10 Creative Holiday Perks for Your Team

Last Updated Dec 16, 2010 8:16 PM EST

It's time to give your staff a little something nice. But, hey, do them a favor and put more thought into it this year rather than just pass out the same bland checks or company coffee mugs.

Still short on cash? That's not an excuse. See the list below for 10 creative ways to mix things up a bit this holiday season and give employees a boost -- without breaking the bank.

1. Try their luck
Over the course of his 30 year career, New York-based CPA Steven Elliott has received everything from gifts of wine to engraved pens to a company bowling night. His all-time favorite: lottery tickets. "You often come out with nothing. But there is that chance that maybe, just maybe, you might walk away with something." And one year he did: $400.

2. Hand out something they can use
Thoughtful holiday perks don't have to dazzle -- sometimes it's the practical stuff that means the most. A few years ago, Arnie Aloff, a district manager for Alliance for Affordable Services, an insurance company in Chicago, wanted to give a gift to the agents he mentored without shelling out a lot of cash. Since he didn't have a big budget to buy gifts, he gave them each an I-PASS transponder, a device that automatically pays toll booths so that cars don't have to stop as they drive through. Aloff paid $50 per transponder, and each device came loaded with $40 in pre-paid tolls, a nice perk for insurance agents who spend a lot of time in the car.

3. Give the office a fun upgrade
Living Social wanted to reward the employees in its Washington, DC office for a huge expansion of its daily deals site (from January to December it increased from 6 markets to 130), so once employees hit their goals, management bought them an arcade game for the office that everyone loved to play at their happy hours -- Big Buck Hunter. Added bonus: a new ping pong table.

4. Throw an office party with a twist
To celebrate the holidays, postcardmania.com, a postcard direct mail marketing company, throws a tacky Christmas sweater contest in the office. The ugliest of all the bedazzled garments wins a gift basket full of goodies while the other 169 employees drink cider and egg nog. The contest may be silly, but it's a great way "to get employees involved and do something creative," says Jessica Aguiar, director of public relations.

5. Give a gift for others
Xomba.com, an online writing community, gave each of its employees $200 to spend on gifts to donate to Angel Tree, a Salvation Army program that provides children and seniors in need with Christmas gifts. The experience of shopping together to pick out presents for the kids really helped build a sense of community, unify the workplace, and give each employee a sense of worth, says editor John E. Citrone.

6. Give a great gift that reflects the company spirit
Ikea, the king of inexpensive build-it-yourself furniture, gave its 12,400 U.S. employees a new all-terrain bike to celebrate the 2010 holiday season. The only catch? Just like the manufacturer's furniture, bikes arrived in flat boxes and had to be assembled.

7. Celebrate your people and your culture
Fibrebond, a Louisiana-based manufacturer of concrete structures, self-publishes a corporate yearbook for its employees. The company asks workers to share photos, recipes and memories to include in the book to make it feel like a family album. It's a great way to bring colleagues together, and unlike a mug or a free t-shirt, it's something they can hold onto for a long time.

8. Upgrade employees' time off
San Francisco-based Blurb, an online platform for self-publishing books that created the yearbooks above in #7, likes to get creative with paid time off. Instead of just rewarding employees with a free day, workers were given the day off and the funds to pay for one of a few day trips -- a day on the slopes. at the spa or the movies. Everyone likes extra time off, but this is a lot more fun than bumming around in your PJs.

9. Convert your bonus points into gifts
To celebrate the holidays, Sacramento PR agency Runyon, Saltzman & Einhorn cashes in the points it racked up throughout the year on its American Express card and buys prizes for a raffle. All 40 employees get something, and the gifts vary from a pair of plane tickets and a two-night hotel stay, to Xboxes, iPhones, gift baskets and silly gifts. After the whole office goes out to lunch together, the party starts. "It gets pretty crazy around here. We really have a good time," says Executive Assistant Cathy Grewing.

10. And if you do have extra cash... give it creatively
When Dallas, Texas-based Planet Tan celebrated its 10th anniversary, company founder Tony Hartl decided to give his employees cash bonuses in an unusual way. He called an impromptu meeting for general managers and support staff, then strolled in with a metal briefcase full of cash and handed each of the 17 people a stack of 10 $100 bills. "We'd been successful in a difficult industry, and had overcome many obstacles to make it to the 10-year mark," he said.

Have you given or received something better? Hit the comments and let us know.

Flickr photo courtesy of a4pga, CC 2.0

  • Elise Craig

    Elise Craig has written for BusinessWeek, MarketWatch and washingtonpost.com. She is an alumna of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Georgetown University, and a huge fan of Hoya basketball.