Many people want to recognize a valued colleague’s retirement with a gift. Retirement gifts can be sentimental or funny. A gift might recognize workplace accomplishments or make reference to future retirement plans. Gift givers could also include a heartfelt note or an invitation to continue to socialize in the future. Here are some thoughtful ways to wish a co-worker well in retirement.
Sentimental retirement gifts
Sentimental gifts take some effort to compile, but they are likely to be cherished by the retiree. “Gift recipients of all kinds love sentimental gifts, ones that remind them of the gift giver and the relationship the gift giver has with the recipient,” says Jeff Galak, an associate professor of marketing at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pittsburgh. “Givers should focus on gifts that exemplify the relationship they had and will hopefully continue to have with the person who is retiring. Research shows that this will not only be well liked by the recipient, but could also strengthen the relationship between gift giver and gift recipient.” Consider these meaningful retirement gift ideas:
— Photo albums.
— Collections of notes from customers, clients or colleagues.
— A framed photo of the two of you or a team working together.
Experience retirement gifts
Retirees already have a lifetime of accumulated possessions, but almost everyone appreciates a fun new experience. “The research suggests that experiential gifts are better than material gifts,” Galak says. “That is, rather than give a gold watch, give a ticket to a concert. Even better would be to give two tickets, and go with the recipient. Not only will the retiree appreciate the experience itself, but they will have a chance to form a stronger bond with the gift giver.” Top experience gift ideas for retirees include:
— Tickets to a show, concert or sporting event.
— A gift card for a favorite restaurant.
— A relaxing spa treatment.
— A museum membership.
Social retirement gifts
For some people, retirement can be isolating and lonely. Consider including a social invitation with your gift, such as an offer to get coffee, see a movie or attend a sporting event. “Rather than buy them a material gift, give them the gift of time — specifically, your time,” says Michael Norton, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School and co-author of “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending.” “Retirement involves completely changing your daily routine, which included conversations with co-workers all day, every day. Commit yourself to spending regular time with someone who is retiring, and you’ll help them adjust to their new life.” These retirement gifts will help you keep in touch with a retired friend:
— Tickets to a movie you will see together.
— A coffee gift card with a suggested date to meet up.
— Registration for a group class or workshop.
Hobby retirement gifts
If you know what the retiree plans to do after leaving the workforce, you can tailor your gift to the retiree’s hobbies or travel plans. “Subscriptions to publications, or to wine or gourmet food clubs, organization memberships, cultural events, lessons or activities in which the retiree has expressed interest, i.e., becoming more tech-savvy, learning a new language, painting, sculpting — even skydiving or rock climbing,” says Rosanne Thomas, founder and president of Protocol Advisors. “The person is retiring from work, not from life. Treat him or her to an exciting new experience.” Gifts will vary depending on the hobby, but might include:
— Luggage tags for a traveler.
— New garden tools for a gardener.
— An engraved golf club driver or putter for a golfer.
— Art supplies for those who will pursue painting.
Industry retirement gifts
A retirement gift can relate to the field you worked in. The gift might reference things the retiree created, bought or sold on the job or the many people he or she helped at work. “Different fields of employment could be taken into consideration, making the gift more related to their career. For example, if in aerospace, the gift might be a model of the aircraft you helped build. In construction, it could be a new toolbox with an engraving for their garage,” says Pamela Eyring, president of The Protocol School of Washington. “The company culture and industry will help guide your selection.” Consider these career-related retirement gift ideas:
— A model car for someone in the automotive industry.
— Computer chips for tech retirees.
— A collection of student photos and notes for a retiring teacher.
Commemorative retirement gifts
A classic retirement gift is a watch, necklace, plaque or other object that is inscribed with the years of service to the company or in the industry. You might also consider listing noteworthy work achievements. “Gifts that are symbolic of their dedicated work and show the impact the retiree has made to the organization are appreciated,” Eyring says. “A historical photo book from Shutterfly that captures their work history through photos with co-workers, articles and events. Perhaps a painting or historical print of their company.” Here’s how to commemorate the retirement of a valued colleague:
— A plaque engraved with dates of service.
— A framed listing of major workplace accomplishments.
— A photo book that chronicles meaningful career moments.
— An inscribed watch or jewelry.
Personalized retirement gifts
A mundane retirement gift can become special if you take the time to personalize it. Retirement gifts including T-shirts, mugs, hats, or even golf balls can be customized with the retiree’s name, retirement date, occupation or a quote. “When a friend or colleague enters retirement, a personalized gift that reflects their interests, hobbies or sense of humor is a great way to celebrate the milestone,” says Nizzi Renaud, chief brand officer at Zazzle, an online marketplace that sells custom products and personalized gifts. “Some trends we see at Zazzle include a set of wine tags for wine lovers, personalized yoga mats for the aspiring yogi, art-inspired puzzles for game enthusiasts and monogrammed golf head covers for golfers.” Easy items to personalize for retirees include:
— Photo mugs.
— Engraved hats.
— Printed or embroidered T-shirts.
— An engraved bottle of Champagne, liquor or wine.
Humor retirement gifts
Your retirement celebration can be enhanced with a good-natured humorous gift. Funny T-shirts and mugs are easy to come by online on sites like Etsy and Zazzle. Just be careful to avoid offending the recipient. “Remember ‘gag’ gifts, or any alluding to behaviors or interests that are not suitable for all audiences, are to be avoided,” Thomas says. “These are funny in the moment maybe, but soon lose their charm. You do not want to be remembered for your tactless gift.” Here’s how to give a humorous retirement gift that won’t make the recipient cringe:
— A book of humorous retirement advice.
— A collection of funny recollections about the job.
— A retelling of inside jokes you shared with a colleague.
Group retirement gifts
The most economical way to give a gift is as a group. Consider taking up a collection at the office in order to give a significant gift without busting your budget. “There is a benefit by going in as a group,” says Cassie Mogilner Holmes, a professor of marketing and behavioral decision making at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. “Some experiences are quite costly, and a really great, extraordinary experience is sort of better than the single bottle of wine you could buy by yourself.” Remember to include a card or item that everyone in the office signs. You can give an elaborate retirement gift on a budget if the whole office or department chips in:
— A subscription to a wine or gourmet food club.
— Organization memberships.
— Lessons or activities, such as language classes, sculpting studio time or surfing lessons.
— Vacation or travel experiences.
A heartfelt note
Long after the chocolate has been eaten or the experience has been enjoyed, a retiree might stumble upon the thoughtful card included with the gift. “Present the gift in person with a heartfelt written and verbalized message of thanks for the retiree’s dedication, hard work and accomplishments,” Thomas says. “It is appreciation and acknowledgment that people want most of all.” Ideas for what to write in a retirement card include:
— Acknowledge retirement as an important milestone.
— Share favorite memories about working together.
— Address what the retiree plans to do in the future.
— Make plans to stay connected.
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Update 04/18/22: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.