The bottomless pit of employer-branded swag

2 min readJun 11, 2021

In a world where most of us are striving to become more environmentally friendly in our everyday lives, we need to look at all aspects of it, even the parts that appear outside of our control and wonder what we can do to have a positive impact in all corners.

Employer-branded swag is one of those areas where, I am sure, most of you reading this, at some point, wondered ‘Do I really need a 4th company-branded sweater?’ or ‘Another environmentally-friendly water bottle?’

While employers are looking to ensure they have a strong employer brand, internally and external-facing, and look to provide that physical connection between brand and employee, it feels outdated to believe sweaters, tote bags, coffee mugs and beanies truly contribute to a company’s brand. It is hard to believe that anyone ever decided to work for a company because they saw the name of that company on a cozy Marin Layer hoodie or a Patagonia vest. And while, in the case of an already-existing strong and positive company brand, employees do proudly display some of their branded gear, the sheer amount of items seems unnecessary.

Every onboarding week starts with a package of items I’m sure most of us already have at home. It is exciting to get a package, open it, and look at all the new shiny items you now own. You feel welcomed, especially in a remote world. But is it necessary? And does it add sustainable value? How many times did you use that backpack really? And 3 months in, can you still find that power bar with the big company logo on it?

So here’s my appeal to all employers out there:

  • Be a swag-free company: Sometimes the absence of an action is the best thing you can do. Explain to your employees why you’re choosing this path and allow them to actively engage in thinking through other ways to make your company more environmentally-friendly.

And if you still believe your employees want the swag you offer and you don’t want to fall short in comparison to other companies you might be going head-to-head with, here are two alternative ideas:

  • Provide an option to donate the cost of those items to a good cause. And even better, consider allowing employees to accumulate the cost over a year and then match their donations by the end of the year.
  • Send your new starters a list of items they can choose from. Instead of assuming what might be useful to the new employee, allow them to tell you. It’s a great way to show your company is being deliberate and, right out of the gate, you start instilling that positive employer brand in your new starter.

Just a thought.