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How Do You Celebrate Your Employees During the Holidays?

How your office celebrates the holidays can drive positive staff morale. Here's how three small-business owners are rewarding employees.
November 18, 2015

When the holiday rush kicks off, it’s usually all hands on deck. According to a National Retail Federation survey, approximately 40 percent of holiday shoppers begin their holiday shopping before Halloween, while another 41.5 percent begin in November.

In an effort to serve your customers during your busiest period, you may unintentionally slight your team. However, there may be no more critical time to honor the employees who make your dream a daily reality.

Holiday celebrations can be significant drivers of positive staff morale and engagement, and an excellent opportunity to support a caring and lively culture. I asked three small-business owners about their holiday strategies: Lisa Hennessy, founder of Your Pet Chef in Chicago; Miles Jennings, founder of in Connecticut; and Jason Parks, founder of The Media Captain in Ohio.

How do the holidays play into your larger strategy for employee rewards and recognition?

Lisa Hennessy: I feel a very personal connection with my employees, because they're in the trenches with me every day as we make food, create new recipes and grow the business. Therefore, I want to be sensitive to employees when they need time off during the holidays. We work around our employees' family commitments. 

Miles Jennings: We have always valued the importance and fun involved with surprise rewards given to team members—just to thank them for being a part of our company. During the holiday season, we use this program as frequently as possible. We give out Groupon deals for holiday-related events—holiday meals, gift baskets, holiday activities and more—to randomly selected team members, and we reward the team as a whole with extra days off during the holidays.

Jason Parks: The holiday season comes at a nice time, because I can take into consideration our company’s performance over the past year and give rewards based on results. I always have a holiday party to show everyone how appreciative I am of their hard work. 

How can a small business celebrate its employees during the holidays if it has little or no budget to spend?

Parks: You should have some type of party, even if it has to be held at your office. It's a really nice gesture to celebrate everyone’s accomplishments. 

Jennings: I suggest in-office events for employees to mingle and have fun. Potluck lunches and dinners are always a great place to start, because everyone chips in and brings their own dishes. Giving a few extra days off around the holidays—or allowing remote work during the holidays—may also be greatly appreciated.

Hennessy: I put aside $20 a week toward a bonus fund so, at the end of the year, I can give each employee a week’s extra salary.

I suggest in-office events for employees to mingle and have fun. Giving a few extra days off around the holidays—or allowing remote work during the holidays—may also be greatly appreciated.

How do you get around cultural sensitivities that come up during the holidays?

Jennings: We respect each team member’s religion, culture and differences, and to make sure that there aren’t any awkward or inappropriate moments, we focus all events, rewards, recognition, parties and gifts on the holidays in general. We don’t have a specific theme—our efforts are just a celebration of a great team. They can be enjoyed by all, regardless of background.

Parks: Everyone has different viewpoints and beliefs, which is what makes our country great. We try and learn about everyone's traditions during the holiday time, but if they don't want to share, it’s no big deal. I consider the holiday season a time when our company comes together and bonds a bit more. 

What’s the most successful holiday activity you’ve ever done? 

Hennessy: Last year, we published two holiday cookbooks that were very successful. Your Pet Chef Presents the 12 Days of Christmas and Your Pet Chef Presents the 8 Days of Hanukkah share recipes for dogs based on traditional holiday dishes. We held a cooking class at a local venue where we prepared recipes from these holiday books.

Parks: We had a bowling event last year that was a blast. I took care of everyone’s bowling, food and drinks. Our team had a great time.  

Jennings: One year, our entire team took part in a local Thanksgiving “Turkey Dash” 5K race. Thanks to the preparation for the race, the event itself and the fun after party, the 5K brought us closer together and made us feel more like equals. We pushed each other to succeed, and this encouragement and belief in each other became a common trait in our workplace.

Read more articles about motivating employees.

Photo: iStock