Saying thanks for a job well done is easy – and important – but is often overlooked by managers who are stretched by a less than impressive reward budget, even at Christmas.

We know that the workforce needs support and celebration; recognition is the key to improving employee engagement for 2017 and beyond, particularly at Christmas, setting teams up for better productivity, profit and growth in the New Year. While individual acknowledgement is important, Christmas employee reward isn't always about expensive gifts so follow our 5 tips to reward employees for free this Christmas.

Give Time Off

For some people, there's nothing like the gift of time. An extra day's holiday, while not strictly cost free, is an inexpensive way to express thanks for a job well done and can be transformed into a physical gift by creating a company branded or Christmas themed card, or a voucher which the employee can redeem with managers to claim their extra leave. Issue it in time for staff to claim extra Christmas leave, or as a thank you just before Christmas holidays start so employees have an extra rest day to look forward to post-festivities.

Design a Card

Get creative and design a special Christmas card – make it extra personal by coming up with designs to appeal to specific departments, go for a cheesy joke or align the message with company culture – but don't just slap on the brand logo. Include a personal message with the employee's name, a thankful message and festive best wishes, so the card is all about them, not about you.

Write a Letter

Make Christmas recognition really personal by sending a letter to every employee wishing a Merry Christmas and thanking for their individual contribution to the year's success. Enlist team leaders to highlight special moments and achievements for each employee or extend the message to partners and children by name. It's a gesture that drives home the message that the organisation cares about their successes lifestyles and personal happiness.

Organise Christmas Dinner

In most workplaces, food is the great unifier. Organise a Christmas Dinner or party outside of work where employees can get together and relax, socialise and enjoy some festive food and drinks. Alternatively bring it into the office for something a little less formal, invite employees to wear their Christmas jumper or something with a seasonal sparkle, and contribute to a shared buffet on a stress-free afternoon.

Personal Recognition

At some companies, recognition takes the form of a meeting where high-flying employees are celebrated in public, and at others, individuals are approached at their desks with a pat on the back. We highlight the importance of recognising employees individually, and a great no-cost approach to effective Christmas reward is ensuring managers thank everyone for their contributions in a timely manner – so whether you choose to give time off, a card or letter, encourage managers to take the time to say 'Thank you,' in person.