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What to do for employees at Christmas?

Ho, Ho, Ho – Tis a season of joy. But, it can also be a perplexing time for business owners and managers when faced with the question of what to give employees for the holidays? Likely, every boss wants to do something to recognize and reward employees who have been loyal and worked hard to keep the dealership going during an unquestionably difficult year. As a group, you’re still here – truly something worth recognition, given the number of dealerships that are not. Sill, what to do?

In the good years, cash bonuses are often the easy way to recognize employees for a good job. It was what I did for many years – the good years. By definition, of course, a bonus was meant as something extra — something not expected – a way to show my gratitude for a financially successful year. But, when the business went south and cash bonuses were no longer possible, I quickly learned the reality was that employees were expecting it. Apparently, they didn’t share my view that a bonus was an unexpected extra. Some even viewed it just part of their annual compensation. Clearly the whole point of a bonus reward had been lost somewhere and I realized once you start down the bonus road, hitting an exit can make one a Grinch!

Still, I wanted to show my genuine appreciation for the staff. After all, the fact that our earnings were zip wasn’t because they didn’t do their jobs. And, if they were counting on the bonus, it made things even more difficult. What to do?

I decided that I should come up with some cash bonus, albeit far less than in the past. In personally giving each one their check, I explained the association never intended bonuses to be part of expected compensation and, given that the economy had tanked our boat show earnings, this bonus was the best we could do. Moreover, in all likelihood, the association would not be giving Christmas bonuses in the future.

But I still wanted to do more for a team that had worked hard. I genuinely appreciated each of them. Disappointing them was hard for me. However, because we were a small staff (five people) and I knew each one very well, I could take time to personally shop for a special gift for each that was suited to their individual taste and style and, hopefully, reflected my true appreciation for them. A designer sweater for one, golf accessories for another, a gift certificate for a family dinner for another and so on. In the end, I believe those personal gifts actually wiped away any disappointments about the bonus situation. In fact, the rather impersonal nature of a bonus check was replaced by something thoughtfully hand-picked especially for them.

We ended the Christmas bonus forever after that year – but not the personal gifts. No, truth is, I came to genuinely enjoy taking time to shop for each special gift. I looked forward to it . . . and I know they all looked forward to opening those packages to see what I’d come up with.

Christmas is just around the corner. If this gives you any ideas, go for it.


3 comments on “What to do for employees at Christmas?

  1. Todd N.

    The only Christmas bonus that always fits, will always be used, and without a doubt is always appreciated is CASH… savings bonds, gift cards, etc are nice but they remove a level of control [where/when it can be used] and even a check, no matter how well presented will never bring a smile to an employees face like U.S. currency with pictures of Ben Franklin on them. The argument can be made that the appreciation will evaporate with the money, but that works on both sides of the fence: I know of too many managers/owners that do not recognize those people in their employ who come to work every day with the thought that EVERYONES bread should get buttered today, from the boss on down. Christmas bonus time is a chance to reward those shining stars, in a way that carries alot more weight than the noise coming out of your mouth.
    Are all bonuses in a group the same? No way, they are as different as the individuals in your employ. The concern of employees comparing bonuses, do they wave paychecks at each other on payday? Call me old fashioned, but I thought a level of discretion was implied when dealing with coworkers and money.
    Mr. Schultz, thanks for a thought [and comment] provoking article.

  2. Jim

    The owners of my company spent our bonuses on trips to Germany, Holland, Florida, New Orleans Hawaii etc.

  3. bns

    The owner I used to work for gave cash for a while, then stopped as the industry whent south, starting in 07. After that our bonus was spent keeping the wheels on the company. I think most of my fellow employees understood this. give your empoyees a little credit, they will understand if it is explianed to them.

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