Holiday Gifts & Parties: Knowing What Employees Need

It’s hard to believe we’re fast approaching the holiday season, when the bustle of long workdays is followed by planning and preparation for the holidays. For some households, it’ll be business as usual, but for many others, the stark realities of rising costs on everything and tightened budgets, will make the season less bright. So how can you relieve some of the burden and show compassion for those who care so well for the people you serve?

During the holidays, there are typically two categories of employee appreciation that enter our minds: employee gifts and holiday parties. If done right, both can have a huge impact on employee retention and performance. Research confirms, organizations with highly rated culture of recognition “are 3 times more likely to see increased employee retention and 2.5 times more likely to see increased employee engagement.”1

What’s important is knowing your employees. For a workforce that may not have much disposable income, you might consider their “needs” as a top priority. Do you want to focus on helping get food on the table or place more emphasis on self care and wellness?

Starting with the Basics

Here are some gift ideas that are targeted toward helping employees meet basic needs:

  • Holiday bonuses
  • Gift cards for groceries, gas, or household staples
  • Order a turkey, ham, or pie for every household (consider gift cards since workplace storage may be an issue)
  • Snack bags for the whole family or pre-brought holiday season grocery staples
  • Gift cards for a major snow gear retailer, delivered in a beanie (for colder climates)
  • A week of mouth-watering food (muffins, catered lunches, appetizers during happy hour, ice cream treats, fresh fruits, and veggies)

Wellness and Self-Care Ideas

If you’d prefer to use the giving season as a time to promote workplace wellness and healthy living, there are creative ways to do that as well:

  • Consider bringing in a few fitness experts, sleep or mindfulness experts, nutrition counselors, and/or massage therapists for a “feel-good Friday” experience, or design a week-long wellness campaign.
  • Help employees face new year’s resolutions head-on by providing them with resources for becoming healthier, changing habits, or losing weight.
  • Host a free class like yoga that can be offered a couple of different times, like during lunch or following the end of one of your main shifts (to try and make it possible for all interested employees to attend).
  • Host a daily raffle for a Barnes & Noble gift card to inspire more reading for relaxation — of course, you should also make sure there are comfortable employee spaces available for reading during breaks.

When you focus on employee well-being, it’s a supportive reminder to them that they should prioritize it, too.

Give the Gift of Quality Time with Family

Depending on your budget and the demographics of your employees and their families, you might really warm hearts with gifts that focus on quality family time. It’s not easy to get extra time off for the holidays, so perhaps, instead, you can help employees better enjoy their time away from work!

A few family-focused gift ideas include:

  • Gift cards for family fun like the zoo, children’s museums, local waterparks or amusement parks (toss in a free lunch at the venue’s cafe!)
  • Hosting Santa on site for memorable, hassle-free photos with Santa (this could be paired with a holiday party lunch or breakfast with Santa)
  • Choose your own: offer gift cards for major streaming options (Netflix, Hulu, Disney+)
  • Hosting a holiday-themed movie/pizza night

Employee Engagement Can Also Lift Spirits

If you have an environment where there’s space and energy for employee engagement, there are lots of ways you can invite employees to participate in spreading holiday cheer. Sure, pulling out boxes of old decorations might be tradition, but what about taking it to the next level this year? Spruce things up by investing in new decorations. Pull together a small holiday committee responsible for making the workplace more festive. Have them surprise employees with decorated work stations and/or front desks for the season. A bonus, this is bound to also bring cheer to the people you serve.

Another way you can engage employees is with some friendly competition! The sky’s the limit on this one. Some contest ideas include:

  • Gift wrapping competition (fastest wrapper, most creative, best with oddly shaped items)
  • Nominations for “Most Deserving of…” (grocery/meal delivery; gifts purchased for them, like sponsoring a family; holiday blowout and style; date night without kids)
  • Workspace decorating competition (can be individuals or teams)
  • Cookie contest and exchange (best tasting, most colorful, most unique, best looking)

The Evolution of Holiday Parties

Hosting a company holiday party may be a long-lasting tradition, but it’s had to survive and evolve through the pandemic like everything else. Holiday parties continue to be a wonderful opportunity for bringing people together away from their work responsibilities while also giving you a chance to pick up the bill as a big “thank you.” But what‘s a company to do post-pandemic?

Whether on-site or remote, all employees benefit from interactions that strengthens relationships. But it can be hard when you’ve got part of a workforce that works like a team in-house and a handful who work from home. If there’s anything we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that virtual fun is possible.

If hosting a virtual event feels like the best fit this year, please take note that it’s always more exciting with a pre-delivered gift box (include DoorDash or GrubHub gift cards!), props, munchies, or swag! Asking guests to dress up could also elevate the experience. Here are some creative ideas for virtual team events:

  • Virtual trivia
  • An online cooking or baking class
  • Virtual tasting event (supply items to taste and remember to check allergies)
  • Virtual game night (murder mystery, charades, bingo, etc.)
  • Virtual event with Secret Santa gift opening (mail gifts ahead)

If you use the Zoom platform, don’t be afraid to use the breakout rooms feature for a more intimate feel, themed rooms, or to use for virtual games and competitions.

If it’s possible for your organization to bring remote workers in for an in-person gathering this year, first, celebrate! It’s been a long two-plus years! Plan well in advance to make attendance possible for everyone. Think about the schedules and demands away from work that impact your specific employee audience. Is a lunchtime event best so as not to cut into after-5 p.m. family obligations? Does your crowd need to get to know each other better, and might they benefit from including spouses? You know your workforce best. Remember to encourage social distancing and other safe practices, and remind people to mask up, if that’s still your practice. Happy planning!

1Fifteen Ideas for an Unforgettable Employee Appreciation Day, Achievers, Retrieved September 15, 2022, from