What Employees Really Want at Christmas

Christmas is stressful enough without throwing a pandemic into the mix...

... and with the end-of-year celebrations seemingly cancelled for 2020, it's important to reflect on what your employees will really want at Christmas, from your business.

While cosy seasonal films, yuletide traditions, and heart-warming adverts from our favourite retailers do a great job of painting an idyllic time for us, the reality is often starkly different. It's safe to say that if you were to have the annual Christmas do – which, let's face it, is not on the cards this year – the atmosphere may be slightly different to that of previous company social events. 

Setting some time aside to think about what your employees really want this Christmas and putting a plan in action, will play a significant role in how your business gets through this period, and how employees will feel returning to work in 2021.

Studies show that 19.2% of UK adults have been experiencing some form of depression during the crisis, and with mental health illness being a huge contributor to absenteeism, businesses must respond to the data. Showing empathy, support, and consideration towards your people will be more critical than ever this Christmas.  

Unsurprisingly, many HR managers and organisational leaders feel a little overwhelmed at the prospect of the upcoming holiday season. Balancing peak volumes in what is notoriously a short working period, along with all the new health and safety regulations, management of home-based workers, and reformed shift patterns will be no easy task. 


"Feeling valued" can become one of those overused HR terms that people management gurus throw around without really explaining what it means. On a basic level, employees want to know that their efforts have been noticed and are appreciated. What this really drives down to is validation

When you hire a person into your company, you confirm that the skills and experience they have demonstrated align with what your business is looking for. Suppose this individual begins their employment with you and receives no further affirmation – or worse, mixed or negative messages about their performance without explanation or guidance to help them improve. In such a scenario, they could start to feel unappreciated, unrecognised, and even experience self-doubt about their own capabilities. 

Managers and team leaders have a responsibility to check in with their people and give feedback on performance. This needn't be a formal affair, but rather, a consistent one. Sincere and genuine praise of your people's efforts will help them to feel motivated and engaged with your company's objectives. This year, take the time to write some personal Christmas cards or thank you notes, maybe even schedule a more casual Zoom call with your team and raise a toast to their achievements – the sentiment will not be lost. 

You can also make your employees feel valued by noticing their struggles and helping them out of tight spots when things get too much. By recognising when a member of your team needs assistance and offering support, whether that is through education or picking up some of their tasks, you’re showing them that being overwhelmed isn’t a reflection of their abilities. No matter how good a multi-tasker someone is, burnout can be a real issue. Having realistic expectations of your employees is a way of letting them know that you would rather have them perform at their peak sustainably – which, in itself, is a form of validation and appreciation.

Christmas Cheat Sheet Avoid Christmas burnout and keep employee motivation high with our free  resource - download your free copy here!

give the gift of time

It's winter; the days are shorter, colder, and we now have curfews and social distancing to contend with.

Help your people complete their important personal tasks by providing some flexibility around their working hours. Allow for later start times, extended lunches, or earlier finishes. This will give employees a chance to get their shopping done, visit with loved ones, or dash to the post office to pop their presents in the mail before Santa’s deadline. 

With panic buying being a common theme around Christmas, your employees will be able to save money by having time to plan and collect their shopping instead of leaving things to the last minute when work commitments are finally out of the way. This will also help to boost productivity as staff can remain focused on their professional tasks without the stress of trying to cram other obligations into the awkward hours around their workday.

monetary rewards

Who doesn't want a little extra cash at Christmas? Yes, annual bonuses and monetary rewards have their place when it comes to incentivisation, but there are few things to consider:

  1. Not every business is in a financial position to give cash rewards. 
  2. Cash isn't always used towards a personal reward for the employee. 
  3. Cash can be perceived as cold and therefore minimise the effectiveness of the gesture. 

Many traditional business models have used cash incentives to motivate employees; however, there are conflicting studies on the subject, showing that engagement and performance aren't influenced by cash alone. Gallup states that while monetary rewards are desirable, what employees really want is recognition. Furthermore, don't forget that cash incentives are taxed, so what may seem like a lucrative financial boost at the end of the year, may not be all that impactful. 

Instead, what you can do to reward your employees is to offer something a little more tangible, like personalised eVouchers or Gift Cards. Sodexo’s vouchers give you access to a wide range of retailers, entertainment and restaurant venues, as well as experiences that employees can directly benefit from. By opting for this type of reward, you are showing recognition to your employees for their efforts, while also providing them with a memorable and useful reward that fits your budget.

Christmas Reward and Recognition Solutions For advice on how to implement an effective reward and recognition scheme that  fits your budget, speak to one of our experts today - click here.

open communication

Your business is entering a busy time. Whether that's a higher demand for your products and services, or the rush to finish projects and settle accounts before the year wraps up, schedules are likely to be loaded. 

You may be surprised to learn, however, that this is not the time for everyone to hunker down behind their computer screens and start to give off "Do Not Disturb" vibes. While concentration and productivity are paramount, it's important to emphasise the need for transparency and dialogue between colleagues. Management must encourage communication so that employees who may be weighed down by heavy workloads can speak up and get assistance. 

Christmas is also an important time for the company to communicate its achievements in the current year as well as any setbacks that may affect how things will progress in the future. Being open and honest about the position of your company will be far more beneficial to your employees than leaving them in suspense over the Christmas break. 

Use newsletters, emails, and company chat channels to send updates, shout outs for a job well done, or to simply check in with your people and offer help where necessary. Taking a "all for one and one for all" approach to managing workloads over the festive period will get things done faster and more efficiently. As a result, your employees will feel good, and your customers will receive exceptional service.

a company that cares

Amongst the many things that COVID-19 has brought to the forefront, Health and Wellbeing are some pertinent topics that have us all talking. Employees are keen to see how their organisations will prioritise their safety when returning to the workplace, whether it's through the introduction of new office layouts, better hygiene in high contact areas, and other steps to limit the spread of germs and bacteria. There are also the mental aspects that have caused many of us to feel overwhelmed and discouraged in recent months. Your people's wellbeing may very likely be affected by financial worries, lack of contact with friends and loved ones, relationship and childcare issues. 

This Christmas, take the initiative to offer tangible support to your employees through an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Giving staff access to professional and impartial advice could help them to cope with the stress surrounding the festive season and also mobilise them to make improvements in their personal lives that will have long lasting positive effects. 

If your employees are keen on getting fit and saving money on their commute, you may want to introduce a Cycle to Work scheme. With Sodexo, staff can choose from a wide range of top cycling brands and switch to a greener transport alternative. What's more, cycling to work limits their exposure to all the regular (and not so regular) seasonal bugs that do the rounds on public transport. 

Okay, so what next?

With so many unknowns, organisations can take a few small but significant steps to provide their employees with the support and reassurance they need this Christmas. Showing appreciation and recognising your people's efforts helps to humanise your brand and promote a more positive workplace culture during what may be this generation's most challenging festive season yet. 

If you'd like to find out more about how Sodexo can help you to plan and implement a successful reward and recognition strategy this Christmas, speak to one of our experts today. You can also find out more about our exclusive eVouchers and Gift Card solutions create the perfect employee reward solution to fit your budget.

Discover our range of Christmas Rewards