Creative Business Gift-Giving Ideas for the Holidays
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The holidays bring a natural time to look back on the year and an opportunity to thank and honor business colleagues and clients. Showing people authentic gratitude for trusting us to be a critical part of their teams is an absolute must! But choosing an appropriate gift that will truly show our appreciation can be difficult. Another bottle of wine or snack tower is always nice, but anyone who has been at a desk buried in chocolate covered pretzels and no-refrigeration-needed cheese logs can attest that it’s hard to remember who gave what, and most importantly, why. The options below go far beyond that. Check out this list and see if any of these ideas resonate with you for your business:

·      Who doesn’t have a client who simply loves dogs? At Grounds & Hounds, every pound of coffee purchased saves a hound! Or donate to your local Humane Society in the name of your animal-loving business associate, and while you’re there, purchase some pet toys from their in-house shop to give along with the donation card. 

·      Give the gift of an experience. One fun option in our area: jewelry making and pottery courses offered by Boulder Studio Arts. You can also purchase beautiful handmade pieces at their holiday sale and support their operations while giving a beautiful and meaningful gift. 

·      Water gives life. It’s that simple. Charity:Water utilizes every single penny of each donation to bring clean water to people who need it worldwide. Order 20 wristbands for your client’s team to raise awareness or a slim leather wallet as a personal gift and make a donation in your business associate’s name to go with it.

·      Can you imagine giving a duck or a goat as a holiday gift? One of my personal favorites, Heifer International, provides animals to people in need, which can in turn help them create sustainable income and impact others in their families and communities.

·      Purchasing the wares of artisans and artists is a way to support their continued vibrancy and security. Uncommon Goods is a B Corporation that offers handmade items from all over the world, helping remote makers bring their goods to market. Many items come with a story, and you can choose a gift that connects with your business connection’s interests and passions. 

·      In today’s world, when we can buy almost any item online and have it within an hour or two, our local small business community needs our support. Most of the time they offer superior products too, and giving local gifts shows your commitment to your community. Purchase a gift from a local small business, like Boxcar Coffee Roasters, or a handcrafted item from a local artisan, and make new connections in the process.

·      Youth are our future, and preparing them through education is critically important. Want to give your client the opportunity to help young people by choosing a classroom project that inspires them? Donors Choose allows your recipient to decide how to allocate their gift.

·      What could feel even better than offering food to people who are hungry? You can support the organizations that do this every day by offering a gift certificate or a catered meal from a local nonprofit restaurant. At Café 180, everyone can eat, regardless of their ability to pay, and the café trains apprentices as well. FoCo Café in Fort Collins also offers meals on a donation basis, and you can join as a sustaining member on your clients’ behalf to support their mission. 

If you want to think beyond the mass-produced and guarantee your gift will be unforgettable, give in a way that shows the deep gratitude you feel for your clients and business associates, and that reflects your strong connection to your community and important charitable causes.

What are your creative ideas for gift-giving? 

photo credit: created with Canva

Expanding Your Network: Achieving Great Things Together
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How many people do you know? When we consider all of our online connections and people we have met over the years in our careers, social engagements and events, each of us probably has a network of thousands of people. Of course, there are close, trusted friends and family members as well as our work teams that we interact with on a daily basis. But many of us underestimate our own reach when we consider the sheer size of our networks.

But do those peripheral connections really matter? How can one person actually connect on an authentic basis with so many others? Think about your brand and the message you send online and in person. Are you a leader who welcomes new people into your circle, or do you default to an attitude of exclusivity? No one expects that each of us has time and energy to drop everything and give substantial resources to developing a deep connection with each new contact that comes into our mutual orbit. However, adjusting our attitudes about embracing new human beings that we come into contact with can help us cultivate an assumption of openness to new ideas and people that can enrich our lives and work in countless ways and, yes, bring us more career success in the process:

·      Curiosity. Are we genuinely curious about the interests, work and lives of others? Or are we too busy with our day to day tasks to generate passion about the world and infinite opportunities to learn and grow? Thinking about the “why” in everyday issues can help us find genuine, authentic connections with others.

·      Shedding Labels. Today’s Coordinator is tomorrow’s Manager. Or today’s Instagram trend-setter and soon-to-be entrepreneurial sensation. Or community organizer and world changer. Or all of the above! Stop making assumptions about who people are from their job titles. We all have immense value to one another and I am often greatly inspired by and humbled to be in mentoring relationships with early career professionals who teach and coach me as I do the same for them.

