5 Great, Unique Holiday Gifts for Your Employees

professional skills

Holiday gift giving can be stressful, but if you really want to recognize your employees' hard work, consider these gifts for the upcoming holiday season.

To Gift or Not to Gift?

Despite what many people might think, giving employees holiday gifts isn't always a standard practice at most companies.

According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, only 23 percent of businesses planned to give all of their employees nonperformance-based gifts for the 2015 holiday season. This showed a significant decrease from 32 percent of businesses giving gifts in 2013.

hand holding a gift

If these companies aren't giving their employees gifts, what are they doing during the holidays?

  • 65 percent of the organizations surveyed said they would be having a holiday party.
  • 82 percent said they would be having a charitable drive or donation, such as Toys for Tots.
  • 43 percent said they would be participating in department gift exchanges but not companywide gift exchanges.

So although a majority of those surveyed indicated they wouldn't be giving their employees gifts, they are still participating in other holiday activities.

Depending on the size and budget of your organization, you might not be able to provide all of your employees with a holiday gift, but it is important to recognize your employees' hard work and dedication to their job as well as showing them that you value and appreciate their contribution to the work place.

If you already participate in employee recognition throughout the year, you might choose not to place an emphasis on the holidays. Since the holidays fall at the end of the year, though, it could be the perfect time to not only give your employees a holiday gift but also to give them to motivation to keep up the great work in the new year to come.

What Do Employees Want for the Holidays?

Once you've made the decision to give your employees holiday gifts, you will then have to decide what you are going to get for them. This can be a difficult process because you want to get them something useful and meaningful, but you're also most likely dealing with a diverse group of people with widely different interests.

So what can you get your employees that will make all of them happy? Here are 5 great gifts your employees are guaranteed to love.

gift card

1. The gift of choice

Would you rather your employees receive a gift they don't want or a gift of their choosing? While a gift card isn't necessarily a groundbreaking gift, it's great because you're giving your employees the opportunity to choose the perfect gift for themselves since they're the ones who get to pick it out. General merchandise stores like Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Bed Bath & Beyond are good gift card choices because they offer such a variety of items. Local grocery store, movie theater, and restaurant gift cards are also excellent choices.

Some people think gift cards are impersonal and show a lack of creativity, but you can always make the gift card a bit more special by including a personalized card or note to kick it up a notch.

2. The gift of flexibility

Holiday schedules can be a nightmare - kids are on vacation from school, people are traveling to see family or family is coming to see them, holiday shopping needs to get done, and that doesn't even cover the abundance of events and activities happening throughout the holiday season. With so much going on, you might consider giving your employees the gift of a flexible work arrangement with one or two paid days off during the holidays. Let them pick the day or days that work best for them with one caveat: they have to make sure that everyone from their department doesn't take the same day off. Even with this condition, your employees will appreciate having some flexibility in their holiday schedule.

If you can't give whole days off, consider shutting the office down early as the holidays get closer. Just remember to give your employees ample notice so they can make any necessary arrangements.

3. The gift of food

When it comes to holiday gifts, it's hard to go wrong with food because everyone's got to eat. Give your employees the chance to enjoy a delicious catered meal in the office or at a restaurant. Not only will your employees enjoy the meal but they will also enjoy the break from work. When choosing the food, though, make sure you're aware of special dietary restrictions so there's something for everyone to eat and no one feels left out. And although the goal is to have everyone attend these events and enjoy themselves, make it optional. Some people might not want to hang out with their co-workers, so don't force them.

holiday meal

4. The gift of fun

The holidays are a hectic time and after a long year of work, your employees might really enjoy having some fun. Throw a holiday party either in or out of the office and give your staff the chance to socialize, cut loose, and let their work and holiday stress melt away. Not only does a holiday party tell your employees you want them to enjoy themselves, but it can also be a great, informal team-building experience.

There are no rules when it comes to organizing the party, but it might help to get your employees' input so you know exactly what type of party they want. Do they want it to be held during or after work? Do they want to keep it employees only or be allowed to invite their family? Do they want alcohol to be served?

Just remember, like with the meal mentioned above, don't make attendance mandatory. And, as the boss, make your appearance at the party but shoot for an early departure time. Forbes contributor Tine Thygesen says, ''While bosses are (mostly) nice people, it's a well-known fact that no one wants to sit next to them at the Christmas party, because then they have to behave.'' So say hello to everyone, have a drink or two, and then make your exit so you can really give your employees the chance to have a good time as well as maintain your employer-employee relationship.

5. The gift of thoughtfulness

If you really want to impress your employees, choose a thoughtful, personal gift that shows your employees not only that you appreciate them but also that you really know them. If you're a smaller business, you might be able to tailor each employee's gift, such as a book or gift basket specifically curated to their interests, more easily. At larger businesses, however, you might not have the time or budget to pull this off. If all of your employees will be getting the same holiday gift, consider personalizing it with your employee's name or initials to give it that extra thoughtful touch.

Regardless of what you choose to give your employees, make sure you're consistent. If everyone gets the exact same gift, you don't need to worry. If you plan on giving individual gifts, however, the price points and type of gift should be similar from employee to employee. In other words, don't give one employee a new iPad and another employee a $25 gift card.

What Employees Don't Want for the Holidays

Your idea of the perfect employee holiday gift might differ greatly from your employees' idea of the perfect gift. With that in mind, if you plan on giving your employees a gift this holiday season, make sure you steer clear of a few controversial items:


  • Donations. Making donations during the holidays is a popular practice, but a donation in lieu of a holiday gift isn't necessarily a best practice. Suzanne Lucas, better known as the Evil HR Lady, writes, ''Do not tell your employees that you've made a generous donation in their names. It's not generous. It's rude.'' Many businesses do take on charitable causes during the holidays, which can be a wonderful annual tradition, but participation should be voluntary. If your employees want to give charitable gifts, let them choose to do so on their own.
  • Promotional products. Your employees don't need a coffee mug or pen emblazoned with your company's name and logo for the holidays. Rieva Lesonsky, a small business contributor to Fundera, says, ''Save promotional items for your prospects and customers; giving them to your employees just makes you look cheap.''
  • Gag gifts. What you think is funny doesn't always translate as funny to other people, especially when it comes to gag gifts. Gag gifts can easily backfire and not only make your employees uncomfortable but also be misconstrued as offensive. If you don't plan to give a meaningful gift, then you might want to forgo a gift altogether.

When it comes to holiday gift giving, the goal is to show your employees that you are grateful for the work they do and you appreciate the effort they put in each and every day. Whether you choose to do that with a gift, a gathering, a personal note, or even a simple ''thank you'' is up to you.

By Melissa Kreindel
December 2017
professional skills recruitment & compensation

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