For Better or Worse, Holiday Gift Programs Reflect a Company’s Culture

Was a Wisconsin Glass Manufacturer’s Provocative Employee Gift Choice Boneheaded or Brilliant?     

12/9/22 – – Of the 170 articles I’ve posted since the launch of this blog in January 2018, a story about one company’s unusual employee holiday gift program received the most interesting response — ranging from amazement and disbelief to amusement and delight. Here it is again, to brighten your holiday spirit:

Will Ho, Ho, Ho be Replaced by Bang, Bang, Bang?

11/19/18 – – During the holiday season, it’s a joy for family and close friends to share best wishes and exchange colorfully wrapped presents. When this gift-giving tradition enters the workplace, however, potential crises fall from the sky like snowflakes.  

Sorry to sound like the Grinch, but before you offer an open bar at your next holiday party, hang mistletoe over the entrances to your breakrooms or encourage employees to participate in unsupervised “secret Santa” programs, keep this time-tested crisis counsel in mind: It’s the thought that counts . . . as in, “what were you thinking?”

The headline in the November 14 USA TODAY seemed like a joke: “A Handgun for Christmas: Wisconsin Company Decides to Buy Firearms for Every Employee this Holiday Season.” No joke. Turns out that Ben Wolfgram, co-founder of the BenShot glassware manufacturing company, decided to make sure each of his 16 fulltime employees had his or her own piece, in addition to peace, for Christmas. In an effort to “promote personal safety and team building,” the company offered a revolver to those agreeing to take part in a gun-safety course.

As you might guess, critics attacked the unconventional gift choice as insensitive, tone-deaf and dangerous. Just a few weeks before BenShot’s announcement, shootings in a Pittsburgh synagogue, a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, and a Wisconsin software headquarters devastated families and communities.

It also might not come as a surprise that people supporting responsible gun ownership praised the program, arguing that the trained, armed BenShot employees will make their homes and communities safer places. According to Wolfgram, “For us, now, we have an entire armed staff. I think that’s pretty good.”

In The Crisis Preparedness Quotient, we focus on politics as one of the most common sources of corporate crises. The Second Amendment, gun violence and gun control are explosive political issues to say the least. You have to wonder why any company would sail into these troubled waters during the holiday season?

But before proclaiming BenShot’s gun-giveaway a reputational storm waiting to happen, we need to keep one important thing in mind: The company manufactures and markets what USA TODAY describes as “novelty glassware embedded with a bullet” (you won’t find this stuff in the display cases at Tiffany’s or Cartier). Customers attracted to water pitchers appearing to have been shot are probably pro-gun and unlikely to be turned off by the program. So, this calculated controversy may have a lot more to do with targeted product publicity than firearm advocacy.

We’ll see if BenShot’s holiday gambit — which earned international media attention — is worth it for the company in the long run. It’s always risky to offend large portions of the public, even if those offended are not your customers. However it turns out, I’m confident the holiday sounds of “ho, ho, ho” will not be replaced with “bang, bang, bang” anytime soon.

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