12 purpose-filled alternatives to the Christmas bonus

- Practices & Exercises

Hands-on Management 3.0 leadership workshops focus on tangible practices to help managers, team leaders, middle management, and C-level executives increase employee engagement and foster transformational change within their organizations.

by Jennifer Riggins

One of the companies I worked for would offer us “surprise” half days on the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas. But once it happened one year, it was always assumed and we’d feel cheated if we didn’t get those days. Plus people who had already planned to take those days as vacation days also felt cheated out of half a vacation day that they didn’t need to waste. What started out as a fun holiday bonus became not a bonus at all.

As we know from Management 3.0, rewards should not be expected, rewards should be peer-driven not top-down, and rewards should be continuous and small. Now, a half day seems small by European standards but, with the limited vacations in the U.S., it wasn’t that small of a gesture to mess with and it was a quite anticipated and seasonal, certainly not a continuous reward. Also, if our end-of-year business outcomes were not met, you can be sure it would have been taken away or we’d be guilted into staying late the rest of the month.

But this is indeed the time of year we want to be giving more. So, as a manager or team leader, what is an appropriate gift for your teammates? Or how can you facilitate giving? And how can you do any of this in a way that contributes to a value-driven, purpose-driven company culture? That’s what we’re going to look at today.

Small, unexpected treats go a long way

Another thing to celebrate is local traditions.

One of our members Nikoletta shared this image and the story of how “In Hungary, we have a tradition that Santa Claus brings little presents to children on the previous night of the sixth of December for St. Nicholas’s Day. Traditionally, it’s not Santa who brings out presents for Christmas. So, last night ‘Santa’ sneaked back to the office and left a bite-sized Santa chocolate on every desk.”

When asked if she did it anonymously, she said that she blamed St. Nick but they all guessed it was her behind the foil-wrapped goodness. No matter if they believe or not, this small treat is a fun way to start your day.

So don’t negate the little things, like decorating the office with festive decorations (for any and all holidays) or motivational messages for the new year, or just bringing in milk and cookies or other low-budget, big-smile gestures!

Better yet, why not decorate the office as a team? Actively giving teammates time to show their team spirit and visualize their values is important. And maybe add a Polaroid and some festive props so you can get some fun team pics while you’re playing (which consequentially can be both hung for more team spirit and posted on social media and other recruitment channels.)

And don’t shove off other “traditionally corporate” peer-to-peer gift-giving traditions. You can organize a Secret Santa or what we call in Spain amigo invisible, which has names drawn ahead and either a fixed-price gift exchange on a certain day or where you let small surprises go on for even as long as a month before revealing gift-givers. Or you could do Dirty Santa (not the most professional name but I’ve read it may also be called a White Elephant?) where everyone brings in a gift of a certain price (usually $5, $10 or maybe $20) and then you draw names of who picks an unmarked wrapped gift first — as you go around choosing and opening gifts, you get to choose keep your present or steal someone else’s. The first tends to be more personal, acknowledging individuals as the second is just worth a few giggles.

Remember, giving a present is part of the act of being present.

Do something positive as a team

It’s really common to just have a big party or a drunken lunch (also known as a drunch.) And these are fun, yet since there aren’t assigned seats (thank God), we don’t really get to know anyone better but just spend the time hanging out with our office friends, and, while we have fun, it doesn’t bring purpose and it doesn’t build closer relationships.

Why not take everyone out to a cooking class (where you still get to eat afterwards and drink during) that brings people together out of the context of work toward a common goal? Or why not work together to give back like volunteering a night preparing and serving food at a soup kitchen or dressing up and throwing a party for less fortunate families. Maybe even have a somewhat competitive in-office toy or food drive.

Better yet, why not ask your team for ideas of how to change the traditional office holiday party into something proactive, fun and an engaging way to interact with your values?

Also Read: Always Be Kind: How random acts of kindness share your company values

Give the gift of community

Sometimes the best gift is one of community, especially when our world needs it now more than ever. You could do something simple like give out free hugs or go caroling. Or you could buy people memberships to something they’d be interested in. Maybe that’s Toastmasters to break them out of their shell, a gym to make them feel better about themselves! You can’t put a price on giving a sense of belonging.

Facilitate story and culture sharing

Yes, I called this article the un-P.C. term of “Christmas bonuses” but that’s just because that’s what Google said folks were still searching for. What’s wonderful about the world we live in is that it’s wonderfully diverse and you probably have many different traditions among your coworkers.

Welcome the sharing of them, whether it’s taking time to share stories of family traditions to celebrate different holidays, to play music or — my personal favorite — do a potluck where everyone brings in something yummy from their family that almost always has a story or too topping it.

And since we are ending one year and starting another, a great thing to facilitate is storytelling. You could just have everyone write down on a public board or share in a story-time what was their favorite workplace memory of 2016 or what they are most grateful for. You’re probably going to have year-in-review meetings, but don’t forget to have at least one retrospective focused on company culture too.

Try to incorporate team-building and team-bonding exercises during this time of year and throughout 2017, like personal maps or kudos.

In fact, THAT is another great way to celebrate the holiday spirit with your team by taking the stories and experiences you’ve shared and bring them together in a culture book.

What more purposeful, value-driven alternatives to the old Christmas bonus have you experienced that brightened your day, motivated your work or drove your company culture? Tell us in the comments below.

3 thoughts on "12 purpose-filled alternatives to the Christmas bonus"

  • Josh says:

    Someone told me recently that their company has each employee submit a “10 X” list. On this list you would write down 10 life dreams you’d love to accomplish.
    They had a way of earning points towards that list that sounded similar to Merit Money. And as points were earned, the company would make those dreams come true.
    One employee received a paid deep sea fishing trip with his grandfather. Another employee, was sent on a paid skiing trip with her sons.

  • Paul H says:

    On the theme of doing something positive with team here’s an idea for a Festive Retrospective that I have run in the past. Chocolates and other festive treats are optional!
    First of all the team has to describe the sprint using a Festive food metaphor and their reason for selecting it e.g. “Christmas Dinner” – we had too much on our plate.
    Then they were asked for items to add to the “Naughty List” and “Nice List” using “He’s making a list, checking it twice…;” These were put onto a picture of a Santa’s Sleigh – the good stuff pulling sleigh up and forward, the not so good stuff dragging the sleigh down. If I recall I had this song on in the background to time box the exercise.
    We then used “North Pole “currency” to do dot voting with. (Replace “currency” with pounds, dollars etc.. depending where you are in the world!)
    Finally we did a Secret Santa (for the team to provide each other some feedback). Pulled out a team members name from a hat and then wrote down a positive message for them. These were handed back to the facilitator who then read them out (otherwise people can recognise the writing).
    I can’t take full credit for this idea as I think the I “stole & tweaked” the idea from some where else.

  • Nikoletta says:

    @paul: I love the Christmas themed retrospective idea! Thank you for sharing!

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