End-of-year rewards are popular but do employees expect them as standard? And do they engage staff beyond December? Sonia Rach looks at year-round reward


For many organisations, employees are offered bonuses or gifts as a thank you at the end of the year. In fact, corporate Christmas gift-giving can be so taken for granted that these rewards may go unrecognised. A potential solution is rewarding staff in a meaningful way at other times of the year.

Creating such a strategy can be difficult and it often depends on the type of workforce. Tracy Finn, head of corporate service at Harrods, says: “Knowing your workforce is essential to providing valued gifts. I think personalisation and making people feel like their individual contribution is making a difference is the key.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to be something excessively expensive that transcends value, it’s more about showing that there’s some thought going into it.”

It comes as no surprise that many staff will be waiting for some sort of gift as end of the year approaches. However, organisations that limit their rewards to the Christmas period are missing out on a longer-term motivational tool.

Expecting people to remain motivated all year-round can be a big ask – and not understanding your workforce personally can add to this. Research by Edenred has found that over half of employers (57%) have never asked their staff about the type of reward they would prefer, and 53% say they do not measure their impact.

Costly gifts are often not what employees want or value in the long term. Instead, it is about taking an individual approach and reviewing your strategy yearly.

Creating a strategy that boosts motivation is the priority and Clare Rutherford, new business insight & marketing manager, House of Fraser, explains a way to put this into effect.

“Setting some goals at the start of the year with designated group coordinators is a good approach to give staff something to work towards. It also allows a great form of communicating what the employee wants back to the relevant decision makers.”

Peer-to-peer gratitude

David Walker, chief commercial officer at Personal Group, explains that managerial thanks is not the only route.

He says: “We run a peer-to-peer recognition programme – each employee can nominate a colleague, and we are able to make a small points’-based award that’s equivalent to £10 a month. At Christmas, we extend the amount to a little more. This gives individuals a bit of extra recognition.”

This approach not only boosts interaction within the company, it is also a good way for individuals to feel recognised.

But is that enough? Andrew Drake, head of reward and benefit consulting at JLT Employee Benefits, suggests there is a work culture in the UK that needs to be overcome to ensure staff really value their rewards.

“Many employees don’t think we’re good at saying thank you. A ‘thank you’ alongside a recognition gift or reward will go much further than a gift on a desk or a bit of money to their pay cheque.”

Walker adds: “Make sure the gift is given by the line manager so there is a personal attachment to it. As well as a corporate reward, I try and encourage my team to spend a small budget of around £10 or £15 to get a gift that is really appropriate to that individual – it could be a calendar for their favourite football team, or a mug, but something that shows a real personal understanding and means a lot.”

However, House of Fraser’s Rutherford takes a different approach. She says: “I think it’s nice to get that recognition from the top, from the chief executive or another senior member of staff, just to add a bit more value to that reward.”

But who the gift comes from very much depends on the culture of the workforce. She adds: “In smaller organisations, employees may value a reward much more highly if it is given from a senior member of staff, whereas in larger organisations, a line manager may be better.

Getting the seasonal amount and frequency right can be a challenge. JLT Employee Benefits’ Drake says: “This is the key point about recognition: it isn’t just that we should give vouchers throughout the year; they should be earned when something has been done out of the ordinary.”

Harrods’ Finn agrees. “There has to be a feeling like you’ve earned it but it can also be engaging at other times where it’s just because you’re valued as an employee.”

Horses for courses

Yet the most important question remains: what is the best type of reward to give? Cash rewards aren’t always recognised by staff as they can be lost in the payroll. Personal Group’s Walker says: “There is a huge body of research when we talk about non cash carrying a higher perceived value than cash.”

Across the industry, it appears that the common theme is to personalise rewards. People want to feel as though their individual contribution is making a difference. Strategically planning for benefits throughout the year has a significant impact on employee engagement, motivation and turnover.

As Finn says: “It’s about seeing how you can incentivise staff to go that extra mile, not at a specific period but throughout the year when you really need everyone to be creative and proactive.

“A benefits strategy needs to incorporate this and be tailor-made to the company, depending on the industry and the sector, in order to work properly.”