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What to do for employees at Christmas?

Ho, Ho, Ho – Tis a season of joy. But, it can also be a perplexing time for business owners and managers when faced with the question of what to give employees for the holidays? Likely, every boss wants to do something to recognize and reward employees who have been loyal and worked hard to keep the dealership going during an unquestionably difficult year. As a group, you’re still here – truly something worth recognition, given the number of dealerships that are not. Sill, what to do?

In the good years, cash bonuses are often the easy way to recognize employees for a good job. It was what I did for many years – the good years. By definition, of course, a bonus was meant as something extra -- something not expected – a way to show my gratitude for a financially successful year. But, when the business went south and cash bonuses were no longer possible, I quickly learned the reality was that employees were expecting it. Apparently, they didn’t share my view that a bonus was an unexpected extra. Some even viewed it just part of their annual compensation. Clearly the whole point of a bonus reward had been lost somewhere and I realized once you start down the bonus road, hitting an exit can make one a Grinch!

Still, I wanted to show my genuine appreciation for the staff. After all, the fact that our earnings were zip wasn’t because they didn’t do their jobs. And, if they were counting on the bonus, it made things even more difficult. What to do?

I decided that I should come up with some cash bonus, albeit far less than in the past. In personally giving each one their check, I explained the association never intended bonuses to be part of expected compensation and, given that the economy had tanked our boat show earnings, this bonus was the best we could do. Moreover, in all likelihood, the association would not be giving Christmas bonuses in the future.

But I still wanted to do more for a team that had worked hard. I genuinely appreciated each of them. Disappointing them was hard for me. However, because we were a small staff (five people) and I knew each one very well, I could take time to personally shop for a special gift for each that was suited to their individual taste and style and, hopefully, reflected my true appreciation for them. A designer sweater for one, golf accessories for another, a gift certificate for a family dinner for another and so on. In the end, I believe those personal gifts actually wiped away any disappointments about the bonus situation. In fact, the rather impersonal nature of a bonus check was replaced by something thoughtfully hand-picked especially for them.

We ended the Christmas bonus forever after that year - but not the personal gifts. No, truth is, I came to genuinely enjoy taking time to shop for each special gift. I looked forward to it . . . and I know they all looked forward to opening those packages to see what I’d come up with.

Christmas is just around the corner. If this gives you any ideas, go for it.


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