Thoughtful employee gifting rewards employers, too

Posted on February 28, 2023 by Megan Goodfield

HR managers know that one of the best ways to encourage employee engagement is through reward and recognition. Companies with effective employee-reward schemes enjoy happier workplace cultures, increased productivity and higher retention rates – returns that are well worth the investment in gifting. 

The practical magic of ‘thank you’ works wonders, and its impact in the workplace is well-documented. Research showcased by Harvard Business Review showed that productivity increased by around 25% when employees were given even just a small gift. 

But to be truly effective, employee reward schemes don’t just recognise performance, they make staff feel truly valued. Treating employees to thoughtful gifts helps companies build meaningful connections with staff, and reminds them how much they’re appreciated. But how do companies know what types of corporate gifts will engender an emotional response across their workforce? 

To find out, we surveyed 1,000 members of the British public – across all age groups – to discover which employee incentives they prefer, and which make them feel most connected to their employer. The survey revealed some interesting insights.  

Memorable gifts deliver long-lasting benefits

Experiences that cause a strong emotional response or a state of surprise are easier to remember. It’s why hearing a song that was playing during an emotionally charged situation can take us back to that exact moment in time. These situations have emotion attached to them, so they reside vividly in our mind. The same psychological rules apply to employee gifting.

Our survey found that the gifts people remember most are likely to be those with emotion behind them. Not because they were flashy or expensive, but because of how they made them feel

62.5% of the 1,000 people we surveyed agree that receiving a gift card for a premium retailer would feel more like a ‘treat’ than receiving cash or a discount code – and 91.3% of respondents say they’d be more likely to remember receiving a gift card versus a monetary benefit.

Why? Because receiving a premium gift card feels special, unique and unexpected – the three characteristics needed to build emotional connections and create memorable moments. In comparison, receiving a substantial financial bonus at the end of the year may seem like a big gesture, but the emotional response is fleeting and forgotten, meaning the resulting impact is short-lived. 

Companies can harness the power of emotion to their advantage. By giving surprisingly thoughtful gifts, employers can create emotional connections their staff will remember – helping to increase motivation, improve productivity and boost morale for longer. 

Pick your gifting moments

Treating employees to thoughtful gifts when they least expect it can create a state of surprise – helping to engender positive emotional responses. It may sound a little cynical, but employee gifting is so commonplace that staff now expect to receive a bottle of wine or box of chocolates from their employer at Christmas. The gift isn’t overly surprising and doesn’t feel particularly thoughtful, so it doesn’t have the same emotional effect – and therefore doesn’t deliver the same impact. 

But when companies treat employees at surprisingly unexpected or thoughtfully relevant times, it can help bolster the emotional reaction and ensure that the gift lingers in their mind. And if companies adopt a little-and-often approach to gifting, treating employees to regular gifts throughout the year, the resulting impact is extrapolated.

Reward staff with unforgettable gifts all year round, and you’ll deliver long-lasting benefits for your company, too.

Unforgettable gifts. Never-ending impact.

So, we know that thoughtful gifts help to create emotional connections between employer and employee. And we know that receiving gifts at unexpected moments – outside of holidays or performance reviews – can help bolster their positive impact. 

But when it comes to the actual reward, what do the best corporate gifts for employees look like? 

Rewarding staff with an unexpected ‘treat’ – such as a premium gift card – feels genuinely special and unexpected. When asked about receiving an M&S Gift Card from their employer, 77.7% of respondents say they’d feel ‘truly valued’ or ‘thoughtfully rewarded’. 

The survey respondents shared resoundingly strong emotional responses – feelings that employers across the country would wish they could instil across their workforce. Companies invest substantial budgets into their engagement strategies every year, planning away days and scheduling big bonuses to make sure their staff feel rewarded for their commitment to the company. But, as we’ve seen, it’s not always the grand gestures that garner the greatest impact. A small, special and relatively inexpensive gift can be just as – or even more – impactful, as long as it leaves the recipient feeling genuinely valued. 

Our survey has shown that using M&S Gift Cards as part of your employee engagement initiative will ensure staff feel genuinely appreciated, helping to increase long-term motivation, engagement and productivity.

“77.7% of respondents say that they’d feel ‘truly valued’ or ‘genuinely appreciated’ if they received an M&S Gift Card from their employer.” 


Corporate gifts have the power to spark emotions, create connections and deliver impact – no matter the occasion. To learn more about the never-ending impact of corporate gifts, read our exclusive report, Unforgettable impressions: What do your corporate gifts say about your brand’.