What are business owners handing out to employees and customers this holiday season? They can expect less gifts, reduced bonuses, and fewer raises, according to a recent study. The American Express (AMEX) OPEN Small Business Holiday Monitor, which interviewed 516 businesses, found that 57 percent will alter their gift-giving behavior because of the economic downturn.

Only 47 percent of SMBs are planning to give holiday gifts to customers, down from 52 percent in 2008, while some business owners are offering supplemental holiday rewards to their employees, such as more flexible working hours or extra time off.

"We've seen this trend towards making sacrifices across the board building with business owners since early fall of last year," said Alice Bredin, business advisor for AMEX OPEN. "I think that's the case for business owners who believe better times are around the corner as well as those [that do not]."

For Kay Woods, owner of Precious Treasures Childcare, a Chandler, Arizona-based childcare facility that offers services 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the 2009 holiday season will be more about small gestures. "I was unable to give out raises this year, but we do [other] special things for our teachers," Woods explained. "To show them we appreciate all they do, we gave out teacher tool boxes, at my expense. It's got stickers, staplers, posters, and markers in it. [This is] a stressful time, so we put in things for them to be creative."

This year Woods was forced to cut employee hours for budgetary reasons, but she was able to avert letting go any of her 18 staff members, and she is working to keep it that way. Woods hopes that the cutbacks she made this year will allow her to give raises in 2010. This holiday season, Woods says she will write each staff member a personalized holiday card to show her gratitude, although in the past she took her staff out for a holiday luncheon.

"We're more than just childcare, we are a parent resource center," she said, noting that despite the sacrifices, she believes the mission of the business remains most important. "I don't like to say I'm stressed out, I like to say I've got some interesting times on my hands."