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9 Ways to Thank Employees this Holiday Season

Any good small business owner shows appreciation toward their employees. The holidays are a perfect time to do so, but it can get costly if you’re not paying attention to prices and holiday budgets.

Small business owners would love to give employees bonuses, but they just can’t afford to make it happen.

If your profit and loss sheet resembles that remark this year, here are nine gift ideas that can express how much you appreciate the year’s hard work without hurting your budget.

  1. Host a potluck.

Potlucks are great cost-effective appreciation parties, but make sure your employees will enjoy it. If so, keep in mind the few ways you can plan a potluck. You could have employees bring in leftovers from Turkey Day or host an international potluck in which your employees cook and bring in their favorite foreign dishes. You could also provide drinks and entrees and have your employees bring in their favorite desserts.

  1. Host an office party.

Renting a space to hold a holiday party can be expensive. Instead, host one at your office during office hours. Perhaps on the last half of a Friday or after work during the week. This saves on costs while making it more comfortable for employees. They won’t feel as pressured to attend a formal party, and they’ll be more comfortable being in a familiar space. Offer food and drinks and play holiday games like White Elephant ($20 or less gifts).

  1. Host a team outing.

If you don’t want to host a party, consider organizing a company outing. Maybe there’s a local garden lights show or seasonal home walking tour. You could also look into seasonal discounts for ice rinks or museums. For a more interactive time, consider bowling, roller skating or an escape room. Conduct an office-wide poll, so you can find the most popular option. Outings are great for team bonding, and employees will enjoy doing something they may not normally have time for.

  1. Host a post-holiday party.

If you’re determined to have an offsite holiday party, consider scheduling it after the holidays. More spaces will be available at lower prices, and caterers and bands will be cheaper since they’re low in demand at the start of the year. Post-holiday parties can also help ease the post-vacation blues employees may get after returning to work. Giving them something to look forward to can help their productivity and efficiency.

  1. Host nothing – give them a day off.

Maybe you don’t have the funds for a holiday event, or maybe it’s not something that fits your business. Instead, give your employees an extra paid day off. If it’s not in the budget to give everyone the same day off, consider giving each employee one additional day of PTO, or a half-day of PTO, that they can take off before the end of the year.

Employee appreciation is necessary to keep your team happy, productive and efficient. But that doesn’t mean you have to go over your budget. Hosting events or outings can be beneficial, but you also need to include other bonuses beyond short-term gratification.

  1. Add a permanent benefit.

Not all benefits fall in the category of retirement matching and health insurance. Others, like negotiating a discount at a nearby gym or buying lunch for the office one day a month, cost far less than company-wide bonuses. As a bonus, they remind your staff how much you appreciate them every single time they use the benefit, instead of just once per year

  1. Partner with other businesses.

Between samples and employee discounts and just working at the office, your team is already familiar enough with what your company offers, so free merchandise just won’t cut it as a holiday bonus or even as a gift exchange piece. But if you trade some of your gear or goods with a few other businesses in the neighborhood, both businesses can give their people gifts they’ll truly appreciate. It’s best to apply this idea by partnering with multiple businesses, so you can get your staff personalized and appropriate holiday presents – not just a pile of branded t-shirts from a single shop next door.

  1. Go with gift cards.

For most companies, a bonus below three digits can feel more like an insult than a holiday gift. But a card for $50 worth of coffee, or books or other little “spoil yourself” items feels significant. Go the extra mile with this option by not buying the same gift cards for every employee. Get the Starbucks card for the office early riser, buy a card at the local smoothie shop for your health nut. Use the nature of each card to illustrate that you care about and appreciate each member of your team.

  1. Never underestimate a “thank you.”

If you’re really on a shoestring, a personal thank you costs you nothing but time and maybe a minute of social awkwardness. Whether it’s written or verbal, public or private, get as personal as you comfortably can to make this holiday moment shine. Call the person by name. Mention specific important contributions made and challenges overcome. Talk about how that person has grown with the company and how the company has grown because of their endeavors. Take time to prepare your notes in advance, doing research if necessary. Done right, this can be more powerful than a check with a surprising number of zeros on it. Done wrong, it feels like making excuses for not delivering that bonus.

Regardless of which of these ideas you adopt, or if you instead springboard off this list to a perfect idea that suits your company culture and relationship with your staff, the first rule is be up front and honest. Especially if you have paid bonuses in the past, your employees might be expecting a bonus…or worse, have made plans and commitments that relied on receiving that bonus. No matter how bad you think the news is, share it early and keep everybody updated.