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There is no one right way to show gratitude for your employees during the holiday season, other than to not show it at all. If you were to ask 20 small business owners what they do for their employees as a year-end reward, you’re likely to get 20 different answers. Many offer a cash bonus, some take the team to a nice dinner, some give individualized holiday gifts, and others throw a party for employees and their families. Small business owners can make their employees feel valued and appreciated, even on the smallest budget.

Year-End Employee Bonuses

3 Ways to Give Year-End Employee Bonuses

If you’re planning to offer a cash bonus to employees, there are a few ways you can go about it. Here are three types of year-end cash bonuses to consider for your small business:

  • Performance Bonuses. Many employers are turning to performance-based bonuses to save themselves money and keep employees from expecting a given amount at the end of the year. The best way to do this is to give each employee individual goals to work toward at the beginning of the year, and then evaluate their performance based on those goals and other factors at the end of year. Goals may need to be adjusting quarterly, according to the employee’s progress. Scheduling a year-end interview with each employee will help you evaluate their performance and decide on an amount that works for you. This may end up being a percentage of their salary, or perhaps a flat dollar amount that is contingent upon them reaching their goals. This will motivate employees to work hard and give them some incentive to carry out their goals to the end of the year. This method can reduce hurt feelings if the bonuses are not even because employees know up-front how the amount is decided.
  • Non-performance bonuses. Some small business owners prefer to award year-end cash bonuses just to show their appreciation, without basing them on performance. Non-performance cash bonuses can also be a portion of the employee’s salary or a flat dollar amount. With non-performance bonuses, you’ll just need to make sure that everyone gets a fairly distributed amount to avoid contention and hurt feelings among employees who may not have been awarded as much.
  • Longevity bonuses. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, people 35 years and younger change jobs every 18 months, and people of all age groups do so every three years, which motivates some companies to offer employees an incentive to stay put. Many employers offer bonuses for employees who have been with their 5, 10, 15, or 20 years, with a set amount for each milestone of employment. This can end up being less or more expensive for employers at the end of the year, based on how many awards must be given out and the years of service being rewarded. However, with this method, not everyone will get a bonus every year.


let yourself get overwhelmed

A Few Tips on Giving Year-End Employee Bonuses

  • Before you let yourself get overwhelmed with which type of bonus to offer, consider if offering a cash bonus is even in your accounting budget this year. If it’s not, choose another way to reward employees for a job well done. Many small business owners change their year-end bonus policy every year, based on the profits of the company during that year–and that’s completely fine. If your accounting and small business bookkeeping is up-to-date, you’ll likely have an easier time deciding how much to give.
  • If your company offers employee bonuses every year, but is unable to this year, be sure to let employees know as soon as possible so they don’t feel start prepping for their backyard swimming pool, like Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
  • Be as fair as possible. While the actual dollar amount doesn’t have to be the same for each employee, bonuses do need to be distributed evenly and fairly. Make sure all employees are recognized during the holiday season–not just some. Bonuses should be consistent and unbiased.

FAQs about Year-End Employee Bonuses & Holiday Gifts:

  1. What are common methods for giving year-end cash bonuses?

    Employers often opt for performance-based bonuses, non-performance bonuses, or longevity bonuses to reward employees at year-end.
  2. How do performance-based bonuses work?

    Employees are given individual goals to achieve throughout the year. Their performance is evaluated against these goals, determining the bonus amount.
  3. What are non-performance bonuses?

    Non-performance bonuses are awarded without specific performance criteria. They can be a portion of the employee’s salary or a flat amount distributed evenly among employees.
  4. What are longevity bonuses and how are they earned?

    Longevity bonuses reward employees for their tenure with the company, typically after 5, 10, 15, or 20 years of service. The amount varies based on the milestone reached.
  5. How should employers approach year-end bonuses when faced with budget constraints?

    Employers should assess their financial situation and consider alternative forms of recognition if cash bonuses are not feasible. Transparency and communication about bonus policies are essential to managing expectations effectively.


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