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This Is the Best Holiday Gift I Ever Received From an Employer Just say no to fruit baskets for your employees this season.

By Jason Mauser Edited by Dan Bova

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

It's hard to forget the best gifts you've received -- even if they're from an employer. One of my all-time favorites was when my company, OmniCard, surprised me with a prepaid card that helped me buy the driver I'd had my eye on for months but couldn't justify purchasing. The card was customized with my name and a holiday image on it, as well as my company's logo. And what was almost as great as the gift itself was the fact that Santa delivered it to me in front of my family at the office holiday party.

Related: 13 of the Most Ridiculous Luxury Gifts to Spend Your Money On

And it didn't stop there: Saint Nick also gave personalized prepaid gift cards to my kids, who promptly went berserk. Although the monetary value on their cards was small, they were thrilled -- which in turn made me happy. I'll never forget my then-7-year-old daughter grinning ear-to-ear as she said to me, "Daddy, let's go shopping!"

Right now, at companies around the world, one lucky person, committee or department has the unenviable task of selecting the company holiday gift to thank and reward employees for their hard work over the previous 12 months. Research from the Advertising Specialty Institute found that 40 percent of companies are rewarding employees with holiday gifts this year, and it wouldn't be surprising if this show of appreciation is uninspired, just one more thing to check off a long list before year end during the chaotic holiday season.

Recognizing an entire company of people can require a potentially overwhelming amount of thought, preparation and execution. In other words: more shopping stress at the hectic holidays. According to research from Healthline, more than 60 percent of American respondents find the holidays stressful, and 15 percent report "making the 'right' gift choices" as their greatest cause of stress.

Related: 11 Gift Ideas Perfect for Co-Workers, Employees or the Entire Office

Cocktail parties, company-branded tchotchkes and the infamous holiday fruit basket can be the easiest go-to choices, but may not resonate with everyone. Without careful consideration, it's easy to waste valuable time, energy and budget on employee gifts that fall flat.

To ensure your organization is investing in holiday rewards that feel personal -- and truly make employees feel appreciated -- there are a few considerations to keep in mind. These tips will help guide your organization in choosing the right reward to demonstrate gratitude and support year-round employee engagement:

1. Bigger isn't always better.

Small rewards can have a huge impact without breaking the bank. If your business sometimes requires late nights, weekend work or other unpaid overtime, why not repay your team for their dedication with some additional paid time off? Giving them time to be with their families shows appreciation in a way few other gifts can, and combining that with a gift card to a spa, restaurant or other retailer can heighten the impact of the reward and make it more meaningful. Not every company can give high-dollar bonuses, but most could afford a little extra time off. Giving the gift of time to employees to spend time with their loved ones can take gifts from good to great.

Related: 13 Amazing Travel Gift Ideas for Entrepreneurs Who Never Stop

2. Give the people what they want.

It can be hard to predict which reward will have the most significance for your employees, but you can take guesswork out of the equation by giving them popular, flexible reward options in the form of prepaid gift cards. A survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers by the Retail Gift Card Association found that more than 60 percent have received a gift card as a reward or incentive and, of those respondents, 91 percent said they liked getting it.

In my experience, prepaid gift cards are a great way to enable employees to buy exactly what they want and where they want since they can be redeemed practically anywhere (brick-and-mortar retailers, online and even via mobile apps). While I chose to buy a driver, someone else could have made a more practical decision to pay bills or buy household necessities.

Regardless of how they are used, prepaid gift cards can be customized by denomination, retailer and delivery method (physical gift cards vs. egifts) in addition to including personalized messages on the gift card carrier or even the card itself. If your company is doing some final number crunching before divvying up gifts, you can even have these cards delivered the next day once you've identified your budget. Giving employees the flexibility to use rewards when, where and how they want increases the likelihood that the reward will deliver maximum impact.

Related: 10 Great Holiday Gift Ideas for Every Type of Boss

3. Presentation is everything.

Whichever gift you choose for your employees, include a personal touch like a carefully crafted message sincerely thanking them for their contributions, wishing them a joy-filled holiday season and potentially incorporating an inspiring message that dovetails with your company's mission or vision. If it's not practical for you to hand write the message, have it printed inside a holiday card and have the boss sign it. Or, consider giving the reward in a fun way. You don't have to have Kris Kringle on hand, but you also don't have to unceremoniously hand over a boring, generic envelope as part of a lackluster assembly line. A personal touch can go a long way and validate the contributions of the people who make your business successful.

4. It's all about them.

Ideally, you'd invest the copious amounts of time and resources needed to find the perfect personalized gift for everyone, but that's just not realistic. Cover your bases by considering some time-saving but customizable gifts that still demonstrate that you care about what your employees enjoy outside of work. Tailorable subscription services like those for popular food and drinks can be delivered to employees via email within minutes and, once redeemed, will show up right at their door -- providing regular reminders of your appreciation. Egifts are another option that arrive almost instantaneously, so you'll be saving yourself time while getting the gift into an employee's hands quickly and giving them the power of choice.

Related: 6 Strategic Ways to Prepare Your Small Business for the Festive Season

5. Spread the love around.

Full-time employees and executives shouldn't be the only ones to receive a pat on the back around the holidays. Employees with varying levels of responsibility should all be recognized, as should part-time, contract and even temporary employees that contribute to your company's success year-round. Acknowledging their roles can engage them as part of the team and motivate them to execute future tasks to the best of their ability and stay with your company -- helping reduce your turnover and increase productivity.

Employee engagement matters and having connected employees can reduce turnover and also increase productivity. According to research from Dale Carnegie Training, U.S. employers lose $11 billion annually to employee turnover and in terms of work-related productivity, companies with engaged employees typically outperform those without by up to 202 percent. Holiday rewards are meant to thank employees for their contributions throughout the year and motivate them to continue working hard in the future. Employees want to feel like their work is appreciated, and choosing meaningful gifts can effectively give them the kudos they deserve, while also engaging with your company and maximizing their potential.

Jason Mauser

VP of Sales at Hawk Incentives, a Blackhawk Network Business

Jason Mauser is a sales executive with 18 years of experience selling prepaid incentive products. At Hawk Incentives, he delivers easy-to-implement reward platforms and a wide selection of brandable, compelling rewards that help HR managers and employers create better employee incentive experiences.

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