10 Great Staff Incentives For The Holiday Season

The holidays are the crowning point of the year for most businesses, a chance for one more boost of revenue.

Yet these are challenging times. Everyone is being asked to accomplish more with less. It’s tempting to write off staff holiday incentives as unnecessary during a tight labor market, but that’s the opposite approach to take.

More than ever, you need to offer staff incentives for the holidays. It’s about employee motivation, which is even more important if you’re short on staff. And it’s about rewarding the people who are doing their best during a busy, stressful time of year.

If you’re fresh out of employee incentive ideas, don’t worry. We’ve got it covered.

Staff incentives for the holiday season that fit any budget 

The most important thing to remember is that the staff incentive you offer drives the behavior that’s returned, so it’s important to understand what you hope to achieve with the incentive. What do you want your employees to do because of it? To feel? What message are you sending?

With that in mind, here are ten ideas that you can choose from, based on different preferred outcomes.

1. A day off 

When it’s a busy time for your business, it’s also a busy time for your employees.

Whether you add an extra vacation day to your employee benefits package, or give them permission to ask for a day off without demanding any explanation, this holiday incentive for staff gives them the promise of extra personal time down the road. A modified version might be allowing employees to leave early if the shift gets slow.

All of this is easily accomplished if you’re using employee scheduling software that automates handling time-off requests and makes it easy to quickly adjust timesheets that didn’t follow predicted shifts.

2. Cash bonus or gift

Extra cash is always appreciated, especially at the holidays when there are extra bills. You can add the bonus to their paycheck, but there are other ways to provide a gift. You can offer gift certificates to local businesses, or even special privileges at work that have significant or measurable value. 

Whether you want to base the bonus on a flat rate or a percentage of earnings, you’ll want to be sure you work with payroll to follow all laws regarding cash compensation and taxes. 

3. A well-stocked breakroom

The holiday season is busy, but it’s also meant to be a special time. For many workers, it ends up being mostly stressful and can lead to dreading the holidays more than enjoying them.

Make the breakroom special during the holidays.

Provide all kinds of treats, decorations, and special surprises. Get employee feedback. Find out what their favorite food is. Find out what you can do to make the breakroom a fun place. Do what you can to make their regular breaks that much more to look forward to.

4. Heartfelt thanks

Everyone likes to know they are needed and appreciated.

This might be done one-on-one or publicly. It depends on your workplace culture as to which is most appropriate. It also depends on the personality of the employee or the one doing the thanking. The most important things to remember are:

  • Be sincere.
  • Be specific. Let them know what it is that they’ve done that’s helped out, and how it’s made a difference.
  • Make it permanent. Put it in their employee file.
  • Make it tangible, whether through branded swag or a thank-note or as part of a bonus.

This doesn’t have to be flashy. It might just be a simple, personal note given to an employee, or sending a direct message through your employee messaging app. In an impersonal world where people are overlooked or grouped in generalizations, a sincere thank you goes a long way.

5. Increased holiday pay

Different from an outright cash bonus, increased holiday pay is something that’s offered to everyone. Ideally, it provides the most reward to those who work the most hours as it’s an increase in pay, not a bonus.

You’ll want to work with payroll and HR to make sure everything is handled correctly.

6. Personal growth opportunities

During the holidays, you can give your employees the opportunity for a better future.

Provide a mentor (or offer to be one), pay for (or give access to) training, conferences, trade shows, or work-related opportunities to grow. Let them know about the professional development opportunities they’ll have in the coming year. Give them something to look forward to, to get through the busy holidays.

7. Improved work area

Get new equipment to replace what’s outdated or old, fix those machines or work areas that have been an annoyance, or crack open the employee suggestion box and put some of those suggestions into practice.

Keep in mind that changing major systems during the holidays might be a problem, so in that case, it would be better to announce your intention to do so for the new year.

8. Charitable giving

The holidays are the perfect time to give back to the organizations and causes that matter the most to your employees. For many charitable organizations, they rely on donations during the holidays to fund much of the rest of the year.

Your staff may want to choose to give as a group, or you might give them each the individual option to have something donated to a good cause of their own choice. A donation can be made on their behalf outright, or based on the hours they work. Perhaps you’ll give them a chance to volunteer at a charity and pay them for their time.

9. Party

Have a party, whether at the work site, or elsewhere, for each shift, or one big get-together after hours. Don’t skimp. If it’s too busy during the holidays, plan big for after the holidays. Great food, fun prizes, and a chance to wind down are a wonderful way to have fun with coworkers outside of the workplace.

If a holiday party won’t work, consider catering breakfast or lunch at the workplace. Be sure to give your employees time to enjoy whatever you choose to offer them if it’s during work hours.

10. Percentage or outcome-based incentives

Remember, the outcome you want helps determine the incentive. Some holiday incentives simply say thank you. Some motivate employees to work extra hard and stay engaged. 

You can provide an equal incentive for all employees, a percentage based on pay, or differing incentives for different levels of employees. You might offer a mix of these holiday incentives based on full- or part-time status (e.g. a well-stocked breakroom for all, but full-time employees get additional holiday pay).


Engaged employees increase profitability by 21%. For that reason alone, the question of how to motivate employees is always at the forefront for every employer. Employee incentives and rewards—whether at the holidays or not—are crucial to building motivation and engagement.

Some of these incentives have additional cost, while others simply open the door to opportunities already present. In other words, you don’t have to break the bank. You can offer genuine staff incentives for the holidays using what you already have.

Even more importantly, developing and building an effective incentive program for the rest of the year can start with what you do during the holidays.

Article Image
/Human Resources

Employee Burnout: Causes, Signs, And Strategies

Article Image
/Business Growth

9 Strategies For Decreasing Labor Costs

Article Image
/Scheduling Strategy

Rotating Shifts: A Manager’s Guide to Rotating Schedules

Article Image
/Scheduling Strategy

How to Save Time And Money With Automatic Scheduling For Employees

Article Image
/Small Business Blog

40 Employee Appreciation Ideas Your Staff Will Love

Article Image
/Human Resources

How to Write Up an Employee in 8 Easy Steps