Giving thanks at Christmas to staff can be rewarding for both parties. Acknowledge their achievements, discuss ideas to move forward - and, of course, have fun, says Petra Cook

It is that time of year again when organisations in the retail sector host Christmas parties and employees can be heard whistling festive tunes in the stockrooms. Christmas should be an enjoyable occasion for employees to celebrate with colleagues, but it can also provide an excellent opportunity for you to reward your team members and spend some time looking at their development plans, as well as your own, and identify areas to work on in the coming year.
In the Chartered Management Institute’s recent Christmas Outlook survey, a majority of respondents (70%) suggested that festivities boost morale and half (51%) think it’s a good time to thank staff. This is not to say that you should only show appreciation to staff at Christmas, but it is an additional opportunity to celebrate the achievements of your team, highlight your successes and end the year on a positive note.
Try to find out how they feel about progress made during the past year - have they received feedback on projects undertaken and have they delivered on time and budget? Do they have the right skills to take the company forward next year and how will you need to support them to achieve this? It is worth considering all these questions so you can devise a way forward that suits the whole of your team and business
In addition to this, you will have to provide appropriate development opportunities so employees are stretched and challenged in their current roles. It is up to you to make sure everybody remains motivated and learns new skills to help them develop further.
Other research, conducted by the Chartered Management Institute and Adecco, revealed nearly 40% of retail managers joined their current organisation because of the development opportunities available.
However, 41% also reported that their employer had no specific training and development budget and that they also suffered limited progression because of flat organisational structures and ‘old boys’ networks.
This suggests individuals can easily become frustrated by the lack of opportunities available and may feel forced to move elsewhere for career progression.
As a manager, this situation can become a crisis if not handled correctly and, as part of your own development, supporting others is essential.
If your organisation has a flat structure, perhaps you can offer employees shadowing, mentoring, cross-functional working or secondments as opportunities to help them develop.
Offering new ways of working and a variety of challenges will help people refresh their existing roles and encourage motivation levels.
Since Christmas is usually a time when organisations say thank you and many give cards, gifts and charity donations, it can also be an ideal way for you to give something back to your team.
Think about offering a staff party or meal if you do not already have one - this can provide a great opportunity for employees to meet others from across the company and to have some fun.
Staff may have to work longer hours during the busy Christmas period so it is important to ensure the time they spend at work is as positive as possible - especially since many retail businesses are having to work harder to keep sales up this winter.
However you choose to reward staff over the festive season, remember to enjoy spending time with your team and acknowledge the achievements they make.
Setting aside time to consider how you wish to take your team forward and develop your own career should prove beneficial both to employees and your organisation as a whole.
It is all too easy to forget to thank those who have worked hard throughout the year, but it is an invaluable motivator and a skill that all leaders in the retail sector will require for a successful 2006.
n Petra Cook is head of Public Affairs, Chartered Management Institute