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What to Give Your Employees for Christmas if You Can’t Afford a Bonus

What to Give Your Employees for Christmas if You Can’t Afford a Bonus

We have lots of regular and repeat clients here at Kabbage, but our bread and butter is new businesses still stretching financially to turn their goals into a sustainable, profitable reality…so trust us when we say you’re not the first business owner we’ve worked with who would like to give out employee bonuses but just can’t afford to make it happen.

If your profit and loss sheet resembles that remark this year, here are a few gift ideas that can express how much you appreciate the year’s hard work while making sure the company’s still around next Christmas.

Give Extra Vacation Days

“Spend time instead of money” sometimes seems like the unofficial motto of small business owners worldwide, especially for those without access to a revolving line of credit or similar source of ready cash in the months before the business really gains traction. This situation is no exception: an extra day or two of paid vacation (or even unpaid with sufficient warning) can give your team a gift money can’t buy.

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.

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.

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.

Turn the Office Holiday Party Up to Eleven

If you can’t afford to pay 20 employees $100 each as a holiday bonus, consider investing $500 in a way to make the holiday office party more memorable. Bring in a professional masseuse to distribute back rubs, rent out a small local theater for a screening of It’s a Wonderful Life or just up the investment on catering. In general, make the party qualitatively different instead of just bigger or more of what you usually do. Otherwise, your gesture might go unnoticed. Such gestures underscore what you’re (hopefully) already saying: that you’d spend more if you had it.

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.

What was the most successfully unique and thoughtful, low-cost holiday gift you ever gave or received? What made it so memorable and successful? Share your thoughts and experience with the community and give the gift of your own expertise.



Kabbage Team

Kabbage is here not only to provide access to the small business funding you need, but to also help you grow your business through free marketing tips, webinars, tools and more. Is there something you'd like us to cover or want to get your small business featured on our blog? Send us a note at