Gift Cards Anyone?

giftcard-300x228The short answer – just say no!

Here’s a thought experiment.  Imagine I want to give you a bonus of $100 as appreciation for your hard work and dedication to education.  I cannot just do it because:

  • You are in a union.  This payment has to be bargained.
  • The board of education has adopted a salary schedule.  If I want to adjust that schedule, I need to take it back to the board for approval.
  • Tax payers are footing the bill.  Tax payers want your salary to be appropriate and disclosed.  Some will make political hay out of this payment if there are any cuts anywhere at all to student services.

So I use district funds to give you a $100 gift card instead.

Well, in addition to this being an undisclosed payment that still runs afoul of all the above points, I hope you are not surprised to learn that the IRS treats gift cards as taxable income (see here).

Whenever I have discussed this issue with principals and district administrators, I hear the common refrain “but the job of a (fill in the blank) is hard. We need to show employees that they are appreciated.”

I have some unwelcome news there as well.  Just because a principal gives his staff $100 gift cards as a token of his appreciation, employees still do not feel any more appreciated.  Why? Because it is exactly that. A token.

After a recent appreciation event, the conversation in the break room the next day was still about office politics, unfair work schedules and low pay.

The real solution? Make the workplace fair, supportive, and full of growth opportunities.

Developing an engaged workforce is one of the greatest challenges of management. I would wager that gift cards figure nowhere in the solution.


Afterthought: You can certainly buy gift cards out of your own pocket. This is then a true gift from you. The fact that you actually shelled out your own cash may cause a temporary boost in satisfaction, but don’t expect any long term effect from this one act alone.

One comment on “Gift Cards Anyone?

  1. Bernadine
    June 13, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    Great reminder! I agree that gift cards are an easy fall back solution but do little for long term satisfaction.

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