Showing employees you care during the holidays

Many managers give employees gifts during the holidays, but the trick is finding creative ways to show gratitude without being too personal or impersonal.

Finding the right holiday gift for a friend or family member can be tough. Choosing gifts for co-workers or employees is sometimes even tougher.

The general rule of thumb is that gifts should flow downward, not upward — meaning that your boss can hand out gifts but you and your co-workers shouldn’t give presents to your managers. That’s easier said than done though, at least if you like your manager.

What can be more difficult is for managers to give their staff members individual gifts that are meaningful and don’t feel impersonal because everyone else received the same thing, but also don’t cross a line into being too personal or creating hurt feelings among team members because someone is perceived to have received a “better” gift.

Brittany Hanson, HR manager for Senior Helpers in Madison and director of media relations for Greater Madison Area Society for Human Resource Management, polled the GMA SHRM board of directors and they came up with the following outside-the-box holiday gift ideas to show gratitude for your employees:

  • Give employees time off during the workday to go holiday shopping.
  • Buy ingredients for holiday cookies and have a cookie baking and exchange team builder in your office kitchen.
  • Personalized homemade ornaments. For employees at Senior Helpers, Hanson says an example of an appropriate ornament saying is, “Caregivers make the world a better place.”
  • Take staff out for a holiday lunch.
  • Give each employee a stocking with a few goodies inside, such as colorful office supplies, treats, etc.
  • Homemade lip balm, foot scrub, and more. There are easy and affordable recipes on Pinterest, notes Hanson.
  • “Fill the cup” — everyone gets a mug as their gift, and then team members/managers write anonymous compliments about their co-workers on blank slips of paper and put them into each individual’s mug.

Some additional tips for creative holiday gift ideas for your staff, courtesy of

  • Give to a charity of the employee’s choice. Make a small donation available to employees and let them each pick a favorite charity, or invite them to vote on one charity to receive a more sizable gift.
  • Invite the kids to work. During winter break or on snow days, encourage employees to bring their children with them to work so they don’t need to feel guilty about missing work or feel forced to burn vacation days. Set aside a space for the kids to play where they won’t interrupt workers and arrange for an on-site babysitter to watch them.
  • Present a rotating trophy. It could be a silver chalice, a bronzed copy of one of your products, or even just a stapler. Whatever it is, it should convey your appreciation and admiration for your staff. Present the inaugural trophy to a worker who’s done something exceptional for the company, his or her co-workers, or the community. Then each month, the employee holding the trophy gets to pick a new co-worker to award it to who has displayed similar exceptional qualities.
  • Give them time for their own projects. At one point Google famously gave its engineers one day a week to work on a personal project. It doesn’t have to be that frequent, but once a month or a few days out of the year, encourage employees to take up a personal project on company time, be it volunteering or working on a side project.
  • Lend out your office. This one is simple. Turn over your office for a week or two to someone who normally operates out of a cubicle, and encourage other executives with offices to do the same. Take it a step further and include that individual in executive-level discussions for the week that they might not normally be invited to and let them share their ideas. It sends the message that all employees are valuable.

As for that tricky situation of what to get your boss, if you just have to get him or her something?

“The consensus I got on the best gift to give a manager is a handwritten note of thanks,” notes Hanson. “Several (GMA SHRM) board members concurred that that has been their favorite gift from an employee.”

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