By Maria Anton

87489366What are your plans for employee and customer gifts this holiday season? According to the American Express OPEN Small Business Holiday Monitor, fewer than half (47 percent) of small businesses will give customers gifts this holiday season. That’s similar to last year’s 52 percent.

However, fewer small-business owners (35 percent) are giving employee gifts (compared to 46 percent in 2008). Just 31 percent plan to give year-end bonuses (compared to 44 percent in 2008) and only16 percent will give raises (vs. 30 percent in 2008).

Why the cutbacks? Sixty-nine percent of business owners say the worst of the economic crisis isn’t over, and 57 percent say the economic downturn has changed their holiday gift giving behavior.

Yes, the economy is cutting into all of our businesses—but think about what your employees have given you over the past year. If it weren’t for them, would your business even exist? If you truly can’t give gifts or bonuses, consider giving a gift that costs nothing: time off. Forty-seven percent of business owners plan to give employees time off over the holidays this year.

There are also ways to give without spending a lot. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed said they will use rewards points or barter to get gifts, or give their own company’s products or services as a gift.

On the flip side, 10 percent of entrepreneurs say they plan to increase their customer gift giving this year—seeing the downturn as an opportunity to make a big impression and win over more customers.

It’s true this is going to be a tight holiday for many of us, but that’s all the more reason not to be Scrooge—especially when it comes to your staff.