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In tighter times, gift-giving is becoming more personal, and increasingly taking on a conscience.

Although many smaller companies still do "Secret Santa" gift exchanges with employees, Kristina Hidas, vice-president of research for the Human Resources Professionals Association, said she's seeing a growing number of workplaces replace the traditional chocolates and gag gifts with something more socially conscious.

"One thing I'm finding more popular is [that]a workplace will 'adopt' a family in need through organizations like The Salvation Army or The Children's Aid Society, and people can give what they're able, whether it's $5 or $10," she said. "To me, it's great team-building, and people working together."

Employers can also make donations to charities on behalf of their employees, whether to a local non-profit or an organization that helps communities in developing countries. like Oxfam and Plan Canada.

Building charity into celebrations is a great idea to attract and maintain employees, said Janet Salopek, president of Salopek Consulting in Calgary, because research shows that social consciousness can really engage employees.

A Tower Perrins Global Workforce survey found that an "organization's reputation for social responsibility" ranked third in a list of what aspects of a company engage employees most.

"One of the things we know about engagement is people want to work for organizations that give back to the community," Ms. Salopek said.

"It's totally in line with …what's going on in the world," Ms. Hidas added. "In the eighties, there was so much money around, we could spend whatever we wanted on holiday celebrations. It's a different world, and I think that doing something for people who have less really makes people feel good."

For employers who do decide to give employees holiday gifts, Ms. Salopek suggested keeping it relevant, and personalizing it.

"It's very difficult for large organizations, but for small organizations, it's quite doable," she said.

Gift cards are always a popular route – an iTunes card for a music-lover, a book store card for a voracious reader, a coffee card for a latte lover. is a new service that allows you to turn deal vouchers from group-deal websites like Groupon and Dealfind into attractive gift certificates for your employees, discreetly moving mention of the deal site to a corner of the certificate.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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