By Natalie Vescia, B2B Marketing & Client Relationship Manager, Wickes

It’s now that time of year when many employers thank their staff with a reward or gift to recognise and encourage their hard work. However, many employees’ thoughts risk turning towards end of year festivities such as Christmas shopping, client events and office parties; all of which can lead to festive cheer, quite literally, taking over the office.

With research showing that the decline in productivity levels costs businesses almost £259 million throughout the annual party season, it is vital for businesses to keep their staff motivated in the run up to the festive season.

So, in order for businesses to maintain momentum with all these distractions, this time of year is a crucial period to run incentive schemes with attractive rewards.

The key question that applies to these festive motivation 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 the workforce, employers run a risk by putting all their investment into the Christmas period. Why not reward employees in the New Year? It will ensure the gesture isn’t lost among the Christmas celebrations and the reward will therefore generate a bigger impact.

If employers think carefully about the performance and outcomes they need from their business, they can incentivise employees at a time that is right for them.

The reward process could be split for example, with half the reward given before Christmas and half in the New Year. What better way to beat the January blues? A reward at the start of the year is the perfect way of perking up employees 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.

The challenge that many businesses face when planning their 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. If it falls short of the mark, feel good factor can be lost. According to a study by Edenred , a total of 34% of employees have lost, discarded or simply not received a Christmas reward given to them by their employer.

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. It is essential that businesses 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.

Money is appreciated by most employees, but this type of reward runs the risk of being lost in the pay packet and spent on day to day necessities such as the supermarket shop. The impact is therefore lost. Rewards such as food and drink and nights out appeal to some members of staff depending on individual tastes and time commitments.

Gift cards or vouchers, however, are a sure fire way to ensure maximum appeal, allowing employees to buy exactly what they want to fit their individual needs and lifestyle. They provide a hassle free approach for both employer and employee which, in turn, leads to increased uptake of the reward programme and improved return on investment. Offering this type of reward is an option that is proving popular with businesses with B2B sales up year on year according to the UK Gift Card & Voucher Association.

Providing staff with a wide selection of retailers’ gift cards maximises the appeal and take up of a 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.

Whatever gift is given, businesses should also take time to consider how they communicate and deliver the reward. Edenred’s research reveals that barely a third of employees (37%) said they received a personal thanks from their employers when Christmas reward was given. This personal element is vital to any reward and recognition programme, regardless of the season. Any failure to carry this out effectively can result in the reward being quickly forgotten and resources wasted.

Keeping employees motivated towards the end of the year can be a difficult task. However with research indicating that improved employee engagement could deliver £26 billion GDP growth in the UK , it is not a task that should be overlooked. Giving rewards throughout Christmas and into the New Year is good route to keeping employees motivated in the final few weeks of the year and into 2015.

Here are a few recommendations for the perfect seasonal reward:

• educational training to boost knowledge and career development
• courses to develop personal skills such as learning a language or musical instrument
• sporting activities or body boosters such as massages which can benefit long term health
• days out and experiences which can be shared with other people as part of quality time with friends and family
• investing in the home and garden to help increase the value of a property and create a calming retreat to relax in after work