Short on cash, but big on love for your employees this holiday season? Rather than get them coffee mugs or desktop Zen gardens, think outside the box and offer an intangible "perk" gift that will give them warm, fuzzy feelings about your business the whole year long.
Gifts that focus on demonstrating your deep gratitude for your employees and their efforts don't have to cost a lot (or anything at all), but chances are, they'll appreciate those gifts more than something you spent money on. Here are a few ideas.
Offer a bonus day off
Give your staff members an unexpected paid day off to finish holiday shopping, spend time with their kids or do absolutely nothing. Lots of research shows that when employees take time off, it leads to an increase in morale, higher productivity and retention, and even better overall health. In fact, according to a recent GfK survey, 72 percent of managers agree that encouraging their employees to take time off makes these workers more willing to put in longer hours when needed. If you can't afford to give employees a whole day off, allow them to leave early the day before a major holiday or work from home for a day.
While you are at it, do your business a favor and give yourself some time off, too. The GfK report also cites a 2011 Intuit study that showed that 82 percent of small business owners who took a vacation experienced an increase in job performance when they returned to work.
Create a nap space
Give your employees the gift of being well-rested by officially endorsing workplace naps. Transform an out-of-the-way corner of the office or clean out a never-used storage room. Equip it with the office sofa or a sleeping bag, a pillow or two, and even a white noise machine, and make it acceptable for employees to take a short nap when their energy is running low. This may be a hard sell, since being sleep-deprived is a point of pride for some people, but as the Harvard Business Review and many others have reported, there is a growing body of evidence that emphasizes the importance of getting enough sleep and its impact on work performance. Once employees take their first cap nap, they will never look back.
Plan fun events that celebrate your employees' interests
According to a 2013 study by Deloitte, 75 percent of employed Americans have felt the need to hide at least one facet of their personalities when they're in the workplace, with 51 percent saying that doing so has affected their sense of commitment to their employer. It can be exhausting and stifling to be all business, all the time. To avoid creating such an environment, offer workplace opportunities for your employees to express their interests and unique personalities. Events like a pajama day or in-house Trivial Pursuit competition don't cost anything to coordinate, but they let employees know that you value them as individual people, not just as cogs in the wheel of your organization.
Take the time to find out what interests your employees and try to work it into an office theme day. Maybe your staff of animal lovers would enjoy a "bring your pet to work day," or your sweet-tooth employees would prefer a sundae bar one Friday afternoon. Be the reason your employees relax and connect with each other and with you over interests, hobbies and shared experiences.
Coordinate a company volunteer day
Help your employees feel good by doing good. Encourage your team to volunteer their time during the workday to support a local organization. For example, you can run a companywide food drive, deliver the food to a homeless shelter and cook a meal for the residents. The opportunities are endless, and each will demonstrate to your employees that they work for a company that cares about the greater good.
This is good news all around, since Cone Research found that 79 percent of people prefer to work for a socially responsible company. Additionally, engaged employees are happier, healthier, perform at a higher level and have stronger relationships with work colleagues with whom they volunteer, according to the UnitedHealth Group's 2013 Health and Volunteering Study.
If your company has an official volunteer-matching program, you can tap into it. Otherwise, reach out directly to nonprofits in your community to find out their needs or contact groups that connect potential volunteers with organizations in need, such as and Idealist.org.
Hold an office potluck
Ask everyone in your office to bring in a favorite dish, and then set aside a leisurely amount of time for your team to come together to enjoy the delectable spread. Since eating is a communal experience that feeds the body and soul, there is no better way for your staff members to get to know one another and strengthen their connections. In fact, a Cornell University study found that firefighters who cooked and ate together had better group job performance and increased cooperation than those who did not. According to the researchers, these findings have implications for other organizations that want to facilitate employee bonding as a means of improving overall staff performance.
Commit to meet less
This is possibly the greatest gift of all: Give your employees the gift of time by formally committing to reduce the amount of hours that they spend in meetings. Every meeting should have a clearly defined purpose, but in the modern workplace, meetings can often be unfocused, unproductive and detract from actual work getting done.
According to Jabra's Productivity at the Office – Challenges 2015 report, 36 percent of respondents claim that meetings actually decrease their productivity in the workplace. In addition, research cited in Psychology Today reinforces the notion that meetings are often a waste of time. Work with your team to develop clearly defined criteria for when you should meet, and establish ground rules for all meetings, such as starting on time and tabling any discussions that are unrelated to agenda items. Hold yourself and your staff to these standards and be the office hero.