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By Cheryl Baker, Co-Founder and Director of Social Capital, Give and Take, Inc.
When you hear the term “contagion,” what image comes to mind? Disease. Panic in mass crowds. Viral social media trends. Perhaps this time of year, you think of the flu.
Scientists have found that within groups, thoughts and moods can be just as contagious as physical diseases or behaviors. In a phenomenon called emotional contagion, researchers have observed that “individuals tend to express and feel emotions that are similar to those of others,” seeming to “catch” the feelings of those around them.
While the word “contagion” often carries a negative connotation, research on the benefits of emotional contagion has shown that this ripple effect may be a secret workplace weapon for productivity and engagement. If you have a culture of generosity and appreciation, you’ve likely seen this in action.
Not sure if you have a generous workplace?
This free quiz will give you some idea of where you stand today.
If you still have some work to do in terms of building a generous culture, it may help to educate employees on the benefits of generosity in the workplace. It’s more than just giving to United Way during the annual drive. It’s about making a commitment to share your time, talent, expertise, connections, advice, and help in ways that don’t overextend throughout the year.
Why should we give?
Here’s the good news for leaders: creating a culture of giving is great for your workers, but extensive research shows why building a sustainably collaborative culture is good for companies. It makes companies more efficient, innovative and productive. It increases profitability and revenue. It improves customer satisfaction and employee retention. It’s the classic win/win.
Sometimes, if we’re going to encourage employees to participate more fully and wholeheartedly in a culture of productive generosity, we need to show them what’s in it for them.
A willingness to ask for help and give help to others at work is not just a fluffy, feel-good concept. There are real, tangible, measurable benefits to being a giver at work:
1. Giving makes us happy
There have been countless studies that suggest helping others improves the helper’s own mood as much, if not more, than the recipient of the help. A study at University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that altruism in the workplace had relatively large effects on happiness.
Professor Donald Moynihan says, “Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system.”
2. Giving increases gratitude
Doing favors for others increases gratitude, which in itself is a positive emotion that can improve an individual’s health and well-being. In a study evaluating interventions for lasting happiness, founder of positive psychology Martin Seligman found that a daily gratitude practice was one of only two ways participants were able to increase happiness and decrease depressive symptoms over the long-term.
3. Giving inspires more giving
Paying it forward pays off. Contagion researchers James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis found that one person’s initial generosity can spark a chain reaction of benevolence up to three times as large as the original contribution. The single act can begin what social scientists call a “virtuous circle,” where one person’s generous behavior triggers another’s and so on. People are grateful for help received and are motivated to pay it forward according to research by Dr. Wayne Baker and Nathaniel Bulkley.
4. Giving makes us more well-liked
When you help others, you become someone that others can trust and rely on when they have a future knowledge, resource or connection need.
5. Giving grows and strengthens our networks
Offering help to others helps you make connections within your organization that you may not have otherwise made, which will increase your resources next time you need help. Moreover, these connections are more likely to be high-quality connections. So while we may not be givers for the express purpose of getting a reward, there are possible career and financial advantages to doing so.
6. Enjoy greater happiness and good health
Research shows that people who are givers are happier and healthier both mentally and physically. In fact, I wrote a whole blog post on the health benefits of being a giver at work.
7. Be the change you wish to see in the world
Giving back to others by offering your knowledge, connections and resources makes your world and your work environment a little better. Work environments with givers breed more generous behavior in others. The whole culture of a company can start to change.
8. Boost your career
According to Wharton professor and Give and Take co-founder Adam Grant, corporate “givers” are ultimately the highest performers and the most successful. Givers are able to tap into a network of knowledge and resources that provides them with greater resources and knowledge than those who try to succeed in isolation. If you’re interested in this aspect of generosity, Grant wrote a whole book on it, called Give and Take: How Helping Others Drives Our Success.
Pay it forward
The positive emotions generated through giving and receiving spreads through groups by way of emotional contagion and ripples through the entire organization. Research on groups experiencing positive emotional contagion found that more than good feelings spread. These groups experienced less interpersonal conflict, more successful cooperation, and felt they had performed better on their task than the control group.
When we give, the benefits are amplified and multiplied, as the positive emotions created by giving and expressing gratitude spread from one person to another. Even if we don’t give, we reap the benefits by being around people who are givers themselves. Barbara Fredrickson reports that people who merely witness or hear about a helpful interchange may experience positive emotions as well.
