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Not Top 10 Nurse's Week Gifts

Article By: Devin O'Brien, M.A.


Get ready - National Nurses Week is back and it’s time to celebrate! While some nursing executives are finding creative ways to recognize their staff, others are falling into the “same old ideas” that don’t hit the mark. In anticipation of Nurses Week, we researched what nurses were saying about their hospital’s recognition plan on social media. While some executives are finding unique ways to connect with their nurses, most are still going for the “low hanging fruit” in generic logoed items and promotional products. Can it be better?


Let’s face it, we have busy schedules and our recognition plans may not be top of the list. As a result, it’s a scramble to put together something unique while staying in budget; something that isn’t always so easy to do. We often end up providing a potluck meal or a water bottle with the hospital logo on it. While appreciated (to an extent), many nurses feel it could be better. As arguably one of the most important roles in a hospital setting, they just might be right.


So, what have nurses been saying on social media? When asked “What is the worst Nurses Week Gift You’ve Ever Received?”, we received some surprising and some not so surprising responses. Let’s look at the top ten least appreciated Nurses Week gifts and see if we can’t find a better way to share our appreciation with those who make a huge impact in our health systems.


1. “We haven’t done a lunch cooler in a while” 


What the nurses think:


“Well, it's not the worst gift, but I love when they give out lunch bags. Then the break room fridge is full of the exact. same. lunchbox.”


“It is a nice lunch box. But the hospital gave us lunch boxes last year, my other job gave them out the year before, and my husband's job gave him one that year too. #firstworldlunchproblems”


“I got a lunch bag this year, which brings me to about 10 total in my household of 2 people.” 


When all else fails, the lunch box prevails. This is something we present quite often – and given the number of responses on this specific product – it may hit the shelf moving forward. It’s just too easy to give out this item as a gift (it doesn’t show a ton of thought). What’s more, it creates mass confusion during the mid-day meal (“dangit, I grabbed Jeff’s lunch again”).


2. “Two birds with one stone?”


What the nurses think:


“They asked us to consider donating to the hospital :|”


“Our administration wants us to "show our appreciation for each other by donating to [insert local homeless shelter]". Yes we've put together a few truckfuls of stuff, but no free meal or anything? Hey, we appreciate your work now give your stuff to someone else! Bummer deal lol”


“Worse than nothing. We were "given" a dollar, which was "donated" to a hospital charity. Major university hospital.”


These comments were a little tough to read. While meshing goals may seem like a good idea on paper, I can’t think of a worse way to say “thank you” to the hard working nurses of America. “But it feels good to give” . . .yea, and it feels good to vent about a horrible Nurses Week online too (don’t worry, all hospital names have been removed) = )


3. Nothing


What the nurses think:


“A pair of underwear from the dollar store. Yes, you read that right. It was supposed to be funny......... dies a little inside.”


“We don't get anything. Apparently, someone complained to the union one year after receiving a pink pair of bandage scissors or something similarly dumb so...nothing.”


“Nothing and JCAHO is here all week.”


Ah, the good old minimalistic approach to recognition. Isn’t the fact you have a job enough? Aren’t your life saving efforts rewarding to you? A simple pat on the back can be pretty significant if done correctly. Giving something that sticks around, provides a benefit, and can remind a recipient of why they became a nurse in the first place can be even better. Tons of fun with the JCAHO comment too; what a time to be alive = )


4. “You earned that candy bar” 


What the nurses think:


“This cuts close - one year we literally got candy bars.”


“My diabetic lactose intolerant coworker got ice cream. Great for our weight loss program.”


“Throw yourselves a potluck.”


“Cater in lunch 1 day and give everyone a junky pin. Oh, and don’t order nearly enough food. Then just don't do anything else at all.”


I personally don’t like sweets but can see why it’s a logical gift. Treats go way back to our childhood and it’s a pretty low-cost option for employee recognition. If you’re going to do food, do it right with something tasty (and pick up the bill). No one ever says they’re enthusiastic to throw themselves a birthday party, if you know what I mean. On that note, don’t forget that once the food is eaten, the impact of the recognition fades away. It’s always good to give something of decent quality that sticks around and reinforces the recognition (trophies work the same way).


5. “We must save money. We can sacrifice a little on quality.” 


What the nurses think:


“Last year we got this all-in-one charger thing. Like for your phone and whatever else. Had like 6 extensions on it. Anyways, we get an e-mail like two weeks later that we have to give them back because they're been catching on fire (!!!!).”


“Couple years back we each got little gift bags containing a broken pen, a pack of wintergreen life savers, and a little paper tag that said, "Thank you for your commit-MINT." Ha ha. Get it?”


“Cheap annoying coffee cups that will just litter a garage sale.”


“A keychain pen light. It was cheap and promptly broke in a couple weeks.”


