3 Surefire Ways to Disengage Your Employees This Holiday Season

For each of the past 20 years, my wife and I have watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation while putting up our Christmas Tree.

Why we still laugh uncontrollably at the same bits we’ve seen so many times is something our kids may never fully understand, but I digress.

This classic movie’s plot centers around the plans Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) has for surprising his family at Christmas by having an elaborate swimming pool built in their backyard the following spring. Although the packaging company he works for is not obligated to pay out a Christmas bonus, Clark has always received one in each of his past 17 years working there.

When your bonus isn’t at all what you expected

And because he’s performed exceptionally well this year, he uses what he received over previous years as his indication of what this year’s Christmas bonus will be. He’s all-but-certain that his forthcoming bonus will be more than enough to pay for this pool so he’s already made a sizable down payment on it.

After a near disastrous series of events for the Griswolds, Christmas Eve finally arrives and we find Clark’s family all huddled around in the living room. The doorbell rings and to his delight, it’s a company messenger carrying an envelope containing his long anticipated bonus.

Before opening the envelope, Clark announces to his family that he’s spent that bonus on a backyard pool. Everyone cheers wildly as Clark opens his envelope only to find that there is no check, but in its place, a year’s membership to the “Jelly of the Month” club. Clark is so overcome with anger that he goes ballistic.

Then, well, I won’t spoil the terrific ending just in case you haven’t yet seen this holiday classic — but I highly recommend it.

Although hysterically funny, employers can derive a significant underlying moral from this movie.

If you’re an employer and you want to demoralize, disenfranchise, and demotivate your employees this holiday season, there are three surefire things you can do to accomplish that goal:

1. Keep it a mystery

Hiding your presents from your children is a great way to build anticipation while allowing you the opportunity to video record their priceless expressions as they open them on Christmas morning.

However, if your employees are anticipating a bonus (á la Clark Griswold), then keeping what they are getting, and when, is not such a great idea.

Employees may be counting on that bonus for celebrating their holidays and the suspense of not knowing what’s coming their direction won’t justify the anxiety of being kept in the dark.

Article Continues Below

2. Don’t give anyone anything

According to recent surveys by American Express, holiday gift giving by employers to their employees is on a rapid decline.

Last year, only 27 percent of business owners gave out end-of-year bonuses, down from 35 percent in 2012. So, if you want your organization to join the race to the bottom and avoid a golden opportunity to stand out as an employer of choice, follow the trend and get your Scrooge on.

3. Give every employee the same exact gift

Getting a year’s membership to the Jelly of the Month Club might not have been perceived as such a terrible present had Clark Griswold’s boss discovered that he was a closeted jelly aficionado, or that his wife was passionate about canning preserves. However, this was obviously a gift that every other employee was getting just to placate them.

But when you give the exact same gift to everyone on your payroll, you are, in essence, saying that no one is special and, therefore, you’re not going to put any thought behind exclusivity.

So just give everyone an Amazon gift card, or a ham, or a coffee cup with the company logo on it. There’s no better way of making your people feel like they’re a small cog in your big wheel.

On Point

With so many companies choosing to replace holiday bonuses for employees with annual performance bonuses, or simply eliminating them all together, employee expectations for Christmas bonuses are not what they once were.

What a splendid opportunity to make your people feel valued and appreciated and make certain your culture stands out from the pack.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s blog Chester on Point

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement, and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the millennial mindset, and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 4 leadership books including his newly released Amazon #1 Bestseller On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out.  Learn more at EricChester.com and follow him at @eric_chester

Topics