HR & Management

What Christmas gifts employers would give staff if money wasn’t an option

9 min read

19 December 2017

Deputy Editor, Real Business

In light of the festive mood we sought to find out what employers should or would gift staff if money wasn’t an option.

According to professor Isaac Getz, author of Freedom Inc, CEOs should give employees the Christmas gifts they crave most: freedom of initiative and the possibility to realise their talents.

“Outstanding Christmas pudding will only provide a moment of happiness,” Getz explained. “Instead, afford them the ability to make their own decisions. Letting go of mistrust is also the ultimate gift the CEO can give to him/herself. With employees fully engaged and taking care of business, the top honcho can finally have a quiet dinner with the family.” 

Money seemed to be a recurring theme in terms of Christmas gifts, albeit for different reasons. Tabl CEO Kimberly Hurd claimed that were she not constrained by a startup budget, her team would be allocated a yearly allowance for fulfilling personal challenges the likes of completing marathons or learning how to speak Japanese.

“It’s important to stay curious and keep learning,” she said, “as we all benefit both personally and as a team from challenging ourselves and thinking differently.” 

Amina Folarin, global HR director of OLIVER, on the other hand, would rather gift money as a means of thanking staff and fostering a better workplace relationship. 

Folarin explained: “I’d grant Christmas bonuses to all staff to help make things easier over the expensive festive period and hand out ‘thank you’ gift vouchers throughout the year as an added perk. 

“One of the main contributors to workplace stress is ineffective communication, so if I had more cash to splash, I’d run a programme on how to improve internal communication and ask all employees, no matter how junior or senior, to take part.” 

Wellbeing also topped the list of initiatives bosses would undertake for Christmas gifts if money weren’t an issue, with Cathy White, CEO and founder of CEW Communications, claiming the office would find itself taken over by dogs. 

“Animals are proven to help staff feel relaxed, but they’re also very cute and I am sure there would be no shortage of employees wanting to work with us,” White said.

“We’d obviously have to hire a few full-time dog walkers and carers, and money would make this much easier!” 

There’s one CEO hoping to spread the festive cheer beyond the workplace though. Pete Segar, head of Ergotron, firmly believes that adding activity into a person’s day promotes wellness – “which is why we have sit to stand workstations for all employees.”

But if money were no object, stand workstations would be setup in employees’ homes, and given to the classes their children study in, from primary school all the way to university.

“Promoting health for the entire family is the ultimate gift,” Segar explained. “It will also reduce our healthcare costs through reduction in neck and back injuries, as well as lower rates of cardiovascular disease and even some forms of cancer.” 

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But what if you could ship staff off to a desert island, or better yet, the I’m a Celebrity jungle? Employees would be kept in camps, though wouldn’t have to eat bugs. This is what Ian Baxter, chairman and founder of Baxter Freight, had in mind when considering Christmas gifts.

“It’s a no-expenses spared effort of having the team get to know each other,” Baxter said. “In life, we tend to not necessarily understand the pressures others are under and anything that allows people to appreciate their colleagues’ job roles more clearly would be good for development and the working environment overall.

“I’d love to be able to send staff on ‘inspirational days’, which would take them to places where they can think about the purpose of life; something that allows them to get a bit of perspective and puts them back in touch with the world around them.”

Driving the passion and insight it takes to build success was lengthily touched upon.

Murray Carmichael-Smith, founder and managing partner at bcsAgency, for example, wished to gift staff with a diverse roster of expert speakers. 

“They would share inspiration on topics from mindfulness to visualisation techniques, through to talks from athletes at the top of their game,” Carmichael-Smith said. “It would get the creative juices flowing, and help show our team that failure is a part of success – they shouldn’t be afraid of it!” 

“It’s definitely not always about Google-style perks. I met someone who said their office had a slide. It sounded cool, although staff were ‘encouraged’ to hop on whenever clients came in, which they hated! It takes the full team to build a fun environment. You can’t do it with force or you and your staff end up looking like a dad-dancing at a disco. We won’t be getting a slide.”

It’s a point echoed by the numerous bosses. No matter how big the budget, there’s no point splashing the cash Christmas gifts like an avocado specialist chef for Dominic in accounts if he won’t use it.

The real question is, according to Nicola Britovsek, HR director at Sodexo Engage, would you be splurging on what you think will create happiness or do you actually know what staff want?

“If budget was unlimited, what would I do?” Britovsek pondered. “I’d be practical. If our team in London complained about an unreliable winter tube service, we could rely on flexible working or chauffeured cars perhaps! And what about the team based in a business park that lacks entertainment? Let’s install a cinema and a personal shopping service.

“The psychology here is about knowing what is distracting staff from their work and what could make their lives easier. This is what companies need to remember when selecting the next big employee benefit. Free flowing drinks and multiple Christmas parties may sound great, but they can actually put pressure on staff to stay in the office and socialise when diaries are full and families can be demanding.”

Indeed, if money weren’t of any concern, you’d have to ensure you don’t force the fun. Drive them towards a shared goal in a healthy manner.

“If your staff are unhappy, look into why and solve the problems rather than throwing actual presents at them,” advises Marianne Page, author of Simple, Logical, Repeatable.

“Invest in processes that will make their lives easier and make sure your team feel valued. Know their names, their families, their birthday, give regular feedback and listen to their questions and concerns.”

Perhaps her best advice is to allow them to make suggestions and act on good ideas. Make time for them. Credit them for a job well done, and let them leave early once in a while.