Joy to the workforce

Festive perks tend to centre on an annual bonus and an office party, but many employers go way beyond that. Cherry Park reports.

Now that autumn’s here, many HR and benefits professionals will be considering how to reward their hard-working employees over the coming festive period.

Far from the traditional route of an annual bonus and subsidised Christmas party, more and more companies now offer a wide range of yuletide incentives, from hampers to charitable donations.

“The area of Christmas incentives is becoming less structured,” explains Richard Stocker, senior consultant at JLT Benefit Solutions. “But it is a time of year when a small gesture can receive a warm reception from staff,” he adds.

The Christmas party is still alive and well, however, and Stocker warns organisations that withdrawing this perk could damage morale. “There is still a strong expectation as far as Christmas parties are concerned, so for the employer to stop having them could cause a backlash for what is actually a relatively small outlay,” he says.

While Christmas bonuses continue to be popular, with many employers paying out their annual profit-related pay around that time, a number of employers have abolished bonuses in favour of ad-hoc recognition bonuses that run throughout the year.

“In my experience, most people want money rather than a gift, if given the choice,” says Mark Thomson, associate director at Hay Group management consultants.

“Payments and gifts inevitably get compared from one year to the next, but this is no bad thing if it can be linked directly to the success of the organisation.”

Aside from hard cash, what else can employers offer? Extra shopping days for Christmas is one idea. Another growing trend is to dispense with the company Christmas card and inform clients by e-mail that the company has decided to donate a gift to charity instead.

Mobile network company O2 runs a series of events to make the run-up to the festive season enjoyable.

Ann Pickering, O2’s head of HR and customer services, explains: “The highlight last year was the hugely successful ‘Glow’ – three, free events across our sites at great venues, with food, celebrity DJs, prizes, free drinks vouchers and transport provided.”

A time for giving

Donating to charity rates highly in reward choices. Consequently charities – such as Sightsavers, which raises funds for those with sight problems in the developing world via an online reward scheme – often target employers over the Christmas period.

Katy Dore, corporate partnerships executive at Sightsavers, says: “People tend to be more generous at this time of the year.” But, she warns: “There is a lot of competition among charities at Christmas time and it can be hard to attract the attention of companies that are increasingly being targeted for donations.”

Hampers are another popular option that can be given to every level of employee. David England, managing director of Highland Fayre, says: “It’s amazing what you can get for under £20, but it is the perceived value to the employee that counts.”

One benefit of buying hampers is that the employee does not know the exact value of the gift. “You are left floundering as to how much your employer has spent on you,” England observes. O2 distributes hampers to all its multi-ethnic employees irrespective of faith. But according to Stocker, some organisations are more cautious about giving out hampers due to concerns about political correctness, ethical sourcing, health and safety, and food hygiene. Offering certain religions alcohol could be perceived as indirect discrimination.

To avoid getting into trouble, many organisations have stopped giving Christmas rewards altogether.

Stocker says: “You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”

Microsoft is one such company. It does not offer any specific incentives at Christmas. Theresa McHenry, senior HR manager, says: “We have a broad range of reward, recognition and incentive schemes that are not religious or festival-specific but are linked to our employee values. These include the ‘circles of excellence’ awards, where achievers have dinner with company founder Bill Gates, or campaign-specific awards.”

But in organisations where the Christmas bonus is as central a part of the culture as the office party, HR should watch out.

Jonathan Haskell, chief executive of reward consultancy Michael C Fina, says: “Whatever the reason, if it is withdrawn after a long period, it will not be well received, especially if it is a substantial sum.”

So before you decide to ditch the festive hamper in favour of a free sandwich in the canteen, try to remember what happened to Ebenezer Scrooge.


About your best reward

If you have received an unusual or interesting reward or benefit at work, let us know at

Christmas reward: top tips



    • Deliver the unexpected. Consider theatre vouchers one year, a meal out the next and, perhaps, a family fun day the year after.


    • Align any bonus to corporate and/or individual performance.


    • Communicate carefully. Find out what people want. And be careful how you publicise it.


  • Be consistent with your values. Coming across as an emotional and caring employer at Christmas won’t wash if the opposite is true for the rest of the year.


Source: Hay Group

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