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Employer holiday gifting is back — but it doesn’t have to be all about the loot

December 19, 2013

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Dan Van Slambrook

Contemplating a holiday bonus or gift for your employees this year?  Coming up short on ideas for something more creative than the traditional (and ill-advised) fruitcake or candied ham or poinsettia?  Take a note from some companies that are elevating holiday gifting to a new level—the shopping spree.

A recent Wall Street Journal article describes how several companies reward top performers and key talent with exciting shopping sprees in lieu of more conventional holiday gifts.  For example, the online couponing firm RetailMeNot, Inc. is providing some of its employees a two-minute free-for-all at the local Costco. Those selected get 120 seconds to load anything they choose into their carts, from large flat-screen TVs to Dom Pérignon champagne, sometimes racking up check-out totals approaching $25,000.  One Florida-based restaurant firm has a similar but less expensive approach, allowing employees to shop for up to four minutes at a Winn-Dixie grocery store.  According to Kit Yarrow, a Golden Gate University professor and consumer psychology researcher, employees feel especially cared for when employers are paying the bill, and shopping sprees are a way to “abandon restraint and indulge primal desires for abundance,” making it an especially fun experience for the shopper and exciting for others to observe.

The recession forced many employers to abstain from holiday-related expenditures, but this trend finally reversed course a year or two ago and appears to be holding steady as we enter 2013’s celebration season.  According to recent study by CareerBuilder, 45 percent of employers surveyed intend to give their employees a holiday bonus—roughly the same percentage as in 2012, and up from 33 percent in 2010.  Fifty-nine percent had plans to throw a holiday party, the same as in 2012 and up a bit from 58 percent in 2011.

Holiday gifting, bonuses and celebrations are a way to make employees feel valued.  While extravagant gifts or shopping sprees may be cost prohibitive for many organizations, a well-considered gift will still be appreciated.  The array of gift options, of course, is endless, but should follow some basic guidelines to be best received:

  • Purchase gender-neutral gifts when possible.
  • Be consistent.  While you can tie financial bonuses to performance, gifts given throughout the department should be similar in price and form.
  • Avoid controversial (or risqué) purchases, which may be considered by some to be inappropriate.
  • Of course (sorry to be a Grinch), be sure to review IRS stipulations on what gifts are considered taxable income.

Strapped for enough remaining 2013 budget to fund employee gifts or a company-sponsored gala?  Consider some low- or no-cost alternatives that can still be meaningful:

  • Flexible work schedules.  In many industries, the holidays mean decreased client demand.  At the same time, employees’ individual schedules often become more hectic– trying to squeeze in shopping time, classroom pageants, and family celebrations.  Allowing employees to create a more flexible work schedule—arriving later, leaving earlier or even working remotely if practical convey the message that you recognize and support the demands of life outside the office.
  • Relax the dress code.  Employees often appreciate the ability to be more casual outside of the typical “jeans Friday.”  Consider a temporary change to the official dress code, and ask managers to help set the tone by letting their own hair down in this regard.
  • Permit/encourage office decorating. While not suitable for every environment, allowing individual work spaces to be decorated by their hard-working inhabitants is a great way for employees to express themselves and bring some spirited vitality to what can sometimes be a drab environment.  Hold a “best-decorated” contest to add some competitive fun!
  • Express appreciation.  While you should never wait until the snow begins to fly to say “nice job,” the end of the year is still a great time for leaders to step aside from the typical operational memo and sincerely express appreciation to the team for their efforts over the course of the year.

Whatever form it takes—from shopping spree to employee potluck, make a concerted effort during the Season of Giving to give back to your employees.  It’s the right thing to do, and showing your most important assets that they’re thought of and appreciated is a gift that may likely be repaid many times over in the following year.

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