Bad Employee Gifts

The Negative Impact of Bad Employee Gifts on Morale

Recognizing and rewarding employees for their hard work and dedication is crucial for keeping them motivated and happy.

Gifts are an effective choice for recognition.

Bad gifts aren’t.

Not all gestures are equally effective.

In fact, a poorly chosen gift can have the opposite of the intended effect, leading to disengagement and dissatisfaction.

It’s worth putting in the effort to select gifts that truly show appreciation and resonate with your team.

TruCentive makes it easy.

Employee peeking under the lid of a gift box hoping that it's not another bad employee gift

Let's explore why Bad Gifts happen and how providing gift options boosts employee morale.

The Downside of Poor Gift Choices

Perceived Lack of Appreciation

“Bad” gifts can make employees feel unappreciated and widen the gap between them and their employer.

When employees receive gifts that don’t match their interests, it sends a message that their preferences aren’t understood or valued.

According to a study cited in Forbes, employees who feel appreciated are 60% more likely to stay with their current employer. So, giving thoughtful and relevant gifts is important for making employees feel valued and improving retention.

young man trying to motivate himself

Decrease in Motivation

Receiving a gift with no personal value can actually have a negative effect on motivation.

A regular cadence of gifts, recognition and awards when used affectively by organizations is designed to bolster engagement and motivation.

But be careful not to rely on a single gesture – or worse – expect that buying a pizza one time will have a positive effect.

Harvard Business Review said it succinctly: Instead of giving people a meaningful sense of appreciation, they become just another box for managers to check and are completely disconnected from employees’ accomplishments.

Gifts that do not resonate with employees can reduce their motivation levels and overall job satisfaction.

When employees feel that their efforts are acknowledged in a superficial or dismissive manner, it undermines their drive to perform well.

Negative Workplace Culture

Bad employee gifts can degrade workplace culture. Employees talk, and if the consensus is that the organization takes a half-hearted approach to engagement with poor gifts, it can lead to widespread dissatisfaction.

This sentiment is well stated by this excerpt from the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences Organizational Development report: “Is Your Employee Recognition Really Authentic?” 

Authentic Recognition is a Matter of Respect – Employees can discern when recognition is insincere or patronizing. Such forms of recognition erode trust and confidence in the workplace. In fact, a mere 8% of employees who receive inauthentic recognition feel that they are treated with respect at work. On the flip side, those who receive authentic recognition are seven times more likely to report being treated with respect.

A negative culture impacts not just morale but also productivity and employee retention.

The Power of Choice

Providing employees with a choice of different items is a powerful strategy to counteract these negative effects. Here’s why:


Allowing employees to choose their own gifts ensures that the items they receive are relevant and meaningful to them. This approach demonstrates that the organization values their individual preferences and needs. According to a study titled The Value and ROI of Employee Recognition by the Incentive Research Foundation, “A choice could be provided to the worker on what is received to further increase the value to the individual.”

Harvard Business School wrote about it this way: “It’s even better if a gift feels personalized. A manager could give an employee who enjoys fitness activities a gift card to a store that sells workout clothes, while giving another worker who is a big Red Sox fan tickets to an upcoming game.”

Increased Satisfaction:

Employee satisfaction with personalized gifts is significantly higher than with generic gifts.

When employees receive gifts they actually want or need, their satisfaction levels rise significantly. This satisfaction translates into increased motivation. 

Enhanced Engagement:

Giving employees choice fosters a sense of control and engagement. They feel more connected to the organization and its appreciation efforts. A report by the Incentive Research Foundation highlights that “engagement levels soar when employees feel they have a say in the rewards they receive.”


Workplace buzz. “People feel awkward talking about money, so they won’t talk about the $2,000 bonus they received. But if you reward someone with a nice dinner or trip, they will talk about it with their co-workers, and that can motivate everyone,” according to Harvard Business School Assistant Professor Ashley V. Whillans.


Forbes. (2024). Employee Benefits In 2024: The Ultimate Guide. Forbes Website

Harvard Business Review. (2020). The Little Things That Make Employees Feel Appreciated. Harvard Business Review Website

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. (2023). Is Your Employee Recognition Really Authentic? UAMS Website

Incentive Research Foundation. (2009). The Value and ROI of Employee Recognition. IAF website

Harvard Business School. (2019). Forget Cash. Here Are Better Ways To Motivate Employees. HBS Website

choice makes for happier employees


Giving bad employee gifts damages morale, leading to feelings of underappreciation, decreased motivation, and a negative workplace culture.

Offering employees a choice of different items is essential to ensure a morale-boosting experience.

This approach personalizes the gift-giving process and significantly enhances satisfaction and engagement, ultimately contributing to a more positive and productive work environment.

Remember to provide choices to employees when appropriate.

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