Do your company’s Christmas gifts align with its values?

Posted on September 27, 2022 by Megan Goodfield

As a HR manager, when it comes to choosing the right corporate gifts for your workforce, there’s a lot to consider. Do the gifts offer enough breadth of appeal to suit all employees’ tastes and backgrounds? Will they reflect well on the company, in terms of quality? Are they affordable without feeling cheap, and luxurious while feeling accessible? 

There’s another key factor to consider – something that, until recently, may not have registered as a potential issue: does the supplier of your gifts align with your company’s corporate values? Are you, in other words, giving ethical gifts to your employees? 

Here’s why that matters: Empowered by the internet and driven by a growing awareness of ethical business practices, workers are now paying attention to how their employers conduct themselves. “This is an increasingly important issue for us,” says James, a senior HR manager at a leading UK sportswear retailer. “I can tell you from firsthand experience that our company values are often cited by employees as reasons for either accepting a job with us, or, in exit interviews, for resigning from a role.

“We have monthly surveys to gauge employees’ feelings on our company’s ethics, values and behaviours, and we have three or four people from each division who get together each month to discuss these surveys. We have 25,000 employees in the UK, so there are a lot of responses to take into account. At certain points our employees have voiced concerns that we’re not reacting to things as they’d like us to – for example, some of them felt we moved too slowly in response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The issue is that we’re a FTSE company with shareholder boards, so any major value changes can take a long time to enact. But at least we’ve got these forums in place now, so that if people do have grievances, they will actually get dealt with, in as timely a manner as possible.”

Your company could have an unimpeachable reputation with regards to corporate social responsibility and employee feedback, but that reputation may take a knock if the gifts and incentives given to employees are sourced from a business with a dubious track record.

Just as aligning with a notably ethical organisation can provide a ‘halo effect’ and make your brand appear switched-on and good-hearted, working with a widely maligned supplier may cause your brand to appear a little behind-the-times. “Internally, we have employees who will move departments to specifically work on projects with suppliers that have a strong reputation for corporate responsibility. So many of them are very knowledgeable with regards to our suppliers’ backgrounds, and very invested in them at a personal level.”          

When sourcing your gift supplier, then, here are a few areas to consider:

  • Does its supply chain negatively impact human rights, e.g. is it in any way associated with modern slavery?
  • Does the supplier have a transparent sustainability policy, and seek to avoid causing environmental damage wherever possible? 
  • Does the supplier behave ethically with regards to animal welfare? 
  • Does the supplier have forward-thinking diversity and inclusion policies? Any negative stories in this regard have a good chance of spreading far and wide across social media.  
  • Does the supplier give back to communities and/or charities? If it doesn’t, that won’t be a deal-breaker for most employees – but it’s certainly a major plus-point if it does.  

As a HR manager, you know that Christmas gifts remain hugely effective in terms of maintaining workplace morale and retaining talent. By ensuring that your gift supplier behaves in a manner that your employees would be happy to openly endorse, you can sidestep the risk of those gifts inadvertently doing more harm than good. Reap the benefits, avoid the backlash, and keep your employees happy and guilt-free.

You can learn about M&S’ own environment, social and governance (ESG) strategy here.