I remember my first Christmas working in Boston in 1995. My boss handed out turkeys. It was pretty amazing: the sight of him wheeling a supermarket trolley through the halls, handing out giant carcasses. It was a lovely thought but a pretty big disaster for those who had already ordered a bird--or didn't want one. Someone must have said something because the next year we got leather folders. The year after that we got immense beautiful crystal bowls, albeit engraved with the company logo. I tried to exchange mine but the engraving made it impossible.

If you want to thank your employees for all their hard work through the year, what should you give them?

1. Time off.

Everyone wants more free time so give it to them. Bear in mind, you will also reap rewards from this present, since rested and refreshed workers are far more productive. So this won't really cost you--but it will be appreciated. This gesture works best when you set an example and give yourself the gift too--and use it.

2. Restaurant gift cards.

Everybody likes eating out, and those who are usually responsible for daily meals especially appreciate a night off. Don't be stingy on this one. Give enough for a whole family to have a decent meal. Families bear the brunt of most peoples' working schedules; they're more supportive when they feel part of the effort.

3. Gym memberships.

This gift is useless if you don't give your team the time to use it. But assuming that you do, this is another gift that gives twice: to the recipient who feels better for using it, and the company that benefits from healthy, happy people.

4. A company cruise.

A number of companies I know set the senior management executives a target and, if they reach it, they--and their spouses or partners--go on a cruise. Including the partners is crucial because it makes the cruise more of a treat, builds team camaraderie, and ensures the conversation isn't all about work.

5. The truth.

If you can't afford any of these gifts and the company is struggling, pay your employees the ultimate respect and tell them the truth. Don't hide the problems; secure their support, help, and ideas. I've seen too many leaders think they protect their staffs by hiding the truth. In reality, most people know how business is going and they rightly feel annoyed when they aren't trusted with accurate information.

A business is nothing but its people. Use the holiday season to make everyone stronger.