Unwrapping the Gift of Engagement: How to Motivate Employees through the Holidays

Written by Paul Marchildon, on November 11, 2014.

Employee Motivation Through the Holidays ‘Twas the month before Christmas, and all through the office, not an employee was motivated, not even the boss. The meetings were attended without interest or care, in the hopes that 5 o’clock soon would be here.

Need to rewrite this classic tale in your business? Along with the temperature, employee engagement can take a dip in November and December. To heat things back up (in a completely office-appropriate manner), try holidays the Leisureology Way.

Tis the Season to Incent

When wondering how to motivate employees through the holidays, always keep your objectives in mind. Performance matters. Quality work matters. Delighted clients matter. But it’s Christmas – lighten up a little! (Says the guy who writes a strategy to develop creative for his kids’ birthday parties.) Incentives have to incent good work; at the same time, this is a perfect opportunity to leverage the holiday spirit to boost engagement and productivity. How?

Cash? The Gift that Doesn’t Keep Giving

At first glance, cash seems to be the ideal gift for even the impossible-to-please. It’s worth taking a second look though. Yes, money is welcome, especially during the holiday season, and it does indicate appreciation for employees’ efforts and contributions. But bonuses can be problematic in that once the cash is gone, it’s gone – along with its power to incent.

The larger problem is, of course, that money isn’t all that motivating to begin with. Research shows that extrinsic motivations, like money, decrease intrinsic motivations, like curiosity, enjoyment, and personal challenges. In other words, cash flow can impede flow experiences and people’s inclination to motivate themselves.

People think they want cash. When given the choice, most employees say they prefer money as an incentive – unless they are given the option to select a specific noncash reward. Not only do they typically enjoy it more, noncash items create a greater measurable boost in productivity – and give you much more bang for your buck.

Noncash Incentives for Holiday Cheer

I’m not saying don’t give bonuses. I am saying, however, that employees connect with noncash rewards; they associate them with your company; and engagement increases long after any cash would’ve been spent. It’s often referred to as the “trophy” value of the prize.

We used to give all our people an afternoon off sometime during the holiday season to shop, wrap gifts, and belt out “Feliz Navidad” in the car. Just me? It gave everyone a chance to do some less hectic weekday shopping with a relaxed mindset. It wasn’t a trip to the shops that they had to squeeze into their schedule; it was “free” time. They could turn off the Blackberry, sip a gingerbread latte, enjoy the decorations, and associate all of that good cheer with their employer.

Gift cards can be another effective avenue. To maximize the impact, they should be as personalized as possible. Your yoga-loving account exec? She’d loved some new Lululemon gear, and every time she strikes a warrior pose, she’ll think of the thought behind the gift. How about your creative guy? Give him a trip to Golf Town, on you. Their purchases are tangible items that they will continue to connect to you.

There’s also nothing wrong with giving gifts that are related to your business – if it makes your people’s lives easier. We once gave our people new luggage. In our industry, everyone needed good bags, especially carry-ons. You don’t want it to be too “businessy” but something like this sends the message that you appreciate them and their work. I highly recommend Lug…designed by fellow Leisureologist Ami Richter!

Every season brings its distractions – and every season brings an equally big sleigh-full of opportunities. When you embrace leisureology in the workplace, you can leverage the joy of the holidays to maintain – or increase – productivity and engagement. But the best part is that it doesn’t end on December 26th, especially when you offer incentives that continue the spirit of goodwill and motivation throughout the year. Happy Christmas to all, and to all a productive, and profitable end to the fourth quarter! May not be poetic, but it definitely sounds good!

Paul Marchildon

Paul Marchildon

A self-proclaimed Leisureologist and Motivational Speaker, Paul Marchildon applies his vast expertise in human engagement to help leaders create more productive, effective organizations. Building on an influential career as a pioneer in employee incentive and loyalty programs, strategic creative communications, social media and mobile marketing, Paul provides insight into the advantages of incorporating a leisure culture in the "work" place. He is past president of Society of Incentive and Travel Executives’ (Site) Canadian Chapter and founder of Atlantis Creative Group (now part of Maritz Canada). He is one of a select group of Canadians who have received the Certified Incentive Travel Executive (CITE) designation.