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12 Cost-Effective Ways to Thank Employees This Holiday Season Team
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The holiday season is upon us. For many SMBs, it’s the busiest time of the year. It also signals the end of the calendar year, which is the perfect time to come up with some creative employee recognition ideas. 

While thanking your employees should be an ongoing activity, taking the time to do a little extra around the holidays will always be appreciated.

Employee recognition is a key factor in employees feeling engaged, and that engagement can have a big impact on your business performance. According to one survey, it’s estimated that a highly-engaged workforce can help a business achieve up to a 20 percent increase in sales.

As a small business owner, you likely don’t have a giant budget to throw a fancy holiday party, and that’s OK. Your employees will appreciate small gestures, and you don’t need to spend a bundle to show them you are grateful for what they do every day. Instead, consider what you can do to say thank you without adding to their to-do list this holiday season. 

To help you get creative with how you recognize your employees, we’ve come up with 12 low-cost employee recognition ideas that you can use during the holidays and beyond.

Show You Know Them With Personalization

Employees want to know that you see them as people — not just employees. Giving personalized gifts shows you’ve been paying attention to their likes and dislikes. 

Taking the time to handwrite a card to your employees is a great way to personalize your communication with them. Include some thoughts on how their work contributes to the business and the overall team. For an extra wow factor, send the card directly to their home, so it’s a nice surprise in the mail. 

Some other personalized ideas to consider:

#1 Find Some Novelty Gifts

When you spend all day at work being sensible, it can be nice to be silly and have a laugh. Choose novelty gifts with funny images, a common office saying or anything else you know will make an employee smile. 

A few suggestions: 

  • A mug with a common office saying.
  • Artwork that reflects their interests or hobbies. 
  • A funny calendar.
  • A t-shirt or hat.

#2. Spruce up Their Workspace

When people spend so much time at their jobs, things can start to seem a bit boring. Give your employees’ workspaces a fresh new look to bring a smile to their faces, and show them you want their time at work to be as comfortable as possible. You could include:

  • New office supplies.
  • Balloons or desk confetti.
  • New artwork.
  • A plant.

Another similar option you could consider is to create a special workspace in a coveted area — like by a window with a great view or a big office with a door — that can be used as a way to reward great performance and say thank you. You can decorate the space, equip it with snacks and give different employees the opportunity to enjoy the space for a day. 

#3. Gift Cards 

If you want to be 100 percent sure that your employees get a gift that’s exactly what they want, you can’t go wrong with gift cards. 

Depending on what your employees’ interests and hobbies are, you can keep it very general — like an Amazon gift card — or get a gift card for somewhere you know they’ll love. 

Possible gift card ideas include:

  • A local restaurant they want to try.
  • Spa treatment or massage.
  • Their favorite store.
  • Movie passes.
  • A local attraction, like a zoo or amusement park.
  • Gas cards.

Keep Them Fueled

When you’re working through the busy holiday season, it’s all too easy to skip a meal. Providing meals and snacks so your employees don’t have to think about food while they are working is the perfect way to say you appreciate their dedication.

The key to food-related appreciation is understanding what exactly your employee enjoys. Ask questions, do a quick poll on Evite and be willing to take suggestions from your team so that everyone will find something they love on the table. 

Whatever you decide to go with, always provide healthy options. Not everyone wants to overindulge on sweets during the holidays, so having a good variation in your offerings will ensure everyone is satisfied. 

#4. Host a Holiday Favorites Potluck

Most people have holiday favorites — whether it’s a side dish they make at Thanksgiving, cookies made from their grandma’s recipe or a fabulous entree that appears at all of their holiday gatherings. 

Give your employees the opportunity to share their traditions and cultures with the rest of the team by hosting a potluck. Ask each employee to share why they chose that particular item, and share the recipe with the team. 

Employees can sign up with what they’re bringing, and then you can fill in the rest. You’ll need drinks, snacks and some reusable containers so everyone can share leftovers. 

#5. Stock up on Team Favorites 

The holidays are often hectic, so have things like coffee and snacks on hand for the busiest weeks of the year. 

