holidays
Holiday cheer.
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Companies may have been firing workers, cutting salaries and moving workers from job to job - their fate during times of economic crisis - but for many employees one fringe benefit has not changed much: The annual holiday gift for the Jewish new year. Even the economic crisis of 2008-2009 did not stop the rise in the value of such gifts given by most Israeli employers to their workers, and this year the total value of such gifts before Rosh Hashanah is estimated at NIS 2 billion. That is 10% more than last year.

One myth says unionized workers receive more expensive gifts than non-unionized employees, but that is usually not true - with one major exception. Subcontractors, outsourced workers and temps definitely get the short end of the stick: Their gifts are worth only about half of those of permanent employees at the same companies.

This year's big hits are much the same as in recent years: Gift vouchers and coupons, along with candies and sweets. But many companies also try to pleasantly surprise employees. There are even such science fiction gifts as household robots or cyclonic vacuum cleaners that also clean the air in the house.

It pays to work for NII

The average gift is in the NIS 650-850 range for regular workers, and up to NIS 4,000-5,000 for senior managers. In the public sector not only do the workers get gifts, so do all the retirees.

Workers at the Dead Sea Works will receive the most expensive gifts for Rosh Hashanah, valued at NIS 1,750, shows a survey conducted by Vaadim, a firm that gathers data on employee benefits provided by unions and management. At the top of the list for expensive gifts are the National Insurance Institute, Haifa Port and Mercantile Discount Bank, whose workers will be receiving gifts worth NIS 1,000-1,300. Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank employees be getting a bit less, about NIS 900 in gifts.

Bank Hapoalim employees will be getting a rather unusual gift this year: The book "Birth" written by the bank's controlling owner Shari Arison, along with two other books, wine and various sweets. It is hard to set a value for the gifts, but the gift packages without the books are worth hundreds of shekels.

Surprisingly, there are large differences in what government employees receive. Workers at certain government ministries get more than others: At the Defense Ministry the gifts are worth NIS 600 and at the Justice Ministry NIS 500. Workers at the Civil Service Commission will get only NIS 250 and at the State Vehicle Administration even less, gifts worth only NIS 150.

They would be better off working for the union. The Histadrut labor federation in the Haifa region is giving its workers no less than NIS 800 in gifts, while most city employees are getting in the range of NIS 500-600.

Employees of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem will get a gift worth NIS 540, while at Beit Berl College the value of the gift averages NIS 700.

Israel Chemicals goes organic

It is common in high tech for companies to give out gift coupons, along with a holiday food basket of candies or other sweet items. The coupons on average are worth NIS 550, but many high-tech firms prefer gifts with a "message," such as environmentally friendly items or organic products.

Other hits are items bought from organizations with social-welfare functions, such as from the AndJoy studio, who employ the disabled.

One high-tech firm, Artizone, bought its workers organic gift food packages that include olive oil, dried grape spread, olives, cakes and peppers worth NIS 200. The JWT advertising agency went for food packages with pomegranate concentrate, olive oil, honey and jam - worth NIS 150.

A number of companies, including Israel Chemicals, also bought organic products and/or goods produced by organizations that employ the disabled - but as part of a much more expensive gift package.

The difference in amounts can be quite large, even for very well-known brand names. El Al employees will have to make do with a gift worth only NIS 250, while at Makhteshim Agan the sum is an impressive NIS 1,200. Employees of the HOT cable company will receive NIS 550 worth of gifts and at Strauss NIS 600.

As for white collar professionals such as lawyers and accountants, even the smallest firms give gifts for Rosh Hashanah. The average for law and accounting offices is in the NIS 350-650 range - but there are those who give much, much more. At the Ram Efrati law firm, employees will be getting NIS 800 in cash along with a breakfast for two and a spa visit.

No real value?

"Giving a holiday gift expresses an emotional connection between management and the worker, and represents respect and appreciation for the [employee]," said Yaakov Alush, the CEO of Vaadim. Even businesses that have run into financial trouble try to keep up the tradition of gift giving, said Alush, even if they have to cut back on the value. "When local authorities had a financial crisis and didn't pay employee salaries, they continued to buy gifts for workers," he said.

But not everybody agrees. Dr. Moty Neuman, manager of the career counseling department at the Pilat human resources consulting firm, says the gifts are a wasted effort and have no added value. "These gifts do not express a personal relationship with the employee, after all they are all worth the same and given to everyone employed in the organization," he said. "A talented employee receives the same value gift as a bad employee. Therefore, these gifts have no value in encouraging excellence," said Neuman.

Nothing will happen if the practice of giving holiday gifts would end one day, as long as it disappeared everywhere, he said. Neuman recommended giving out different gifts based on the value of the employee to the firm, with the top 3% getting expensive gifts.

Do you really have to give a holiday present?

There is no legal requirement for employers to give such gifts, unless there is a collective bargaining agreement in the workplace that requires it.

But despite there being no legal requirement, the practice of giving such gifts is an Israeli tradition going back decades, and therefore employers have no choice but to continue it, says attorney Gideon Rubin. "Not giving the gift could even be considered a worsening of employment conditions, and in extreme circumstances they could quit and be considered as if they were fired for purposes of severance pay," he said.