Unusual parties and perks: how to make your staff love you at Christmas

Staff perks are great if you're looking to attract and retain staff. As we've seen in the past, they can also help to improve people's productivity. And what better time of the year to think about perks than Christmas?

Staff Christmas perks have been a thing for almost as long as Christmas itself. Just take Charles Dickens' classic tale A Christmas Carol for instance. If you’re not familiar with the original story, you might know the version involving a certain green frog.

The tale’s main protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, is now so well-known that his very name has become an insult. It’s become synonymous with a miserly approach to Christmas - or just being a poor employer in general:

A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” said Scrooge, buttoning his great-coat to the chin. “But I suppose you must have the whole day. Be here all the earlier next morning.

But this does the man an injustice. Because by the end of Dickens’ tale, Scrooge has seen the error of his ways and has started to treat his employees in a much nicer manner:

A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you, for many a year! I’ll raise your salary, and endeavour to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon.

In the story of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is moved to generosity partly by fear and partly by being shown how unnecessarily hard he makes life for his employees. While we wouldn’t suggest that most British bosses are anywhere near as bad as Ebenezer Scrooge, there’s certainly a lesson to be learned here.

By looking at things from your employees’ perspective, you could find that a little change makes a big difference. And this is the sort of thing they’ll remember come new year. If you want to avoid losing hours to Britain’s low productivity epidemic, or having good staff poached by a more attractive employer, then perks can be a great way to do it.

In this article, we want to look at how you could do Christmas with a difference and make it even better. Which perks should you dish out. But first …

What’s better? Perks versus a pay rise

All this talk of Christmas perks might have you wondering, why not just give your staff a salary increase? Surely that’s the best perk of all, right?

Most staff would probably agree with this. It’s a bit like asking if you’d rather receive cash or gift vouchers for a Christmas present. 90% of people will go for cash - which is of course the universal gift voucher with no expiry date.

But for the employer, a pay increase comes with a few potential problems. Not the least of these is that you now have to come up with the extra money every month, come rain or shine. This isn’t always easy, especially for a smaller business. Conversely, many perks involve a one-off payment - making their associated cash flow more manageable.

Then there are a perk’s value-added benefits to consider. Here are just a few ways that perks could make your workplace more productive:

While a pay rise might increase your employees’ happiness and motivation (at least until they find themselves wanting another one), it’s unlikely to have the direct effect on your business that a well thought out perk could.

Then consider job satisfaction. Even in Germany - where productivity is much higher than in the UK - a Gallup poll found that 70% of workers say they’re just ‘going through the motions’ at their job. What’s even more worrying is that the same poll reported 18% of German employees already having psychologically ‘quit their job’.

And psychologically, work-related perks are a great thing. Good pay can only go so far when it comes to job satisfaction. Think about it - would you work for an otherwise much worse employer if they offered to increase your salary?

This is seldom true more than it is at Christmas. With the best companies constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve the lives of their staff, we came up with some slightly different ways to help you celebrate the festive season.

Christmas staff party ideas with a twist

The classic festive perk, in the UK at least, is the office Christmas party. Although participating in festive cheer with your colleagues is potentially fraught with danger, this is a tradition that’s pretty much ubiquitous across the country.

There are good ways to do Christmas parties and bad ways. But most employers will fall somewhere in between getting a single round in at the pub, and going all out, hiring a world-class entertainment act, and providing a free bar and gourmet catering for the entire night.

Given that they are so ubiquitous, let’s first have a look at some more unusual ways to do a Christmas party:

Christmas volunteering day

This one may not be for everyone, but ‘tis the season for charity after all. Volunteering could be a great way to get people in the festive spirit. The best part of it is that there are so many good causes you could help at this time of year - from charities helping the homeless, to the elderly, or even animals. An introduction to volunteering could be life-changing for the people taking part, and hey, you can always head to the pub for some well-earned drinks afterwards!

Festive escape room

Have you ever considered locking your team up for Christmas? Don’t answer that. Anyway, one great leftfield choice for a Christmas party is an escape room. In case you’re not familiar with the concept, this involves a specially-designed room, where you get locked in and have to find your way out by solving puzzles. Some venues even have identical rooms set up that allow you to form teams and race against each other for victory.

