Tis’ the season – or, at the very least, ordinarily this would be a festive season, full of office Secret Santa exchanges, holiday parties, and other events. These aren’t just annual events, though; management coordinates these events as a way of boosting staff morale and to show everyone their appreciation. Unfortunately, since most workers remain cloistered at home this year, it’s hard for offices to replicate such events, but it’s important not to leave staff out in the cold. In fact, it may be more important than ever for companies to show their appreciation. You’ll just need to be more creative to get it done.

If you’re looking for pandemic- and budget-friendly ways to boost morale this holiday season, there are several things you can do to acknowledge their hard work and commitment, and it’s time to start planning. It always takes a little longer to put together a new program or event than to replicate something you’ve done before, so get those creative juices flowing.

Skip the Party

There are plenty of offices planning to throw a virtual holiday party this year, but here’s the thing about virtual parties: no one has the energy or interest in attending them. By month two or three of the pandemic, the majority of people had given up on Zoom happy hours with their best friends and digital game nights. The fact is, Zoom fatigue is real and we’ve all got it. More importantly, anything you can offer on Zoom is likely just to infringe on your staff’s time without the rewarding environment of a festive event with delicious food and drinks. It’s not worth the time and energy, so let’s move on to what works.

Amp Up the Appreciation

Research into staff morale and satisfaction has taught us a few valuable things about what employees find to be most encouraging or meaningful, and high on that list is appreciation. In fact, many workers say that being acknowledged for their efforts means more than even increased pay or a bonus. Given that teams have been split up for months, encourage staff to make this season meaningful by sending messages of gratitude to their peers. While management should also participate in such efforts to encourage staff, and may even boost such recognition to public social media shout-outs, being seen and acknowledged by peers during challenging times can be even more motivating.

Make It Personal

Many employee gifts are essentially neutral – mugs, gift cards, items that are useful but don’t have a lot of personality. In fact, when it comes to personal gifts, office Secret Santa arrangements often do this much better, since staff involved are likely to know each other well.

With this in mind, if you plan to give otherwise generic gifts this year, like coffee gift cards (because who doesn’t need more coffee), consider supplementing the package with a personal touch. Have an employee who’s always leaving baked goods on the break room table? They might appreciate a gift of a few custom cookie cutters to go with it. Is another a particularly snappy dresser? A choice pocket square could complement their snazzy suits.

Money Matters

Though we noted above that monetary rewards are sometimes less valuable than acknowledgment, the fact is that money still goes a long way, especially since many families are experiencing financial strain right now. While holiday bonuses may seem impersonal, enclosing a monetary bonus combined with words of encouragement may be the best possible reward for staff, demonstrating that they bring many kinds of value to the business.

There’s no perfect staff gift for the holiday season, but depending on the size of your office, consulting managers along the hierarchy may help you hone in on what individual workers would appreciate most.  And if you’re figuring this out on your own, don’t be afraid to keep it simple. Your staff want to know that you’re thinking of them. Even if the gift isn’t perfect, this is a case when it really is the thought that counts.

Jenna Cyprus is a freelance writer from Renton, WA who is particularly interested in travel, nature, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter.

Christmas thank you card stock photo by Mallmo/Shutterstock