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Robert Banks -Joan Stoneking-christmas

4 min read

I can’t count the number of times throughout my HR career that I’ve been asked to basically fill in for Santa Claus. This means coming up with the perfect gift to give to our employees, ones that will make them feel appreciated, valued and in the holiday spirit. Cookies, branded mugs, you name it — but what does it really do?

Now I have nothing against the holidays, and I certainly have nothing against giving gifts, but if employee recognition is your objective, (and it should be, as 69% of employees said they’d work harder if they were recognised) then it’s time to stop thinking of recognition as just for the holidays, and instead consider the larger value of the gift that keeps on giving.

Why ditch the holiday treats?

We’ve talked about ways to show appreciation for your employees throughout the holiday season, and while I think these ideas are in great fun, true moments of recognition should be reserved for an act that’s worth recognising. There are a couple reasons why it’s time to ditch the “recognition for the holidays” Santa hat:

  • The first reason has to do with the diversity of our workforces. If your employees are as diverse as mine, not all of them celebrate the same holidays, so by giving them a holiday gift, you are going against all the great work you’re doing in respect to diversity and inclusion by treating everyone exactly the same.
  • Second, how do you pick that “perfect” gift? Over the years I’ve tried, and quite frankly I’ve never gotten it right. Some would say to then just give money, but to me cash is impersonal and gets ignored and forgotten quite quickly.
  • And finally, unlike Santa Claus, I don’t know everyone who’s been naughty or nice, so by giving everyone a gift you’re doing nothing to recognise employees based on their individual contributions. And by ignoring this, you’re ignoring the impact that recognising behaviours driven by values can have on your business.


Enough with the Scrooge talk, what do employees really want?

Let me now move onto sharing ideas to help you give the true gifts of recognition at this festive time of the year, ones that will help your employees feel appreciated for their individual contributions, help them understand the behaviours and actions that are valued at your company, and ultimately help your business succeed.

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Instead of thinking of holiday-driven moments, I like to think of delivering recognition at the end of the year in addition to continuous moments of recognition throughout the year to build your own “thank you” culture. Here are a few ideas on how you could put this into action:


  • Peer pats: Let all your employees pick colleagues who they believe have lived your values throughout the year, and ask them to give them a peer pat (or whatever you want to call it).  It doesn’t have to cost anything, in fact, non-financial, meaningful, peer-to-peer recognition can often be more valued than a financial award. Reward Gateway offers a suite of tailored eCards, which makes it easy to create and give out special holiday recognition moments. Here’s an example of one from last year:


  • Recognition lottery: A lottery can be fun, exciting and engaging even if you don’t win. The way it works is that you enter all employees who’ve been recognised during the year in a lottery, and then randomly pick winners.  Prizes don’t have to cost a lot, it could be company logo gifts, gift vouchers, anything that gives your employees a choice to pick something they’d want.
  • Pass the parcel: A favourite game at children’s parties, pass the parcel could be another way to have a bit of fun with recognition. The way you could transition this to the workplace is have everyone who was recognised throughout the year would sit in a circle and pass around a parcel as the music plays, then whenever the music stops, whoever has the parcel would win a gift. Depending on your budget, you could have a variety of gifts.
  • Manager moments: Have your managers go back and select the members of their team who have best lived the company values and have them award a non-financial or financial award.  Whatever is decided, have managers weave these into their team meetings, using it to spotlight employee recognition programs even more.

Done right, recognition can be rewarding anytime of year, not just around the holiday season. But adding that extra bit of magic can take your recognition moments from “good” to “wow!”

How do you plan on recognising your employees this year?

Debra Corey

Debra Corey is an author, world-class speaker and HR consultant, paying it forward by inspiring and helping others around the world to bring out their inner rebel and drive strategic and meaningful people and business change as the Chief Pay it Forward Officer at DebCo HR. Her career spans 20+ years developing and delivering HR strategies in a rebellious way, pushing the boundaries and challenging the status quo to truly drive employee engagement.

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