The very best retirement gift? The one that says “We have taken the time to get to know you, and we hope this gift will add value to your life in retirement, just as you added value to ours during your time here.” Sure, it might take a bit more thought and effort than a gold watch but therein lies the key: thought and effort.
We all know somebody who’s been sent off into their retirement with little more fanfare than a grocery store sheet cake and a $5 coffee chain gift card. (True story.) We also know it wasn’t the amount spent on this slim-picking celebration that rankled, but the lack of effort. The sad approximation of thought. Don’t be that boss. The one who sent a long-time employee off with a retirement gift that made them feel underwhelmed. Undervalued. Under-appreciated.
Of course, gift-giving is, in itself, a gift. Some have the knack for it. Others? Not so much. If you fall into the former category, feel free to stop reading! But if the latter sounds familiar (the faces on your family around every birthday cake and Christmas tree should tell you everything you need to know), read on for our guide to picking powerful employee retirement gifts that send just the right message.
It really is the thought that counts. Clichéd? Perhaps. But clichés are clichés for a reason: because time and time again they have proven themselves to be true. This particular cliché is especially pertinent to retirement gift giving. No amount of money spent on a gold watch, gorgeous or gaudy, luxe or lackluster, can turn it into a gift that screams “This is you in a gift bag”. (Now there’s a cliché not worth repeating, unless the person in question is obviously a collector of watches, has mentioned they’ve always wanted a luxury watch, or is in dire need of a watch.)
So how do you give a gift that shows thought and thoughtfulness? You get personal. If you don’t know the receiver in any real capacity, ask those that do. Find out their likes, dislikes, their hobbies, things they might do more of or interests they might pursue when/if they have more time.
Avid gardener? Put together a gardening essentials kit: tools, gloves, seed packets, a gift card to a local gardening store or nursery.
Music/theatre lover? Tickets to a sold-out show or concert; season tickets to a local theatre; an all-inclusive weekend away for two to a city with a thriving theatre scene (New York and Broadway springs to mind!).
Sports enthusiast? Season tickets to their favourite sporting event; tickets to a sold-out game; or, as above, an all-inclusive weekend away to a hot-ticket game!
Gadget geek? Personalize the latest must-have technological device with engravings or a customized case; a new smartphone to keep them in touch and on the go.
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Not all retirements are created equal, unfortunately. Some might be unplanned due to economic factors; some might be health-related; some might come completely out of the blue and be anything but reason for celebration.
Be sensitive to the unique situation around the retirement in question and factor that into your gift giving.
Forced and unplanned retirements are, sadly, becoming increasingly common due to layoffs, buyouts, and business closures. This is especially true of 2020, thanks to COVID-19 and other factors, and we predict the effects of this to be long-lasting and pervasive. This means that many who are “retiring” won’t be happy or excited, which means you want to avoid gifts that scream excitement, congratulations, or even condolences. Instead, let your gift say “We were so glad to have worked with you; you will be missed.”
It also bears remembering, especially in these scenarios, that the retiree is likely not going to retire; instead they will be transitioning to something else, more than likely even starting their own business. Keep this in mind when choosing your gift; make it useful and practical rather than hobby-related. And definitely steer clear of gag and age-related gifts: they are never as funny as you think they are. In fact, they aren’t funny at all.
Budding entrepreneur? If you know the recipient is thinking of starting their own business, due to forced circumstances or not, think of something that can be helpful in their new endeavour. Perhaps a laptop to replace their daily connection to their workplace computer, or an electronic day planner to keep their days focused and minds free of unnecessary, stress-inducing clutter.
Unplanned retirement? If you think the retiree in question might be receptive to it, consider giving them a year’s subscription to a meditation or stress-reducing app (like Calm), or a series of sessions with a retirement and/or life coach to help them get back on track, wherever that track might take them.
New beginnings? If you know the retiree plans on entering the workforce again, but perhaps in a new role, give them the gift of learning something new! This is even a great gift option for someone who is planning to stop working entirely and just pursue passions and interests to keep them busy. An online university course in something they’ve expressed an interest in; a local workshop in a new skill; a painting/pottery/cooking workshop. Anything that is interesting and may even blossom into a new career. And if you’re not sure what or where their interests lie, ask!
The thing with retirement is that the sense of freedom many feel is often accompanied by a twin emotion, one not quite as freeing: financial stress.
Whether the retiree plans on starting a new business, finding a freelance occupation to keep busy, or is heading into the joys of filling their time with whatever strikes their fancy on any given day, there is some level of financial worry that will be their travel partner.
No matter how good your retirement fund, extra expenses have a way of arriving at top speed to wreak havoc in a carefully crafted retirement budget. A home renovation (unexpected and forced or planned); a trip for a family emergency; a new computer; a puppy (these absolutely count as emergency retirement must-have expenses!).
Get to know your retiring colleague’s post-retirement plans to help you choose something both personal and practical – a gift that serves the dual purpose of helping them make those plans reality and serving as a daily reminder of the people they once spent every day with.
Proud homeowner? If you know home renos, additions or upgrades are in their future, a healthy Home Depot (or similar) gift card is a gift that will keep on giving. Every time they see that new roof/deck/BBQ, it will remind them that they were valued and appreciated by you.
Animal lover? A year’s supply of dog food and/or treats via a dog subscription box will keep both Fido and Fido’s owner happy! Or you can donate to an animal charity in the name of your retiring colleague.
Travel buff? Gas cards for a trip across the country; an annual National Parks Discovery Pass; a Booking.com (or similar) gift card. These are thoughtful, practical gifts for the travel enthusiast which can help keep them seeing the world without seeing their bank balance dwindle.
No matter how much folk proclaim to not like the ‘sappy’ stuff, given a journal filled with a collection of handwritten, heartfelt remembrance letters from colleagues even the toughest nut to crack is likely to find he or she has “something in their eye”!
If ever there was a time to ignore proclamations of “I don’t want a fuss”, or “Don’t get sentimental on me” it’s the occasion of a retirement. In fact, we hear time and again from retirees that the gifts that meant the most were those that came from the memories of their colleagues, mementos or handwritten remembrance notes recalling things that happened or things the retiree did in their professional life.
A gift powered by sentimentality is especially valid if the retiree is someone who has been with the company an exceptionally long time or who you are particularly close to. This is not the time for holding back.
Secret sentimentalist? A beautiful leather-bound journal filled with a handwritten collection of letters from colleagues; a quilt sewn with scraps of material supplied by each colleague or with insider jokes or quotable quotes from around the office stitched into it. These are gifts that someone with even a smidge of sentimentality in their soul will cherish forever.
Tough nut to crack? A photo album filled with photos from work events or even just the daily grind around the office; a scrapbook filled with funny, interesting and memory-worth mementos. Such gifts may not bring the recipient to tears, but they will definitely be valued and take pride of place on a coffee table in their retirement home.
The absolute best way to choose a retirement gift the retiree will actually want, use and value? Check in with their spouse, significant other, best friend, sister, brother or kids for ideas.
This way you can find out exactly what they are planning for their retirement, their likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, out-of-the-office skills, and any future endeavours they are interested in pursuing.
There are also a ton of resources you can use to find the perfect retirement gift. One of our favourites? The Retirement Survival Pack is a veritable one-stop guide to winning the retirement gifting stakes.
There is no shame in asking for help – even Santa has elves. And it guarantees a gift worth giving.