Charles Cotton: Take care with Christmas perks

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s Employee outlook: summer 2012 survey, published in May, found that more than half of employees are facing financial struggles, so it is important that employers recognise this when introducing or changing an incentive scheme, especially one that is themed around, or linked to, Christmas.

With many employees so desperate to boost their income, reward departments need to be more vigilant than ever that such initiatives do not inadvertently encourage the wrong types of behaviours, values and attitudes as employees focus on money.

Employers planning a Christmas incentive scheme should also focus on alleviating or preventing employee financial distress for it to be effective, otherwise the danger is that the incentive will end up undermining the organisation’s culture and brand and, eventually, its long-term viability.

Employers should be mindful that Christmas and the New Year is not only the time to offer employee incentives, but an opportunity to review the past as well as to look ahead to the future. That said, this is something all employers should be doing on an ongoing basis.

Employees are more likely to take a longer-term perspective around this time, too, and, as a consequence of this reflection, they are likely to be more receptive to employer messages. Employers can take advantage of this to communicate the successes of the past year, and what will and may change within the contexts of the economy, the industry and the organisation.

A Christmas party is one way of communicating the successes of the past year, as well as recognising the achievements of individuals and teams. While pay is increasingly individualised and transactional, other rewards, such as organisational and departmental events, can help underline that success is a collective endeavour.

An end-of-year event is also an expression of the culture of the organisation and should be used to support this by reflecting and reinforcing the values, attitudes and behaviours that are critical. It can be a useful organisational tool to foster the appropriate culture and engagement, but it needs to be done sensitively. In today’s increasingly diverse and demanding workforce, it is important for employers to gauge how employees are feeling and make sure any collective benefits reflect the needs and wants of the entire workforce.

A Christmas gathering is also an event to look into the future. It is an opportunity for business leaders to make themselves visible and approachable to a large segment of their workforce in a relatively informal setting. They can use this to briefly articulate not only what is being celebrated and why, but also to map out the future and build a compelling vision that helps energise the workforce and enhance their commitment to the organisation.

Viewpoint by Charles Cotton, adviser, performance and reward at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development