As we approach the end of 2020, we brace ourselves for what will be a holiday season unlike any other, devoid of company holiday parties and the usual family gatherings. Eight months into the remote work experiment, many people are preparing to spend the holidays alone, and morale is at an all-time low. A recent study from Blind found that 68% of employees feel more burned out now than they did pre-pandemic, a number that’s been steadily rising. Pandemic aside, holidays can be an emotionally triggering time for people.

The moves you make in the next few months will determine your company’s ability to keep your people happy and attract amazing talent far beyond the pandemic, and let’s be honest—branded swag isn’t cutting it.

Here are five meaningful ways to show up for your people this holiday season:


Typically companies spend up to $150 per person on holiday parties. For large companies, this can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Holiday parties are canceled for the foreseeable future, so why not put that money toward your people? Reallocate funds normally set aside for end-of-year parties to a cash stipend for each employee. If your company is in the financial position to provide end-of-year bonuses, this extra bump will make that bonus look even more attractive, and people can choose to spend it whichever way they like.


Cash is most employers’ love language. Unfortunately, most employees aren’t feeling the love. In fact, the majority (80%) would prefer perks over a pay raise if given the choice, according to a 2015 Glassdoor survey. In a time when our daily lives have been upended, and simple pleasures stripped from us, perks can make all the difference for employee happiness. While pre-pandemic perks such as on-site gym memberships and catered lunches no longer apply, lifestyle perks such as virtual tutoring services, meal delivery, or even a monthly flower subscription are small but meaningful ways to make a positive mark on someone’s day.


This year has brought new meaning to the phrase “It takes a village.” Many of us have leaned on our teams for more support this year as we navigate challenging circumstances at home, from caring for children to dealing with the difficulties of remote work. Give your people a way to show appreciation for their work village. After all, getting gifts feels good, but giving gifts usually feels better. Give each employee a dedicated gift budget to give something special to a cherished colleague, or allow employees to gift each other points for use in a perks marketplace.


This is not the year to be prescriptive about employee gifts, as every person has very different needs at home. After all, if our experiences aren’t standardized, why should our gifts? Forget gift baskets or branded hoodies. The best gift you can give this year is the gift of choice. Whether it’s extra cash or a menu of various perks, giving employees the freedom to select the items or services that they need most will go a long way in showing them you care, and they matter.


In the realm of employee benefits, COVID-19 and the remote work experiment has flipped mental health from a nice-to-have to a must-have as we endure months of isolation from coworkers, friends, and family and manage uncertainty about the future. If you haven’t already, this holiday season is a good time to double down on mental health offerings for your people. The road to mental health looks different for everyone, so consider a variety of different well-being offerings, ranging from Talkspace, the online therapy app, to Sanity & Self, a self-care app for women.

As we crawl toward the end of an exhausting year (with no light at the end of the metaphorical tunnel), it’s important that employees feel both seen and supported by their employers. A more thoughtful approach to gifts will go a long way in making sure your people feel the love.

Originally published to Fast Company on November 23, 2020.