As the economic downturn looms over the upcoming holiday season, companies are coming up with ever-more creative ways to thank their employees. Even if your budget can no longer afford to give hefty bonus checks or throw lavish parties, it’s still better to show at least some appreciation for a year of your employees’ hard work than to ignore it completely.

A recent survey that asked 3,000 hiring managers and HR professionals shows just where companies are cutting back on end of the year employee recognition:

  • One-third (34 percent) of employers planning to give holiday bonuses will pay out the same amounts or less this year than in past years
  • Of those employers decreasing bonuses, more than half (54 percent) plan to decrease by at least 10 percent
  • A whopping seventy-four percent of employers decreasing bonuses will lower amounts up to 25 percent
  • One-third (29 percent) of employers planning to give gifts to employees say they will spend the same or less this year than in the past
  • Seventeen percent of employers plan to cut back on the celebrations this holiday season

Similarly, The Wall Street Journal’s blog posted an alternative list of holiday bonuses compiled by a CEO. These items won’t take the place of a monetary bonus but still allows companies to show some respect for employees. The point is that big money need not be spent to show appreciation. Here’s a sample:

Give extra paid time off.

Maybe you can’t afford to lay down $500, but you might be able to spare an employee for an extra day or two.

Feed them a feast.

One lunch or dinner isn’t too budget-breaking, and many employees still appreciate time to catch up and network with colleagues socially – even if an open bar and DJ isn’t involved. It could be a basic catered lunch or, if that’s still too pricey, even an employee potluck.

Think bare essentials.

In bad economic times when many are scraping by financially, often bare essentials like gas or food are much appreciated gifts. Think about the possibility of giving employees a gas card or even a fruit basket.

What are some inexpensive ways your company is saying “thank you” this holiday season?