Each holiday season, we flock to stores and browse the web in search of the perfect presents to give to our family members and friends. Shopping for those we know best is pretty straightforward since we have many years of practice, but there is another aspect of this time of year that often trips people up: holiday tipping.
It’s customary to show our appreciation for individuals who provide services that have made our lives easier throughout the year. For most, that might include one’s regular mail carrier, housekeeper, dog walker or hairdresser. But for those who are managing an aging loved one’s care, professional caregivers top this list.
Family caregivers know firsthand how challenging elder care can be. That is why we look to senior companions, home health aides, nurses, senior living staff and other professionals for support and guidance. There’s nothing more reassuring than finding a care provider who goes above and beyond in their role. So, when the holidays roll around, how do we thank these compassionate people for treating our loved ones like family?
Caregiver Gift-Giving Policies
Before you go shopping, make sure you are familiar with your care provider’s policies for families giving gifts and caregivers accepting gifts. These can vary widely across senior care types and settings. For example, assisted living facilities, nursing homes and memory care units may have a “no gifts to individuals” policy, which only permits tips, gifts or treats to be split equally among all staff members or a group of employees. (Think along the lines of a pooled “employee bonus fund” families can donate to or supplying food in the break room for all staff to share.)
In-home care companies don’t tend to follow this type of policy because they only assign a certain number of regular caregivers to each client/family, depending on the extent of their needs. However, home care providers may only permit small gifts or nominal gratuities up to a certain value (typically around $25). Additionally, agencies commonly require caregivers to report all gifts to their supervisor for approval and recording purposes.
Note that some elder care providers may not allow their caregivers to accept gifts of any kind or value as part of their terms of employment for professional and ethical reasons. While this rule may feel frustrating for well-intentioned family members, it is intended to protect vulnerable clients from theft and elder abuse and protect staff from accusations of such. Understanding what your caregiver(s) can and cannot accept will help you avoid a potentially awkward situation and ensure your gesture does not go to waste—or get them in hot water with their employer!
Private caregivers who are not affiliated with a home care agency or other third-party employer are typically considered household employees. Since a senior/family functions as a private caregiver’s employer in this type of arrangement, the only gift-giving policies they must abide by are tax laws governing taxation of gifts to employees. Unless a holiday gift falls into a narrow category known as de minimis fringe benefits, the IRS counts its value as a taxable wage. Cash and cash equivalents (gift cards) are always considered taxable income, and holiday bonuses may be taxed differently as supplemental wages.
It is worth noting that many members of the Caregiver Forum admit to disregarding their care providers’ holiday tipping policies and keep any gifts or bonuses they give strictly between themselves and the recipients. Family caregivers who have chosen this route believe that an acknowledgement of exemplary service is warranted, serves as an incentive to continue providing quality care, and is well worth any risks involved. Ultimately, it’s up to you how to proceed. Just be sure to respect your caregiver’s comfort level. Accepting gifts against policy may result in disciplinary measures, termination or even tax consequences.
Ideas for Caregiver Appreciation Gifts
Words of Gratitude
Many family caregivers refer to their professional counterparts as a blessing. Indeed, a compassionate, reliable caregiver—whether formal or informal—is priceless. Most elder care providers are genuinely invested in their clients’ well-being and take great pride in their work. One of the best gifts you can give is a heartfelt thank you note. You might also consider sending a letter or email to their supervisor for their employee file, detailing your caregiver’s strengths and the value they have added to your loved one’s life and your own.
There’s no doubt about it—cash is king. Paying for long-term care is challenging for seniors and their families, but the truth is that the companions, personal care aides and nursing assistants who look after our ill and aging loved ones often struggle to make a living wage. Ethical and tax issues aside, a holiday tip or bonus is attractive to most people and can be incredibly helpful during such an expensive time of year.
Deciding on an amount can be tough, though. Opinions and advice regarding monetary Christmas gifts for caregivers vary in the Forum. Some AgingCare members abide by the employer’s value limit, many suggest an easy, even number (e.g., $50, $100, $200), and others recommend giving a day’s or week’s worth of pay. Of course, the type, amount and frequency of care your loved one is receiving, your caregiver’s performance, how long they’ve been part of your care team, and your budget should influence this decision.
Care plans that involve multiple caregivers, each with their own responsibilities, schedules and levels of performance complicate matters further. Forum member “jennaveev” advises giving holiday tips “in a way that will not make some caregivers jealous of others, so proportional to their shifts, with no one left out.”
