How can employers keep the Christmas cheer all year round? Kimberley Dondo examines the importance of engaging staff for more than just one season


It is a well-recognised fact that an engaged workforce is a happy workforce and that it also increases the employers’ chance of retaining their employees. With Christmas and New Year fast-approaching, employers need to start looking at the effective reward and recognition strategies that will last beyond the festive period.

James Kelly, director at Red Letter Days Motivates, says: “Motivation campaigns and rewards are not just for Christmas – they should take place all year round.”

For recognition strategies to be successful, business plans and goals need to last 12 months  – and beyond. Experts recommend that employers should run a continuous campaign with one main goal throughout the year, as well as smaller recognition opportunities launched at various times throughout the year too, to ensure employees stay focused and driven.

An example of this would involve launching a reward and recognition campaign the first week back after the Christmas holidays or the beginning of the new business year that aligns with budgets. Not only will it be a much-needed boost and help alleviate the New Year’s blues but it would also help with launching the main campaign with targets and reward criteria, and get staff through winter mornings and nights in January with an extra recognition boost at the end of the month. This could be anything from meeting a team or personal sales target, to being the most supportive team member helping peers when deadlines are tight. Employers will find employees will respond well and it will give them something to focus on and get back into the swing of things quickly after all the festivities.

Employers should recognise that among the many benefits of rewarding their current staff members, rewards can also be an asset to attracting new talent. Companies who are looking to employ new staff can highlight their rewards and recognition packages as an added benefit to prospective staff members, allowing them to be a serious competitor in the market and giving them the opportunity to recruit talented staff members.

When rewarding staff, it is vital to note that all recognition goals should be varied to suit different personalities and skills. It is possible to disengage employees if the same team members win the prizes all the time. All employees need motivation, not just the top and most noticeable achievers.

Communication is key

In the past employers have chosen to focus the majority of their benefits communications during the holiday season as they felt this period garnered the most engagement from their employees. However, email prompts and intranet posts aren’t always enough to grab – and keep – an employee’s attention.

Advancements in technology and data analytics have now allowed employers greater insight into their workforces. Employees have the opportunity to fill out surveys on platforms which enable employers to have a better understanding of who they are and what they want, meaning they can personalise communications and give benefits true relevance to induvial employees all year round.

Analytics and data can also be used to send timed and targeted personalised communications to tap into engagement with seasonal benefits. This could include informing staff about a flu immunisation scheme for those with a higher risk of contracting the virus during flu season, or if an employee has not taken annual leave in while, reminding them of their entitlement or providing financial education offerings to help them save for a holiday.

In a technological age where almost every employee possesses a smart phone or tablet, companies need to take advantage of apps and other platforms for their rewards communications. There are many points schemes on the market that can be accessed from mobile phones and apps and work like social media sites which encourage employees to engage both with the rewards and benefits on offer and also with each other. Points earned by employees can be turned into monetary values and redeemed against prizes to suit a diverse range of tastes and personalities such as gadgets, shopping vouchers and even holidays.

Andy Caldicott, managing director at PeopleValue comments, “One of the services Peoplevalue provides is a toolkit which helps engage employees, creating a recognition portal that empowers managers to reward staff as well as give an outline of what the company stands for. The portal also allows staff to thank each other as a form of recognition amongst the staff.”

The nature of the flexible recognition mechanic enables companies to alter motivation and recognition campaigns to suit different months throughout the year. For example, Red Letter Days’ Motivates platform allows employees to set themselves a goal to achieve something they really desire, such as a trip to Las Vegas, with points being banked until they reach the amount they need for the trip of a lifetime. This type of mechanic works to an employer’s advantage when setting a seasonal reward strategy. For example, you could approach the summer months by launching a few top beach holiday prizes. The first employees to gain enough points to purchase one of these prizes gets the holiday.

Campaigns such as this create a lot of buzz in the office and will certainly motivate staff to achieve their goals, and as an added benefit you’ll be motivating employees all year round: once they have used their points to claim one prize, their points bank starts up again, and they can then set themselves new goals to start claiming more prizes. This is a clear example of how employers can engage with their staff throughout the year.

The frequency in which benefits are communicated is crucial for engagement. Thomsons Online Benefits research indicates that within businesses where benefits are communicated on four or five different occasions throughout the year, more than nine in ten (95%) employees say that they are proud to work for the company and 90% also state that they would recommend their employer to a friend.

