3 Things That Happen to Your Brain When You Receive a Gift

3 Things That Happen to Your Brain When You Receive a Gift


6 minute read time

What happens inside the brain when we receive a gift? Differences aside, all humans share three chemically driven responses to gift receiving in common.

The brain produces countless chemicals in response to external and internal stimuli, and while the biological purpose of this originally served as a survival mechanism, they continue to affect us in our daily routines and relationships.

We have all experienced the excitement associated with receiving gifts, such as the feeling of being appreciated, and it makes perfect sense that the practice of gift giving has extended beyond family and friends into the workplace. Verbally expressing gratitude and encouragement is important and necessary for building connections with employees, but gestures often speak louder than words, and that is where gift giving becomes important. But what is it that makes gift giving so effective? 

The Brain Chemistry Behind Gifting

When it comes to receiving a gift we like, three chemical responses are triggered in the brain. This release of chemicals is responsible for how we feel about ourselves and the gift giver; in most cases, it facilitates bonding and a deeper emotional commitment. 


The first of these is the release of dopamine, a habit forming neurotransmitter that reinforces behaviors based on rewards. It is stimulated any time we are excited about receiving something, and it is experienced as a short lived thrill of anticipation. 

However, if the brain can link the reward to a cause, it will remember and drive us to continue that action in the future. For example, if an employee remembers that they did a great job at work when they receive a gift from their employer, they are more likely to be driven to perform well. 

Though dopamine has its place in our brain chemistry, it can be a shallow motivator and its effects are often short-lived.


This chemical is responsible for creating bonds and solidifying relationships, as it allows us to trust and feel good about others. High levels of oxytocin are released when we receive a gift we absolutely love, because the gift symbolizes a person caring about and understanding us, and as a result, oxytocin helps us to establish a deeper connection with that person.

What happens if we don’t like the gift we receive? In this case, the opposite is true. If the gift is impersonal or doesn’t align with our sense of self, we feel as though the giver either doesn’t notice the person we are or doesn’t care. When this happens, our oxytocin levels are much lower, and this experience can have a detrimental impact on our relationship with the giver.


The third chemical that comes into play with gift receiving is serotonin. This neurotransmitter is a stress reducer and status driver, as it delivers feelings of accomplishment and pride. 

Serotonin is a more commonly triggered chemical when it comes to the workplace, as long as work-life is going well. It is released when we feel acknowledged or experience achievement. In terms of gift receiving, getting an appreciation gift from an employer is a guaranteed way to experience the pleasurable effects of serotonin. 

The Importance of Employee Gifting

Now that we’ve taken a closer look at the brain chemistry behind gift receiving, you can see the impressive short and long term relationship benefits of being both a giver and a recipient.

If employee engagement is defined as an employee’s sense of connection and commitment to a company, then based on what we know about brain chemistry, employee gifting is an excellent opportunity to dramatically boost employee engagement. 

Employee engagement is one of the most effective drivers of productivity, and it accounts for an overwhelming portion of profits for companies who prioritize their team members through expressing appreciation.  

Employee Recognition and Engagement Statistics

 Employee Recognition and Engagement Infographic

Data sources include Gallup, HubSpot, and Knack**

The Ultimate Employee Gift Guide

So, what do you buy? 

Without further ado, your go-to handbook for nailing employee gifts and creating a culture of engagement.


Don’t Forgo Quality

It doesn’t matter how long they’ve worked there- it could be three days. Make them feel like they matter. It will be money well spent. 

Everything you do as a company makes a statement. If gifting employees is about showing appreciation, giving them items of poor quality won’t send the right message. Scratchy, dollar store t-shirts, cheesy stationary with matching plastic pens- these are all things that will be quickly thrown away, and your efforts will be wasted.

While there are plenty of quality options for every budget, whenever possible, it is best to stick with name brand items. Investing in branded logo apparel amplifies the effect of gifting, as employees are much more likely to enjoy and frequently use these items.  

Shop for High Quality Items




Custom Logo Golf Shirts


custom logo golf shirts




T-shirts for Company Logo 


t-shirts for company logo




Custom Nike Hats


custom Nike hats

Custom New Era Hats


custom new era hats

Don’t Get Too Personal

There is a fine line when it comes to business gifting, and you want to remain professional.

