For many employers, December arrives along with the perennial question, “How do I handle bonuses for my employees?” “What am I going to do this year?”

Note for Next Year: Start this planning earlier in the year or at least mid-year.

Money is always useful and what better time of year than December. With the cost of just about everything going up, everyone could use some extra cash. It’s easy to give, takes little thought, and it’s quick. But sometimes money is not enough or is not exactly what the employee wants. Fact is, the year-end or holiday bonus does not always resonate.

With hiring being a difficult and often weary process post-Covid, employers need to rethink retention strategies. So…what do employees really want? Consider this:

  • Meaningful recognition. Recognition physically feels good. It physically feels good to say something thoughtful to your employee about their good work, and the same happens for the employee when they hear it from you. This is a very simple to-do with a huge ROI. It’s motivating; feeling good promotes excitement, confidence, self-esteem, performance, and ultimately a happier, more productive employee.
  • Today’s up and coming work force wants to feel valued, to be heard, with their opinions considered. They want to be invested in the company, with a path for moving forward, career development; they want the opportunity to make a difference. Employees are more likely to stick around when given quality work, being made an integral part of the business, and feeling supported.
  • Make recognition personal – write a hand-written note, send a firm-wide email, or make a visit to the cubicle or office (not a ‘drive-by’) and be specific about what you want to say to that employee.

Here’s some DON’Ts to keep in mind:

  • Don’t give a year-end or holiday bonus if it has become rote and expected. The value and meaning of receiving it will decrease. Shift gears – change it up, do something different.
  • Don’t give what you cannot afford. Make sure giving money is thought out and affordable.
  • Don’t bonus employees without a link to performance. Let them know why you’re giving a bonus. For a job well done, a great year, the extra effort, for making you and the company look good, or for simply making your life easier with what they do for you on the everyday.

Have you considered?

  • Giving an extra paycheck on the mid-December payroll run – yes, do it before the holiday. It’s quick, simple, and it’s set up in whatever payroll system you use. PLUS, everyone receives the same type of reward or ‘bonus’, lessening the fret-factor by employees who are comparing what they received vs. their co-worker.
  • Consider matching more in the company HSA or HRA or increase your company-sponsored retirement program.
  • Dust off your old and outdated vacation policy and craft a relevant Paid Time Off policy giving employees an extra week off.
  • Add a few more holidays to the standard company holiday policy; consider giving people off on their birthday; close the office early the day before all major holidays, giving employees more time with family, reducing the stressful rush of the commute home.
  • Consider a flexible work hours platform; update your Remote Work Policy, or Telecommuting Program, if it fits with your industry and type of work performed.
  • Consider a 4-day work week in the summer months; do a trial run.
  • Revisit the company’s Employee Benefits Program. Meet with a reputable Broker to walk you through the process of offering an affordable benefits platform. It is one of the most important retention tools you can provide.
  • Order in regularly scheduled catered lunches for your staff, and join them.
  • Take your employee out for a meal 1:1. Give the same amount in gift cards on a regular basis to a nice restaurant. It’s easy, it’s thoughtful.

Here’s a wild idea – ask your employees what they want from you, from the company. You just may be surprised that something important to them fits nicely into your recognition and reward program.

Whatever you decide depends on your willingness to communicate with your employees and the creativity you personally put into the process.

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