By Teresa M. McAleavy, The Record, Hackensack, N.J.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Mar. 9--If you've just put in five 60-hour weeks to complete a pressing project, chances are a free company mug isn't the kind of "thank you" that will make you feel appreciated.
Well-meaning employers who give perks as incentives to motivate workers often end up causing ill will instead.
"Any one giveaway generally isn't the problem," says Stever Robbins, president of LeadershipDecisionworks Inc., a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. "But if a company screws you on a number of levels, with low pay and no bonuses, then something like a coffee mug is certainly going to wear thin." Robbins and others say there are ways to make perks work, even in belt-tightening times. First, they say, is making sure that a company isn't using the incentives in lieu of fair compensation packages.
"Universally, people want to feel that they are getting a sufficient, competitive compensation benefits package," says Pamela S. Harper, founder and president of Business Advancement Inc. in Glen Rock. "Feeling well-respected and knowing that their work counts are what's really important." Everything else, the business performance expert says, can be gravy, if given some thought. The best approach, she says, is to ask employees what they value.
"Executives are basically well-intentioned people," Harper says. "But for perks to work, they need to get to know who their employees are, because no one thing is going to appeal to everyone. Some may value flexible schedules or additional training, and some love the T-shirts and mugs." Howard Goldman, a management consultant in San Carlos, Calif., says perks with no personal significance are quickly forgotten.
"The key to the executive washroom or [an] expense account don't satisfy what people fundamentally crave, which is to be appreciated," Goldman says. "But a couple tickets to the Mets game or night out at a favorite restaurant, that kind of acknowledgement leaves employees willing to walk through walls for you." When considering what perks to give, others say, it's best to rule out those that generally single out only one person as a top performer. An example cited by several consultants is the out-dated "Employee of the Month" award, usually acknowledged with a plaque prominently displayed in the office. It tends to amount to little more than a hard blow to the concept of teamwork, leaving other workers feeling left out.
"I've been to about 5,000 different hotels and only on two occasions was the employee-of-the-month plaque current," says Ron Rosenberg, a certified speaking professional and consultant who travels frequently.
"They manage to send the message that the last valuable employee of the month existed years ago, and alienate all the other employees by singling out one person," says Rosenberg, president of QualityTalk Inc. in North Carolina. "It's a disaster." Even more offensive, Rosenberg says, are the thoughtless gimmicks some bosses try to pass off as actual perks. On a recent trip to an office supply store, he noticed the letters "C E O" printed under a clerk's name and inquired about the badge.
"The clerk had to check and came back to say it stands for 'customer experience officer,'" Rosenberg says. "She said she wears it because of her good work." But when pressed about the badge, Rosenberg says, the worker acknowledged that she doesn't get any more money, training, or respect than any other badgeless clerk.
"A perk like that tells me it would be good if a [chief executive officer] of any company actually went into these stores sometimes," Rosenberg says. "Then maybe those types of incentives programs wouldn't exist." As a consultant, Robbins recommends perks that are tied to specific levels of achievement, so that more than one employee is eligible for the nod.
"It's a way not to make everyone else a loser except for that one employee of the month," says Robbins, who agrees that the best rewards have personal significance to employees.
"Bosses need to realize we're not back in the '50s, where everyone liked a handshake and a watch," Robbins says. "It's true that you're certainly not going to please everyone, but you're certainly not going to please everyone with one approach. And really, it's not that hard to find out that John loves fly-fishing and get him a tackle box."
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(c) 2004, The Record, Hackensack, N.J. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.