Holiday Bonus Alternatives for Employees

Giving a holiday bonus isn’t the only way to recognize work well done in 2020. Discover other ways to show employees you care.

gift for holidays
Cost-effective ways to thank your staff during a pandemic year

Big companies often dole out holiday bonuses to their employees as a thank you for the year’s hard work, and for many companies, that hasn’t changed in 2020. In recent weeks, Lowe’s announced it’s giving $100 million in bonuses as a thank you to frontline hourly associates, while grocer H-E-B will hand out $500 to each of its employees.

But for small businesses with less robust budgets, it’s often unrealistic to give out big bonuses to staff members during the holidays. For many business owners, that’s especially true this year in the midst of a global pandemic that’s caused a major economic shock.

If you can’t afford to give your employees a holiday bonus, but you still want to recognize them for work well done in 2020, there are plenty of ways to show appreciation. Small businesses are getting creative when it comes to showing staff thanks for their efforts during this difficult year.

What businesses are doing for employees

LEROI NYC in Brooklyn, New York

Josh Senior, founder and CEO of Brooklyn-based video-first creative agency LEROI NYC, has been helping his employees — who are still working remotely when not on set — enhance their home office space.

“We all know we’re going to be home for a while,” Senior said. “I’m telling employees, we’d like to make your home environment more conducive and comfortable. I don’t care what the thing is. If it’s within reason, I’m happy to help.”

Senior is giving employees items like new desk chairs, a laptop riser, and a standing desk. He bought one employee who typically went to the gym during lunch, but doesn’t feel safe going back yet, a squat rack to use at home. The company also created a Slack fitness channel where employees can drop in links to interesting workouts.

Sente Mortgage in Austin, Texas

While many finance and real estate-related small businesses have fared well this year and may end up being able to give a bonus, some are also still recognizing employees in unique ways. Leaders at the Austin, Texas-based Sente Mortgage, for example, brainstormed a series of ideas to celebrate employees from October on.

“We’ve come up with a few things through the holiday season,” said Mary Mattia Heerwald, the company’s marketing and communications director. “Our industry has done very well, so it’s more about fostering connection, our values, giving back.”

“Our industry has done very well, so it’s more about fostering connection, our values, giving back.”

In October, the company organized a virtual day of giving, with a $25,000 employer match for donations to local nonprofits. Then, it held a virtual Halloween costume contest with prizes — $500 for first place and $200 each for 2 runners-up. Around Thanksgiving, each employee will receive a fresh-baked pie and a $100 Uber Eats gift card.

Plans for December are still in the works, Heerwald said, but the company’s CEO is considering sending each employee a copy of an inspirational book with a heartfelt letter that he pens about the challenges and successes of 2020 and the coming year.

Here are some other ideas for alternatives to holiday bonuses.

Small tokens of thanks and gift cards

When sending a gift, consider an employee’s entire family.

In the Seattle area, Wendy Knox Everette has appreciated receiving the monthly snack boxes, plants, and bookstore gift certificates that her company, Leviathan Security, has sent employees over the last several months. When sending a gift, consider an employee’s entire family. For example, if an employee enjoys hiking and biking with their partner and kids, send them a gift card to a local sporting goods store. You might also let employees choose from a list of gift options.

Custom holiday care packages

Employees will appreciate you taking the time to personalize a gift for them, and there are plenty of cost-effective websites that make the process simple. On Small Packages, you choose a theme such as “Thank You” or “Women in Food” and then decide how much money you want to spend. The $100 “Thank You” box includes an inspirational book, a coffee body scrub, a candle, and a cocktail mixer, among other items. Other sites for putting together a customized holiday care package include Knack and Boxfox.

The gift of time

Some small businesses this year are giving all employees extra time off to recharge. “The best thing that my employer does at the holidays is give everyone the week between Christmas and New Year’s off,” said Emma McMahon, a consultant at Climate Advisors in Washington, D.C. Knox Everette’s company is giving employees that week off for the first time this year. Small business owners could also let employees work reduced hours during the holiday season by closing early on Fridays, or allow staff to work flexible hours. Another option is to let employees with unused vacation days roll those days over in the New Year, even if you don’t allow that in a typical year.

Give company swag

If your budget is tight, giving free gifts in the form of company swag or merchandise can be a cost-effective option, as long as the gift is more substantial than a bunch of custom pens or notepads. Years ago, IKEA gave all of its more than 12,000 workers a mountain bike decorated with IKEA yellow and blue. Swag might include custom water bottles, portable phone chargers, face masks, slippers, or comfy pajamas.

If your budget is tight, giving free gifts in the form of company swag or merchandise can be a cost-effective option, as long as the gift is more substantial than a bunch of custom pens or notepads.

Cater employees’ holiday meal

With many people not traveling this winter to be with family, employees’ holiday meals may be spent at home with nuclear family. While some employees will enjoy preparing their own holiday feast, some still prefer to leave the cooking to the professionals. Many local restaurants and grocery stores are offering full, catered holiday meals. Give each employee the gift of a delicious premade holiday meal or a gift card so they can buy high-quality groceries to prepare a holiday meal on their own.

For small businesses that can’t afford holiday bonuses, small gifts and tokens of appreciation can go a long way to making employees feel special in what’s been a challenging year. One of the best motivators, however, remains recognition through praise. However you reward employees in 2020, make sure to tell them what they’ve done this year that you’ve appreciated. Do it in front of their peers and be specific. You might even get creative and give out awards — plaques or trophies that celebrate staff and their accomplishments.

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