Whilst many organisations look to 2011 with optimism, others continue to face an uphill struggle following the economic difficulties experienced in recent times. A lavish Christmas party is therefore the last thing on the minds of many business owners.

A recent survey conducted by VoucherCodes.co.uk reported that just 46% of employees will be treated to an end of year party, despite the hard work they may have put in over the past 12 months. This desire to restrict what may be perceived as unnecessary expenditure is understandable for companies still feeling the financial pinch, however it is important to ensure staff realise their efforts throughout the year have been appreciated.

As companies have battled to improve their market position during the recession, hard-working members of staff have remained the most valuable asset for many companies. Trades Union Congress research published in the first quarter of 2010 revealed that the number of people working extreme levels of unpaid overtime had rocketed in comparison to the previous year – a clear indication of the widespread commitment of the UK workforce.

When it comes to Christmas – a traditional time for reward – careful communication is therefore needed to ensure employees understand the situation. Party or no party, let them know that their dedication has not gone unnoticed or you risk a deterioration in workplace morale as you enter 2011 – something no business can afford.

If indeed you cannot offer a traditional end of year treat, think outside the box and offer something that, whilst different may be equally as appreciated.

For example, although it may not be possible to offer financial incentives and rewards, managers could suggest flexible working patterns. Why not empower staff before, during or even after the festive period and make use of a ‘work from home’ authorisation tool?

It is also worth considering if it is possible for you to grant an extra day’s leave before or during the Christmas break, so long as productivity levels will not be too adversely affected. Employment Review reported recently that in the era of austerity four out of ten employers are planning to offer their staff ‘company days’ or ‘extra-statutory days’, instead of traditional Christmas-time rewards.

Such a simple alternative to the Christmas party – or Christmas gift – may in fact be even more appreciated, particularly in December when time at home with friends and family is often the priority.

So fire up your creativity and ask yourself how best to thank your staff during times of continued financial difficulty. If you’re not sure how well received your ideas will be, ask your employees for their own thoughts and ideas.

Last year, the UK wasted £1.7 billion on unwanted Christmas gifts, so perhaps now is the time to thank employees in a way that they really will appreciate.