Holiday parties vs. employee bonuses – what do employees most look forward to?

Get out your party hats – it’s the annual holiday season! This time of year signals a time when employees eagerly look forward to what the company has in store for them. Like little kids in a candy shop, they wonder if they will they get another turkey from the boss again this year, or does he have something else up his sleeve – like a bonus check?

To find out what employees really want this year, I polled a group of random working people using Quora and Facebook. I asked the question, “As an employee, what would you rather receive: a small holiday bonus or an amazing corporate holiday party?” The results may not surprise you, but they will help your company decide if your holiday perks this year should be in the form of cash or a visit from Santa at the posh holiday party.

The good and bad of holiday office parties.

Several respondents chimed in that while they think holiday parties at work are fun for the younger crowd, but for more mature employees, work related parties are passe. Because the holiday season is already “choked with social obligations”, as one respondent mentioned, they become an obligation rather than something to enjoy. After all, who wants to spend another miserable hours with people you work 40 plus hours a week with already?

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When coupled with alcohol and travel, corporate holiday parties can become a serious liability for companies too – think DUIs and the hassle of providing transportation arrangements, hotel rooms, etc. for out of town employees. But for some, this annual get-together is a team building event that employees look forward to. Companies who hold office holiday parties often spend a great deal of time and money putting them together for the benefit of their employees, so they can be the opportune way to schmooze with the boss a little.

Show me the money.

Seriously, this is what many of the people who responded to my little poll said.  It seems that in a world that is already filled with holiday events and social obligations, the most preferred way of thanking employees for their efforts is with a nice fat bonus check. One person mentioned that she “could use the money and a social event isn’t something she considers as payment for a job well done.” Other people mentioned that they would much rather have the funds to go on vacation to bring back some work-life balance into their already hectic schedules.

Holiday bonuses like this can come in many forms, as revealed by the poll. For example, some employees indicated that they enjoyed getting retail gift cards, movie and event tickets, vouchers for holiday dinners, and company promotional items such as t-shirts and electronic gifts. Others liked to be able to see that extra bonus added to their holiday paychecks, something that gave them a sense of pride for their accomplishments in the previous months.

This entire poll brings up an important point – do employees today have a general expectation that their employer will offer them something more than just a nice evening out this year? It’s my opinion that by the end of the year, employees are already stressed trying to meet end-of-year deadlines and family obligations. Therefore, a holiday financial bonus provides a one-size-fits-all appeal to a pay for performance program. Giving employees the ability to use their holiday bonus to choose their own benefits (how they will spend it) is something that empowers workers and provides value to their overall compensation.

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This is like posing the comparison of shirt vs. pants. ALWAYS both.