Weekly Wrap: Bonuses & Perks are Returning, But Nutty Gifts Are, Too

We’re getting pretty deep into the holiday season, and as a recent press release from Careerbuilder put it, “The Scrooge economy appears to be loosening its grip.”

How do we know this is so? Well, according to Careerbuilder’s annual holiday survey, companies say they plan to offer more perks (bonuses, parties, gifts) this year than last.

I’m all for employers bringing back some of those holiday perks that seemed to get thrown away so quickly during the Great Recession — I worked at a company that dropped annual holiday bonuses they had been giving for the better part of 60 years at the last minute without hardly saying “I’m sorry” — because those seasonal bonuses and goodies can tell you a lot about how your organization really feels about the people they have working for them.

Close to 50% of employees getting a bonus this year

At any rate, here’s what the Careerbuilder survey conducted by Harris Interactive found when they surveyed nearly 2,500 hiring managers and HR professionals as well as some 4,000 workers across industries and company sizes last Aug. 13-Sept. 6:

  • Bonuses: Some 46 percent of employers expect to give their employees holiday bonuses this year, up from 40 percent last year and 33 percent in 2010. Nearly one in five of them (19 percent) plan to provide a larger bonus than last year.
  • Parties: Six in ten (60 percent) employers are throwing a holiday party for their employees this year, up from 58 percent last year and 53 percent in 2010. Surprisingly, only 40 percent of workers say they plan to attend (guess they may have read too many stories like this).
  • Gifts: Just 36 percent of employers plan to give holiday gifts, up from 30 percent in 2011 and 2010.
  • Behind the gift-giving: Only 23 percent of workers plan to buy holidays gifts for co-workers this year and 22 percent are buying for their boss. The majority (81 percent) of workers who plan to buy gifts expect to spend $25 or less for each holiday gift they buy for the office, while 38 percent plan to spend $10 or less, and 10 percent plan to spend less than $5.

All of this is interesting and clearly shows again that the economy is slowly recovering from the recession and mediocre recovery (sorry Mr. President, but that’s what it is), but what I enjoyed most in the the Careerbuilder survey was the responses people gave when they were asked to “share the most memorable gifts received from co-workers.”

“Memorable’ gifts you could do without

Like Careerbuilder’s survey that found all the dumb stuff people do during job interviews, or the craziest excuses employees give when calling in sick, this list of the most “memorable” gifts people received from their working peers is one that makes you wonder, “what were those people thinking, anyway?”

So, here are some of those memorable gifts workers got from their fellow employees during the holidays:

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  • A CD of the co-worker’s recorded songs;
  • Dolphin oven mitt;
  • Four — yes (4) — rolls of toilet paper;
  • A harpoon (someone has been reading/watching too much Moby Dick);
  • Can of wasp spray;
  • Jar of sand;
  • Homemade pickles;
  • Conch shell (I used to live in Hawaii, and even there, I was NEVER given this);
  • Lava lamp filled with fake fish (sounds like something for Tim Sackett);
  • Expired body lotion;
  • Book about kittens (something for Laurie Ruettimann)

That’s quite a list. What’s also interesting is that Rosemary Haefner, the vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, had nothing quotable to say about this list. I’ve met Rosemary and she’s a first-rate HR pro who normally weighs in with something insightful to say about most EVERY Careerbuilder survey — but not about this one.

My guess is that this list of “memorable” gifts people got from co-workers taxed even her analytical abilities to find some deeper workplace and talent management meaning in it.

Distractions at work getting in the way of work

So it goes during the Christmas and year end holiday season. Here’s hoping that you get that bonus again this year, and that 2013 is a year where everyone’s  lives at work improve over what we all experienced in 2012.

Of course, there’s a lot more than the latest Careerbuilder survey over holiday gift-giving in the news this week. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Yes, union members DO make more than private sector workers. You probably know this already, but here’s more data to support the very real notion that unionized employees are making a lot more and are better off than their private sector counterparts. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “You’re sure to strike a nerve in many circles if you bring up the topic of unions and, in this case, union wages … CNN Money, relying on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, has looked into how the average pay of the top unions in this country stacks up against non-union workers’ wages. The bottom line is that across the board union wages are higher.”
  • Push for a “living” wage goes national. A story this week in the Los Angeles Times dug into the push in many states for a “living” minimum wage, but as it points out, the push is running into some opposition. “Although the 2012 election might have brought the idea of income inequality to the forefront of voters’ minds,” the LA Times story says, “efforts to increase wages for these workers are sputtering in an era of austerity when businesses say they are barely hiring, much less paying workers more.”
  • Legalization of marijuana complicates many workplace policies. Whether you are for or against the legalization of marijuana in places like Colorado and Washington state, this much is certain: legalization of pot complicates a lot of workplace policies. According to this story from The Associated Press, “Pot may be legal, but workers may want to check with their boss first before they grab the pipe or joint during off hours. Businesses in Washington state, where the drug is legal, and Colorado, where it will be by January, are trying to figure out how to deal with employees who use it on their own time and then fail a drug test. “There’s just an incredible amount of gray right now” about how marijuana legalization affects employers, said Sandra Hagen Solin of the Northern Colorado Legislative Alliance, a coalition of chambers of commerce.”
  • When workplace distractions get in the way of the work. The Wall Street Journal this week dug into why so many of us get so distracted at work — and how this impacts our employee’s ability to get stuff done. “Distraction at the office is hardly new, but as screens multiply and managers push frazzled workers to do more with less, companies say the problem is worsening and is affecting business. While some firms make noises about workers wasting time on the Web, companies are realizing the problem is partly their own fault. Even though digital technology has led to significant productivity increases, the modern workday seems custom-built to destroy individual focus.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


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