What Should I Get My Team for the Holidays?

Advice from The Sherwins for December 2017

What Should I Get My Team for the Holidays?


Hi Sherwins,

I’m the manager of a small team, and I usually get everyone a gift for the holidays. This is usually an easy one for me, but this year, I’m struggling. Our company has made headlines for all the wrong reasons, and as you know, the news from the outside world isn’t that great either. I can tell that my team is tired and overwhelmed. I’m looking for something to celebrate a job well done (even though we’ve gotten very little accomplished) and to raise their spirits (even though I’m not sure that’s possible). Any ideas?

N in San Francisco


Dear N.,

Notebooks. Not branded with the company logo. Just notebooks. Buy ones with dots, with squares, with lines, and blank ones too. Buy a bunch of them, more than you have people on your team. Throw them down on a table and say something like this:

“Please choose a notebook. It’s for you. For whatever you want. This year has been hard, and I know it’s a small comfort, but I wanted to give everyone a tangible reminder that I value your voices, each and every one of you.”

When both of us were younger, notebooks were places of refuge. Yes, we both had word processors, but notebooks were better. In our moments of creative frustration, when we had no good words, we could always move a pen on paper and make something new. When our classmates weren’t listening to us, when our teachers didn’t understand, we had paper. It was different from a computer. It still is. You could hide it under your mattress, in the trunk of your car, behind a bookshelf. If you wrote something that you didn’t want anyone to ever read, you could sneak out of your house and burn the pages in a park by a little creek at midnight, and it was really gone forever. You could write over things in black marker, scratch out your mistakes in red pen. You were free to fall and fail and march on, with the marks on the page a powerful reminder of how far you’d come. No save-rewrite-delete macro will ever give you that.

Look, N., this year has been really hard. A lot of the designers we know are frustrated at work. People are stressed. Most tech companies are growing, but things are breaking as they do it. And our normal distractions—eating, watching TV, buying coffee—are becoming less distracting and more tinged with the noise, fury, and sorrow of what's happening on the national stage.

Paper gives you space and paper gives you privacy, two things that can not be underestimated. Every day, from our desks to our phones, from Twitter to Slack, we’re surrounded by things that claim our space and steal our privacy. Without space and without privacy, we blend together, we lose ourselves, our voices and our names. All those little marks of where we’ve come from, gone. And at first blush, that could be great. It’s a chance to serve a greater cause. But if we have no choice, it’s not a greater cause. The absence of space and privacy and choice is another thing entirely: An insult, a travesty, an injustice.

Give notebooks. Give them because over the past year, it’s become clear just how many things a company can’t promise us. They can’t promise us health care, or that our work won’t be taken over by a robot in ten years, or that the company isn’t doing something illegal that will cause all of us to lose our jobs, or that we can work without being harassed. We have to start making our own promises to ourselves and others. And those promises can start on paper.

Give notebooks, because your team is filled with good people, and good people need to stick together. To make their marks offline, away from prying eyes and hateful hearts, to remind them of their power to make lines and words and art and poetry. To shape and share a better way forward.

Happy Holidays to you and your team, N. Let us know how things go.

The Sherwins

P.S. Do you have to get anything at all? Can you pool the money that you’d usually spend and ask the team to decide on two charities to give it to? Because that would be good, too. (Though in a shameless plug, we wouldn’t say no to you giving them Teamwords.) But if you can’t, then notebooks it is.


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