·      Extending our Reach. Think about writing, posting your ideas on social platforms, engaging with others and creating your own opportunities to collaborate outside of your typical channels. One of my most treasured platforms is a Slack channel I created with several pros I have met over the past few years, where we can freely collaborate, tackle difficult problems, and support one another. It’s allowed us to take tenuous connections across social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn to a new level that allows for on-demand deeper discussions without taking a lot of time or energy, but that are surprisingly timely and rewarding. My dear friend Wendy Dailey and I not only chat on Slack, but we also text and talk, and keep in touch on social. We have grown our originally Twitter-ignited relationship to many in-person adventures too.

·      Diving in to our Groups. Are you a member of any professional groups? They provide boundless opportunities not only to meet new people with shared interests, but also to exercise your leadership muscles and develop new skills you never knew you could excel in, and new passions that deepen the reward of your work. For instance, I am a member of the American Bar Association and my state and local bar associations, as well as the Disability Management Employers Coalition and the Colorado ILG-these organizations provide opportunities for connections, and also deep and timely updates and analysis of important issues I care about. I am also president of my local HR management chapter, the Boulder Area HR Association. My groups provide opportunities to stay on top of the areas of work I love (particularly, employment law, disability accommodation, and strategic human resource management) and also to meet, connect with and develop relationships with amazing people who offer me new perspectives, support, informal coaching, and opportunities to take on new challenges. I endeavor to do the same for them-and we all have a lot of fun in the process.

·      Body Language. When you meet new people in person, do you open your stance (and even your arms)? Do you catch yourself in small, closed groups of connections you already know well, hiding out in your introversion instead and forming a closed circle that tells outsiders to stay away? Networking is more naturally comfortable for some of us than it is for others. Instead of falling back on old habits, be mindful and plan your networking so you can be open, grow your ability to connect with others, and challenge yourself in the process. Alyce Blum, a wonderful colleague of mine, teaches others to do this and I highly recommend her to anyone who needs coaching and support. 

·      Generosity. In networking, as in work and life, it feels great to be generous with our resources. I look to my friend, Steve Browne, as a wonderful example of this. Steve not only connects with and celebrates everyone, he also encourages (and even sometimes admonishes) us all to connect with one another. He not only coaches and pays forward a stunning energy of leadership and connection, he also generates this energy, that emanates throughout his network and back to him again. It’s a heavy lift but you can see how it genuinely feeds his passion about his work.

What can we achieve together as we grow our connections? The sky is the limit. Alone, I am an attorney and HR professional. Together with my network, I can be an expansive and creative thinker, inspired to do my best work that will have positive ripple effects throughout my community, my profession, and the larger world. For example, this year, my Boulder Area HR Association colleagues and I doubled our reach with an expanded conference that brought in Nancy Lyons of Clockwork, a truly inspirational and innovative leader, as our keynote. We offered not only HR benefits and legal content, but also a track for innovation in HR, populated with speakers who shared new ways of thinking and approaching problems and barriers in HR. How many leaders were inspired and brought fresh thinking and ideas back to their work teams from just that one event? I’m proud to say that’s my network at work.

What heights can you reach with your network? Share your successes and ideas!

Image credit: created with Canva

Should Employers Give Employees Time Off to Vote?
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Voting is a civic duty, and a privilege. It’s something that all of us should have an opportunity to do, and I believe employers build trust, engagement and loyalty among their employees when they provide opportunities for their team members to get to the ballot box. That includes providing time off work, if needed, for everyone to ensure they can get to their designated polling place within the hours it is open.

Some states require that employers give time off to vote. In this list, compiled by the organization Workplace Fairness, all of the requirements are laid out so you can check out what requirements apply to employees in the states where your organization does business. The rules do vary by state regarding when an employee is required to be given time off, when it must be paid, and what the penalties are for non-compliance. For instance, in Colorado, if an employee has three non-work hours to vote while the polls are open, no time off is required.

While following the law is not optional, are employers obligated to make their employees aware of their rights? Many employment laws also require posting to raise awareness, but the time off laws do not seem to mandate this. But should employers make employees aware, or even exceed what the law compels them to do when making it easier for their team members to vote?

Nancy Lyons, of Clockwork, not only decided to give her employees time off to vote, but made the bold decision to close the entire office on election day. In her announcement, Nancy explained that it was a strong statement of the company’s values, in an age where our personal, political and work lives are increasingly intertwined. Nancy shared, “I see this simple act of closing for the day as us demonstrating our values, not just here at work, but in our neighborhoods and greater communities.”

It isn’t always practical to close an entire work location. But in the spirit of encouraging this critically important civic duty celebrating our democracy and valuing our freedom, why not show your employees you value them as well by giving them the opportunity to make their voices heard?

