All Articles Leadership Inspiration Holidays aren't the only time for leadership GIFTs

Holidays aren’t the only time for leadership GIFTs

What employees really want doesn’t come in a box or require a bow. And it’s certainly not restricted to December.

4 min read



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The holidays are a time when many leaders find themselves scrambling simultaneously to meet year-end business goals and punctuate the season with their staffs. Too frequently, the stress overtakes the joy, and gifts become another obligatory to-do on a never-ending list.

What employees really want doesn’t come in a box or require a bow. And it’s certainly not restricted to December. What employees wish for are the special GIFTs that leaders can offer all year long.


Over the past 20-plus years in the leadership-development arena, I’ve never met a person who said they received too much recognition. But I’ve met many who report getting woefully too little. Positive feedback is one of the most cost-effective actions a leader can take to elevate morale, engagement and performance. Catching others doing something well grows that behavior. It also shines a spotlight for the rest of the team on what you value, thus magnifying the message.

Expressing appreciation costs literally nothing except some genuine attention to those around you. And, like any other skill, the more you practice it, the more natural it becomes. So, get a start this holiday season. By this time next year, it will be a habit that you don’t even notice, but your team definitely will!


Today’s employees crave leaders they can look up to. They always have. However, given the current rash of reports of tremendously inappropriate behavior in the workplace, people are more desperate than ever to surround themselves with those whom they can trust and admire.

A young professional who attended a workshop not long ago shared that he had recently changed jobs — not for more money, but a bit less, and not for a better commute, but for a few additional minutes on the road. His decision turned exclusively on his supervisor. He shared stories of erratic and unethical behavior on the part of his previous boss. And he contrasted that with his experience of his new leader, whom he described as smart, strategic, trustworthy and transparent.

Leaders who inspire others through their actions are high performers themselves, and they attract highly driven high performers to them and their teams, creating a “gift” that just keeps giving.


EY’s research confirms what you likely already know from experience: Employees across the generational spectrum want greater flexibility.

“After competitive pay and benefits, the top things employees say are very important in a potential job are: ‘being able to work flexibly and still be on track for promotion’ which was tied at 74% with ‘working with colleagues, including my boss, who support my efforts to work flexibly.’ Other flex perks full-time employees seek are: the ability to work flexibly informally when needed, receiving paid parental leave and not working excessive overtime,” the EY study says.

Dual-income households, family commitments (children and parental responsibilities) and increasingly untenable commute times place greater pressure on employees. Work-life balance is a goal that eludes too many workers. Flexibility is one strategy for bringing a balance closer to reality. And while flexibility might be particularly necessary during the holiday season, it’s a “gift” that’s appreciated anytime.


Despite the ability to be in constant 24/7 contact with others, we as a society are starving for the authentic human connection that only time and attention can deliver. Time feels like it’s in such short supply for many of us. So, when a leader is willing to invest this precious commodity, it sends a signal. It communicates, “I value you. You’re significant.” And in today’s increasingly depersonalized world, this forges powerful relationships, builds confidence, and offers the gift of human connection.

So, this holiday season, make a commitment to giving the gifts of gratitude, inspiration, flexibility and time, and you’ll have plenty to celebrate all year long.


Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog

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