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10 Recession-Proof Holiday Bonus Ideas

christmas at the office with a ceo and champagneRecently, a colleague passed the following article by Smart Online CEO Dave Colburn on to me (written before the, ahem, “news” that we’re officially in a recession) that I now want to pass on to you.  If your company is among what I’m sure are a growing number of businesses struggling to offer the usual holiday bonus this year, you’re probably already thinking about what kind of bonuses you can offer your employees that are of the, um, non-monetary persuasion.

If this is so, consider some of the suggestions below, which offer incentives that show employees both your appreciation of their work and your understanding of their own financial difficulaties.  Before you do anything, however, if you know your employees are expecting that bonus, make sure they are prepared for any foreseeable bonus cut-backs…lest you end up like Frank Shirley.

Top 10 Recession-Proof Holiday “Bonuses”

With an inevitable recession brewing, the holidays may not provide the joy that many are accustomed to. A business’s inability to provide holiday bonuses to employees may leave an already suffering family scrambling until New Years. Employers should find creative, cost-effective ways of providing joy to their employees.

  1. Paid Time Off – All families value extra time together during holidays. Employers should offer half-day schedules to employees during the holiday season. If employees offer to double their work load during their shift and receive a full day’s pay, everyone wins.
  2. Coupons – During a recession, every penny counts. Employers should search for discounts that will minimize the holiday bills. Coupons or savings cards are a great investment for anyone with an expensive shopping list. Discounted merchandise can not only guarantee enough gifts for everyone, but also a lower credit card bill.
  3. Barter System – Remember the cashmere sweater from Christmas 06 that you hated? It may be perfect for your co-worker’s wife. Companies could set aside time to create a Barter System program for employees. They can bring in new, unwanted items and swap with co-workers. The trade-off: saving money and gas by avoiding shopping trips to the mall.
  4. Gas –  Speaking of gas, employees would love an opportunity to save money on fuel. How about carpooling? Nothing says holiday spirit better than the boss making rounds to pick up his employees and ensure a safe trip to work. Carpooling may not seem like much, but the extra savings can guarantee a gift under the tree.  It’s a great way to get to get to know everyone, too.
  5. Holiday Feast – With the rising cost of food, many families are hoping to find alternatives to cooking throughout the season. Employers can have holiday meals catered and prepared for the company. The cost of a holiday meal is much cheaper than a typical bonus.
  6. Partnerships – Search through your Rolodex and you’re guaranteed to find a business contact that could provide a service to your employees. A simple tune-up or dry cleaning bill could make or break someone on a budget. One phone call could complete a task that an employee has been putting off for months.
  7. Take Advantage of Your Company – Some employees could really use some pampering. Take the opportunity to seek out group rates for services such as spas and gyms. If you can recruit your entire company, you can lock in savings on services that can be used for the entire year.
  8. Give the Basics – In these times, nothing is more satisfying than the bare necessities. Employers could create gift baskets with personal essentials that every employee needs. Who would turn down lotion and tissue in a time like this? And by buying in bulk, you could save hundreds of dollars.
  9. Pay a Bill – The best holiday gift is to start the New Year with a clean slate.  Offer to pay a bill for each employee. This could be pretty successful as long as employees are reasonable. (Mortgages are excluded!)
  10. Play Santa – You can keep your employees satisfied by giving them their heart’s desire. Spark up a conversation and ask every employee what they would like to receive as a gift. Most people will usually say something simple during a casual conversation. If your budget permits, buy it! You have proved that the guy in the corner office really does have a heart.

What about you? Has the economy forced your own company to scale back on bonuses, and, if so, what are you doing to compensate? Do you think you’ll use any of these suggestions?

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.

Chris, good to hear others are implementing the work from home idea - and having success with it., too, has had a lot of success with a similar program. I hope to see more and more companies adopt - and benefit from - these practices in the coming months. Thanks for sharing. - Mary


Chris, good to hear others are implementing the work from home idea - and having success with it., too, has had a lot of success with a similar program. I hope to see more and more companies adopt - and benefit from - these practices in the coming months. Thanks for sharing. - Mary

Chris - Manager's Sandbox
Chris - Manager's Sandbox

I'd like to add one under "Gas" - cut out the carpool altogether and let employees work from home. With email and cellphones, you can work from literally anywhere in the world. Have employees come in a couple of days a week to have meetings and get some actual interaction with coworkers, and then let them work from home the rest of the week.

Best Buy has seen great success at their corporate office with this kind of program.

- Chris


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