What Employers Need to Know to Get the Most Out of Employee Holiday Rewards


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Thoughtful, meaningful recognition during the holiday season can pay long-term dividends for employers in the form of year-round engagement, loyalty and retention

The past couple years have been challenging to say the least. Ongoing economic volatility is prompting Americans to look forward to this holiday season as a source of cheer but also uncertainty. Many employees hope their employers can provide some much-needed positivity. Unfortunately, a significant number of businesses may be falling short of expectations.

Recent research from Blackhawk Network* found that while 57% of respondents want to receive a holiday reward from their employer, only one third think they will actually receive one. This disconnect could have major consequences, as four in 10 respondents would consider leaving their current role if a new employer were to give holiday rewards.

This holiday season, it’s more important than ever to show your employees how much they matter to you and your business. With thoughtful rewards and recognition, you are more likely to retain and engage your most important assets—your talent—despite a turbulent labor market. And you’d be wise to build out those holiday rewards into year-long programs. It’s far less expensive to recognize your existing workforce than to incur expenses for recruiting, hiring, training and onboarding new additions. Plus, 83% of survey respondents* said they would be more productive and loyal to their company if their employers provided meaningful rewards and recognition.

Here’s what to keep in mind as you create your employee holiday rewards strategy:

  • Your employees want options. Considering inflation is driving price increases from groceries to streaming services to apparel and beyond, it’s not hard to understand why employees want to choose how to direct their spending. Employers can show they’re aware of the economic climate and recognize that people have different wants and needs by offering rewards in the form of prepaid or gift cards. Research** found that 84% of respondents want prepaid and gift cards from their employers for the holidays—beating out all other options including more vacation days (40%), food gifts (29%) and physical gifts (28%). Not only can employees use these cards at their discretion, but for some, it can inspire them to indulge in products or experiences they typically wouldn’t (like a massage or dinner and a movie).
  • Meaningful rewards matter. Thoughtful rewards and recognition go a long way. After all, doesn’t everyone want to feel like their gifts were selected just for them? While it may seem obvious to stay away from controversial, poorly planned gifts that are likely to completely miss the mark, bad gifting is widespread. More than half (52%) of survey respondents** report that they don’t like their company’s holiday gift(s). And it’s no wonder—the list of regrettable “rewards” respondents received from employers included desk organizers that were larger than the company desks, office decorations that were required to be on display and even hand-me-down awards that had their boss’s name on them. Despite being easy to avoid, these types of bad gifts can inflict negative feelings that dampen engagement and morale.
  • Office parties are a thing of the past. With remote and hybrid environments here to stay, in-person get togethers are not making the cut when it comes to this season’s “to do” list. Fewer people are open to the idea of traveling to the office or an offsite location, joining another video call and spending more time with their coworkers. Research** found that only two percent of respondents prefer office parties as their top choice for holiday rewards. Rather than spending the time and effort to pull together a one-time event people don’t necessary want, spend your resources on more impactful, inclusive options that your employees will prefer.
  • A digital-first mindset helps take a load off. According to McKinsey & Company research, 58% of respondents have the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week, and Blackhawk’s research* found that 73% of employed survey respondents prefer to work remotely in some capacity. Clearly, people value the ability to work autonomously, but this option makes distributing holiday gifts in-person a challenge. Today, employees are more digitally minded than ever and employers need to be too; more than three quarters of respondents (77%) find digital prepaid and gift cards to be appropriate holiday gifts.** Employers benefit from distributing digital rewards because they can be delivered quickly—without incurring postage costs or running the risk of late delivery—where people are already working. For example, we work with Microsoft*** to help offer digital gift and prepaid card rewards that can be delivered within its Teams ecosystem, including via Live Meetings, Teams Channels or 1-1 Chat. This kind of digital integration makes rewarding employees around the holidays painless and effective.
  • You can keep the momentum going post-holiday and year-round. Turnover can happen at any time, as can disengagement. Very few people want just a one-and-done, once-a-year reward or nod of recognition from their employer. In fact, approximately three quarters of respondents to a Blackhawk study* reported that they prefer to receive recognition from their employer on a quarterly basis at minimum. So use the holidays as a jumping off point and provide ongoing rewards on a monthly or quarterly basis (half of the respondents to a recent Blackhawk study* reported this cadence as preferable). For instance, we remind our clients that many prepaid cards are reloadable. After giving one to an employee during the holidays, employers can offer spot bonuses and reload those same cards throughout the year for ongoing recognition. Your employees will feel appreciated and seen, and the regular touchpoints can help drive lasting engagement.

Smart holiday reward programs are long-term investments that can pay significant dividends for employers. By instating reward touchpoints and continuing to engage employees beyond the holiday season, you can help your workforce feel seen and appreciated, which encourages retention, productivity, loyalty and engagement over time. Both sides benefit and are more likely to create and nurture lasting, fruitful relationships.

* “Workplace Arrangements, Rewards, and Engagement Survey” is an internet-based survey conducted by Survey Monkey on behalf of Blackhawk Network between February 25, 2022 and March 1, 2022. The sample size included 2,608 U.S. respondents ages 18+.

** “Blackhawk Network 2022 Holiday Forecast Study” was a study conducted by Leger on behalf of Blackhawk Network in August 2022. The sample size included 2,001, US consumers ages 18+.

*** Microsoft is a trademark of the Microsoft group of companies.

Bill Warshauer
Bill is a B2B industry veteran and a respected authority in developing and managing impactful incentive and reward solutions that lead to fruitful, long-lasting relationships. His expertise in how to drive and deliver results translates across industries such as retail, loyalty, travel, employee wellness, and more. With more than 25 years of experience—19 at Blackhawk Network—Bill has amassed a deep understanding of how companies can leverage rewards and incentives programs to achieve market differentiation, drive operational efficiency, create heightened engagement, and generate revenue.


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