With budget cuts and a general lack of capital to use for recognition, I can understand the sacrifice. However, if one goes too low cost the gift can almost be insulting, or even a liability with regards to engaging staff during an event like Nurses Week. In my experience, my customers have found great reactions and a boost in morale when gifting something decent; the opposite, however, leads to some amazing social media posts about Nurses Week.


p.s. Do you dislike trash / waste? This is where the junky gifts end up (and your hospital name is all over them). So, is the brand trashy, broken, or cheap? All things we think about when these items end up in a landfill leading to ecological damage realized with a gift that no one ever wanted.


6. “I feel like we’re forgetting something.” 


What the nurses think:


“I'm night shift. This year, they're having an 'ice cream social'. At NOON. In order to participate, we have to be present. Thank you, but no...”


“We got vouchers for frozen yogurt from the cafeteria. Which of course was not open during the night shift.”


“potluck.... every..... day. Yeah I'm not very creative either. We did do trivia last year and it was fun, the prize kind of stunk though. I just came by to say don't forget your night and weekend people!”


Yikes! I knew we forgot something important. Yep, the night shift regularly gets no love and it’s just too hard to coordinate a 24-hour celebration. Hey, they work hard too and shouldn’t be left out of the mix during the Nurses Week celebration. Can this year’s celebration give a little light to the night shift? I think so. A little thought can go a long way.


7. “This one’s for the girls.” 


What the nurses think:


“I, (a guy), got a nice basket of hand lotion and girly sprays. I ask what I was supposed to do with that. I was told I could give it to my wife.”


“Makeup tote bag...I'm male.”


Another cringe worthy moment in our Nurses Week research. I get it, when you say nurse many people may think female. However, we’re beyond the stereotypes of old and most hospitals boast a pretty diverse nursing workforce. I usually get the “it needs to be demographically diverse” and can find something to hit the need. However, it goes without saying that this shouldn’t be neglected…ever. I feel really embarrassed for these poor guys (and for their hospitals).


8. “Maybe a few larger gifts for our Special Nurses” 


What the nurses think:


“Our hospital had a drawing and those 10 nurses won something for Nurses Week, nothing for anyone else. I won and won a cheese tray. With the name of my hospital alllllll over the cheese tray. Thanks. Can't wait to use this at parties.”


Cost reduction? Fewer units? Better gifts? I should have thought of this before! Hmmm, this strategy may just upset 99% of your nurses during their special week. P.S. simply slapping just a logo on everything is quickly becoming “out of style.” It’s not creative and neglects a perfectly good blank canvas for decoration (the best brands are thinking retail).


In the case of the cheese plate, sometimes less is more (no logo), or something small / tasteful with a message reinforcing why they received the gift in the first place.  I don’t think they’ll forget where they work and it’s possibly the last thing they want to think about when they go home = )


9. Flair


What the nurses think:


“Flair. We got flair. These cheap buttons the size of a quarter with inspirational messages like "team player" and "great job" that we were supposed to wear.”


“Last year they bought us red foam clown noses lmao.”


“We got new name tags and lanyards that we were "highly encouraged" to wear for the week, and then made mandatory as part of the uniform after Nurses Week was over... Thanks?”


Do you remember the movie Office Space? Flair is . . . greeeaaattt. While we’re not working at “Chotchkies,” we do need to be aware that novelty flair is kind of lame. This is especially true when trying to pass on uniform upgrades as gifts - I have a feeling most people see right through this. Hey, novel fun is just that (novel fun).


Earning flair for performance is one thing but using it to celebrate just brings New Year’s glasses, hats, and noise makers to mind (its kind of a “band-aid” in the grand scheme of motivation).


10. Mandatory enthusiasm (and bad puns)


What the nurses think:


“It was a weeklong event! We got a cheap plastic ladle with the company logo, measuring spoons with logo... Why? Because we are all ingredients to the soup that makes success!”


“One year for Nurses Week, the hospital I worked for gave us each a lawn sign. Yes, a lawn sign with the hospital logo on it.”


“I don't want to brag or anything but my work is handing out cards to us that say, "Thanks for raisin the bar!" and there's a small box of raisins glued to it....go ahead and be jealous...


Lame idea one, lame idea two, and lame idea three. All that comes to mind is “waste of money, or complete waste of money.” With a master’s degree focused in employee motivation and recognition, these ideas are simply mind blowers to me. Sort of creative? Thanks for “raisin my belief that you really care about us nurses” = )



There are so many great ideas to work from! It doesn’t have to be all bad though and not everyone is a Nurses Week Grinch. We know it can be hard to please everyone – and with such a diverse group of employees – it can seem outright impossible. It’s the thought, however, that counts, and a little effort can go a long way.


What we’re hearing from our social nurses is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Something is better than nothing, but that little extra touch – the effort that says Nurses Week wasn’t an afterthought – can be the difference between a ground out and a home run. When it comes to making recognition better for Nurses Week, we found the following to be the biggest differentiators:

  • Don’t give out junky gifts. It’s not money well spent.
  • Make it personal . . . even if just a little.
  • And remember the night shift works hard too.
  • Give a gift that your recipients can use.
  • Give them something they wouldn’t normally buy for themselves.


This year, think local, hand-crafted, and 100% different than the status quo.


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