We caught up with Danni Rush, Chief Customer Officer at Virgin Incentives and Virgin Experience Days for her view. 

“As we reach the end of this topsy turvy year, one thing is for certain, 2020 will go down in the history books as a year like no other.


The entire world has been turned upside down by a virus that only came into existence this time last year. And now, there have been nearly 60 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and, although vaccines are on the way next year, normality still feels far away.


Since March, the majority of people have been working from home to stem the rise of infections. And, as a consequence of locking themselves away from others, we’ve unsurprisingly seen rising mental health illnesses in the UK, with two-thirds of Brits admitting to feeling lonely during the first lockdown.


With so much upheaval this year, many will be counting down the days to Christmas and the holiday season, seeing the period as a chance to come together with family, friends, and colleagues to celebrate the end of an unpredictable year.


The alternatives to the traditional Christmas party

Yet, despite this hope, many businesses may look to cut costs and scale back any Christmas celebrations or postpone any activities to next year.

Of course, the ongoing restrictions mean that the traditional Christmas party is not viable this year. But this does not mean that businesses cannot engage and excite employees working remotely.

We’d recommend exploring virtual experiences – such as team VR games, chocolate workshops, or at-home wine tasting with an online tutorial. Not only will these experiences show your employees that you’ve valued their contributions this year, but it will also provide the entertainment that we all need as we see out 2020.

The benefits of gifting experiences over financial rewards 

If a virtual Christmas party is not achievable this year, then businesses should look at reward programmes for their employees.

Traditionally these rewards have come in the form of cash bonuses, but this is not always the most desirable option among employees.

For instance, our whitepaper, What makes employees feel valued, which surveyed over 2,000 employees across the UK, found that 75% of employees believe gift cards and vouchers make them feel valued or very valued. This was followed by own-choice rewards (71%) and team treats (64%).

It’s easy to see why employees are interested in receiving gift cards or virtual experiences, instead of cash bonuses. At-home experiences – such as virtual murder mystery – can create memories among a workforce and improve team morale. Also, gift cards – like the Virgin Experience Days Gift Card – offer employees over 3000 experiences to choose from, giving them the flexibility and choice that 86% of employees said they’d like in their rewards scheme, according to our whitepaper.

Using rewards scheme to boost company culture

However, the benefits of choosing gift cards or vouchers over financial rewards is not limited to employees. While financial benefits will always be gratefully received by employees, they will be spent on something banal like grocery or shopping and this won’t contribute to the company’s culture.

Whereas, offering a reward which is not only fun but will also demonstrate recognition on a much deeper level. This can strengthen bonds between employees and boost engagement, which is vital as we all may continue to work remotely.

The importance of employee involvement in the decision-making process

Finally, businesses must involve their employees in the decision-making process for a rewards scheme. If you were to spend hours creating a scheme for your employees, but no one uses it, then what’s the point.

This is an issue which employees also recognise, with over 35% of employees saying in our survey  that they would like to be involved in reward decisions.

However, employee involvement shouldn’t end when the rewards scheme goes live. Businesses need to continue checking in with their team, finding out their feedback on the scheme, and any areas in which it could be improved.

This year hasn’t exactly gone to plan, and many businesses may be ending the year in a worse financial state than expected. However, despite financial pressures, businesses shouldn’t look to recoup cash by cutting staff benefits this Christmas.

Employees have gone through a plethora of emotions this year, with feelings of isolation and anxiety spiking across the country. In these trying times, they’ll be looking to their employers for support and recognition of their efforts in working through a pandemic. Businesses with effective employee engagement and reward schemes will not only create memories for their team but will also stimulate loyalty and stand a better chance of retaining talent, saving money in the long run.”