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Celebrating your staff after the holiday rush

Editorial Team

7 min read
Clinking glasses during toast


In the flurry of winter holidays, small business owners may find themselves with little to no time (not to mention limited budget) to figure out how to thank the people who make business possible—those who take and fulfill orders, handle sales, restock inventory, bake goods, serve customers, or simply keep things chugging along. Roughly 63% of companies (though most participating in this survey were large corporations) reported offering a holiday cash bonus in 2017, averaging $1800 per employee, as a way of sharing holiday cheer with their team.

Many small businesses and startups simply don’t have that kind of money in the budget. But with some forethought and planning, showing appreciation for your employees on a budget can be more manageable and affordable than you might think.

In fact, a 2018 survey found that 42% of businesses surveyed were planning to reward employees at year end in other ways, spending about $65 per employee—definitely a more palatable outlay for small business merchants.

So before this holiday season slips into the past, take a moment to consider how you can show appreciation to your team—and to yourself—for a season and a year of hard work. Consider these staff appreciation ideas to make the biggest impact with a minimal expenditure.

Personalized gifts go a long way

When it comes to employee holiday gifts, one size rarely fits all. Take a box of chocolates or a bottle of wine, for example. They’re perfect gifts for some, but not everyone wants or appreciates these treats. And while they might be simple, egalitarian, and relatively inexpensive, buying identical gifts en masse for employees simply doesn’t communicate the same level of appreciation as a personalized gift.

What’s the secret to a memorable gift? Knowing the recipient. So before you order a batch of gifts for your employees, take a moment to think about what each person might enjoy. Do your employees talk often about hobbies, music, or films they like? Do they participate in a sport? Have you noticed colors, foods, or something else they surround themselves with at work?

For starters, consider unique gift bags or baskets stuffed with items you’ve picked for each employee—think candles, comic books, or candy. Imagine the fun your team could have exploring and sharing their finds with each other. Or, personalize wearables like tees and hoodies, and be sure to pop your brand logo on each. Think about the items your team uses in the workplace. Maybe you give them personalized items to make their everyday more comfortable—comfy aprons or top-drawer knives for kitchen staff, fuzzy slippers for customer service teammates, or personal coffee makers for third-shift employees.

Getting creative and personal can go a long way in demonstrating appreciation and can pay dividends in building employee satisfaction and loyalty.

Collaborate to give

Just as workplace collaboration can create a more productive, enjoyable environment, collaborating with other organizations can create a more memorable, meaningful thank-you gift for employees.

Team up with another local business to provide unique gifts for your employees. Or, team up with your employees and another business to do some good for your community, which will help inspire goodwill and gratitude within your team.

Say your restaurant partners with a local baker to provide meals for a shelter, school, or other underserved group in your community. You close shop for a day after the festivities, compensate your employees their regular rate, and dedicate time to merriment and meal-making—each meal delivered personally with a handwritten note from your team. Imagine the good that could do for the recipients and the goodness it could inspire within your team. Make the day extra special by ordering a favorite meal for your team, running a movie marathon in the background, or playing each teammate’s favorite tune as you work together.

Further, partner with local businesses to provide a sampling of goods to your team. Reach out to local grocers, breweries, or farms to create themed baskets to gift.

Or, simply give your employees a paid day off to volunteer at a charity of their choice. Organize a team meal later, providing time for teammates to share a word about their volunteer experiences.

For more inspiration, take a look at how three businesses celebrated their employees and did some good in the process.

Little things can make a big difference

A memorable gift doesn’t have to be big. In fact, sometimes the best gifts aren’t. Check out a few ideas for small, tangible gifts that can go a long way.

  • Gift Cards: Offer employees a gift card to local shops, theaters, or sporting events, based on what each person likes. Mix it up and give different gift cards (of identical value) to different employees.
  • Movie Passes: There’s nothing like watching a movie on the big screen. Consider providing movie passes that include snacks to enhance the experience.
  • Extra Holiday Inventory: Share unsold holiday inventory—whether it’s decor, food, or clothing—with your team. It’s a great way of reducing on-hand inventory, and it builds good will. Couple it with other goodies to make an even bigger impact.
  • Free Day: Downtime is at a premium for most people. So consider thanking your employees by giving them an extra day of paid vacation. It’s relatively inexpensive and simple to manage, not to mention an unforgettable gift.
  • Employee Dinner: Invite your team to an employee dinner party. Take them out, invite them to your house, or bring dinner to work. In all cases, take time to share a word or story about the positive contributions of each teammate.

Whatever little gift you offer, consider including a hand-written note to each employee recognizing what they have done to make your business more successful. And be sure to read these handy tips for getting employee perks right.

Experiences are unforgettable

Things can break, but memories can last a lifetime. Create great memories for your employees with these ideas that show your gratitude and create stand-out experiences.

  • Off-site Rewards Day: Close shop for a day during the post-holiday, pre-tax season slump. Invite your team to an offsite fun day. Meet at a theme park, museum, skating rink, bowling alley, or other place of interest. You might even qualify for a group discount.
  • In-house Spa Day: Bring in a massage therapist, esthetician, or manicurist for an in-house spa day. Turn the office or shop into a spa with candles or incense. Offer a selection of infused waters and delicious munchies to make the day extra special.
  • Take a Class Together: Whether it’s pottery, truffle making, or design, learning something new together is a team-building opportunity, a wonderful way to say thanks, and demonstrates your commitment to enriching your team.
  • Do a Tasting: Take your team to a local vineyard, confectioner, or brewery for a tasting and meal. Have an expert on-hand to explain what separates the spectacular from everything else. Just be sure to choose a locale that offers a broad variety of samplings and can accommodate diverse tastes.
  • Employee Holiday Party: For years, companies have thrown holiday parties for employees. But not all parties are a success. When choosing a locale, time, and menu, keep the planning centered on employees’ needs. Do any employees commute long distances to work? Would an evening timeslot knock anyone out of attending? Would taxis or Ubers help get your team to and from the party safely? Check out these tips for showing appreciation with a well-executed holiday party.

Putting it all together

Whatever you choose to do and however you choose to do it, remember that employee appreciation is an ongoing responsibility. Pay attention to the activities that seem to resonate best with your people. Those activities can lay the foundation for your next employee appreciation day or even an ongoing employee appreciation program. And, above all, take time to enjoy the experience with your team.

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