Benefits of asking for help
If Adam Grant wrote the book on giving, Wayne Baker wrote the book on asking for help (All You Have to Do is Ask, coming out January 2020). In his forthcoming book, he argues that asking for help at work is the most important skill for success.
It can be hard to ask for help at work. But it’s really important that we encourage our teams to do so (and help them learn how to do it) because the benefits are legion.
Studies show that asking for help makes us better and less frustrated at our jobs. It helps us find new opportunities and new talent. It unlocks new ideas and solutions, and enhances team performance. And it helps us get the things we need outside the workplace as well.
And yet, we rarely give ourselves permission to ask. Luckily, the research shows that asking—and getting—what we need is much easier than we tend to think.
When you ask for what you need, you are:
- Building team camaraderie and cohesion. You are reinforcing the idea that it takes a strong team to make a difference.
- Making other people feel better.. Don’t think you are burdening someone else by asking for help, people enjoy helping each other! It is really a win-win: you get help and you make someone else feel good.
- More likeable. We like people who dare to show their vulnerability and ask for help on things that are challenging for them. You’re also setting a great example for your teammates.
- Getting smarter: A willingness to ask for help makes it easier to do your job, providing you with an answer, advice, or a different perspective or a connection to someone outside your network who has the knowledge or resources you need.
- More successful. No great achievement can be done alone, and asking for help makes us more productive. No one has all of the resources, connections and knowledge to be totally self-sufficient and maximally effective.
Besides, we’ve already established that being a giver is good for so many things. The best offers of help occur when someone has asked for it.
All of this starts with leaders setting a good example. Leaders should be generous with their own teams, sharing both time and talent as well as recognition and appreciation for a job well done.
About the Author
Cheryl Baker is an innovator in the field of social capital and an expert in the translation of social science principles. She’s also the co-founder of Give and Take Inc., along with Wayne Baker and Adam Grant and the creator of the Reciprocity Ring. Give and Take makes Givitas, software that connects any group of people to exchange help, including employees, customers, members, donors, students, alumni, and more. By fostering a giving culture, organizations of all sizes drive positive business outcomes like increased efficiency, productivity, loyalty, and engagement.Read More
Delight Employees This Holiday Season
Research backs up what successful organizations have known all along – that appreciating employees day-in and day-out feeds productivity, retains employees and transforms workplace culture.
In other words, as Duke University behavioral economist Dan Ariely says, “recognition drives engagement and engagement drives productivity.”
Gifts are a tangible way to express your appreciation for each employee’s contribution to your organization. It may seem like a simple gesture, but expressing genuine appreciation matters more to recipients than you may think.
Consider this: among workers who feel valued, 88% feel engaged and 93% say their motivated to do their best. (American Psychological Association).
And, when gratitude is regularly expressed, employee engagement, productivity and customer service ratings are 14% higher (Bersin by Deloitte).
Gifts Send a Powerful Message
What makes an employee gift successful? Hint: It’s not about the money.
The average employer spends $79 per employee on gifts, but most workers say they would be just as happy with lower-cost (or even no-cost) alternatives. What matters most is the spirit in which the gift is given.
The essence of workplace holiday gift-giving is gratitude: your gratitude for employees’ contributions over the past year and employees’ gratitude toward you for showing your appreciation.
Gift-Giving is an Opportunity to Show You Care
Workplace leaders understand gift-giving is an important opportunity – to show you care and make employees feel valued.
So how does one choose a successful employee gift?
Find out in our new eBook, “Making Employee Gifts Count, Secrets for Gift-Giving Success”!
In this free eBook, you learn from workplace experts not only why gift-giving is so important, but also how to do it well and effectively.
Inside this eBook you’ll learn:
- Why workplace gifts matter
- Understanding what workers value
- The best workplace gifts
- How much is enough
- Gift-giving do’s and don’ts
- How to make your gift memorable
Why wait? Download your FREE COPY Now!
Make Your Workplace Gifts Memorable
Sharing your sincere gratitude is what will make your gift truly memorable.
Just ask Sheldon Yellen who as CEO of BELFOR Holdings Inc. writes over 9,000 employee thank you and birthday notes a year. “Yellen has found taking the time to write out a card for each and every person has created a culture of compassion through the whole company.”
Whenever possible, put your appreciation in writing. It will not only be memorable but will likely become a keepsake. Think about those times someone took the time to pen a note of thanks to you. Chances are you kept that note.