Ask your team what kind of pastries, coffees, teas and other snacks and beverages they love, so you can make sure everyone gets a little something that will make them smile. 

Make a point to put everything out daily where it can be accessed by everyone on their breaks. 

#6. Surprise Them With a Bar

Everyone loves food you can customize, so why not delight your team with a bar where they can help themselves?

Find out what sort of bar your team would enjoy, layout everything needed for this special treat and let your team graze throughout the day.

Ideas for your bar:

  • Hot beverages — hot chocolate, cider and gourmet teas, including chai and some unsweetened options.
  • Taco bar.
  • Salad bar.
  • Sundae bar.

#7. Go Gourmet

We all have things we like that we don’t often indulge in due to cost. Find some amazing local gourmet treats for your team to enjoy over the holiday season, and offer a selection of delectable snacks mixed with healthy choices.

Some possible options to include:

  • Candy.
  • Chocolate.
  • Pastries. 
  • Sandwiches or other takeout food. 
  • Nuts.
  • Hummus and other spreads.
  • Exotic fruit.

Make It Fun for Everyone

Work can be stressful — especially through the holiday rush. Spending time with your team when they can relax not only shows your appreciation, but it also provides a great opportunity for everyone to get to know each other better and strengthen their bond. 

#8. Plan a Team Bond Outing

People love having something to look forward to, so plan a group activity for as soon as the busy season dies down, so your team can bond outside the office.

This is one area where it’s best to ask your team what they’d like to do, to appeal to the most people possible and to ensure you have great event participation.

Give your team a few different options to choose from, such as:

  • Bowling.
  • Karaoke.
  • Laser tag.
  • Axe throwing.
  • An escape room.
  • A night at the movies.
  • Paint night.

#9. Bring in Communal Board Games

Get some games and add them to the break room so employees can play on their breaks to let off some steam.

Choose games that don’t require every participant to sit together at once. Players should be able to take their turn and then carry on with their work until the next time they have an opportunity. 

Some games that are great for solo or group play include:

  • Jenga.
  • Puzzles. 
  • Rubik's cubes.
  • Chess.
  • Checkers.

Once the season is done, send the games home with your employees. Or consider hosting a team board game night so everyone has a chance to play together.

#10. Holiday Trivia

Plan a trivia contest for a seven or 10-day period over the holidays. Consider making it a collaborative effort with your team by having them submit questions for the contest. Allow each team member to submit a fun fact about themselves and include those in your trivia deck. 

Have two or three questions daily for employees to answer. Include trivia about the business, holiday traditions for different cultures, etc. 

Trivia questions can be answered as a solo activity, or employees can be broken into teams. At the end of the trivia period, do a grand prize draw for tickets to a local event and have some prizes for the runners up. 

#11. Holiday Dollars for Swag Store 

Your employees do great things every day, so why not catch them in the moment?

For the month of December, give out company-branded dollars or gold dollar coins every time you catch someone doing a great job. Involve the entire team by encouraging them to give one another kudos to show their appreciation.

When the month is over, allow employees to redeem their dollars for prizes — small gift cards, company swag, mugs, t-shirts, etc. 

Be Community-Minded

Charities and local organizations are often pressed for assistance during the holiday season. Finding ways to give back while helping employees make a direct impact is good for the community and the soul.

#12. Lend a Helping Hand 

Start by brainstorming with your team to decide on a local charity you want to assist. Consider choosing something related to your business that can leverage everyone’s professional skills or a cause you know employees feel strongly about. 

This is a great time to help kids who spend the holidays in hospitals or offer assistance to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Another option to consider if you have animal lovers on the team is to take a trip to the Humane Society to walk dogs and lend a hand with anything else they need.

With it being the holiday season, it may not be feasible for everyone on the team to go at once, so plan a few different dates where a couple of team members can help out. Once the volunteer work is done, you can take it a step further and make a contribution to your chosen charity in the company’s name. 

No matter how you choose to show your employees you appreciate them over the holiday season, the most important thing is to just do it. Employees who feel valued are more willing to invest time and effort into your business. By making the most of these employee recognition ideas, you’re showing them you’re willing to do the same. 



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