It’s the holiday season, which means it’s time for corporate gifts and merriment. Let me take you on a walk down memory lane.

One holiday party I attended was held in the conference room, of all places, with awful bar booze, and by far the nastiest chicken kabob I have ever tasted all spread out on a paper table cloth probably purchased at a discount party-supplies store. I also have been the butt of a white elephant joke only for being me, so yeah, I always dreaded this time of year when I was working for corporate America.

4 Reasons to Not Give Swag for the Holidays

  1. Employees don’t need a reminder of their workplace in their homes.
  2. It’s usually poor quality and ends up in the garbage.
  3. It’s impersonal and thoughtless.
  4. You think it’s cool, but employees don’t.

I’ve worked for a lot of companies, and the number of times something like this happened is disappointing. I look at it as a constant reminder that being valued is a must in my career and in any business relationship going forward. 

This time of year is for expressing gratitude and appreciation. Giving high-quality gifts should be at the top of the list for workplaces that want to establish and maintain strong relationships with employees. 

Yet at many startups and tech companies, employees get a basic holiday party that almost always takes place at the office (shocker), lacks good food, and is a poor attempt to get employees to spend more time with people they’ve already been around all day. To make matters worse, employees are usually required to go to the office the next day and crank out results because in startup life, there are no days off. 

Sounds toxic? It gets worse. 

Most employees at startups, who have sacrificed their sanity and work-life balance, either have or will soon receive a package in the mail that includes company swag as their reward for a job well done. 

Startups need to realize that the art of gift giving can take your business to the next level, and there really isn’t a worse gift you can give than something with your logo splashed all over it. Here are three reasons why giving company swag as a gift is totally unacceptable and should be forbidden.

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Employees Don’t Need You in Their Homes 

Have you ever noticed how intrusive company swag is? I’m sure I’m not alone in this thinking, but I don’t want to constantly be reminded of my employer when I’m drinking tea, writing or even brushing my teeth (yes, I once received a company-branded toothbrush). 

Most employees working at startups are extremely dedicated and the last thing they want or need is for their employer to be where work shouldn’t be. If I’m at the gym or in yoga class trying to relax, looking at a water bottle or wearing a company-branded t-shirt does just the opposite. 

3 Gifts Better Than Swag

  1. More money
  2. Extra time off
  3. The chance to roll over unused vacation to the next year

Startups keep making the mistake of trying to be the only priority and focus in their employees’ lives. Every time I got swag like this, I honestly would either donate it or chuck it out, mainly because I wanted to keep my work and personal life separate. Startups, giving gifts isn’t about you. Ditch the company swag and perhaps pay more attention to your staff and their needs. 


Free Guide: Culture Code

Strategies to decode, maintain and improve company culture.


It’s Tacky and Impersonal 

Let’s face it, company swag in general is really tacky and often made of the cheapest materials that usually fall apart after a few uses, not to mention wreak havoc on the environment. I was never satisfied with the fact that I would work tirelessly all year, bending over backwards to meet deadlines, only to get something similar to what I received when I first joined the company. And, to make it worse, it was something given to pretty much anyone who interacted with the brand. 

When giving a gift, startups and their HR teams have to go above and beyond for their employees to make sure that it is personalized and ideally makes the life of employees better or easier. No matter how cool you think your own branding is, your employees don’t feel the same. Company swag is mass produced and not unique whatsoever, and it’s about time startups recognize that. 

More on the Holiday SeasonWhy You Shouldn’t Write Off Job Hunting During the Holidays


Swag Doesn’t Get Used 

Other than the CEO or founder, who really is rocking company swag in public? I certainly wasn’t. It’s extremely rare that others are doing the same. Startups have a misconception that their logo-heavy t-shirt or water bottle is going to get noticed by the masses and result in a ton of new customers and opportunities. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s face it, the majority of employees only sport company swag in places they despise being, like the laundromat. Or they use swag as pajamas. 

As a PR professional, I even advise my clients to never wear company-branded clothes for a media interview or conference, and I cringe whenever I see it happening. Rather than spending thousands of dollars on company swag that could more than likely end up in the trash, explore other ways that you can give back to your employees.

If you really want to show your employees that they mean something to you this holiday season, give them more money, extra time off around the holidays and the chance to carry unused vacation days into the new year. Just as long as it’s anything but a hideous piece of clothing or item that is further harming the planet and your company morale.


Free Guide: Culture Code

Strategies to decode, maintain and improve company culture.


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