Whether you intend to write a holiday letter to your entire workplace or have plans to hand-write a thank you note to your team, we applaud you and encourage you to take advantage of our resources for inspiration and real-world examples.
How to Write a Thanksgiving Letter to Employees
Your FREE guide to putting the “Thanks” in Thanksgiving for your workplace.
gThankYou’s popular resource for writing a thoughtful Thanksgiving or holiday employee letter. Full of examples of real employee letters and how-to insight for crafting a meaningful letter employees will treasure.
How to Write Thank You Notes Employees Will Treasure
Our go-to resource for writing meaningful employee and customer thank you notes – anytime!
Understand the basic pillars of praise and the anatomy of an effective Thank You note. A great resource for anyone new to workplace thank you notes or who wants to learn how to make them more impactful.
Download this FREE guide now!
The holidays can be the most rewarding time of year for gift-givers and receivers alike. We hope you find our gift-giving guide useful now and throughout the year, and we wish you and your entire team all the best this season.
Should your holiday gift-giving plans involve the much loved gift of a Turkey Or Ham, we would be honored to serve you.Read MoreIf you’re still ordering frozen turkey gifts for your employees, this should be the year that you replace that burdensome and onerous approach with Turkey Gift Certificates from gThankYou. We assure you that this easy process will literally and figuratively lighten your load.
Turkeys remain the quintessential holiday employee gift. Always the star on the table at Thanksgiving gatherings across the country, turkeys are a welcome and appreciated gift. They are the perfect way to underscore how thankful you are for your employees’ contributions and loyalty.
There is no longer a good reason to struggle with frozen turkey gifts. gThankYou! Turkey Gift Certificates are good for any brand and size whole turkey, at major grocery chain stores nationally. Recipients love having the ability to choose the turkey they want for their family. Instead of having your team spend time on frozen turkey logistics, they can spend it on what really matters – engaging employees and sharing heartfelt appreciation.Read More
It seems that fall is upon us suddenly, as is the proliferation of pumpkin spice everything. This means that it’s time to start thinking about showing gratitude to employees this Thanksgiving holiday.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that is quintessentially American and an ideal reminder for us all to embrace and share feelings of gratitude and togetherness. The gift of a Thanksgiving turkey for employees means that you are providing the centerpiece to their meal as they gather with friends and family. Contributing to the good will that permeates Thanksgiving ensures that your generosity and thoughtfulness will be remembered by your employee and their guests.
There is no other gift that strengthens employee bonds and good feelings towards your company as well as the gift of a Thanksgiving turkey.
The Ultimate Resource for Serving a Perfectly Cooked Holiday Turkey
Everyone loves an unexpected gift!
At gThankYou we think your holiday Turkey Gift deserves a special unexpected addition – our Turkey cookbook and guide!
gThankYou’s newly updated Guide is much more than a traditional cookbook. It’s the complete resource for serving a beautifully cooked turkey from start-to-finish.
This Ultimate Turkey Guide is the perfect complement to the gift of a Thanksgiving turkey – and FREE!
Download your copy today and share this helpful how-to guide with coworkers. We think you’ll love it!Read More
If you’re reading this blog post, it’s probably because you care about employee appreciation and you may be wondering how digital feedback platforms can help (and which ones could be a good fit for your company).
Why Employee Appreciation Matters
In a Workplace article on Gallup’s website examining the impact of employee recognition, writers Annamarie Mann and Nate Dvorak point out:
Beyond communicating appreciation and providing motivation to the recognized employee, the act of recognition also sends messages to other employees about what success looks like. In this way, recognition is both a tool for personal reward and an opportunity to reinforce the desired culture of the organization to other employees
Three words are key when it comes to employee appreciation according to Gallup’s results: honest, authentic and individualized. Read on to learn how digital feedback platforms can help make employee appreciation a daily work habit.
A fantastic opportunity for easy team building is….Halloween.
If the extent of your company’s Halloween celebration is a dish of candy corn and a few streamers, you’re missing out.
Engagement, not passive entertainment, is key to successful team building. Halloween is one of the easiest holidays to engage employees in fun activities that everyone will enjoy and that don’t need to break your budget.
Halloween is a great opportunity to foster employee engagement and workplace camaraderie — are you taking advantage of it?
