Christmas is a time for giving good workers a decent incentive

This Christmas, take the opportunity to engage, recognise and thank employees for their hard work

Christmas is a time for giving good workers a decent incentive

It’s that time of year again for shopping for presents, visiting family and friends and annual drunken karaoke session at the office party. Christmas can be a really distracting time of year when the attention of employees isn’t necessarily on work. This can lead to a real slump in performance and ultimately put a dent in your bottom line. 

“Research shows that the decline in productivity levels costs businesses almost £259m throughout the annual party season,” says Natalie Vescia, B2B marketing and client relationship manager at DIY retailer, Wickes. But before going full-on Scrooge and trying to ban Christmas, consider that it’s also a time for reviewing end of year targets and reviewing and recognising the efforts of employees over the previous 12 months, which can actually have a positive impact on business.

“It is vital for businesses to keep their staff motivated in the run up to the festive season,” adds Vescia. “In order to keep momentum going with all these distractions going on, employers can look toward incentive schemes with attractive rewards.”

Giving rewards throughout Christmas and into the new year is good route to keeping employees motivated in the final few weeks of the year and into 2015 but rewards do not have to be confined to this time of year. How often a business implements rewards comes down to the budget they set. Working out how much to spend also gives employers an idea of what rewards they can make available. When deciding which rewards to offer, it is important to realise that a ‘one size fits all’ policy is usually ineffective. A reward suited to a student living at home with his parents – concert tickets, for example – may not be suited to a father of three – who may appreciate something more low-key like a meal voucher. 

“Enabling employees to make a personal choice in the type of reward they receive delivers real impact as it helps them to remember the gesture, their employer and how they earned the reward,” says Vescia. “Any failure to carry this out effectively can result in the reward being quickly forgotten and resources wasted.”

Deborah Rees, director of consulting at Innecto Reward Consulting agrees that the personal touch is key to success when it comes to a rewards system. “If you give a bottle of wine to a non-drinker it sends the message ‘I’m not interested in you and I don’t care about you personally’,” she says. “A manager should take the time to find out what an employee would really appreciate.” 

In seeking the personal touch, it would also be useful to remember that in a multi-faith society, focusing too much on ‘Christmas’ bonus rather than the ‘end of the year’ or ‘holiday’ bonus may not feel inclusive to all. This is a time of year with a strong emphasis on socialising but the reason for doing so need not be tied so firmly to one particular tradition or culture.


Acknowledging good work needn’t be expensive. If a budgetary constraints don’t allow for lavish gifts, don’t underestimate the power of a simple ‘thank you’. “Because everyone knows the boss in an SME, it’s often really nice if the boss writes the letter. Acknowledgement that they’ve been working really hard and you recognise the contribution that you’ve made,” says Rees. 

“Time off can also be relatively cheap to give away but also highly prized by employees,” she says. “Employers really just need to think outside the box for things that are cheap to give away but that the employees would genuinely actually value.”

Money may make the world go around but when it comes to rewards it is surprisingly unpopular – especially in small amounts. This approach can also be costly for businesses. “Typically, try not to use cash, which will just end up going on the gas or credit card bill. Whereas if you actually give someone something they have to use to buy something, they will typically use it for something they really want but wouldn’t have previously prioritised,” says Rees.

Vouchers provide a hassle free approach for both employer and employee which, in turn, leads to increased uptake of the reward programme and improved return on investment. Jo Manton, managing consultant at ASK Europe plc, also sees the merits of this approach. “Gift tokens and vouchers are often popular as staff can spend them in many different ways according to their own preferences,” she says. However, employers should be careful not to appear cheap. “Often a reward may fit a budget constraints but sends the wrong message, for example a £5 gift token may offend rather than flatter.

Whatever the time of year, it is important to think long and hard about who you are rewarding. Obviously, rewarding everyone would defeat the purpose of raising production; it would become expected by employees regardless of performance. “Consider what behaviours or performance the system intended to encourage, and which are in line with the organisation’s business needs,” says Manton. “The best way to make sure staff do not become too focused on achieving the reward rather than the task is to make sure that the reward criteria are relevant.”

It would also be useful for an employer to know what a bad rewards system looks like. “An employee of the week or month is a system in which just ends up being somebody’s turn and completely negates the point of a rewards system. It’s rigid, old fashioned and doesn’t work; it is far better to actually recognise an employee has done something right and reward them soon afterward,” says Rees. 

So as you’re feeling the pressure and you notice your staff are working hard to meet demand, remember to be generous with then this holiday season. It’ll pay off. 

Ryan McChrystal
Ryan McChrystal

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