As summer slowly fades into a distant memory, employers are turning their attention to Christmas, setting out plans for festive rewards and incentives for their staff.
But more than one-third (35%) of employees have never received a Christmas reward from their employer, according to research published by Edenred in September 2013. Its Saying thank you at Christmas 2013 survey also found that only 30% of respondents received a Christmas reward in 2012, and 65% did not expect to receive a reward from their employer.
“From a perception point of view, it’s a new year, it’s a full stop. Many organisations will take it as an opportunity for a staff-retention, employee-engagement type of activity, just to say, ‘thank you and here’s a little gift from us’.”
It may seem a bit early, but the immediate post-summer period is an ideal time for employers to start planning Christmas benefits and incentives. The first step is to determine what type of seasonal joy an employer wants to bring to its staff. For instance, is it an end-of-year bonus, a sales incentive, a festive thank-you or a simple Christmas gift?
Phil Sproston, sales director at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards, says: “It is the difference between incentives and recognition. If an employer is incentivising people, it needs to be measurable. If it’s recognition, it doesn’t need that kind of specificity; it can just be saying ‘thank you’.”
P&MM’s Sylvester agrees. “The starting point is to be clear about what the employer is looking to achieve, whether it’s a thank-you for the year and a little bonus for Christmas, or whether it’s a specific performance-related or last-quarter incentive,” he says.
Tastes and aspirations
An employer should also consider what type of reward or incentive would suit the tastes and aspirations of its employees. A popular option is a gift card or voucher, which caters to a range of preferences and can often help staff to manage their costs during the festive season.
Sylvester says: “Retailers, such as Marks and Spencer or John Lewis, tend to be particularly popular in those types of situations. If the audience profile is looking to fund Christmas rather than having a treat, then supermarket vouchers go down well, because there is a lot of food and drink to be bought.”
Sproston adds: “The advantage of gift cards and vouchers, while they are ubiquitous, ensures everyone is able to effectively personalise their own reward.
“A gift voucher with a multitude of spending options says, ‘I value your contribution, I want to recognise your contribution as an employee, and I want to give you the freedom of choice to pick something that is personal, relevant and of value to you’.”
P&MM sees huge demand for gift cards during the holiday season, with about 25% of its annual volume going through in the final two months of the year. Sylvester adds: “That is a mixture of employers wanting to do that year-end thank-you for employees and also, as part of a performance-based or recognition programme , employees will often save it up during the year to spend at Christmas.”
Hampers out of fashion
Gifts, such as Christmas hampers, have gone out of fashion in recent years. “The reality is, to put the hamper together is of note and does cost a bit,” says Sylvester.
“As employers looked at their ethics and approach, there were questions as to whether it should include alcohol, the religious aspects to consider, whether it contains pork or not, and so on. It can become quite complex and then end up being a bit bland as a result.”
It is much more common for employers to host an annual Christmas party , whether this takes the form of an end-of-year event or a team afternoon out. Michael Rose, director of Rewards Consulting, says: “In the last few years, with the recession, a lot of organisations have been cutting back on those sorts of activities.
“I’m a great believer in finding the opportunity to celebrate things and get some common experience, and try to think about people as the whole person that comes to work, so socialising with colleagues can be very important. I would hope that, this year, employers would start to bring these events back or do a little bit more than they have in the past.”
Employers should also consider the timing of festive events, because some employers, such as those in retail, manufacturing or call centres, have specific resourcing requirements. Rose adds: “Employers have to make sure they have the business-as-usual activity going on, while at the same time not excluding anyone from celebrating appropriately.”
If an employer cannot afford to pass out gift vouchers to all staff or host a Christmas party, perhaps it could consider helping employees manage their work-life balance during a very busy time of year. “More organisations are saying they will close a little bit longer over the Christmas holiday, and they really want people to have some time out to relax,” says Rose.
Festive rewards and incentives, whether literal or figurative, help to engage and motivate employees , showing that their employer values their hard work during the year. But there is also a chance that this strategy could backfire.
“If you send everyone a £5 gift card, that would do more harm than good,” says Sylvester. “But if it’s £25 or more, then generally it is taken in the spirit in which it’s intended. There is a balance between giving something that is appreciated and something that fits the budget.”
It is also worth mentioning that, because of today’s multicultural society, focusing too much on Christmas, rather than multi-religious celebrations, can alienate some employees.
Get the message right
Rose adds: “People are being a little more cautious to think more of the end-of-year celebration, trying to get the balance right.”
It is important for employers to give staff the right message when presenting a Christmas reward. “It’s important that it is delivered with a flourish and with the right message, especially if it is a thank-you for the year,” says Sylvester.
“It’s really important that it isn’t just distributed through the internal post system, that it carries the sentiment that it’s designed to carry, which may just be ‘thank you’ or it might be ‘well done’. Either way, the communication and the method of presentation or delivery are as important as the value.”
Employers can consider a range of options to reward or incentivise employees at Christmas. But rather than offering a token gift card, bonus or team party, they should make sure the reward suits their workforce and is delivered in a manner that fits the festive season.