Here’s what makes Halloween such a standout engagement time:
It’s popular. According to a 2015 Harris Poll, Halloween ranks third among U.S. adults for favorite holiday. Only Christmas and Thanksgiving rank higher! Halloween outranks the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and even “my birthday.”
It’s participatory. From pumpkins and costume parades to trick-or-treating, Halloween gets people moving, talking and connecting with one another.
It’s creative. Nearly everything we do to celebrate Halloween encourages creativity, from carving the perfect pumpkin to sewing a one-of-a-kind costume.
It’s fun! Yes, a little fun plays an important role at work! Regular opportunities for play in the workplace break down barriers, boost creativity and optimism, lower stress and increase motivation.
Read on for quick employee engagement ideas for a successful workplace Halloween!
Any time is a good time to say thank you to employees! Workers who feel valued and appreciated will be happier, more productive and more loyal.
The transition from spring to summer presents a wide variety of established opportunities to show appreciation that naturally fit into this season, but don’t lose sight of the impact of saying thank you and showing gratitude any day of the year.As American philosopher and psychologist Williams James astutely observed:“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.”Saying thanks in the workplace matters really does matter to the success of your business! Check out these numbers from O.C. Tanner’s “The Business Case for Recognition”:
Read MoreAn insightful Forbes article described culture as the backbone of a happy workforce. That’s a great metaphor because a positive company culture favorably impacts recruitment, increases job satisfaction, inspires collaboration, boosts morale and reduces stress. It’s the secret to being a great place to work. A referenced Deloitte study examining core beliefs and culture revealed there’s a link between employees who say they are “happy at work” and feel “valued by their company” and those who say their organization has a clearly articulated and lived culture.Speaking of culture, cultureIQ gathered their “favorite culture and employee engagement statistics” into one handy spot. Their statement about the impact of culture is a strong reminder that:Culture impacts every corner of your business. Leadership stays on the same page. Employees are happier and, therefore, more engaged and productive. Prospective employees are more interested in joining and staying with your company. Perhaps most importantly, all these components work together to give your company its competitive advantage.In today’s extremely tight labor market, you need every competitive advantage that you can get!Beyond the data they share, the team at cultureIQ has a free downloadable guide of 60+ culture tips – don’t miss it!Read MoreSpring officially begins today, March 20th! Hold on, spring weather is coming soon too.Fashion designer Lilly Pulitzer, known for her bright and sunny prints, had this advice:Despite the forecast, live like it’s spring.In the meantime, it’s the perfect time to plan your springtime employee appreciation activities. Not sure you should celebrate Easter in the workplace? Read on and learn why you should and how to take advantage of the joy of the arrival of spring and Easter to celebrate and appreciate employees and customers.Read More
- O.C. Tanner revealed that 94% of regularly recognized employees said it motivates them to do great work
- WorkHuman shared that 89% of regularly recognized employees are highly engaged
- The Wall Street Journal reported that 81% of employees say they work harder for a grateful manager
- Glassdoor disclosed that 53% would stay longer at their company if they felt more appreciation from their boss
While some may pick the official Employee Appreciation Day to celebrate their employees’ contributions, really any day is the perfect day to thank employees for their hard work and dedication to your business! (more…)Read MoreGet your calendar out and start scheduling some fun – happiness will follow! March is the ideal month to build workplace happiness – winter is dragging on and for most of us, spring seems a long way off. Luckily this month is FULL of opportunities to share workplace appreciation and inspire some easy fun.Hopefully you have already downloaded our free Day-to-Day Employee Appreciation Calendar for 2019 so these celebrations may already be on your radar. If not, click the link above and let’s get started!Read More
We spend more of our waking hours with co-workers than we do with our significant others, so take advantage of Valentine’s Day and celebrate colleagues! If you focus on gratitude and appreciation, it’s perfectly appropriate and thoughtful to do.
