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A time for giving? The changing face of workplace rewards at Christmas

December 12, 2023

After weeks of exposure to festive adverts and daily reminders from advent calendars, there’s no escaping the fact that Christmas is upon us and ‘tis the season to be jolly.

As such, employees across the UK are bracing themselves for festive staff parties and, for those lucky enough, seasonal benefits, such as bonuses or gifts.

But at a time when the cost of living is causing many to keep an even closer eye on their household finances, and when big-picture issues such as sustainability and social inclusion are registering higher up corporate and personal agendas, there is some evidence of workplaces doing Christmas a little differently in recent years.

Sources of seasonal stress

These changes are being felt across a variety of different areas of festive ‘fun’. Even the seemingly innocuous area of Secret Santa is not immune, with almost a fifth (18%) of respondents to one survey describing it as a source of additional unwanted stress.

From a financial perspective, it is estimated that colleagues across the country will collectively spend £167 million on Secret Santa gifts this year, and amid the cost-of-living crisis, there are fears that large amounts of money are being wasted on unwanted presents. Indeed, almost three-quarters (72%) of people say they would like to see changes to Secret Santa giving, with some advocating smaller limits for donations and others preferring to put money towards charity donations.

By the same token, some parts of the workforce are also suggesting it’s time to rethink the idea of the staff Christmas party. While this was once a fixture etched into the company calendar, research points to the fact that it might no longer have such universal appeal.

According to one study, just 10% of employees deem a Christmas party to be essential. Another reports that more than half of staff (56%) are content not to have an end-of-year celebration at all, with a clear majority (83%) preferring to receive a bonus or gift instead.

Opportunities to celebrate

At such an expensive time of year, the logic of re-directing Christmas party expenditure directly towards employees or charitable causes might be clear, but it’s also worth noting that such a move can also eliminate a key moment for colleagues to be able to come together outside of a work context. And in an age where hybrid working allows for teams to be increasingly geographically dispersed, this potentially removes a valuable bonding experience and an opportunity to foster team spirit.

Where budgets are channelled towards gifts rather than experiences, employers can generate valuable returns on their investment. Further to the tangible reward of the present itself, gifting is a powerful emblem of a company’s appreciation and gratitude towards an individual member of staff. This has the potential to strengthen bonds between employer and employee at a personal level, helping boost morale and build loyalty. Research suggests that employees agree, with 86% stating that gifts and rewards make them feel valued.

The choice and value of a gift can be an important determining factor in whether it makes the right impression, however. Vouchers typically hold universal appeal, as the recipient can make their own choices about what and whom to spend them on. More personalised presents, such as tailored experiences or gift hampers, have potential to create even more impact, but it is important that they are aligned to an employee’s tastes and preferences.

The influence of ESG

At a time when employees are conscious of issues such as sustainability, and companies are prioritising choices related to environmental, social and governance (ESG) policy, it is also becoming increasingly popular for Christmas to provide a platform for more mindful giving. This could manifest as the giving of sustainable gifts, making donations to good causes on behalf of employees, or simply providing workers with an allocation of time off to allow them to volunteer for a charity of their choice.

Mindful employers are also taking increasing care to ensure festive celebrations are as inclusive and accessible as possible, avoiding situations where the language being used, venues, food and drink choices can leave some colleagues feeling excluded. Amid cost-of-living pressures, companies are also mindful of financial inclusivity, with half of employers expressing concern about employees being able to afford to attend end-of-year celebrations.

Whether or not companies decide to make wholesale changes in their approach to seasonal rewards as a result or to stick with tried-and-tested traditions in 2023, before you know it, the new year will be upon us. As well as providing a chance to reflect on the year just gone, it will also provide an opportunity to consider what further changes 2024 has in store.


The information contained within this communication does not constitute financial advice and is provided for general information purposes only. No warranty, whether express or implied is given in relation to such information. Vintage Corporate or any of its associated representatives shall not be liable for any technical, editorial, typographical or other errors or omissions within the content of this communication.