Hire a cottage

Not the cheapest option, but if you can stretch to it, then there’s nothing more festive than a country cottage. Getting your staff together like this just before Christmas might not be the easiest thing logistically, but it could pay dividends in terms of a bonding experience. Just be careful that you don’t get snowed in! Given that the UK grinds to a halt at the slightest inkling of a snow flurry, out in the sticks you might want to ensure that you have access to a decent 4x4.

Wine tasting

For a bit of a twist on the classic Christmas do, why not consider something a bit classier? Many wine bars offer introductory wine tastings, where an experienced sommelier will pair wines with food and give you a primer on each one. This is a great way to spend an evening, and makes for a real festive treat. Obviously it’s not much good if you don’t drink though. You could even organise your own, if you have the knowledge.

The Christmas training course

Ok, ok, we get it. This one sounds rubbish. But stay with us. We ain’t talking about accounting software or corporate tax best practice here. Have you ever thought of learning a new skill for Christmas? From blacksmithing to glassblowing, photography to oil painting, there’s a fun skill out there for just about everyone. At worst, you’ll end up having a random day out and picking up some new stories to tell, and at best, you could end up with a new hobby.

Christmas perks with a difference

But wait, we’re supposed to be thinking a little differently here. While Christmas parties and events are great, they’re far from original. We’re not saying you shouldn’t do one, but what could you add on top in order to really stand out and make Christmas a treat for your staff?

Hold a Christmas cook-off

This one’s a great idea if you think you can pull it off. Depending on how your company is set up, you could have senior management buy and cook this for everyone, or everyone in the firm could play their part. The idea is that each person brings a piece of Christmas dinner, and you all eat it together at lunchtime. It’s also a good way to see who the best cooks are. Try not to give anyone food poisoning though, and consider staff who may have special dietary requirements.

The Christmas supercar contest

We’ve got quite a few petrolheads in the Agency Central office, so this would go down a treat here. Imagine renting an expensive car for the day (or the week) and handing the keys to a top-performing member of staff. Commuting would become a pleasure. With this being Christmas, we can expect adverse weather conditions, so perhaps a luxury 4x4 would be ideal?

Christmas hampers

For many people, Christmas is the one time of year that they can let their diet slide without feeling bad about it. So a hamper of festive treats could be the ideal way to surprise your employees. Again, you need to be aware of people’s dietary requirements, but if these aren’t an issue, then you could consider filling the hampers with bottles of bubbly, candied nuts, gourmet cheeses, and festive cakes. We wouldn’t say no to that!

Bring a Pet to Work Day

This isn’t for everyone. And it could turn out to be chaos. But (especially if you own your own premises), a Bring a Pet to Work Day would be a great idea if you want to add some festive cheer to the office. Bonus points for posting photos of pooches and kitties wearing Santa hats on social media. As with everything though, be aware of people’s personal needs. Not everyone likes animals, or wants to be shut up in close confines with them. There may also be health and safety implications in your specific industry, so do check this.

Surprise early finish

For many firms late December isn’t exactly the busiest time of year. Of course, in industries like hospitality, or retail, there’s little breathing room here - in which case you may want to contact one of our recruitment agencies to find some extra staff. But if you’re one of the many companies that really has very little to do right now, then you could surprise your staff by letting them go home early one day. Perhaps 50% of staff on one day, and 50% on the next. Whether they’d rather spend time with family or relax with a book, we can’t see many people turning their noses up at this perk.


So there you have it. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future would be proud. So would Scrooge (by the end of the story), and Bob Cratchit. Whether you believe in Blue Monday or not, your staff are likely to be feeling a little deflated come January. By giving them a Christmas to remember, you can help to ensure that they hit the ground running, rather than looking to run to another employer.

And that’s really the long and the short of it. Staff Christmas treats will make employees happy. As we all know, happy staff are more productive staff. So while you won’t see a direct return on your investment where these perks are concerned, you will be paid back in the end. That’s before you even consider the loyalty that a truly great work environment is likely to breed. Why would staff want to go anywhere else if they’re happy?


Written by Matt Atkinson
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