How to make staff feel valued at Christmas

Christmas time

Need to know:

  • Employers should be unafraid to reinvent their Christmas incentives if they believe this will ultimately better engage and reward staff.
  • Experiences, rather than physical items, are an increasingly popular way to reward staff.
  • The introduction of a discount scheme could be a cost-efficient way to help staff budget over Christmas, and in itself could be positioned as a festive reward.

Christmas feels just around the corner, and the odds are that staff will be both hoping for and expecting some sort of festive thank you from their organisation.

So, what options do employers have when it comes to rewarding and recognising their staff at Christmas time, and what do they need to consider around gifting?

Existing Christmas rewards

Employers need to think hard about what they are aiming to achieve by providing a Christmas incentive. Julia Hanna, director at Verditer Consulting, says: “It is about motivating staff and saying thank you.”

With their goals in mind, employers should not be afraid to go back to the drawing board, rather than stick with tried and tested, or even dated, Christmas rewards. For example, Sodexo Exchange revamped its staff Christmas party, as it was not felt to be special, according to Iain Thomson, director of incentive and recognition at Sodexo Exchange.

Sodexo Exchange decided to move the party to the end of October, to link with the end of the organisation’s financial year. The party features an awards ceremony, followed by dinner with a Mad Hatter’s tea party theme. “It was an opportunity to get quite creative,” explains Thomson. “Employee recognition and behavioural change is a core part of our business. We wanted to demonstrate to our employees, who don’t all work in that part of the business, what we do for our clients.”

Think experiences, not stuff

Experiences, rather than gift-wrapped items, are a growing trend in terms of Christmas rewards. “Anything that involves food seems to go down well,” notes Hanna. “That kind of experience where [employees] wouldn’t necessarily do it [themselves], afternoon tea or something similar. The sort of thing that gives people the opportunity to do something different.”

Increasingly, employers are organising team outings or giving employees gift experiences that they can enjoy with their friends and family, adds Jessica Hankers, head of sales at Virgin Incentives. Virgin Incentives’ current best-selling experiences, for example, include spa days and immersive cocktail-making experiences.

“People are opting for fun over fortune, and rewarding employees with experiences. Classic experiences [such as] days out, holidays and dining out remain top sellers. Food is always a great motivator and immersive dining experiences are particularly popular at the moment,” Hankers notes.

Make it personal

Gift cards remain perennially popular; they are difficult to beat for time-poor employers who still want to treat their employees. Gail Cohen, director general at the UK Gift Card Association, says: “Employers buying vouchers to reward their staff continues to grow year-on-year across all channels. In the run up to Christmas, we see a huge increase in gift cards, vouchers and e-vouchers as businesses look to alternative and more personal ways to incentivise and reward their staff.”

Sector-specific cards are also seeing a rise in popularity, adds Cohen. Particularly popular sectors include restaurants, spas, department stores and electrical retailers. Thomson agrees: “A premium gift card, for John Lewis or Marks and Spencer for example, gives employees the opportunity to treat themselves to something they may not typically be able to afford.”

To make them truly personal and effective, employers should put some thought into how they deliver gift cards, Thomson advises. For instance, a gift card included in a hand-written Christmas card from the senior management team can have more impact than one that is delivered electronically.

For employers that want to buy their staff a personalised food-related gift, there is a plethora of options available. For example, biscuit organisation Biscuiteers, which can create bespoke baked goods, has seen a 46% rise in corporate orders over the last year.

Francesca Gazet, head of corporate at Biscuiteers, says: “We see a lot of [organisations] moving away from traditional gift vouchers or bottles of fizz and instead wanting to give something with personality and fun. It’s also often the case that businesses are looking for something which will create a talking point for their employees, something which they may share on social media or discuss with friends outside of the office; an alternative external marketing technique.”

Ideas for tight budgets

“Employers’ budgets are becoming increasingly constrained,” says Thomson. “We are talking to clients about thinking slightly out the box. Rather than forking out on vouchers, think about opening discount schemes. It is an expensive time of the year and if [employers] can help people to save money, they can be quite well received. If [an organisation] can offer a broad range, then it appeals to all [of its] audience. For some people, a supermarket discount helps them with that big festive shop.”

Negotiating a range of discounts with supermarkets and high street shops like Next, Boots and Argos, then rolling them out to tie in with Christmas can be very popular, explains Thomson. The discount may start in the run-up to Christmas, but staff will be able to make use of it through the rest of the year too.

Team-building experiences are another idea to consider. “Things like festive bake-offs, that kind of thing. Or something that involves families, like a children’s party,” says Hanna.

Sincere, hand-written cards from senior management still hold a lot of weight, as does awarding extra time off. “People are generally time poor, so time off, either an additional shopping day or an office shutdown over Christmas seems to be popular,” concludes Hanna. “It is a great message to employees, that it is okay to take some time off. Plus, extended periods of time off also have health benefits for employees.”