The Sandwich Moment

Have you ever been moved almost to tears by a small gesture that someone who cares about you has done for you? That’s what my sister and I call a “sandwich moment.” The name refers to the time eight years ago when my sister was in the throes of mom-hood and trying to juggle a hundred things every minute, and her sweet husband sent her with me to spend a Mothers’ Day weekend away in the mountains. For the drive up there, I packed us ham sandwiches. They even had lettuce and cucumbers on them, and they were neatly wrapped in foil.

When she opened the bag and took one out, her eyes filled with tears. She said that she couldn’t remember the last time someone made her a sandwich. We burst out laughing and ever since, whenever we offer small kindnesses to each other, which we often do, we call those “sandwich moments.” It’s one of the things I love most about my sister-that each of us notices when the other could really use a sandwich, and then we quietly make one and offer it up.  

For me it’s totally turned around the phrase, “Give that girl a sandwich,” which has been a snide way to make fun of the famous and beautiful folks who are never too thin or too rich. When I think of giving someone a sandwich, I think of giving just a little bit of love freely and without strings attached. Yes, food is nourishing, and caring in itself, but the gesture is what means more to me.   

It’s made me think about other people who quietly toil at work, in the world, among my friends and neighbors. Some of them are lonely, some of them are suffering, and some of them feel lost in this big, complicated world. My daughter lives in New York City and she shared that she really only began to feel at home when she realized that small gestures connect her with the millions of other people who live there. Holding a door, sharing a chuckle, helping someone when they drop something-these are little bits of loving kindness that we give and keep a tiny corner for ourselves, connecting us with other human beings that share our world.

The same feeling arises from giving to people far away too. Finding causes we care about and supporting them can create sandwich moments too. And in the place where we spend a lot of our time, at our jobs, if we can share these moments of kindness, we make the workplace a better experience for everyone. Because sandwiches, although they are quickly consumed, give rise to more sandwiches. The memory of that moment lives on and the person who was loved will share love. This is a short ride we’re on, in this world. I find that it’s really just a collection of moments and the more kindness we share, the happier we all are.

So share a sandwich moment today and spread a little ripple of love.  

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Human Suffering is Everywhere-Including at Work. So is Empathy and Caring.

There is a strong trend toward embracing a human workplace, where we treat employees as complex and full people, not just cogs in a machine whose productivity should be consumed as part of a ceaseless march to profitability, or to hit targets and goals. But we all know there is more to the story than that.

Real people go through having children, breakups of relationships, including divorce, health challenges and caring for sick family members. We all meet these challenges head-on, and appreciate our employer’s support as we do that. Meeting our employees where they are in the give and take of life can create lasting relationships and a sense of well-being at work that contributes to productivity, retention and success in the long term.

Here are some examples of what managers can do to meet the complex and holistic needs of their employees, without losing focus on work:

·       If things aren’t going well with a work project, ask what you can do to help. Is it additional training and resources, flexibility in a deadline, or additional support?

·       Don’t ignore it when your team member is clearly struggling. It’s up to your employee to decide how much detail about the situation to reveal, but it’s not helpful to pretend nothing is happening.

·       Isolation during times of stress can lead to more serious problems. Refer your people to the Employee Assistance Plan, or EAP. My favorite lead-in to that conversation is to relate a story about how I or another leader accessed the services in the past and how it helped, sharing that “It’s there to support all of us in times like this.

·       Sometimes it’s not possible to alter a deadline, and there are serious business consequences of failure. In these cases, involve your employee in the decision-making process. For instance: “The critical nature of this project makes this a hard deadline. If we fail, we could lose the account, and our team will be held accountable for that, so I want to make sure we either set you up for success or hand off to another team member if that would be more helpful. What do you think we should do?”  Unilaterally taking away projects, or making assumptions about what your employee can successfully handle, can make things worse. Instead, be clear about what's expected and how you can help. 

·       If your employee discloses that the problem is medical in nature, (remember that depression and anxiety are medical problems that can arise from difficult life circumstances and transitions), be ready with resources like Short Term Disability benefits and FMLA leave as options. Reach out to your HR team for assistance and make sure your team has the opportunity to privately talk with them about what’s needed. Never ask questions about your employee’s medical status, but if he/she voluntarily discloses that, don’t share that information with others aside from HR.

·       Above all, don’t leave your struggling employee out there alone, to stand or fall. Be frank about what’s required for work performance, and let your employee know what supportive resources are available.  

While it’s true that some employees will tend to have ongoing problems, for a variety of individual reasons, the strategy of addressing work performance, support needs and benefits available as a holistic plan will move your employees toward better outcomes and help them feel supported and valued at work. If, ultimately, your employee is unable to perform the job, he/she will nevertheless have been treated fairly, valued as a team member, and given every opportunity to succeed. Managing with a human touch takes vulnerability, commitment and confidence, and not only produces better results, but also is a more rewarding experience for the leader.  

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Kelly Marinelli