Valentine’s Day in the workplace should be about celebrating workplace colleagues and a culture of kindness and compassion. Steer clear of romance and relationships. The opportunity is to communicate value for great working relationships and a culture supportive of compassion and camaraderie.Read MoreWith an acceptance rate under 7% and ACT scores of admitted students hovering around 32-35, the likelihood of most people having access to an Ivy League education in Yale’s hallowed halls are slim. But we can all benefit from the fascinating and completely practical information that is shared in one of that revered educational institution’s most popular courses, “Psychology and the Good Life.”Psychology Professor Laurie Santos specializes in evolution and animal cognition, but after living among undergrads when she became head of Yale’s Silliman College (think the Houses of Hogwarts), she realized just how stressed out and depressed they were. Reviewing mental health surveys from the National College Health Assessment she learned that the issues Yale students were having were similar to those of college students across the country. Students report already high and increasing rates of anxiety, depression and hopelessness.Santos set out to design a course to convey not just the science behind positive psychology research but how putting those concepts into practice could have a profound impact on students’ happiness and quality of life. Santos did not anticipate the the overwhelming interest in her course from students (1 in 4 students at Yale have taken her class), nor did she predict that it would become a sensation with articles in the New York Times, O Magazine, national television appearances and international media coverage.Read More
We all know that New Year’s resolutions are often hard to keep. But if one of your workplace goals was to get a better handle on employee engagement planning in 2019, that resolution is now easier to keep with the use of gThankYou’s 2019 Day-to-Day Employee Appreciation Calendar!
If you are familiar with our annual calendar chock full of engagement and appreciation ideas, then you’ve probably already done the free download because you know what a valuable (and fun) tool it is.
Not familiar with it? Start by filling out the short online form and you’ll have a FREE, indispensable and inspiring guide at your fingertips. Here’s what to expect for each month in addition to meaningful, compelling (yet easy-to-read) articles on an array of topics meant to inspire your planning and workplace activities:
Read MoreIt’s here!! Our very popular Day-to-Day Employee Appreciation Calendar is newly updated and back for 2019!Users have told us they love the monthly and daily idea format and the updated content on how to build a loyal, happy workplace culture through engagement and gratitude. It’s our holiday gift to anyone who wants to build a better workplace.
- Key stats (in case you still need to prove to leadership how critical employee engagement and appreciation is)
- Ready-to-Go Celebration examples (so even if you think you aren’t creative you’ll have turn-key approaches to create more fun in the workplace)
- Mini-case studies (learn what’s worked for other organizations)
- Plenty of graphics (which make this ebook feel like fun, not work)
New Employee Appreciation Calendar + New Year = New Opportunities
Our annual employee celebration calendar is full of creative engagement concepts and festive year-round celebrations. It’s a wonderful resource for supporting employee engagement and recognition planning for the new year. Whether you have big budgets or need no or low-cost ideas, we have content and suggestions for you.
Every year we strive to update our calendar with the latest research and thinking about building great workplace cultures. You’ll find mini-case studies, research, and how-to’s in addition to daily and monthly celebration ideas.
Our intent is to provide a fun resource that helps workplace leaders:
- Stay current in the space of employee engagement and recognition
- Provide actionable gratitude-based engagement and celebration how-to’s for busy HR personnel
- Share new ways to engage and celebrate employees
- Spark creative thinking for building the workplace culture you want
Hanukka just ended and it’s not long until employees start taking off for the Christmas holiday and business winds down for the year.
There’s still time to choose a thoughtful holiday gift that will show employees how much you appreciate them.
Last-Minute Gift Ideas Employees Will Love
Here are five affordable employee gift ideas that are convenient enough to arrange at the last minute. Don’t forget to share your gifts with gratitude – the most meaningful gift of appreciation is free!
- A group gift.
If your time is short, consider a group outing, an upgrade to the break room, or a holiday luncheon or party (if you’re not already planning one).
- Productivity apps or tools.
Digital apps can be delivered instantly, with no physical orders or trips to the store. Poll your employees on which app will save them time or make them even better at their jobs.
No longer just for magazines, subscriptions exist nowadays for everything from streaming entertainment to socks. Subscriptions can be ordered easily online.
- Gift certificates for turkey or ham.
The workplace gift of a turkey or ham is a beloved tradition of gratitude that stretches back decades. Gift certificates eliminate the logistical difficulties of storing and distributing frozen turkeys or hams, and they give your employees the flexibility to choose the sizes and preparations they want.
- Holiday dessert.
A homemade treat is heartwarming but impractical with a large organization. Keep it easy and affordable with gThankYou Gift Certificates for pie and ice cream.
This Wednesday, October 31st, isn’t just hump day — it’s Halloween! You still have time to organize a bit of spooky workplace Halloween fun to celebrate one of our favorite holidays and your employees.
