What are the latest trends in Christmas rewards?

christmas rewards

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  • Gift cards and vouchers remain a popular choice of Christmas reward because they offer employees choice and flexibility around where to spend them.
  • Tailored gifts, such as mobile beauty services, experience vouchers and personalised products, are increasing in popularity among employers.
  • Employers must consider the messages that their Christmas rewards are sending; for example, do they improve employee engagement and motivation?

The festive season is very nearly upon us, although it may seem as though Christmas lights, decorations and television adverts only made their last appearance a few months ago.

For employers, it is a traditional time to reward their employees for their work over the last 12 months; the end of the calendar year presents the perfect marker to celebrate both employees’ and an organisation’s achievements.

Charles Cotton, senior performance and reward adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), says: “Organisations see this as an opportunity to celebrate all the achievements and successes over the past 12 months and look forward to the next 12 months.”

The festive season can mean different things to different people; while for some employees it is, first and foremost, a religious celebration, others use it to mark the end of the year and a time to see family. Employers that wish to celebrate the season can ensure they address workforce diversity by celebrating other festivals throughout the year such as Diwali and the Chinese New Year.

Gift cards and vouchers
Gift cards and vouchers are always a popular choice of Christmas reward, especially the ones that can be used in any location, rather than for a specific store. Alan Smith, managing director of One4All Rewards, says: “Giving a gift card that can be used in tens of thousands of different shops, giving the recipient choice, really has to be much better than saying ‘you can only spend it in this store’.”

Gift cards are instantaneous reward; the employee has the ‘thank you’ there in their hands and can choose to spend it how they wish. This can be a strong factor in motivating employees. “We often talk about the power of thank you, and that resonates a lot with our customers,” says Smith. “At the end of the year, having something physical shows appreciation of the efforts [the employee has] made for the [organisation].”

For example, Lee Filters, a lighting equipment manufacturer, rewards its 100 employees at Christmas time with a One4All gift card. Sean Caruana, HR manager, says: “It’s a thank you for their hard work, it’s extremely well received. We try to [give them out] before Christmas time so [employees] can use the cards to either get something for themselves or for their family.”

Gift cards are also a good way to thank staff without being tied to a particular religious festival or time of the year, says Iain Thomson, director of incentive and recognition at Sodexo Engage. “Store cards and [electronic] codes are great because they are immediate,” he says. “Generic shopping vouchers work well, [employees] can use them in a way that is particularly relevant to [them]. It’s best to give ultimate flexibility.”

Personal treats
Employers may also want to consider more traditional gifts. The traditional Christmas hamper, for example, is by no means a thing of the past and is still popular, says Tracy Finn, head of corporate services at Harrods. “The hampers at Christmas time are very popular, and usually that’s because they can be shared with the family,” she says.

Another popular option among employers is to personalise Christmas gifts with the organisation’s logo or branding, along with a personal message. “There’s been a move away from generic [options] to wanting to make tailor-made gifts,” says Finn. “We’ve seen employers wanting the gift to represent the recipient and resonate with them, but it also represents the [organisation] and the brand ethos and value. “The gifting we’ve seen is more lifestyle [oriented, such as] a leather purse for work or a scarf. We’ve seen more fashion items become corporate gifts and rewards because employers want something that can be used, and every time [the employee] uses it they have a memory of why they received it, whether it’s because they achieved a certain goal or it was a thank you at Christmas time.”

As with Christmas hampers, experience days are another gift that employees can share others. Jessica Hankers, head of sales at Virgin Incentives, says: “In the last few years [employees] want something they can share with their friends and family. We find that leisure vouchers and dining experiences have become really popular at Christmas time.”

Leisure vouchers, such as those provided by Virgin Incentives, can be redeemed across the UK at outlets such as restaurants, cinemas and hotels. There has been a trend in the rise in the popularity of experience vouchers, those that create lasting memories, such as a theatre break, a hot air balloon flight or an indoor sky dive, says Hankers. “[Employers] are thinking, ‘we could give them cash, but does that have the same effect as sending somebody to the Ritz for afternoon tea?’” she says. “There’s the added extra of that high perceived value of the experience.”

Little extras
There are other initiatives employers can support, which do not necessarily need to break budgets, for example, an extra half-day or day’s holiday in December for Christmas shopping or to attend a child’s school play. “We know that particularly around the festive period people are time poor, they’re pulled in all directions with work, shopping and school activities,” says Thomson. “It’s nice to give that extra flexibility. There is clearly a cost to peoples’ time and productivity. It’s not additional budget [employers] need to find, but it absolutely motivates people.”

Party season
Many employers still hold a Christmas party for their employees; a poll conducted in November 2017 among readers of www.employeebenefits.co.uk found that 44% of organisations plan to hold a party or event in the festive season. One trend is for employers to treat their staff with a mobile beauty service, perhaps pre-party or as a pampering session in the office before an evening out. Charlie McCorry, founder of personal styling consultancy, Perfect 10 Black Label, explains: “Corporate organisations book our services to reward their staff for the hard work over the year. It could be a team of therapists that go in [to a workplace] for the day to deliver massages, facials, blow drys, yoga or personal training.

Wellness has become such a huge thing and we know everyone finds it difficult to take time out, so when [employees] get that moment of relaxation or ‘you time’, they’re able to perform so much better and really feel like their employer cares about their wellbeing.”

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Another personal touch at Christmas events that is growing in popularity is the use of bespoke Christmas crackers that contain a special gift for employees from their employer. Organisations  may opt to use personalised crackers for variety of reasons, including sales incentives, employee motivation, a thank-you gift or even as an invite to the Christmas party, says Geine Pressendo, managing director of Simply Crackers. Employers can choose how they would like the cracker branded and what they would like it to contain. “Every Christmas there is always something different, we love the fact that [employers] can specify what they want or provide it themselves,” says Pressendo. “It ranges from branded bespoke products to edible products.”

However an employer chooses to celebrate the festive season and reward or thank staff, it is important to remember the messages it wants to get across in offering these benefits. As Cotton says: “What’s the purpose? [An employer should] think about what aim or objective it’s trying to support within the organisation. How is it fostering, for instance, employee engagement?”