Food and Drink
In the Forum, homemade treats are one of the top Christmas gift ideas for caregivers. This option can be relatively easy, affordable and thoughtful for those looking for something to give to a home health aide or small group of elder care professionals. Other recommendations include a caregiver’s favorite snacks/beverages, a bottle of wine or a special meal they can enjoy with your loved one during their shift.
Homemade goodies, finger foods, catered meals and quality coffee are sure to please larger groups of caregivers in senior living settings, too. Just remember to clear your plans with your loved one’s facility beforehand. It’d be a shame to arrive intending to drop off a beautiful spread of food only to discover that your timing isn’t ideal or the director of the facility won’t allow it. Prior approval will also give you a chance to ask how many employees you should expect to feed so you can scale your gift accordingly.
Keep in mind that baked goods, candy and other confections tend to be go-to crowd-pleasers during the holidays. “Rocknrobin,” an AgingCare member who worked at an assisted living community for a decade, points out that senior living facilities are “flooded with sweets for the staff” around Christmastime. While these are certainly appreciated and enjoyed, consider setting your gesture apart from the masses. Instead of cookies or fudge, drop off a few pizzas and large salads, a tray of deli sandwiches and assorted bags of chips, or a fruit platter and bagels with cream cheese for employees to enjoy. (Don’t forget the disposable plates, cups, utensils and napkins!)
Lastly, senior living settings have caregivers and staff onsite around the clock. Don’t make the mistake of only expressing your gratitude to those who work the daytime shifts. Overnight employees seldom get the same degree of interaction with visiting families and are often overlooked, but their hard work is still invaluable. If your loved one’s facility has a policy that all gifts must be shared equally, or timing your gesture in a way that ensures nobody is left out becomes too complicated, discuss your intentions with the director. It may be easier to include everyone by scheduling this treat to coincide with an all-hands staff meeting or arranging a contribution to the facility’s annual holiday party.
Gift cards tend to be controversial. Some people love them, while others dread receiving credit for a store they would never shop at otherwise. Fortunately, there are plenty of gift card options to choose from these days. Although it may not be considered a “fun” present, gas gift cards, grocery store gift cards and big-box store gift cards are very practical. Amazon gift cards are another favorite since they can be used to buy almost anything.
While card network gift cards (E.g., Visa, Mastercard, Discover) and prepaid cards might seem like the best option because they can be used anywhere, proceed with caution. You’ll likely incur a hefty purchase fee, and your caregiver may experience headaches when trying to redeem it or annoying fees that draw down their balance. Before buying any gift card, read the fine print to ensure it’ll be a pleasant surprise and not a hassle. In some cases, cash might be cheaper and more convenient.
Looking to give something a little more personal? Be sure to take their preferences, needs and interests into account. Credit for specific stores, restaurants or brands is only welcome if you know your caregiver(s) already enjoy these things. For example, a gift certificate for a manicure or pedicure at a local salon would be perfect for a caregiver who enjoys being pampered. If you know your caregiver likes tackling household projects on their time off, then a gift card to a home improvement store could be a great fit.
For family caregivers who are on a budget, one benefit of gift cards is that giving smaller sums for a specific use can seem more palatable than the same amount of cash. For instance, including a $20 bill in a holiday card may not seem like much, but the same amount on a gift card to a coffee house, sandwich shop or smoothie/juice bar would probably cover two visits, maybe more. Ultimately, though, your generosity will likely be appreciated regardless of the denomination you choose to give.
Of course, tokens of your appreciation are also welcome. Consider giving classic presents like a candle, scented lotion, soap or bath products, a houseplant or flower arrangement, a funny mug, festive dish towels, an assorted gift basket, a reusable water bottle or thermos, a throw blanket, cozy socks, a fun advent calendar, a book, a journal, a board game, or a picture frame. One family caregiver in the Forum who makes jewelry even found a way of incorporating her creations into gifts for the staff at her mother’s board and care home. Another made a point of including a small toy or game for each of her caregiver’s young children at the holidays.
It’s the Thought That Counts
Unfortunately, many seniors and family caregivers are on tight budgets. Don’t fret if you can’t afford a holiday tip or gift for everyone on your list this year. The important thing is to acknowledge your caregiver’s hard work and compassion. Being generous with your words, either verbally or in writing, costs you nothing but can mean everything to these vital members of your care team.
Lastly, don’t reserve your kind words just for the holiday season. Another AgingCare member, “Grandma1954,” said it best:
“If you do not thank them daily for what they do… start.
If you do not greet them each day with a smile and a good morning... start.
If you walk through a facility and see ANY employee… greet them, smile and say good day.”