Give Me a Gift With Social Significance, Workers Say

What employers are giving their employees for Rosh Hashana: Dead Sea Works tops the list.

The social protest has yet to change national priorities, but it has already led to a change in employees' stated preferences regarding the gifts they will be getting from their employers for the High Holy Days season. A survey conducted by the K-Group's Tovanot Research Institute for the BusinessCity website found that 48% of employees receiving the traditional workplace gift would prefer a socially conscious one, such as one with local Israeli products or wrapped by people with disabilities, or a "green" gift, that does not harm the environment.

Among employees who will receive gift vouchers this year, 54% of those polled said they would prefer a "social" or "green" gift instead; in a breakdown by gender, 59% of women and 49% of men expressed this preference.

Rosh Hashannah gift present
Marina Zlochin

Are these preferences reflected in the range of workplace gifts? Not really.

"The preference for a 'green gift' illustrates a social trend," says Business City CEO Roee Ashkenazi. "The percentage of such gifts actually given is very low, certain significantly lower than the percentage of those preferring such a gift. You would expect employers to fall into line with their employees' preferences, but in fact employers prefer standard gifts, and above all gift vouchers."

A voucher for you

Ashkenazi is right. Most of the survey respondents said they expected to receive vouchers again this year rather than gifts (although in fact just 35% of employers who get holiday gifts will receive vouchers ), and most are satisfied with them. Only 24% of those receiving vouchers said they'd prefer something more personal. Perhaps surprisingly, men were more likely than women to express this view, at 31% compared to just 17% for women.

Does the gift reflect the employee's worth in the eyes of the employer? About half of those receiving gifts see no connection, raising the question as to whether the holiday gift is really the best way to express appreciation for workers.

Dead Sea Works in the lead, says survey

According to the annual survey by Vaadim, which consolidates data on workers' social benefits, the total spent on employee gifts this year is NIS 2.2 billion, up 10% from last year. About 1.4 million workers receive such gifts.

"The increase in the aggregate spending on the holiday gift has been going on for many years, almost regardless of the economic situation in the country. This year too, despite the economic uncertainty there has been very little effect on the tradition of the holiday gift," says Vaadim CEO Yaakov Alush.

"Although a company in trouble is certainly likely to reduce the value of the gift to the employees, it will not cancel it entirely," he says. "On the other hand, organizations whose situation is stable, not to mention government companies, local authorities, banks and large corporations, regularly increase the value of the gift."

Alush attributes the generosity to the employers' desire to express their appreciation for their employees, but pressure from the workplace labor union also plays a role. "The magnitude of the holiday gift is in many cases part of the collective employment contract," Alush notes.

The average employee gift this year ranges from NIS 680 to NIS 950 range. In high-tech the average is around NIS 500 to NIS 650, presumably because most high-tech companies aren't organized under union representation.

Top executives and company chairmen can expect a gift worth NIS 5,000 to NIS 8,000.

The most generous gift this year will go to employees of the Dead Sea Works, a unit of Israel Chemicals group. In turn, Israel Chemicals is controlled by the Ofer family's Israel Corporation.

The Dead Sea Works employees also enjoy some of the highest salaries in the country. The gift, worth NIS 2,950 consists of a check for NIS 1,750, wines worth NIS 700 and NIS 500 in kitchen utensils.

In second place are workers at Israel Bromine Compounds - also a member of the Israel Chemicals family - with a gift worth NIS 7,750.

In third place are authorized signatories at the First International Bank of Israel, known locally as Beinleumi. These signatories have gone on strike a number of times in the past several years, so perhaps this is management's way of keeping them quiet. They'll be getting a gift worth NIS 1,610, while Israel Electric Corporation workers will receive one valued at NIS 1,450.

Employees of Zim Integrated Shipping Services (also an Ofer family company)., Phoenicia Glass Works and Makhteshim Ramat Hovav (ditto) will receive a holiday gift worth NIS 1,200.

Unlimited vouchers

Employees of Tempo Beer Industries, on one hand, and Bank Mizrahi Tefahot, on the other, will get a gift valued at NIS 1,000, and employees of Israel Shipyards will get NIS 900.

The Israel Standards Institute and the National Insurance Institute are gifting employees to the value of NIS 850.

Employees of the Excellence Nessuah investment house, the Mekorot Water Company and the Mifal Hapayis national lottery will receive a gift worth NIS 800.

Some of the firms are giving gifts of surprisingly low value. IBM Israel employees will receive a gift worth NIS 300; and employees of the Public Security Ministry will receive a gift worth only NIS 165.

According to the Vaadim survey, gift vouchers make up 35% of the workplace holiday gift market. The total value of gift vouchers for Rosh Hashana is around NIS 750 million. In addition to getting them as gifts from their employers, some employees can buy vouchers through their employers, at a discount, to the tune of NIS 250 million. The vouchers come in a range of qualities and places where they can be used, the broadest being usable in a variety of stores, from supermarkets to book and clothing stores, and more.

Dozens of workplace union locals, in a position paper written as part of the broader consumer protest in Israel, are demanding an end to restrictions imposed by the retail chains issuing the vouchers. In many cases the vouchers are accepted at several different chains operated by the same company, but at the chains they can only be redeemed for 90% of face value.

"We must put an end to the retail chains' exploitation of their power by shortchanging recipients of the gift coupons, by honoring them at less than face value," the position paper states.

A number of new trends in corporate gifts to employees is evident this year. There are fewer baskets containing beverages and sugary treats of the kind sold throughout the year, and more boutique packages with oil, wine and health products created specifically as holiday gifts.

At the same time, retro items are enjoying a revival this year, such as home seltzer makers and exercise bicycles. Tech gadgets are another popular category.

Labor law expert Orna Shmaryahu, says that while employers are not legally required to give their employees a holiday gift, "in workplaces with a long tradition of such gifts employers must continue the practice or risk facing employees in labor court."