by Lisa Grimaldi | February 01, 2008

Sixty-three percent of U.S. companies did not award holiday bonuses to their employees in 2007, according to a survey of 350 firms conducted by Hewitt Associates, the Lincolnshire, Ill.-based human resources firm.

More than half (53 percent) of the respondents reported their firms had not previously offered holiday bonuses, while 10 percent said their bonus programs were discontinued. Of those that canceled their bonus initiatives, 53 percent did so between 2000 and 2007.

Why the downward trend? Half the firms surveyed cited cost as the reason for cutting out bonuses. Another 16 percent blamed the difficulty of administering the programs.

Insurance companies were the biggest givers of bonuses (61 percent), followed by health-care (50 percent), manufacturing (39 percent), retail (37 percent), financial services (16 percent) and pharmaceutical (8 percent).

Forty-two percent of firms that gave bonuses rewarded their staff with gift cards (valued at an average of $52, up from the average of $37 the year before), 41 percent gave cash (averaging $842, up five dollars from 2006), 25 percent gave food-related gifts and 20 percent let employees choose their gifts from catalogs.

Sixty-nine percent used holiday bonuses as a way to says thanks or show appreciation; 11 percent gave them “to maintain tradition” and 16 percent to boost morale. More than two-thirds of companies who offer holiday bonuses said that all employee groups were eligible, while 17 percent said only full-time employees received them.

While many firms held back or gave modest year-end rewards, some were much more generous. Among them: Newark, N.J.-based Feury Image Group. The entire staff celebrated the company’s successful run in 2007 -- business grew by 30 percent -- with a five-day Caribbean cruise.