Appreciation …

A while ago, the boss of my boss had a lunch time information session and provided pizza, and talked about doing that more often as a kind of gesture of appreciation for us staying on an old legacy product and keeping it going. I forget how it came up, but I ended up commenting that that wasn’t a big incentive for me because I didn’t eat pizza at such events — mostly because my choice of toppings tends towards the plain side (I won’t eat pepperoni but won’t eat most vegetable toppings either) and now because having been sick from it once lately I’m even more likely to stay away from it — and so all it was was a meeting. He replied that then he could get me a really close parking spot, to which I replied that I was already in to work early enough that if I wanted a closer parking spot than the one I had, I’d already have it. He had also talked about sending people out on trips to customer sites — and I think this is how the discussion got started, now that I think about it — at which point I asked my manager to remember that not traveling was in my contract.

I was at work today, and in an idle moment was thinking about what would be a good motivation/appreciative gift for me, since companies do like to do that. One of the standard ones is to give tickets to various shows since the company has box seats at the local stadium. And I thought about that, but there’s a problem for me. They can give, for example, concert tickets … but I’m not all that fond of live concerts. They could give hockey tickets, but while I like hockey I prefer to watch from home when I can instead of going to the arena, simply because a 2.5 – 3 hour game takes up at least 5 or 6 hours of my time, with my getting ready and driving out there to beat the traffic, and waiting around a bit to let the traffic die out coming home. That’s a lot of time to lose. And most other events can be equally annoying, and if they weren’t I’d have tickets already and be planning to go myself, if I had the time and interest.

Well, there’s always the old standby of cold, hard cash … but for me, most of that would just go into my savings which doesn’t make for a riveting story when they ask what I did with it. They could also treat me to, say, a night out … except that if I’ve been working really hard I don’t want a night out, but a night — or a few nights — in. And they could give me more time off except that I already have quite a bit of vacation to use; it’s nice once and a while to say “Just go home” but since my schedule is now fairly flexible and I do tend to work weekends I could pretty much do that myself if I wanted to (I left early on Friday, for example, to go grocery shopping noting that I was going to be in on the weekend anyway). And, as already seen, providing trips is out of the picture.

But the issue is this: I like to be appreciated, but I don’t really care for any of the standard material shows of appreciation. And for the most part if the company gives me something out of appreciation and my boss asks me later how I enjoyed it, my lukewarm “It was okay” reaction isn’t likely to make them feel good about; they surely were hoping to give me something that I’d remember and really appreciate, to associate with their appreciation of my work. But for me, the appreciation is more important than what you give me, because for anything you can give me if I really wanted it I’d have it myself.

I commented on this a while ago, when the company gave away ice cream in celebration of some anniversary of the company. I didn’t take any, and when my manager at the time asked why I replied that if I wanted ice cream, I’d go and buy it … and buy the really good kind that I really liked. Others, however, did take the ice cream and seemed enthusiastic about it.

I read somewhere — and I think it might have been something by Dan Ariely — that if you ask people what they’d rather have as an appreciation gift, most people will choose money over travel, but the claim was that travel actually helped people recharge more and improved their work when they returned. So the suggestion was to force people to take a trip or vacation and they’d return recharged, even if that wasn’t what they wanted. But, of course, that wouldn’t work for me since I don’t want to travel at all; it would have the absolute opposite effect, as I would feel that the company really doesn’t appreciate me at all … because they don’t understand me.

And, to me, that’s the key to showing proper appreciation and gifting: understanding of the person. Take, say, Christmas and birthday gifts. For me, if you aren’t going to give me something that I liked or needed you really should just give me money so that I can do with it what I want. But thoughtful gifts are always more appreciated than simple cash. A group of friends once bought me a collection of Star Wars computer games for my birthday, and it was an appreciated gift because it was something that I really would and did like, and would and did use. It showed that, to some extent, they knew and understood me. I also used to be very easy to buy for because you could always simply buy me a book. If I liked it, I’d read and keep it and read it again; if I didn’t, I’d take it to the used bookstore and use it as a discount for a book that I would like.

Ultimately, then, it is more important to tailor your appreciation to the people you want to appreciate, which is why one size fits all programs don’t work. Money is safe but it’s trite; it shows little about the person you’re giving it to unless you know that they prefer money. But anything else is risky; get someone something they don’t like, and the appreciative gesture backfires royally. Options, then, are the way to go for companies trying to show appreciation, with the lowest authority figure getting the say if they have an idea of what that person is like and what they’d like.

For me, it seems that that’s to show appreciation and not get too upset if I’m not exactly enthusiastic about the present given.

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