Monday, December 20, 2010

Reader question: Saying it with gifts

Dear Jay,

For many years, our President has hosted a formal holiday party for staff and board members. This year, because of the economy, a decision has been made not to hold it.

I have been asked to put together a card to all employees and board members informing
them, thanking them for their commitment to the organization and wishing them a happy, healthy holiday season.

I am having a VERY hard time putting together appropriate wording - that will not offend, anger, or upset people. And will leave them with a warm fuzzy feeling.

In telling them that the party has been canceled, which is the main purpose of the card, how do I convey that the company is strong, but it is felt that in these sober times it is best to spend money on essentials, without sounding dour or making them feel like the company is not on steady ground?

What should be included in a VERY brief card sent to all employees?

Thank you!


Dear Erin,

Thanks for asking this good question. You do not need to feel embarrassed. Nor should you take responsibility for another’s feeling by worrying about angering, offending or upsetting them. Remember that your intentions are pure. I would word it something like this. "Due to the severe economic downturn, we have decided to cancel plans for our annual holiday celebration. Although our company is on solid financial ground, it seems inappropriate to display extravagance at this time". I would recommend printing this as a separate insert into the holiday card. The holiday greeting on the card could say, "Thank you for your commitment to (name of company) and wishing you and your family a happy, healthy holiday season".

Another suggestion, Erin, is to have a simpler gathering - if the feeling is that people want to have a gathering. This involves the individuals in the company creating such a gathering. Yes, making things to eat and bringing drinks either alcoholic OR NOT and if anyone insists on gifts let it be a secret Santa type thing with a dollar amount limit on the gift. This is a nice way to celebrate without totally eliminating a holiday gathering-people can wear whatever they like-formal, office dress and it keeps morale up and the spirit of the holidays alive. Simply canceling is depressing-economic mess or not.


Fiscally responsible companies owe it to their employees to set a good example in the arena of gift giving. The severity of the current financial crisis is not over yet and is likely to have a permanent effect on personal finances not experienced in almost 80 years. The days of extravagance are over. This is not something we have to apologize about. It is the result of a number of greed motivated factors aligning and bringing us back to a more responsible reality.

Proper etiquette in gift giving is as critical now as ever. The interesting thing about the protocol here is that it is no different than when the economy was racing ahead out of control. People often ask me how much an appropriate amount of money to spend for a gift is, whether it is for a holiday, a birthday or a graduation. There is no set correct answer. One person asked me if they should increase the amount they spend on a child when they reach a certain age. I personally don’t think age is an important consideration.

The bottom line is that you need to examine your own financial situation, decide what you feel you can afford, and then make an informed decision. If you used to spend $100 on a gift and this year you can only spend $50, then so be it. Only you can decide how much your relationship with the person means and how much you can afford to spend. It isn’t the amount of money that is important in gift giving. What is important is the heartfelt thought that went into the selection of the gift. Be sure it is personal.

People who are expecting or even counting on receiving a gift, especially cash, are going to be in for a big surprise. People are scrambling to make mortgage and automobile and insurance payments. Others are striving to eliminate all debt. Lavish gifts and envelopes filled with cash will be taking a back seat. But we do, as a society, love giving gifts. It makes us feel good inside to know that we have made someone else happy and cared for. It shows we have respect for one another and in turn respect for ourselves.

Remember when receiving a gift that someone has put you ahead of themselves one more time. They are not buying your friendship, but they are honoring the relationship they have with you. It is a form of respect which is a universal symbol demonstrating the importance of relationships. Cherish them during the holiday season. Take this
opportunity to reconnect with friends you haven’t seen or spoken to in a long time. You may never know how much gratitude they will feel. The gift of love is priceless. Be generous with it.