How has the pandemic changed the shape of Christmas incentives and rewards?

Need to know:

  • Employers are taking a more personalised and imaginative approach to gifts this Christmas. Think pamper days, bespoke hampers and personalised gift cards.
  • This year, many employers will be using the budget they would have spent on Christmas parties on rewards and gifts.
  • Many are also offering blended rewards, combining high street vouchers with theatre tickets and online events with celebrities.

Self-isolation, working from home, home-schooling; we have all had to make significant adjustments since the start of lockdown in March 2020. And it has never been more important for businesses to show employees how much they appreciate them, especially this Christmas.

Tracy Finn, head of corporate service at Harrods, says: “Showing gratitude will take centre stage this Christmas. Whether it is recognising those who have shown support during the pandemic, acknowledging clients or suppliers who came through, rewarding the loyalty of valued customers or celebrating employees who went the extra mile.”

James Malia, country manager at Prezzee digital gift provider, agrees. “Finding the right way to reward, recognise or thank employees is more important now than ever,” he says.

So how are employers planning to show their appreciation this festive season?

Malia says the pandemic has made employers become more imaginative and take a more personalised approach to gifts. “From one-off rewards to coffee mornings and movie nights, it seems our clients are becoming more thoughtful in how they look after their staff,” he notes. “Personalised themed cards are also in high demand and employers now want to include video or written messages to staff from their line manager or CEO.”

Less traditional gifts are also becoming popular, Finn says. “Wellness focused gifts such as a pampering day, bespoke gourmet gifts and sustainable presents including crystal water bottles and our Harrods shopper bag range which is made from recycled plastic.”

Employers are also focusing on ethical rewards, says Graham James, director at Sodexo Engage. “We have seen a rising interest in mindful consumerism and impact on the environment. There is growing demand for gifts, brands, or products which have a higher degree of sustainability values and ethos, and brands which have a very visible CSR policy,” he says. “Brands that are actively building on these two areas are seeing more interest than those who aren’t highlighting those factors.”

Virtual events

Gary Purcell, CEO of Allgo rewards provider, says that the pandemic has actually led to a spending splurge on employee rewards to help compensate for the lack of Christmas parties and events. “The events budget was instead put towards rewarding employees for their efforts throughout the pandemic,” he notes.

Gifts such as hampers have become increasingly popular as employers try and replicate the company get-together virtually to coincide with an online event, often featuring well known celebrities as entertainment or comperes.

“As you would expect, experience days have not been popular as many of the providers have been closed, though as this sector has re-opened, we’ve seen an immediate bounce in demand for experience days, as well as hotels and restaurants,” Purcell says.

Many employers are taking blended approach to reward. “As the pandemic has moved forward, we’ve seen a shift in the pattern, with many opting to mix things up in favour of a broader range. There’s a lot of interest in high street vouchers, console gaming and other entertainment options on top of the usual takeaways, and [employers] are always on the lookout for a solution that captures as much of that as possible,” says Kieran Layer, operations manager at DigiGroup.

Personal touch

Taking a personalised approach to gifts will become a growing trend, says Robert Hicks, group HR director at Reward Gateway, because the one-size-fits-all approach to gifting doesn’t work anymore. “We need to look at our toolkit and equip ourselves with the right tactics and technology to deliver a personalised experience for employees, where they understand exactly what the reward they’ve received means, how to redeem it on something they love, and they can have that unique experience that’s just for them,” he says.

While operational budgets may be lean in the aftermath of the pandemic, most employers realise they need to reward their employees after such a turbulent time. “I think more organisations than ever are seeing the value of two things: Having perks/discounts as a key part of the employee value proposition and seeing how they can expand on their overall offerings to attract and retain employees,” Hicks says.

And showing gratitude should be an ongoing routine, not just for Christmas. “The focus should be on building a longstanding culture through frequent and continuous recognition so employees feel appreciated for their hard work throughout the year,” Hicks says.