The holiday season should be a wonderful time for friends and family to gather. It should also be a time for everyone within your company to come together and celebrate wrapping up another year as a team.

But the holiday season can also be very stressful at work. One of the sources of this stress is the ugly tug of war over giving staff members holiday bonuses. And why is that so? Because you probably hate having to give an annual bonus that’s based more on obligation than on merit.

It’s not that you’re cheap, but a lot of contractors I’ve worked with have had to take the money out of their own bank accounts — or, even worse, from their own holiday funds — to pay these bonuses. That’s just not right, let alone sustainable.

The other nasty truth we both know is you’re stuck with giving a staff member a certain size bonus (if not more) because, once upon a time, you gave it to them. Now, they may not be producing or be worthy of that bonus like they once were, but you’re stuck because it’s pretty near impossible to take it away or even lower it.

That stinks, and you know I’m right.

So, how do you end this insanity? I have good news: There is an annual holiday bonus program that actually makes sense. But, it makes sense that you start planning for it starting on the first day of the New Year. That means swallow hard, put a smile on your face and pay your arbitrary holiday bonus this year; then, make a vow to never repeat the craziness.

Why can’t you do it this year? It’s too late and you need to put together the details of how it works, educate the team and start with some solid financial work to do it right. And you can’t drag your feet, so start now.

What I teach my clients to do instead of giving out an arbitrary holiday bonus is to implement the “company-wide bonus game.” Everyone on staff participates in this replacement game that ends subjective holiday bonuses by replacing them with team-earned company-wide bonuses based on objective things.

The cool thing is the company-wide bonus game pays them a bonus based on the money they create vs. the money out of your pocket. All my reward games (what I call a part of Sales Coaching) are always based on rewarding the individual and the team on money they create above goal.

Everyone needs to understand how the game is played. This starts with the process you need to use to arrive at the annual company sales goal. We need to do this through the budgeting process so we know goals are being met and the money needed to pay the company-wide bonus is not out of the company’s pockets.

Typically, the bonus is 2-3% of an individual’s annual salary (commissions don’t count because you can’t know this when you do the budget). Remember, start low by going with 2-3% the first year so you have room to go higher in future years. This number is known and should have already been added into the annual budget — again, why you can’t wait till the holiday season — that was used to arrive at your annual sales goal. If employees hit our annual sales goal and profitability target, they get the bonus, and we’re happy to pay it.

A good company-wide game should address the measurable profitability in an objective way. This profitability goal is the one you used to create your annual budget and your annual sales goal. The cost of providing this special bonus for all full-time staff is an excellent way to bring the company together once a month to talk about how we all play a role in sales and profitability.

A big graph that tracks the progress weekly and monthly makes it more fun and more real. Once again, any reward programs must be self-funded. They are only rewarded based upon hitting the goals, which means they pay themselves the bonus. This game takes you out of having to “motivate” them.

Your employees will understand the benefits of playing the game you describe. Posting it and talking about it is how to obtain this understanding. My desire is that nobody will be better at posting and talking about statistics than you.

The real purpose of a company-wide game is to allow for open discussions about what role a good customer service representative (CSR), a good dispatcher and a good tech play — and how each person is dependent on others to win.

This company game helps the company come together, and your training helps them understand that how the CSR handles the call, how the dispatcher maximizes production and how the tech handles the call all affect the company’s sales and profitability goals — and their own pocket.

It’s a win-win-win for customers, staff and owners alike.

Get started now and make next year’s holiday bonus a “Ho, Ho, Ho!” instead of a “No, No, No!”