Companies often give employees bonuses at Christmas-time, but are these the best gift to give? Sonia Rach investigates the rewards to suit every employee


As the end of the year begins to approach, employers and reward specialists are looking to give their staff something more immediate and tangible than perhaps a Christmas party or other social event.

The gift versus money debate is ongoing, but the fundamental question is what do employees want, and how can you match your appreciation to the wishes of your workforce?

Jamie Mackenzie, director of marketing at Sodexo Benefits and Rewards Services, says: “We live in a world where employers look at staff and forget they are consumers themselves. As consumers, we’re used to personalisation, we’re used to things being very specific to us, and having a lot of choice – and sometimes employers can forget that these are the same people working for them on a day-to-day basis.

“So choice, when it comes to rewarding across the year and specifically around Christmas time, needs to be a key part of the strategy for this time of year.”

The downside to a cash bonus

Declan Byrne, managing director at One4all, agrees. He explains that the physical size of a reward in the form of a cash bonus is only recognised if it is a significant amount.

“I think the real argument is whether cash integrated into the payroll is better or whether something non cash is. Non cash can be anything from gift cards, catalogue items or even a bonus such as a pot of free annual leave days.”

If you’re giving generous bonuses, such as £1,000 to every employee, then it could become a nice reward because the physical size will ensure it is as memorable as the gesture.

But if you’re giving smaller amounts – and Christmas bonuses are usually token amounts – then you have to consider whether integrating it into payroll is a good idea or whether the bonus will just be absorbed into festive spending and not be remembered.

In today’s working environment, research has shown that many organisations have generations of people working alongside each other. Mackenzie says: “By 2020, 50% of the UK workforce will be millennials, so the generational and demographic change is very real. You’ve got school leavers coming in at 18, all the way to workers of 60 or more.”

From millennials to baby boomers, how can a company choose the best type of reward strategy that fits all? This may be where some organisations are going wrong. Matt Snare, sales director at People Value, says that it is important that the culture moves away from the one-size-fits-all approach.

He says the way to tackle this is by offering an element of choice.

Snare says: “There are all sorts of options, from the more traditional things like hampers and retail vouchers to schemes that offer a broad choice to employees.

“For example, we have a programme called E-Reward that allows employers to offer a choice of rewards. It’s a code-based system that gives each employee a unique code which they use to redeem a reward of their preference.

“By doing that you’re providing an element of choice, and with companies with a broad demographic, it empowers and enables the staff member to best pick the reward that fits their personal aspirations.”

Boosting loyalty

Research by gift card company One4all found that improved benefits can increase an employee’s sense of loyalty to an organisation. It found that 68% of those surveyed said that being regularly thanked for their efforts would improve their sense of loyalty to their employer; 34% of respondents claimed they would be unlikely to leave a job if they were shown regular appreciation and praise.

The report found that the most common form of recognition experienced by workers was a simple ‘thank you’ from their boss when work was done well (32%).

And when a ‘thank you’ is in the form of cash or gifts, having a reward linked to individual effort or attainment is 2.5 times more important to employees than the actual size of the reward.

Byrne from One4all says: “I think there are two levels to it. People like to see the ‘big boss’ rewarding them, but generally in companies, particularly larger ones, as far as the workforce are concerned, their immediate supervisor or line manager is the one they recognise as being representative of the company.”

The ideal situation would be where it’s presented by the local manager to the workforce but is clearly endorsed by the chief executive.

Byrne adds: “I do think that the more personal it is the better. If it can be delivered to the desk or in person for a verbal thanks, it goes far. The presentation and environment is important, and the relationship of a manager to the employee is often more important than the actual bonus.”

Keep it special

Sodexo’s Mackenzie agrees. “It definitely depends on the size of the companies. Some organisations and staff really appreciate rewards coming from the managing director, the chief executive, or the owner in the case of smaller businesses. Moving up in terms of size, then it’s nice to have either a member of the board or a departmental head doing the rewarding.”

With even larger organisations, having managers, line managers and departmental heads show their appreciation works well because they are the people who are closest to the employee.

After all, they are the ones who are working with their teams all year round, with all of the ups and downs, so an element of personal appreciation has even more meaning.