As the holiday season approaches, leaders are starting to look for ways to show their teams they care. Yes, that’s what bonuses are for. But cash gifts aside, there are plenty of other ways to show your employees that you appreciate their hard work, creativity, and dedication during the season of giving. This sense of heartfelt gratitude and caring is a pivotal part of creating a workplace built on what Deb Boelkes calls the “WOW Factor.”
“One of the greatest gifts you can give employees is building a culture so great that they can’t imagine working any place else,” says Boelkes, author of The WOW Factor Workplace: How to Create a Best Place to Work Culture (Business World Rising, December 2019, ISBN: 978-1-734-07610-3, $19.95). “It all comes down to offering them the support, encouragement, guidance, and compassion they need to flourish and thrive.”
Creating a WOW workplace culture is a gift that keeps on giving all year long. When you show employees you care, they will be loyal to you in return. What’s more, putting employees first inspires them to give their best efforts, which drives customer loyalty, which drives profit.
“The holidays are actually one of the easiest times to ‘wow’ your employees,” says Boelkes. “Spirits are high, and you can take advantage of the festive mood to strengthen these relationships, which benefits everyone.”
Here are just a few ways to show your workers you care this holiday season:
Do everything you can to make their holidays easier. WOW leaders care about their people and want to make their lives easier. No question: Life can get busy and stressful this time of year. Doing simple things to take some of the pressure off means more than you may realize. For instance, announce the holiday schedule in advance and communicate it several ways so they can plan. Also, keep the schedule flexible and light. Let people leave work a few hours early, or work from home, or close down the office a day or two in advance of the holiday.
“You’re showing them you see them not just as cogs in a machine but as whole human beings with lives outside the office,” says Boelkes. “This works best when you make an effort all year long to get to know what’s going on in their lives and what matters to them.”
WOW them with some grace. If an employee realizes at the last minute that she needs to leave in the middle of the day to attend her nephew’s holiday play, let her. Tell her, “Oh, it’s fine and no need to come back in. Enjoy your afternoon.” These are the kinds of things that make a lasting impression and build loyalty in people.
Don’t send a bland corporate holiday card. Instead, share a heartfelt (and customized) thank-you message. Successful leaders, especially heartfelt leaders, make sure the people working above, for, and with them know they and their contributions are appreciated. A simple “thank you” can have more power than you think. Give meaningful credit when credit is due.
“Make your ‘thank you’ meaningful by giving each employee a handwritten thank-you card along with any bonuses you distribute,” says Boelkes. “Be specific in listing some of the reasons you value each employee and thank them for making each day a WOW experience.”
Help employees connect to purpose and meaning. WOW workplaces are infused with meaning. People don’t just go through the motions. They know that their work touches people’s lives in real and often profound ways. Britt Berrett, former president of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, says purpose and meaning are crucial for creating employee engagement in all fields—not just the “obvious” industries like healthcare, education, or social work.
He says: We get to take care of people and touch their lives every day. That’s a divine calling in life. Colleagues outside of health care, I think they, too, can find that purpose and that meaning. That’s why Southwest Airlines is doing what they’re doing. I think they consider it a great calling in life. I’ve heard them speak to that, on opening the airways, on opening travel for families and friends to connect. I think that’s meaningful. But it does take courage, it really does. It’s exhausting, too. It’s not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those who are “kind of,” “sort of,” “sometimes,” or “maybe.” It’s for purposefully driven people.
The holidays are the perfect time to remind people of the larger “calling” behind their job. At the holiday party, share an example or two that illustrates this—maybe read a thank-you letter from a customer or even invite one to speak on how your company made their lives better.
Don’t skimp on the holiday party. Workplace celebrations are deeply important. Not only does it give everyone a chance to relax and socialize, it’s a way to say thank you to employees. Make it special. You don’t have to spend a ton of money but give a lot of thought to what might be meaningful to people. (You might ask for their feedback first.) Whether your holiday celebration is as simple as a potluck where everyone brings a favorite dish, or an elegant catered affair, make sure it’s well thought out, well planned, and fun.
Declare a moratorium on after-hours emails for the last half of December. Boelkes says when she conducted 360 reviews of CEOs, one of the biggest complaints she heard was from employees who resented getting emails from the boss on weekends or late at night. They felt they must respond immediately, even when the boss said it could wait until the next business day. Therefore, she recommends that for the last two weeks of the year—while most employees are juggling end-of-year workloads and holiday family visits—leaders declare email-free evenings and weekends for the entire two-week holiday period.
“If you feel compelled to write an email after normal business hours, simply save it as a draft until 8:00 a.m. on the next business day,” she suggests. “This is a small way to give employees their personal time back, and yet it makes a HUGE difference.”
Designate a volunteer day to spread goodwill. The holidays are about giving, so find a way for your organization to give back to the local community. Choose a non-profit organization and select a day or partial day to volunteer as a group. You might decide to walk dogs at a local shelter, or serve lunch at a soup kitchen, or play with children at an orphanage.
Challenge employees to make a holiday connection with customers. Ask them to come up with their own ideas for connecting with customers around the holidays. Then set them free to implement their plans. A customer service representative might send freshly baked cookies to the clients she normally assists, or a group of workers might decide to make a funny holiday thank-you video to send to their clients. When employees are able to engage customers, it makes them more engaged in their jobs. It’s an all-around delightful experience for everyone.
Boelkes suggests you take a cue from Donald Stamets—general manager for Solage, an Auberge resort in Calistoga, CA—and don’t make employees ask permission. As part of his Expected, Requested, and Delighted philosophy, Stamets encourages them to go above and beyond what the customer expects or requests and try to delight them at every turn. For instance, if a guest is sick, employees can bring them tissues and chicken soup without asking a manager.
“Likewise, tell your employees their goal is to delight customers this holiday season,” says Boelkes. “Let them use their own judgment and tap into their creativity. Being allowed to do it ‘their way’ will encourage and inspire them to go in whole-heartedly.”
Give the gift of (positive) year-end feedback. At the end of the year, you’ll want to send employees off on the right foot to enjoy their holiday breaks. A great way to do that is by holding a year-end review in which you focus mainly on what employees are doing right and asking them to share their ideas for making next year even better.
“It’s okay to give them some improvement goals as well but keep the majority of the feedback upbeat and encouraging, and let them know that you believe in them,” says Boelkes. “With this approach you’re likely to notice improvements in the new year.”
“When employees feel supported and appreciated, they will give you their best time and time again,” concludes Boelkes. “So be sure that you don’t squelch the holiday spirit. Take advantage of the holiday cheer and infuse some festive joy and inspiration in your organization. It pays off for you, your workers, and your customers.”