The holiday season is often a time of both joy and stress for business-owners and executives. They are excited to spend time with friends and family and to celebrate the season, of course, but pending year-end deadlines and annual strategic planning can add pressure to the end of the year. When it comes to employee gifting, the most well-intentioned ideas can become an afterthought. I encourage you to take the pressure off and redefine what giving a gift truly means to you. Is it meant to build rapport? Celebrate a job well done? Make the company seem like a great place to work? Getting clear on your intention behind the gift will help you identify where to focus. I also recommend doing something that represents your company’s core values. Is one of your values serving others? Perhaps you make a charitable donation in your employee’s name. Do you emphasize fun at work? Buy an office ping-pong table and organize a holiday tournament over happy hour.

Gary Beckstrand, Vice President at O.C. Tanner reminds us that gifts don’t need to be expensive or extravagant. Putting in the effort to show your employees that you know and appreciate them is what matters most. A small token can go a long way; according to a survey by gifting blog Knackshops, 81% of employees say they feel appreciated when they receive gifts from their employer, and 56% feel recognized for doing a good job. Use these three employee-approved categories to give your staff an extra boost to their holiday season.

Give the Gift of Time

Employees agree that extra time off, especially during the holidays, is a huge gift. One woman remarked that when her employer closed the office during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, “it felt like I got a million-dollar check. I’d never take that week off, but now I have it to spend time with my family.” Closing the office during high PTO weeks can also increase team morale as those left behind aren’t struggling to cover for their co-workers on vacation. Giving employees time off to spend with family and friends also shows them you value their lives outside of work; this goes an especially long way with younger employees.  Giving the gift of time can also occur outside of the normal calendar holidays. Minnesota company Clockwork closed on Election Day in order to give all employees easy access to voting. Other companies choose to give employees the day off on their birthday or offer shorter “summer hours.” If you choose to do this, just remember to share your excitement about this initiative during the holiday gifting season!

Make it Meaningful and Memorable

Often the most meaningful gifts are homemade or low-cost. When it comes to a good gift, it’s truly the thought that counts. Showing your employees that you know their individual interests goes a long way in creating a memorable present. Are they service-minded? Donate to their favorite charity. Do they love to travel or have family out of state? Give them an airline voucher to use toward their next trip. Are they an avid cook? Find a nice knife set or fancy olive oil. The key here is to pick out something that shows you thought of them. Adding a kind, handwritten note also goes a long way. Just make sure to keep all of your gifts in the same price range to keep everything fair.

If individual giving isn’t your thing, curate a fun experience for your team. There are many companies that cater to this, from fun escape rooms to private whiskey tastings. Even a simple holiday potluck at the office spreads joy and boosts team bonding. In fact, giving experiences over things may lead to better long-term benefits, as scientific studies show that experiences create more lasting happiness than material goods.

Wellness Wins

As our society becomes increasingly concerned with fitness and wellness, gifts that help employees on their health pursuits are sure to be well received. Many companies choose to give employees memberships to close-by gyms, promoting a healthy lifestyle. Another company I know gave all of their employees FitBit trackers for their holiday gift; this led to positive competition within the office. If you’d rather give a group gift, bringing in a masseuse for an hour or having a yoga teacher come in for a class are good ideas. This will not only increase team bonding, but also show the company values health. According to the American Institute of Stress, work and the workplace are by far the biggest causes of stress for Americans. Take it upon yourself to help decrease that stress for your employees; they will appreciate it and you will see positive results in their loyalty and effort.

Regardless of what you choose to give this holiday season, do so with an open heart and kind intentions. Also keep in mind that not everyone celebrates the holidays, so be sure to keep office events optional and non-denominational. As the boss, it is your responsibility to set the tone for celebrating and communicating expectations. And last but not least, take a cue from A1 Garage Door founder Tommy Mello and remember that gift giving can occur all year. You never need a reason to say, “thank you,” give specific praise or write your employee a kind note; these are all gifts! Happy Holidays!


  • Sue Hawkes

    CEO, Speaker, Best-Selling Author and Entrepreneur

    Sue Hawkes helps CEOs and their leadership teams succeed. As a bestselling author, keynote speaker, Certified EOS Implementer, Certified Business Coach, WPO Chapter Chair, and globally recognized, award-winning seminar leader, Sue brings over twenty-five years of experience to her clients. She is CEO of YESS! and has designed and delivered dynamic, transformational programs for thousands of people. Sue has received numerous awards including the Dream Keeper award recognized by the Governor’s Council for her leadership program, the Regional U.S. Small Business Administration Women in Business Champion of the Year award, the Exemplary Woman of the Community award, WomenVenture’s Unsung Hero award, Women Who Lead from Minnesota Business Magazine, NAWBO Minnesota’s Achieve! Vision Award and named a 2018 Enterprising Woman of the Year. Her most recent book, "Chasing Perfection- Shatter the Illusion; Minimize Self-Doubt & Maximize Success," is available now.