Even if you feel that you know your employees fairly well, you might not know them as well as you think. And picking out the wrong gift, much like picking out a low quality gift, does more damage than not giving anything. Remember oxytocin? There won’t be much of this flowing through their brains when they realize how well you don’t know them at all. 

If you ever struggle to pick out a gift for your significant other, which happens to the best of us, take this as a cue to never attempt to do so for employees. Stick to high quality gender neutral items that are useful. 

But- Don’t be Impersonal 

Being professional doesn’t mean you have to be impersonal. And while being impersonal is generally not as devastating a blunder as being overly personal, it can kill the art of giving just as quickly. Fortunately, you can use a simple trick to strike the proper balance and maximize the impact of your gift.

 Employee appreciation

Though the gift itself could be enjoyed by anyone, it should come with a personalized note. A short, simple, hand-written note emphasizing your gratitude and appreciation.

Don’t have time to write them? A company called Handwrytten will do it for you.

Do Put Your Logo On It

Some companies have an irrational fear of over-utilizing their logo, particularly when it comes to employee gifting, as they do not want to be seen as too self-promotional. 

The truth is, this is only the case when it’s a bad gift. The logo itself simply represents the employee’s connection to the company, and the rest is up to you. Ask yourself, is this gift establishing a good or bad connection? Would my employees feel proud of it?

If you plaster your name across a bunch of junk and “gift” it to your employees (... how generous?), they will gladly dig a hole through the least frequently visited drawer in their house and bury it at the bottom. 

But what if it was a gorgeous custom Nike quarter zip they’ve been coveting? Suddenly the logo is not spam, but a wink from [insert your company here] that they will excitedly share with their friends by posting a picture online. 

This is us circling back to “don’t forgo quality” and reminding you that when you do something right, don’t be afraid to put your name on it. Logo gifts are a great way to establish a positive connection and make it last.

Shop for Custom Quarter Zips



Custom Nike Quarter Zips
custom nike quarter zip
Custom Under Armour Quarter Zips
     custom under armor quarter zips

 employee happiness

Do Make it a Habit

There are plenty of reasons to give to your employees. Maybe you’ve bought them gifts around the holidays or for special occasions. Good on you!

But- what if you gifted your employees for no reason… other than to show you care? You’d be surprised; it goes a long way. 

Why? Because gratitude is best received when it is least expected. Gifts received out of the blue will naturally generate a more emotional response that lends to engagement and enthusiasm, because employees know they are appreciated. There is simply no other explanation for the gift. 

The takeaway: when gifting employees, make it a habit, and make it a surprise. 

What can you do for your employees this August? 

Give them tumblers with logos and tell them to enjoy the weekend on you (drinks not included). They may or may not laugh, but they will certainly feel the genuine gesture. Maybe Monday morning will see a few extra smiles, refreshed energy, and a newfound focus on company success. 

Shop for Tumblers with Logo


Tumblers with Logo

 tumblers with logo


**Infographic Citations

Knack, 2018, Business Gift Satisfaction Report: Employee Gifting Supplement, cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0965/7972/files/2018_employee_gift_survey_supplement.pdf?18112848491559322607#view=FitV.

Kolowich, Lindsay. “11 Eye-Opening Statistics on the Importance of Employee Feedback [Infographic].” HubSpot Blog, HubSpot, 18 July 2015, blog.hubspot.com/sales/eye-opening-statistics-on-the-importance-of-employee-feedback-infographic.

Royal, Ken. “Heard of the U.S. Quit Rate? Win the War for Talent Now.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 17 Apr. 2020, www.gallup.com/workplace/260564/heard-quit-rate-win-war-talent.aspx.

Sorenson, Susan, and Keri Garman. “How to Tackle U.S. Employees' Stagnating Engagement.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 6 Feb. 2020, news.gallup.com/businessjournal/162953/tackle-employees-stagnating-engagement.aspx.

Sorenson, Susan. “How Employee Engagement Drives Growth.” Gallup.com, Gallup, 14 May 2020, www.gallup.com/workplace/236927/employee-engagement-drives-growth.aspx.

Back to blog
1 of 5