Holiday season traditions not always favorites

Holidays can be a complicated time for employers.

It’s that most wonderful time, and many employees are expecting some form of acknowledgement for the year’s work they have put in.

But what they want and what their employer or co-workers provide can be at odds. Holiday parties tend to rank lower than bonuses. Gift swaps don’t measure up to some free time.

It’s a quandary when employers act with goodwill. What follows to try and sort things out come from a smattering of surveys, input from industry experts and a dose of good wishes for the holidays.

Taking the time

Employees tend to prefer time off over the holidays, particularly if they have children that have the time off, said Nicole C. Wipp, CEO of employee consulting firm Wipp Enterprises. Holiday bonuses are also always appreciated, Wipp said.

RELATED: Companies offer vacation bonuses to prevent employee burnout

But while some employees like parties, present swaps and similar traditions, some really hate them and it makes them feel uncomfortable and coerced, according to Wipp: “Unless that is a normal part of your culture, doing things like this can make employees feel like it is forced and unnatural.”

The comments jibe with results of a survey of 1,232 workers by Randstad USA. When asked to identify what they loved most about holidays in the workplace, 70% said “time off” topped their list, while 34% look forward to getting a bonus.

Workplace holiday spirit

While “holiday spirit in the workplace” (54%) and “happier/more generous co-workers” (41%) ranked high, familiar workplace holiday traditions like cookie swaps (11%) and gift exchanges (9%) were lower priority. Rather, nearly 75% of respondents said it was important to them that their companies participate in holiday philanthropic initiatives like food drives or other charitable donations.

A survey by job site Nexxt found:

  • 55% of respondents feel obligated to attend their company’s holiday party, but if given the choice, only 5% would prefer a holiday party over other benefits.
  • 66% of employees would prefer to receive a bonus.
  • 10% would prefer an extra vacation day.


But there is something to be said about parties, said Maggie Berghoff, a natural health consultant:

• You connect with each other and create bonds.

• They ignite holiday spirit and remind employees you care about them and recognize them as true people, not just another number at the workplace.

• It puts a smile on everyone’s face, which translates to the work he/she does.

• It presents opportunity for conversation. A company will thrive once the employees feel they are heard and able to express who they are and get to know their peers.

Gifting co-workers

When it comes to gifts between co-workers, Knack, an online gifting company, found, in order of preference:

  • Unique and useful items: 83%
  • Gift cards (Amazon, Visa, etc.): 82%
  • Food: 60%
  • Wine: 59%
  • Gifts that give back: 56%
  • Personalized gifts: 53%
  • Spa products: 41%
  • Company branded gifts: 33%
  • Flowers: 25%

Hourly employees

Then there is the staff that spends their time waiting on the employees who have been given holiday time off. What many hourly employees want and seek, particularly those who work in retail during the holidays, is predictable scheduling, said John Waldmann, CEO of Homebase, a supplier of software that manages time schedules.

“A good schedule can be as powerful as a wage increase to those seasonal employees who will be working overtime leading up to the holidays,” Waldmann said. “Better scheduling can create improved quality of life. And work/life balance is even more important to those seasonal workers who want to earn more money, but still spend quality time with their families during the holidays.”