The Benefits of Workplace Celebrations
Whether it’s for Halloween, Thanksgiving, or the winter holidays, celebrations at work foster team unity, spark creativity, and relieve stress. Workplace parties are seen as an expression of gratitude, which boosts employee engagement and loyalty.
Halloween checks all the boxes for a successful workplace celebration; it’s participatory by nature, creative, and the focus is on fun. We all love Halloween!
By mid-October, the supermarket checkout aisle is full of magazine covers, each boasting a glorious, burnished brown Thanksgiving turkey — so juicy and tempting, you can almost smell the savory aroma while you dig out your debit card.
And indeed, it’s not too soon to start thinking about stuffing (should it have bacon this year? Probably!), your other side dishes — and of course, the holiday centerpiece: a beautifully roasted turkey.
Before you choose a bird, check out these five tips to keep in mind as you plan your holiday meal, whether you’re serving 25 assorted aunts, uncles, and cousins or a simple Thanksgiving turkey feast for two.
1. Know What You’re Getting: Master This Basic Turkey Terminology
Turkey seems straightforward enough — but the wealth of options available today can confuse shoppers who aren’t sure what they want or what certain labels mean. Here’s a quick glossary to cover the main points*:
Free-range. As Americans become more aware of the often harsh conditions in which commercial poultry are raised, many are choosing free-range turkeys over better-known name brands. Under USDA standards, free-range birds must have access to the outdoors while they are raised (instead of being crammed into overcrowded farm facilities). Along with other advocates of free-range turkeys, the regional farmers who raise them say the birds are of higher quality than their commercially processed counterparts, because free-range turkeys’ diets are more varied (improving the flavor of their meat) and they get more exercise (improving their texture).
Heritage. What are heritage turkeys? These unusual breeds were once common in America, but fell out of favor as growers concentrated on the specially bred, big-breasted birds preferred by consumers (typically the Broad Breasted White turkey). Heritage varieties include Narragansett, American Bronze, Jersey Buff, and Bourbon Red.
Per the Splendid Table, heritage turkeys generally offer less breast meat and a stronger flavor than a conventional Thanksgiving turkey. As a result of the latter point, some expert cooks recommend not brining heritage turkeys, as doing so just wipes out their unique flavor.
Natural. By federal regulation, a turkey labeled “natural” may not contain artificial flavorings, coloring, or chemical preservatives. The natural label also means the bird hasn’t been fed animal byproducts or given growth promotants or antibiotics (except for parasite control). Forbes writer Beth Hoffman says the last point alone makes natural turkeys worth it: “If we can stop the run away use of antibiotics in raising livestock and poultry, it is worth a few extra cents a pound to do it.”
Natural turkeys must also be minimally processed, meaning they have only been handled as necessary to slaughter, clean, and make them ready for human consumption. Note that a natural turkey doesn’t have to be free-range, and that “natural” isn’t the same as…
Organic. Organic turkeys are free-range birds that have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics, and were given pesticide-free feed. Consumer Reports agrees with Hoffman that the lack of antibiotics is in itself a good reason to go organic. Whether organic turkey tastes noticeably better is up for debate and presumably highly subjective; in 2011, a representative from the World Society for the Protection of Animals said that “While some studies have been conducted on the taste of meat from organically-raised turkeys versus meat from intensively raised animals, to my knowledge they have not been conclusive.” And Mic in 2017 pointed out that the “organic” label is not a guarantee that meat is healthier or was raised and processed under more humane conditions.
Kosher. Quite simply, kosher turkeys are prepared under rabbinical supervision according to Jewish dietary law. While alive, these turkeys are given no antibiotics and fed a vegetarian diet, Epicurious says. Then they’re covered with kosher salt and rinsed repeatedly in cold water. This can make for a juicier, tastier turkey, but, as Tablet notes, the process also means kosher turkeys are usually not entirely plucked before they’re sold, which can be a pain. The general sentiment is that you shouldn’t brine a kosher turkey, because they’re already salty enough, but Joan Nathan pushes back on that here, noting that she and her friends agree the kosher turkeys of today are less salty than they used to be.
Self-basting. A self-basting turkey is injected with a solution to improve the flavor and juiciness of the meat. Some manufacturers treat only the breast meat, while others inject the entire bird. The label must say “basted” or “self-basted” and must list the amount and names of the ingredients used in the basting solution. (Remember, the net weight of the turkey includes the weight added by the solution — so you could be paying more for less meat. Cook’s Info says: “The solution injected will constitute 6 to 9 % of the weight that you are paying for.”) Generally speaking, you do not need to brine a self-basting turkey yourself before cooking (which saves time). If you prefer to use your own brine solution, read the packaging closely to ensure your Thanksgiving turkey isn’t already basted.
