20 Ways to Recognize Employees During the Holidays

Show your employees how much you appreciate them

Coworkers exchanging gifts
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The holiday season brings great joy for employees and the chance to do great things for your business, too. For most companies, it's tradition at this time of year to thank employees for their contributions and recognize their professionalism and hard work. The following tips will make the holiday season joyful for employees who, in turn, use their engagement and motivation to do great things for your customers.

"Flex" Your Muscles

First things first. Be flexible! Recognize that schedules can get out of whack at this time of year. Even though you should never sacrifice productivity to make accommodations for your employees, remember there are many factors that can detract from office time. Holiday shopping, traffic, travel plans and holiday parties can all get in the way. If you can, try reduced work hours or a rotating four-day work week so staff members can take care of all their responsibilities, while still being on job.

Holiday Celebration Ideas

Offer employees alternatives or additions to an expensive office party with dinner, drinks and dancing. If you have an employee activity committee, its members can plan engagement-building events. If you don't, it's a great time to start one.

  • Consider an ugly holiday sweater day when employees wear gaudy, delightful holiday sweaters and pose for group pictures.
  • A cookie day brightens everyone’s holidays. Interested employees bring plates of cookies to sample and ooh-and-ah. Don't forget, the company buys some, too. You can also sponsor a cookie swap so employees can trade to take home.
  • Provide a holiday lunch with holiday foods like turkey, stuffing and Christmas cookies.
  • A Secret Santa swap brings inexpensive presents to delight participating employees.

    Establish Office Holiday Traditions

    Make up traditions of your own. Employees enjoy participating in annual employee events together — and include clients and employee families, too. Employees look forward to traditions and talking about workplace traditions is storytelling that builds your culture and reputation as an employer of choice.

    • Make up an annual special employee-featured holiday card to send to clients, customers and business partners.
    • Treat employees and their families to an annual Christmas Eve luncheon at a location featuring games and things to do for families. You may also want a separate one for employees and clients. Shut the office down at noon so everyone can attend before hitting the road for holiday travel.
    • Hold a holiday luncheon onsite to promote team building and interdepartmental cooperation and understanding. Use icebreakers such as assigning employees to groups via numbers on the bottom of plates to ensure cross-functional interaction occurs.
    • Foster team building and gentle competition by giving gift cards to employees who decorate their workstation or work area in a holiday theme. You can even have coworkers vote for the best.
    • Like online shoe company Zappos, publish an annual culture book in which every employee can make a statement about his or her sense and experience of your organization’s culture. Use the books for recruiting, relationships with customers, interns and guests.

    Purchase Gifts for Employees

    Consider purchasing gifts during the holiday season for your employees. While some companies can afford an annual bonus or profit sharing, others can’t. Either way, consider a gift for each employee.

    Accompany the gift with a personal thank you note from the manager or a personalized note from the company. Employees appreciate and save these and post them in their workstations for a constant reminder. As you do that, also consider these gifts:

    • A frozen turkey, fresh ham, holiday pies, cookie assortments or gourmet treats — especially if they can be picked up at the employee’s regular grocery store or delivered to the workplace.
    • Fine pens, jackets, leather notebooks, briefcases, lunch kits, weather radios and sweaters with the company logo are examples of gifts that delight employees. Forget the mugs, t-shirts or other inexpensive offerings — you need to kick it up a notch.

    Honor Diverse Holiday Traditions

    Remember, not every employee exchanges Christmas cards for the holidays. The days celebrated by diverse employees are many in December and January. You want to make sure you honor and celebrate everyone.

    • Take care not to schedule important celebrations that conflict with other religious or national holidays.
    • Serve food at events that allow employees from any culture or religious background to partake. Always provide a vegetarian option.
    • While it’s okay to say, “Merry Christmas,” keep most office celebrations secular to honor diverse beliefs. Look for ways to include people from all backgrounds. You can extend a card, a gift or a thank you note to honor diverse employee celebrations, remembrances and religious events. When in doubt, keep it generic.
    • Consider offering floating holidays to meet the needs of diverse employees for holiday time off.
    • Ask employees with diverse beliefs to share how they celebrate their holidays. A brown bag lunch or company meeting serves as a vehicle for employees to share — not just during the holiday season but all year long.

    Start the New Year Off Right

    Usher out the end of the year and welcome a new one with events and activities that set the stage for a happy, prosperous New Year for both your employees and your business.

    • Encourage goal setting for individuals and the department. Employees need to see where their job and goals fit into the bigger picture. Keep the atmosphere positive, uplifting and forward-looking. Consider a lunch or cocktail hour to celebrate the goals and prospects for the New Year for the first or second week of January.
    • Review your department's mission, vision and values to make sure all employees are on the same page. Do it as a group and ask icebreaker questions along with an exercise where teams build an object at a table during the holiday party. Don't forget to provide them with the tools they need to build it!
    • Post welcome and commitment notes signed by every employee that set out the company’s relationship with customers on your website, email them to customers and clients — then live it. Make the publication of the notes a ceremony internally to foster employee commitment to the pledges.

    The Bottom Line

    The holiday season is a great chance to tell your employees you care about them. Don’t let this golden opportunity to build employee morale and appreciate employee contributions pass you by. Your abundance will overflow to bolster your relationships with your customers and clients.

    Just remember, these are tips. You can tailor these to your own situation and team. But don't forget, while you should use this time of year to show your employees your appreciation, they will enjoy a heartfelt thank you all year long. After all, the actions you take to foster excited, engaged employees always bring pay back to your organization. What goes around, comes around.

    Seize the opportunities inherent in the season to delight employees and cement positive business relationships that will last all year and for many years.