12/11/2013 05:32 pm ET Updated Feb 10, 2014

Use the Golden Rule to Determine How to Reward Employees This Holiday Season

This holiday season remember the Golden Rule: Treat others as you want to be treated.
Nowhere does that axiom carry more weight and tension than between employers and employees, a relationship with sensitivities that are only heightened during the holiday season. Should employers give bonuses? If yes, should they be seasonal or performance-based? Or, conversely, should we as business owners remove ourselves from the equation completely as an Ohio-based Walmart infamously did and ask employees to help their fellow employees?

These questions and accompanying emotions fly thick and fast during the holidays, a flurry of confusion that can only be tempered with a return to long-held (and often ignored) values. How would you like to be treated if you were your employee? As the business owner, not only are you the only one who can answer that question, but it is your responsibility to ask and answer it. After all, no one knows your employees and your business like you do. Whether you're a small business owner or a highly placed executive, you most likely live and breathe your business and the team that makes it function. Forget for a moment about the bottom line. Don't think about the most recently published book of best practices. Instead remember the one truth inherent in any human interaction: treat people as you would have them treat you. Then ask yourself: What is the right thing to do this holiday season? What would I want done for me?

At GreenHouse Eco-Cleaning, we are in the business of serving others. We spend our days working hard to make our clients' lives better. Because our work is focused on others, our rewards are focused on ourselves. The nature of our business demands that our cleaning technicians receive the gift of relaxation, in whatever form that takes. Throughout the year our incentives range from group game nights and personal growth seminars to rotating shifts and community partner discounts on well loved restaurants and activities. We do these things so our employees know that the time spent focusing on their own mental and physical health is just as important as our client services. And this holiday season we plan on giving the gift of time, allowing our hardest working employees the time they want to spend with their families. This choice is made without deference to our bottom line - we provide holiday party cleaning services and a decreased workforce limits the number of clients we can serve this season - but still we commit to honoring our employees in this way. Why? Because respecting their request for downtime is the right thing to do.

Perhaps your business is in manufacturing or sales and your employees spend their time providing goods to others. Knowing that every one of them - exempt and non exempt- contribute to the success of the business, how would you like to be treated? If a monetary bonus isn't an option, consider a gift card for holiday food shopping, tickets to the movies for their whole family, or as we do, time to spend enjoying the holiday season without the stress of work hanging over their heads.

The most important thing about the question "how would we want to be treated during the holidays" is that business owners ask the question at all. If Walmart had asked and answered that question they might not have left holiday help up to their employees. If Scrooge-like business owners ask and answer it they won't limit their holiday cheer to performance-based bonuses. And if creative small business owners ask that all important question we can answer it with ideas for thoughtful gestures that show our employees, those people that work hard all year to make our businesses successful, how much they mean to us as people.

After all, isn't that how you'd like to be treated?

This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.