Fully cooked. As stated, a fully cooked whole turkey has been precooked and frozen by the processor. After thawing, it can be reheated (or served cold), which takes much less time than cooking a raw bird. Note, though: You can’t stuff a fully cooked turkey, as the dish isn’t in the oven long enough.
Young. A “young” turkey is a turkey of either sex that is less than 8 months old at the time of slaughter. Most turkeys reach market maturity at 4-5 months of age. As Berkeley Wellness says, “Most of the turkeys found on the market are young and will have tender meat.”
Hen vs. tom. Turkeys weighing 8-16 pounds are usually female (hens), while larger birds are male (toms). Since supermarket turkeys are normally slaughtered young, both hens and toms should be about the same in terms of taste, juiciness, and tenderness — so don’t fret too much over the sex of your bird. (That said, Berkeley Wellness notes that some cooks claim toms are tastier, and some say you’ll get more white meat on a hen.)
As you might guess, the further you get from name-brand commercial turkeys, the more you’re likely to pay. Heritage and organic turkeys can be pricey. If you’re searching for something less expensive, consider Amish turkeys (which are generally natural and hormone-free) or free-range birds. (For a real deep dive on turkey prices, the USDA has information for you.)
*As this NPR article from 2015 makes clear, a number of these labels are not quite as clear-cut as we wish they were!
2. To Get the Right Size, Buy a Pound Per Person (or More)
Here’s a simple formula: Get 1 pound of Thanksgiving turkey for each adult you’re serving, and half a pound per child. So if you’ve got 10 adults coming and four kids, you’ll want at least a 12-pound bird. If you’re inviting big eaters or counting on plenty of leftovers, make it 1.5 pounds per adult. (For creative recipes for your excess meat, check out “Thanksgiving Leftovers: Five Fresh Ideas.”)
Once you hit the 16-pound mark, you can be less strict, as birds that big have a better ratio of meat to bone — e.g., a 20-pound turkey will serve 14 people just fine and yield plenty of leftovers.
3. For Many People, Frozen Beats Fresh
As a rule, fresh food sounds better than frozen. But turkey is different. The term “fresh” applies to raw poultry that has never been stored below 26°F. Poultry held at 0°F or below must be labeled “frozen.” (Turkeys stored between 1°F and 25°F don’t have an official name, but are often labeled “refrigerated,” “hard-chilled,” or “previously frozen.”)
In other words, “fresh” only describes a turkey’s temperature from the time it was processed. It has nothing to do with how long it’s been sitting at the store. And while some cooks rave about a fresh Thanksgiving turkey straight from the farm, in a Cook’s Illustrated taste test, frozen turkeys were rated more moist and tender than fresh birds.
So we recommend buying a frozen Thanksgiving turkey, as long you have the time and the fridge space to thaw it safely — a 15-pound turkey will take about three full days to thaw.
4. Decide on Your Recipe Before Shopping
Your recipe’s success can depend on the type of Thanksgiving turkey you choose. For instance, if you’re experimenting with an unusual brine or exotic seasonings, you probably don’t want a self-basting bird. Or if you’re planning to grill your turkey, you’ll want to be sure it’s not too big. (You also might want to consider asking your butcher to spatchcock it — remove the backbone — for you. This is an excellent method for roasting, too.) So go in to your turkey purchase with an idea of what you’d like to do.
5. Lock Down Special Turkeys ASAP
If you want a free-range, organic, or heritage bird as your Thanksgiving turkey, it’s not a bad idea to start planning in mid-October. (If you use a digital calendar, go set an annual reminder right now!) Local co-ops and groceries often begin reserving turkeys a few weeks in advance, and family farms like to know even sooner. You’re better off checking in early than missing the rush. And even if you’re just getting a regular frozen commercial bird, make sure you buy it far enough in advance (usually 3-5 days before Thanksgiving) that it has time to thaw.
Looking for more ideas to gobble up?
To make this year’s Thanksgiving turkey the best you’ve ever served,
download our FREE Ultimate Turkey Guide right now.
- Building team camaraderie and cohesion. You are reinforcing the idea that it takes a strong team to make a difference.