HR Insights 5 min

How to Recognize and Reward Your Employees this Holiday Season

November 21, 2019
Updated November 24, 2020

With Thanksgiving coming up this week and the Christmas and New Year holiday season just around the corner, many employers are starting to think about the best ways to reward their employees for all their hard work this year.

To say 2020 has been a strange year would be an understatement. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing and many businesses either working remotely or operating at a reduced capacity, things are far from back to normal. Methods of thanking staff that worked well in previous years, such as holiday parties or free food in the office, are not viable this year. However, it’s just as important – if not more so – to recognize the hard work and dedication your team members have shown this year.

Appropriate recognition boosts employee morale, improves productivity, and increases employee retention and loyalty. In other words, it’s good news for your business as well as for your employees.

With that said, how are companies to recognize and reward their employees this holiday season? Here are a few strategies that might work well for your company.

Give a sincere thank you

This sounds so simple, and that’s because it is. However, it is also impactful. Your employees want to know that their hard work is appreciated, and that is even more true in these challenging times. So the first and most important thing you can do is to give your team members a big and sincere thank you.

Why not write personalized holiday cards for each employee, telling them exactly what you’ve appreciated about their work this year? The trick is to be as specific as possible. Yes, this takes longer than a generic thank you email sent to the entire team, but it will make far more of an impression. Everyone loves receiving mail, and a personalized, handwritten card landing on their mat will be sure to give your employees a smile.

Another option is to thank everyone personally in your last whole-team video meeting before the holidays. Go around the virtual room and tell each individual what a difference they’ve made and what you appreciate about them and their work. This kind of public recognition in front of the whole team fosters goodwill and gives everyone a much-needed smile before they break for the holidays.

Give them a bonus

Is your business one of the lucky ones that has survived and even thrived during this challenging year. If so, it’s all down to your employees. The number one way employees want to be rewarded by their companies? Money! After all, that’s why we all go to work in the first place.

Many people have been hit financially this year. Even if your employees’ jobs are safe, the cost of living has risen in many places, and many people have incurred additional expenses as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic. In addition, some of your employees may have a spouse or partner who has lost their job, making them the sole breadwinner at home. In other words, extra cash is extremely welcome right now.

If you can afford to give your team members a festive bonus, even a small one, they’ll be absolutely delighted. Either announce the bonuses in your whole-team video meeting, or include a check in each person’s holiday card.

Send them a gift

If cash feels too impersonal or bonuses aren’t in your budget this year, another good option is to send your employees a gift. Again, personalization is key, so avoid generic gifts if you can. If in doubt, food and drink usually goes down well, but check on people’s needs and preferences – you wouldn’t want to send alcohol to a teetotaler or a turkey to a vegan! It’s fine to get different gifts for different people, but make sure they’re equivalent in value.

If you have a lot of employees in different departments, you could award a budget per employee to each manager and ask them to choose gifts for their own team members.

An easy way to ensure equitable treatment while taking people’s preferences into consideration is to give gift cards. For example, the coffee addict in the team would probably appreciate a Starbucks card, while the person who always has beautiful notebooks would enjoy a gift card for a stationery store. And so on.

Treat them to a meal

You might not be able to have the traditional holiday party this year, but that doesn’t mean you can’t treat your employees to a meal on you. Why not send each of your employees a voucher they can use to get delivery or takeout from a local restaurant? This will allow them to enjoy a meal that they didn’t have to cook or pay for, in the comfort and safety of their own home.

Some cards even allow you to choose from several different outlets, which is ideal if you have team members with varied preferences and dietary needs. As an added bonus, you’ll be supporting a local restaurant at a time when many are struggling to stay afloat.

Want to make this a communal occasion? Invite your employees to order in some delicious food on the company dime and join you online for a Zoom holiday party. You could play festive music, play games like bingo or a seasonal quiz, or just chat about non-work topics to encourage team bonding. Silly Christmas sweaters optional!

Have a virtual awards ceremony

There’s no need to forego an end-of-year awards ceremony because of social distancing. Just move it online instead! A virtual awards ceremony can be a great way to publicly recognize those employees who have gone above and beyond for you this year. All you need is a video conferencing tool like Zoom.

You can have a range of awards categories. Consider Outstanding Leadership, Team Spirit, Innovation, and Overcoming Adversity. You could also include some fun categories, such as a series of “Most likely to…” awards. Just remember to tread carefully – you need to make sure it’s fun for everyone and that you’re not poking fun at anyone in a mean-spirited way.

Make the judging criteria transparent so people know why certain team members were chosen, otherwise it can inadvertently look like you’re playing favorites.

You can then hand out virtual trophies or award prizes (in the form of gift cards, food treats, or branded swag) for each category. To use your virtual awards event to build camaraderie, why not invite your employees to nominate their teammates for particular awards?

Want to encourage participation? Hold your virtual event during work hours. However dedicated they are to their jobs, most employees won’t be thrilled about a work event out of hours.

Give them some extra time off

Paid vacation time is a fantastic perk for many employees. Even if they can’t travel right now, time off gives them more time to relax, enjoy their hobbies, and spend time with their families. Therefore, extra vacation days is a brilliant reward for hard-working employees if it’s in your budget to offer it.

If your business doesn’t need to be open every day, you could close for an extra day either side of Christmas or Thanksgiving. If it’s not feasible to shut the whole business down, another option is to award everyone a set number of additional vacation days (e.g. 3 extra days) to be taken at any time during 2021. Even closing early the day before the holidays and giving them an extra afternoon to spend with their families will go a long way.

Shout out your employees on social media

There are numerous ways you can build your brand using social media. But did you know you can also use it to recognize your amazing employees and build a positive company culture? Giving a shout out to your team members on your company social media page can make them feel valued and appreciated.

This is particularly effective for customer-facing employees, as it shows your clients and customers who is responsible for providing that great customer service they expect from your company.

Recognition and reward matters now more than ever

This year has been stressful for everyone. Your employees have had to adapt quickly to new ways of working, and might have experienced periods of stress about whether or not they would keep their jobs. They deserve to be rewarded for their hard work, flexibility, and loyalty in the face of extraordinarily challenging and (yes, sorry, I’m going to use that word) unprecedented circumstances.

Fortunately, there are numerous ways to reward your employees, even if you’re still working remotely and social distancing makes holiday parties impossible. You just need to get a bit creative and understand the individuals in your team. If in doubt, remember the golden rules:

  • Say thank you sincerely and specifically
  • Cash is always a good reward
  • Gifts, if given, should be personalized
  • Enjoying a meal from home on the company dime is a great substitute for a catered holiday party
  • Extra time off is a great option if you can manage it

What creative team rewards have you come up with this year? Let us know in the comments so other managers and business owners can take inspiration from your awesome ideas!


Jess Amy Dixon is a Project Manager at Launch Space, where she helps SaaS clients land guest posts so they can generate links that push their content up the search rankings. She lives in the UK and when she’s not writing you can probably find her knitting, reading, or sipping coffee. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @JessAmyWrites.

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