What Your Employees Really Want for the Holidays

Dec 17, 2015
5 Min Read

It’s not a company tote or a fruitcake.

Holiday gifts to employees are more fraught with landmines than you might think: if you give hams, you’re leaving out the vegetarians, Muslim, and kosher Jews; if you give wine, you’re leaving out people who don’t drink; and if you give fruitcake, you’re alienating everyone with a palate. But how do you give gifts that employees actually want and will appreciate, especially when you have a large team with diverse personalities and interests?

Here are four gifts your employees almost certainly want this year.

1. Meaningful time off where they can really disconnect. Too many people don't take all the vacation time they have coming to them, because their workload makes them feel that they can’t responsibly get away, or their manager or workplace culture signals that they’ll be seen as not pulling their weight if they take real time off, or their manager pressures them to keep checking email while they’re gone.

If you’re in a position to give people extra time off, either around the holidays themselves, or for next year, your employees will appreciate that far more than a company tote or a lavish holiday party. If you’re not, you can still resolve to help them use and protect the vacation time they do get.

2. Flexibility. Whether it’s the ability to telecommute (either on a regular schedule or just occasionally), flexible work hours, non-traditional schedules, or longer parental leave, work flexibility is increasingly important to retain great employees. An Ernst & Young survey this year found flexibility listed as a top feature people want from their jobs (ranked just behind competitive salary and benefits), and cited a lack of flexibility as among the top reasons they would quit. And that trend is on the rise: Millennials are more likely than any other generation to say that they would change jobs or careers, give up promotion opportunities, relocate, or take a pay cut to have flexibility and better work-life balance. If you haven’t already brainstormed how you can offer more flexibility to your team, especially your high performers, vow to do it now, with an eye toward rolling out new practices in 2016 (even if just as experiments).

3. Gift cards. Gift cards get a bad rap in some circles for being impersonal, but you know what? It’s okay for employer-employee gifts to be a little impersonal, as long as they’re thoughtful. Everyone can use gift cards to a grocery store (you might even end up funding people’s holiday meals that way) or Amazon, and those are usually well appreciated gifts. (But being thoughtful here does matter. You don’t want to give a gift certificate to a steakhouse to a vegetarian. Stick with things everyone is likely to use.)

4. Money. Yes, money – no surprise there, but employers often lose sight of it when trying to figure out employee holiday gifts. Holiday bonuses create warm, fuzzy feelings like little else an employer can give (it’s probably tied only with giving everyone a free week off between Christmas and New Year’s, another popular move).

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