “I remember your fascination with tectonic plates when you described your recent trip to Utah. I thought you’d enjoy this article from Scientific American…”) Invest just a few more minutes and less than a dollar for postage, and you can send a more tangible manifestation of your thoughtfulness by sending the piece, along with a personal note, via snail mail. For an even greater “wow” factor, send a book, whether you’re passing along your own copy, or a buying a new one.
  4. Let something slide once in a while. Really, is it that critical that the dreaded monthly report be in by the Monday before Christmas or the Friday before vacation? Are people really going to pore over it during the holidays? If you can flex a due date, relax your standards, or both, without sacrificing your career, then do it. Who knows? You might find that you never need that report to cover all those details, come to think of it, or that a bi-monthly report will do just fine in the future.
  5. Dole out plum projects. Even the busiest people relish an interesting challenge, especially one where they have a chance to shine and showcase their special skills. Make work more interesting by tossing out opportunities to stretch and grow in new ways, as long as new projects can happily co-exist alongside with routine work. (After all, it’s no gift at all if additional projects induce even greater stress and force people to work seven days a week instead of the usual six!) Offer your support, and let her know what other resources to tap. Encourage her to share updates at team meetings, so she has a chance to spread the wealth.
  6. Ask for advice. Who doesn’t sit a little straighter when someone cares so much about our opinion that they ask what we think? Invite a team member to share his experiences to help boost the team’s understanding of a given topic, whether  during the next team meeting, or at your next 1:1. (Even better: invite senior managers as well, to increase his visibility throughout the organization.)  This doesn’t have to be a formal presentation and nor should it require a lot of preparation (remember: adding a lot of extra “busy” work is almost never a welcome gift!).
  7. Support growth. Nothing says “I really value your contributions around here” like giving people meaningful opportunities to learn new skills and cultivate new competencies. (Okay, this is one gift that actually might cost something, but it doesn’t always have to.) Such learning can take the form of a book, a training session, a business coach, a specially-chosen mentor, or a creative on-the-job training program. What’s important is that you give her the space and time she needs to learn and practice new skills, rather than just paying lip service. Agree on the skills and competencies that link to key performance goals, and together, develop a viable learning program to support them. If you have seemingly insurmountable budget constraints that affect training choices, go to bat for her to secure needed funding. The greatest gifts are often those that require some sacrifice.
  8. Give them a pass.Whether it’s a half-day, two days, or even longer, giving someone unexpected time off is one of the most cherished gifts of all. Insist on a much-needed work-free zone for those who deserve time off, and do your part by holding off any emails, texts or IMs until they return.

The spirit of giving need not come just once or twice a year. Make it a habit. You may need written prompts at first, making notes on your calendar or jotting down a few gift ideas in your task list. Before long, such generosity of spirit will become a natural part of how you work. Even though the workplace ranks dead last among places where people express gratitude, you have the power to make your own workplace the exception.


Overcoming time and distance to stay connected, engaged and energizedCommuniqué

Rewarding, recognizing and celebrating achievements from afarCommuniqué

Tips guides from Guided Insights

Want more ideas for giving simple gifts? From 29gifts.org, see these suggestions for December or practically any other month.

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