You should put some thought into retirement presents

Selecting a suitable retirement gift for a colleague can be a tricky task. There are any number of considerations that need to be taken into account and there’s always a risk that it can become a fairly time consuming process. But before you write off those employees leaving the business as an afterthought, bear in mind that the recipient could leave as a keen brand ambassador, with those left in employment looking to them as a shining example of the way the company treats its employees or it could be a very different story.

I was talking to a man the other day that had devoted thirty years of his life to his firm. One appropriately crisp, autumnal afternoon shortly before he was due to amble off to enjoy his retirement, his staff and colleagues gathered in his office and held a presentation, during which many kind words were said. I know he was very appreciative.

One thing rankled though: the etched and engraved glass rose bowl that his boss presented him with.

It wasn’t so much the thought behind it, it was the lack of thought behind it. From his perspective, it felt as though his boss, who he had spent the best part of two decades working both with and for, had picked up a corporate gifts catalogue, got as far as page one and ordered the first thing that he saw, irrespective of whether it would mean anything.

In many ways, you can’t blame the boss. People retiring can represent a significant loss to the business both in terms of experience and expertise, but it happens and you move on… Picking out a retirement gift is frankly a bit of a distraction from both day-to-day business and the process of finding an appropriate replacement for the retiring head-count.

You get out what you put in

The problem is that putting so little thought into a retirement gift can leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of the person leaving. It can also have an impact on the morale of the people who remain.

In the case of the gentleman I was speaking to, many of his remaining colleagues came back into his office for a natter during the final hours of that particular stage of his life. He told me that he was slightly less filtered in his opinions of his boss and his expectations for the company’s future during those chats than he had been in the preceding months and years. He was quick to say that he wasn’t unprofessional, but you get the impression that his observations may have had a longer-term impact than if he’d kept his thoughts to himself.

A glass bowl for sour grapes?

Obviously any tale like this needs to be taken with a grain of salt and an acceptance that many retirements come with a certain amount of remorse, but from the sounds of things it could have been handled far more effectively if the boss had simply put in more than five seconds thought.

To give a more extreme example from history, Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor that unified Germany, retired in 1890 because he famously didn’t get on with the brash young Kaiser Wilhelm II (cutting a long story short). When the emperor presented Bismarck with a new title, Duke of Lauenburg, at his retirement ceremony, Bismarck noted that it would be useful when he was travelling incognito. It was a snub that made global headlines.

Retirement gifts should be something that the recipient wants, particularly when that person has devoted a large proportion of their career to your firm. Companies should put in place a structure that makes it as easy as possible for line managers to give great gifts, firstly because it’s good manners and secondly because it plays well with the people that will still be working for you in the future.