Employees at the centre of your benefits package

With the modern workforce becoming more diverse, employers also need to take into account that what might work for the baby boomer generation won’t necessarily be appreciated by the millennials. Employers need to use personalised communications and give relevant benefits to each individual employee all year round, which could mean sending targeted information to younger workers about student loan schemes or resources for buying their first home, while an older workforce may appreciate financial education, retails discounts at key stores and season loan tickets.

A personalised approach has proven to be popular amongst employees as Thomsons Online Benefits’ research indicates that two thirds (66%) of employees appreciate communications around work milestones, from salary reviews to promotions, however, only 24% of employers offer them. The research also found that more than half of employees want communications tied to life events – for example getting married or having a baby – but only 26% of employers currently do this.

In order for an employer to see a return on investment on benefits spend, they need to deliver real value to employees, to allow them to spend their money on what they truly need as well as what aligns with the business’s strategy and goals.

Rupert Poulson, CEO and founder of Avinity Alive adds: “There has been a significant shift in what employees look for from their work. Increasingly it’s about having a purpose, having fun and feeling connected - three of the things we all need for happiness. For the companies that link these aspects with greater job satisfaction, higher productivity and retention, it becomes clear that one-off seasonal rewards for a job well done or a good year’s work simply can’t deliver the results they want.”

Employers don’t need to spend a fortune to provide this for workers: it can be as simple as providing 4-day work weeks, aka ‘summer hours’ during those rare summer months or creating a ‘chill out’ area for employees to take short stress breaks, power nap or meditate.

Even when presenting rewards such as discount vouchers or other gift rewards to employees, employers should personally distribute them on a one-to-one basis and thank them in person. This can be done by the manager of each team or even the managing director in a smaller office because while a gift can be appreciated, people tend to remember personal conversations for a longer period of time.

James Kelly acknowledges: “Recognition is all about showing employees we appreciate them, not necessarily buying them. Obviously, if you can afford an extravagant trip at the end of the year for top performers, this will certainly engage your team. But as long as you show employees you value them, a simple bottle of bubbly, high street or spa voucher, or a meal out on the company, will do the job.”

For SMEs with a limited budget, according to research from American Express, over a third (38%) of choose to reward high-performing employees using the ‘employee of the month’ model. Although this does show recognition from an organisation, rewarding an individual can, in turn, dishearten the rest of the workforce or create an environment of unhealthy internal competition.

Companies should not worry too much about the expense of the rewards – a simple thank you has proven to go a long way with employers, and card with a verbal thank you from a manager will often do the job.

Marcus Underhill, director of engagement and insights at Staffcare, reiterates this point stating, “In most statistical analysis of the value of recognition the value of a simply thank you and well-done face-to-face often comes out on top. You can’t be too prescriptive on engagement – it is cultural.   Managers need the space and time to do it their own way within guidelines.  Telling everyone to say “thank you” every day doesn’t get the outcome intended.”

To recognise employees throughout the year it pays to have a good continuous strategy in place. Online schemes work particularly well for ongoing recognition as they enable businesses to acknowledge staff for a wide range of achievements, rewards and goals can easily be adjusted to suit different seasons, and employees can instantly reap the rewards.

One element that businesses sometimes miss when it comes to reward and recognition is peer-to-peer recognition. It’s easy to only think about reward criteria for a senior management team to enable them to thank the hard working staff, however encouraging peer-to-peer recognition will promote a culture of recognition in your company, boosting employee engagement across the board.

Other companies have made use of platforms similar to Facebook to which only employees within a company have access. On such platforms, they can share their achievements on a daily basis, and shine a light on benefits that they have been using and how they have utilised them for their betterment. This is not only a way for workers to be engaged with their reward platform but also has an element of recognition as they are able to share their good work and have their fellow employees and management take notice by liking or commenting on these achievements.

Adding this extra layer will give your employees an opportunity to be recognised for various elements all year round including behaviour, as well as reaching sales targets. It will also give every employee an opportunity to achieve recognition for something they are good at. Not every member of a team will be the top sales person, but enabling staff to be rewarded for their personal strengths means they will stay motivated and engaged throughout the year.

Regardless of company size or budgets, keeping a workforce engaged is achievable by being innovative and creative. What is most important is to keep it personal and to involve every single employee in the company, which will in turn boost company morale, increase engagement and retain talented staff members.