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December 16, 2009

Perky Holidays?

Blog cartoon

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

Your co-workers may not be looking perky the morning after the corporate holiday party, not to mention your own sorry state (if not from over indulgence than from listening to and observing the over-indulged). But you should be thinking about last minute perks and frills to send towards your employees before the year is over.

Are there barter arrangements you can manage between your company and a local restaurant or retailer?  In exchange for a few hundred $20 gift cards for top performers, they get X service from you?  If that’s not a possibility, what about giving managers permission to grant top performers a few extra days off, free of vacation day charge, around Christmas or New Years?

As trainers, you also should be thinking of playing to your strengths, and offering a free personal development course between now and the end of the year. It should be something useful that imparts important thinking or life skills, but not necessarily directly job related. Do you or one of your fellow trainers know a craft, such as making bird houses or some other home-related object, that could be taught to interested employees in a couple of hours during the work day?  What about calligraphy or (for something more job relevant) a computer system they may find useful in both their professional and personal life?

Perks that send the message you’d like to do something for the beleaguered can be as simple as asking the trainers or instructors in your department to e-mail you one favorite family recipe some time over the next week. Once you’ve copied and pasted the collected recipes into a Word Document, e-mail to managers to pass along to employees with a “Happy Holidays” message affixed to it. Not so hard, but appreciated by more people than you think—even those like me who cook so little they’ve turned the gas to their stove off. It’s just nice knowing somebody at “the top” wanted to do something nice.

If, like many companies, yours usually is quiet Christmas and New Year’s week, let managers know it’s OK to surprise employees one afternoon with an outing to a museum, aquarium, or even the movies. If you’re low on funds, don’t feel as though you have to treat employees to the entertainment. That’s the generous, nice thing to do, but it’s also a nice treat to be given the afternoon off from work to do something fun. If it’s not expensive, employees probably won’t object.

You also could use the holidays as the perfect opportunity to assemble an employee wish list for next year—kind of like a list for Santa-Trainer—of requested development opportunities and rewards for high performance. Another idea (if you’re OK with constructive criticism) is to ask employees to write anonymous New Years Resolutions for you and the executive team. I’m sure they have points of needed improvement to tell you and the C-suite about. In addition to giving your workforce involvement, and therefore hopefully engagement in the company, asking for their opinion on improvement goals for the coming year will provide executives and managers with important leadership development lessons. It also will help them do their work as they set about planning and implementing strategy for the coming year. To encourage employees to take a chance and include their name (good for more than getting back at them for the critique; you also can consult with them during the improvement process), offer to enter contributors into a raffle for three extra vacation days.

Since this also is the season for performance reviews, it’s also a good time to put together a primer for managers on how to better help employees benefit from them. Pointers should include how to draw out of workers their true aspirations and wishes for their next career step, and how to get them to admit what’s most bothering them about their current position, including touchy issues they may be afraid to bring up such as co-workers who aren’t pulling their weight, or by their disengagement, making work harder every day. I’ve often wished in my career that I could give the boss, or whoever was in charge of employment decisions, a list of fellow employees I’d like not to work with anymore. Such a thing is too good to be true (or at least too impolitic and maybe illegal to be allowed), but there are emotional intelligence lessons to impart to managers on getting workers to open up candidly about work life torments. You never know. They may have picked up on something you suspected, but had no seconding, reinforcing, opinion on until now.

Most companies are crying poor these days (some are just crying), but it’s a good investment to pay for rewards as minimal as, say, donuts for each department. If your employees’ average trips to the vending machine is any indication, such a gesture wouldn’t go unappreciated. Can you really say you can’t afford donuts?  And you’re still in business?  Maybe you just can’t afford not to be embarrassingly cheap.

Free tickets to sporting events and concerts is great, and would be a respectable way to say “thanks.” But if you’re not able to swing it, don’t forget the low- or no-monetary ways to show appreciation. If you don’t, you’ll end up treating them to a game all right—the game of get-taken-for-granted-until-you-cry.

How are holiday perks this year at your company?  Is it a “perky” year for your employees?


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