As we’re now firmly in the fourth quarter of the year, many businesses are turning their attentions towards end of year targets and recognising the efforts of their employees.

End of year festivities such as Christmas shopping, client events and office parties can distract employees from the task at hand and lead to festive cheer, quite literally, taking over the office. These distractions can dent the finances, with the decline in productivity levels costing businesses almost £259 million throughout the annual party season. Therefore, it is vital for businesses to keep their staff on track and motivated in the run up to the festive season.

Motivation schemes that offer staff incentives have proved highly successful in addressing the issue of employee engagement. They can provide a focus for activity, either short or long term, and generate a positive, productive atmosphere. November and December are important periods to run incentive schemes. This is the time of year that annual targets will be achieved and contracts renewed, so what better time to drive activity and incentivise the workforce? However, this is an opportunity few businesses are taking: Only 30% of employees received a Christmas reward in 2012.

Timing is key

The key question that applies to both reward and December incentive schemes is when to give the staff their rewards. Timing is crucial in order to drive take up and deliver an effective scheme.

Although it is important to reward staff, employers run a risk by putting all their investment into the Christmas period. If they reward employees in the New Year, it will ensure the gesture isn’t lost among the celebrations and the reward will therefore generate a bigger impact.

The reward process could be split for example, with half the reward given before Christmas and half in the New Year. A reward at the start of the year is the perfect way of perking up employees who may be suffering from the January blues and focusing them on activities for the months ahead.

Rewarding in the New Year helps to extend the feel good factor of the festive season as well as ease the post Christmas squeeze on spending.  Many employees start the year with depleted finances and dwindling energy levels – a reward will serve to create a positive working atmosphere during those first few days back after the holidays when employers are keen for their team to begin the year successfully.

A targeted approach

When it comes to deciding on targets, realistic goals need to be set. No single element is likely to switch people off a motivation programme more than a seemingly impossible target. Goals must be achievable and fair, and the best way of deciding them is to ask staff members to suggest their own. This means that their commitment to achieving the target is greater because they take ownership of it.

Businesses should not concentrate on rewarding top achievers in their workforce, but ensure the scheme is designed to engage and improve performance across the whole of the team.  Reward categories should be all encompassing so they are relevant to everyone. This can include sales-based goals such as Performance of the Month, Biggest Improvement, Best Performance for a New Starter or Best Comeback for experienced staff whose performance has improved.

The challenge that many businesses face when planning their festive reward strategy is what type of reward to give. Trying to choose an appropriate gift for employees that will suit all age ranges can be a huge, time consuming task.

Which reward to give?

It is essential for businesses to give their staff a wide variety of motivational rewards to choose from that reflect all aspects of their life, both in and out of work. Choice ensures a broad appeal across all demographics of a business. After all, what suits a young graduate may not appeal to an older member of the workforce. Instead of an arbitrary one-size-fits-all approach, organisations need to think about how they can personalise any reward they give. Providing employees with a choice without incurring additional administration for the business is important.

Cash is appreciated by most employees, but runs the risk of being an ‘invisible reward’ – forgotten once it hits the bank account and likely to be spent on day to day necessities such as the supermarket shop.

Gift vouchers, however, are a good route to achieving maximum appeal. They appeal to employees of all ages and allow them to buy exactly what they want to fit their individual needs and lifestyle. There is also no risk of giving a member of staff an unwanted gift and the subsequent hassle of a obtaining a refund. Offering gift vouchers is an option that is proving popular with businesses with B2B sales up 2.93 per cent according to the latest UKGCVA figures (UK Gift Card & Voucher Association).

Providing staff with a selection of gift vouchers from a wide range of outlets maximises the appeal and take up of a festive reward scheme. Enabling employees to make a personal choice in the type of reward they receive delivers real impact as it helps them to remember the gesture, their employer and how they earned the reward.

Offering vouchers for retailers such as home improvement outlets enables a member of staff to invest in and improve their home environment as well as positioning the business as one that is considerate towards an employee’s life at home, outside of work.

The personal touch

The impact of giving a reward is increased if it is accompanied by a “thanks” from a manager. A simple gesture, but one that seems to be underused by organisations: only a third of staff who gained a Christmas reward in 2012 received a thank you from their manager. Public presentations are an effective platform to hand over rewards to recipients. This adds a personal element and provides public recognition for the member of staff in front of their peers.

Businesses must think carefully about how they communicate a motivation scheme. Communication is key and probably the deciding factor between the success and failure of a motivation strategy. After all, there is little point in going to the effort if creating a motivation scheme and then failing to tell anyone about it. In order to achieve return on investment, it is vital to encourage a high level of take up and create awareness and appreciation of what’s on offer. The motivation programme should be launched with a bang to deliver immediate impact and engage the team.

When planning the communication method, it is important to take into consideration the structure of a team and existing communication channels that can be utilised to get the message across to the widest cross section of the sales force, such as face to face briefings, team meetings, printed and online materials, and interactive videos.

End of year rewards resonate strongly with employees as a way of acknowledging their contribution throughout the year. It also makes sound business sense with research indicating that improved employee engagement could deliver £26 billion GDP growth in the UK. If planned and communicated well, rewarding employees throughout Christmas and into the New Year is well advised as it serves to keep them motivated during the festive period and through to the year ahead.

Natalie Vescia is B2B Marketing & Client Relationship Manager at Wickes.