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The Holiday Gift Dilemma


Do you have to give your dental team a holiday “gift” every year? Is there any way of making this expectation more meaningful?  Here are 5 alternatives to simply handing out checks to your dental team.

The Situation

This is supposed to be the season of gratitude and giving. By the time you read this issue, you will have digested your Thanksgiving meal and will now be gearing up for the next holiday. Given all the demands on your time, you may actually be feeling more stress than gratitude.

Unfortunately, your job as a leader doesn’t let you take a break for the holidays. In fact, there is extra pressure on you to show some love and recognition to your team through a holiday acknowledgement. Let’s explore how you can transform this expectation into something with more impact. We’ll begin by defining terms and the positive and negative byproducts of the holiday gift-giving.

Bonus or Gift: What Should We Call it?

Many dentists use these terms interchangeably but they imply different things. A bonus is usually earned by employees because they achieved or exceeded a goal.  A gift is a no-strings recognition of an employee’s presence or contribution in your practice. So, unless you have attached a specific goal to your holiday presents, you are more likely giving your team gifts rather than bonuses.  This has both positive and negative implications.

Positive Benefits of the Holiday Gift

Team members want to feel appreciated and a holiday gift – material or financial can help. Unsurprisingly, gifts that are specifically chosen to fit each team member are more likely to accomplish this. For dentists who are not naturally effusive with daily praise, a well-chosen gift can help an employee feel recognized, rewarded and appreciated. But many dentists have limited time and imagination to choose gifts, so this acknowledgement is often money.

Still, a dentist can still create a feeling of specialness by enclosing the check/cash/gift card in a hand-written, personalized card. If you’re giving money, I strongly recommend this.

Not-So Great Implications of the Holiday Gift

The best gifts are unexpected. The office holiday gift, however, is so expected, employees tend to view it as an entitlement. And because employees assume they will get SOMETHING every year, not giving them anything will have a negative impact on morale.  And again, because it is expected, your employees may not express much gratitude upon receipt. In fact, you might hear grumblings if your gift wasn’t as good as last years. So, what can you do to restore a holiday spirit to these gifts and make them more interactive and meaningful?

Five Ways of Making Holiday Gift Giving More Meaningful

  1. If you want to make gift-giving more of a team event that could boost team morale, then enlist the team. In a variation of the Secret Santa game, give each team member a certain amount of cash they are to spend on another team member. Each employee would record 2-3 items they would like on a slip of paper with their name on it.  Team members then can pick the slips out of a hat and buy the suggested item(s) with the funds you supplied.
  2. Another variation of this but still keeping this as a team event, is to create a shopping spree day. If you want to go big, then hire a limo and take the team to a shopping center where you give them cash or a visa gift card to spend within a 2–3-hour time span. Then you would all get together to admire your purchases. Note that you should collect all their store receipts for your accountant! If weather, time or COVID concerns will keep your team indoors, then do a virtual shopping spree where your team go online, simultaneously, to buy stuff.
  3. With the team’s input, buy a luxury item for the office that would be used by employees. This could be a fancy coffee machine or new break-room furniture or spa-like items to pamper feet and hands. Given the rising costs of everything this year, this large gift could also be supplemented by smaller, useful gifts for each person like gas cards, supermarket gift cards or certificates for Pilates, yoga, manicures, etc.
  4. With the team’s input, buy a luxury item for each team member. One dentist I know allowed each employee to pick out a Louis Vuitton handbag. This IS pretty extravagant though and leads to a potential problem if this level of gift giving becoming the standard.
  5. The memory of a unique experience can last longer than cash, so instead of the typical holiday party, bring an indulgence experience to the office. Each operatory would host a different professional. You could hire a massage therapist, a manicurist, a psychic, a yoga teacher, a make-up artist, etc. Your employees could go to each operatory and enjoy the experience while also having catered food.

Remember, one of the most important indicators of employee satisfaction is the relationship leaders have with their employees.  It is a cliché but nevertheless true, that employees leave managers, not their companies. So, while the holiday gift may feel like an obligation, you can turn it into an opportunity of expressing sincere appreciation for your team and thus reinforce your team’s commitment to you and to the practice.

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I had given up because everything I did was judged. Now I have learned to have more one-to-one communication and by being more vulnerable with individuals I found my leadership voice. As a team, we’re all focused on the same goals.

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