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Not the thought but the thoughtfulness of end-of-year rewards

Employees have expectations around holiday and end-of-year recognition and rewards. If you’re truly thankful for your employees, this is the time to show your heartfelt appreciation for their contributions to your business. Although everyone can use a gift card to Amazon, there’s not much delight in it. And where’s the “personal” in handing out gift cards? Recognition should be so much more.

The spirit of the holidays offers the opportunity to express your gratitude, enjoy togetherness as a company (even if online), and look forward to a new year. Your employees deserve to be celebrated in a way that’s meaningful, relevant, and thoughtful. And don’t be afraid to make it fun. There are hundreds of ways to do this right and when you do, you are also boosting morale and engagement and increasing retention.

Most important is saying “thank you”

The most important recognition or reward you can give as a leader, manager, or supervisor is a sincere “thank you” by showing that you’ve noticed what individual employees have done. To be meaningful, your thank you should be personal and specific. “We appreciate all your hard work and commitment,” has little meaning to it. It’s much more personal to say something specific like: “At least five clients have commented to me that you went over-the-top to resolve their unique problems and that does more than anything to build our business. Thank you for your ingenuity and exceptional care in working with every customer you touch.”

You can thank people in person or on the phone. You can also write a card of appreciation and either mail it to their home or set it on their desk. One advantage of a card is that people can reread it and feel good about your recognition over and over, especially when they need a pick-me-up. An email “thank you” doesn’t compare to a hand-written card in any way. As long as they are occasional and don’t become ordinary, cards are a special and personal way to say thank you throughout the year.

Other considerations when planning the year-end celebration of your people are:

  • Be fair by recognizing the amount of effort an individual has put into a project, not just those who succeed in meeting goals. Failure can sometimes be as beneficial to your business growth as a desired outcome. Effort and examples of living your values are worthy of recognition and serve as models for the level of risk and kind of behaviors you value.
  • Don’t forget anyone. If you’ve hired the “right” people, each one has made a worthwhile contribution deserving of your recognition. Recognition is one of the most valuable retention tools you have.
  • Offer a choice of rewards if you’re not certain what individual employees might value.


Creative ideas to celebrate and reward

Before you plan any activities, ask employees how they would like to celebrate the holidays and be recognized and/or rewarded at the end of the year. Use their feedback as your planning foundation. A party is no fun if people are dreading it rather than looking forward to it. If employees are expecting a check and instead are given a plaque with the company logo on it, morale will take a hit.

With most of today’s workplaces a mix of onsite, remote, and hybrid work options, celebrations and recognition require a little more creativity. If your situation and budget allow, bring in everyone from everywhere in your organization or division for a classic holiday party that includes entertainment, recognition, and lots of fun. With everyone in the same place, people get to know one another better and celebrate the year and each other together. Keep in mind that the winter holidays are the busiest time of year for most people, so pick dates that won’t interfere with family get-togethers.

Following are some other ways to end your year on a high note whether you’re all together in one place or scattered across the globe:

Gift ideas to please every employee:

  • Time off or money are universally appreciated. Be generous by giving amounts that make the receiver feel valued and don’t make the company seem cheap.
  • Floating holidays can be used throughout the year to extend vacations or time with family.
  • Experiential gifts that match an employee’s interests (cooking lessons, or dinner and tickets to the opera or a professional sporting event, for example) show how thoughtful you were in choosing a personalized gift.

Ideas for onsite celebrations:

  • If you throw a party for everyone who works onsite, make sure you do something separate and special for remote employees as well.
  • Rather than a lavish evening celebration, consider a more modest, but fun, breakfast, with or without families (and make it fun if kids are included).
  • Take a tour of local lights together, in a neighborhood or a botanical garden or zoo, and have hot drinks together afterward.
  • Volunteer as a team to prepare or serve food; shop, wrap, and deliver gifts; or find another volunteer opportunity in your area that reflects your values and team interests.
  • Organize a company potluck where people bring their favorite traditional treats (making sure that allergies and preferences are considered so that there are enticing dishes for everyone to eat).
  • Invite employees to decorate their desk areas or offices for the holidays and organize a tour so everyone can see what they’ve done. Remote employees could join in the tour and even show off their own home decorations.

Ideas for remote celebrations:

If you have a virtual holiday party, here are some ways to add some fun:

  • Send each person a box of goodies, for example, a charcuterie selection and bottle of wine or beer and a cupcake to be consumed together at a virtual happy hour. Or if you have the budget, let people make a selection from one or two local restaurants and have their dinner delivered to be eaten together online.
  • Plan for a virtual Secret Santa by creating an online posting location where people can list their interests for gift-giving ideas and people can be randomly assigned gift recipients and download mailing labels. Open the Secret Santa gifts together online.
  • Create a companywide holiday playlist with everyone’s favorites and play it during the party and use it as a focus for sharing musical interests and holiday traditions.
  • Hire a comedian or other performer for an online performance.
  • Hold an online raffle for some high valued gifts.

Enjoying the spirit of the season as a team and creating some fun around it is reward in itself. It boosts everyone’s mood. In addition, recent Gallup research shows that celebrating together benefits your business as well. It results in significantly better outcomes, better treatment of current and potential customers, and more engaged employees who are likely to stay. The thoughtfulness your company puts into how you recognize and thank employees over the holidays is the gift that keeps giving year- round.

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