It may be the season to celebrate and be merry, but Christmas can also be an incredibly stressful time for people.
After all, gifts for the family, food, drink, travel and activities don’t come for free! Plus, consider that December is often when people’s wages must stretch further for longer and suddenly, it’s a case of sleepless nights, rather than silent nights for many.
So, how can companies ease that load and create real engagement with their employees in the process? And more importantly, why should they bother? After all, people are free to manage their own spending and live within their means, right? Why should companies focus on a reward scheme at Christmas?
WHAT’S THE POINT OF CHRISTMAS REWARDS?
For organisations large or small, an effective Christmas employee rewards scheme serves a two-fold purpose.
Firstly, it’s the close of the calendar year - or in some cases the financial year – and an opportunity to reward staff for their hard work and efforts over the past 12 months.
Secondly, rewards for employees can set up staff engagement levels for the year ahead. As we mentioned earlier, Christmas can be a hugely stressful period for people, both financially and in terms of their time. So, being able to relieve some of that stress is what makes them so popular – and not just here in the UK, either.
Whilst two thirds of major UK firms reward staff at the year-end, Christmas events are also extremely popular in Latin America, with over 90% of companies in Chile for instance, giving rewards to their employees.
Christmas rewards can help employees when time and money is often short, and they’re certainly a popular and proven form of increasing engagement with staff. But before you start handing out rewards to all your employees, stop right there!
Gifts and rewards need to come with a message; as well as timing, choice and demographics being the other key aspects you need to consider, too.
WHEN SHOULD COMPANIES START PLANNING FOR CHRISTMAS REWARDS?
As early as possible! From January 1st onward in fact, as they should be part of their overarching employee engagement strategy, which means they need to tie into behavioral incentives that reflect the company’s values, vision and mission.
They shouldn’t however be a separate initiative; but instead, part of what the employer wants to achieve over the course of the year. For example, in the manufacturing industry, rewards would typically tie into targets for efficiency, volumes and productivity, whilst in customer service they would reflect the speed of answering queries or going the extra mile to deal with a complaint
DO COMMUNICATIONS HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY?
Absolutely! Employees need to understand why they are being rewarded, so transparency about individual and company performance over the year is important. And regardless of what the rewards are, there will be a perceived value attached them - even if they’re of the cashless or experiential variety.
Many businesses do not get the value of rewarding staff at Christmas because there is no association with what an employee has actually done to deserve it.
Think about it: if you simply hand out a bog-standard, 1-size-fits-all reward to everyone in your business to keep everyone happy, do you think those who’ve felt they’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty throughout the year would be satisfied? Probably not!
Aside from having a potentially negative effect on the star-performers in your workplace, that kind of approach can also put an entire rewards strategy at risk as a reward could simply become expected by a workforce - regardless of whether the business has done well or whether employees have met their objectives or not!
If a company is struggling, Christmas rewards can be a way of re-engaging the workforce – but the messaging and strategy need to be both clear and fair. If you tell people that ‘times are tough, but next year we can come through this,’ the reward can be a motivational tool for continued loyalty.
SO, WHAT ARE THE BEST CHRISTMAS REWARDS?
Vouchers and gift cards continue to be an incredibly popular gift – you only have to log onto your preferred search engine of choice to discover the wealth of options out there! And this makes sense; after all, a selection of different vouchers lets you offer something for everyone, while a luxury brand adds an extra touch – and the feeling that Christmas is special. But as we mentioned earlier, it’s really about the demographics of the workforce.
For front-line employees, a case of wine or a food hamper is very well received and can ease the increasing cost of Christmas. Even small gifts, like boxes of chocolates, go down well.
For executives who may typically spend more time away from their families, an experiential reward can be very effective; and the more family time you can integrate in the reward, the better. For them, a family trip, or a cinema and restaurant night can make the perfect reward.
As for higher-level gifts, cases of more expensive wines, champagne and branded watches are popular. Another option is to tie the reward into the year ahead – are there any big events coming up they might enjoy going to, perhaps?
Remember, the main focus should be on what an employee would like to receive, rather than what a company wants to offer – so involve them and gain their thoughts before rushing out and simply buying lots of shiny stuff!
AND WHAT ABOUT ALTERNATIVES TO VOUCHERS?
Many employees are short of time at Christmas, which adds to their stress levels. They are under pressure to do shopping, to visit family or attend Christmas events at their children’s schools.
For them, a reward could take the form of flexible working, a half-day off or a Holiday Shopping Day that wouldn’t come out of their holiday entitlement. People without children could have a day off to work for a charity, for example. It really depends on your company’s culture!
Of course, cash bonuses are always an option – but applying them to the greatest effect requires the same personalised approach, so be sure to bear that in mind before splashing the cash!
WHAT ABOUT TIMING?
For shopping vouchers, giving them out a week or two before Christmas isn’t ideal. By then, many people will already have the items they could have bought with the vouchers!
By contrast, if you give them out at the end of November, employees can plan their shopping around the vouchers. With an experiential reward, closer to Christmas would be better. For the employer, the key is to anticipate when people will be able to make maximum use of their reward.
If you are starting a Christmas rewards scheme, don’t set the bar too high in terms of the gifts.
For example, if everyone gets a lovely new shiny iPad at the end of the first year, and they don’t get one the following year, they’ll be naturally disappointed. The important thing is to manage people’s expectations.
Be creative and think about how a reward can be delivered – ideally hand-delivered by a manager, perhaps even dressed up as Father Christmas – it’s really down to you! Make it fun, make the messaging clear and remember, there are experts available who can help you get it right if you need that extra little bit of guidance.