Focus on meaningful experiences, not on meaningless swag

The rise of superficial (and environmentally unfriendly) swag

Photo by Cinthia Becher on Unsplash

At some point over the last few years, we normalised obnoxious social media posts from companies and new employees flaunting onboarding goodies. With each new post, the swag has become more and more extravagant with companies trying to one-up each other on just how wasteful they can be. As someone who is environmentally conscious about every little thing I throw away, I find this trend to be highly disturbing.

Aside from being environmentally wasteful, this “swag brag” culture we’re in has resulted in companies focussing on attracting talent with superficial tactics rather than developing long term people retention strategies. Don’t get me wrong, I get why. In the digital product world, we call these “quick wins” or “growth hacks” but these types of quick and dirty acquisition activities rarely produce the loyal customers we want. Eventually, you need to build a product (culture) that your customers (employees) will love.

If you think about it, the onboarding swag itself actually adds little value to the onboarding experience. Sure, it’s a nice touch during a pandemic, but beyond that, it’s nothing more than a short-lived moment of instant gratification that yields zero long term value. People teams could better spend their time focussing on underlying employee issues and experiences instead of wasting time trying to find perfect onboarding swag. It’s like optimising the home page when the rest of the site is broken.

For the record, I do empathise with People teams. Leadership want to see outputs and these type quick-win initiatives offer that. But I find it hard to believe that talented people teams with all their expertise and experience can’t work on bigger and more meaningful tasks. Fixing the employee experience is long and hard and you need a lot of data to validate the impact of people strategies. But surely, the stuff that is hardest to do is usually the most important is it not?

I’m not against corporate swag, I just think it should be the last thing a company focuses on once they’ve got their people sh*t together. Which for the record, I don’t think any company has. But, if you are going to give out swag, please please please think about it from an environmental standpoint. Maybe even give employees the chance to opt-out.

This is turning into a bit of a rant and I know People teams usually have their hands tied by the powers that be and therefore are unable to focus on the things they know will have a real impact. This is really more of a plea to leadership teams to give the budgets, support and time they need to create better cultures. Your bottom line will thank you for it.

I thought I’d finish with something fun. I’ve categorised the welcome swag packs into three main categories based on what I’ve observed. Which swag pack do you fall under.


The 3 types of swag packs

Pack 1: The “we’re trying to be a cool tech bro brand” pack

This is the basic pack given by the companies who want to appear cool. Sadly, the cool usually ends here and there is very little substance when it comes to having a “cool” tech culture. The pack typically includes:

  • Highlighters
  • Pens
  • Notebooks
  • Post-it notes
  • Stickers

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t need more post-it notes in my life.

Pack 1: The “we’re trying to be a cool tech bro brand” pack

Pack 2: The “lack of self-awareness” pack

The contents of this pack typically fly in the face of the company values. Usually around sustainability, carbon neutrality, ethical sourcing etc… This pack usually contains:

  • Contents of pack 1
  • Plastic water bottles
  • Swag wrapped in single-use plastic
  • Hoodies and bags made by exploited workers

Pack 2: The “lack of self-awareness” pack (Image credit)

Pack 3: The “more money than sense” pack

This is the jackpot of all jackpots when it comes to swag and it’s only dished out by the major tech companies. If you’re lucky enough to join a company in this category this is what you could win:

  • Contents of pack 1 & 2
  • Cool tech (Smart home devices, headphones)
  • Uncool tech (USB sticks)
  • New wardrobe (Hats, t-shirts, hoodies, socks)
  • Mugs, Metal bottles

Pack 3: The “more money than sense” pack

Final thoughts

This post is not meant to offend anyone, but really just to get people to stop and think “should we be putting our efforts elsewhere?”, “is this stuff eco-friendly?”, “is this all we have to offer as a brand?” etc…

You can follow me on Twitter or with minimal effort you can follow me and CRAP Talks on Medium.

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