Just what does that woman want? The boss did everything he could. He proclaimed her dedication and performance in front of all her fellows at the company dinner. He even invited her up to the podium to receive her cash bonus and say a few words. The next morning, she wouldn’t even look anyone in the eye, and all you could hear from her cubicle was negative grumbles.
Be it money, recognition, or a chance to speak their minds, employers puzzle over exactly what type of carrot will provide their workers with the right motivation. To help company owners and human resource professionals get a handle on this make-or-break business problem, Mercer County Community College presents a five-session course, “Compensation: How to Develop an Effective Rewards Package,” starting on Thursday, June 1, at 6:30 p.m. Cost: $270. Call 609-586-4800.
Instructor Bruce Doherty, director of human resources for Dataram on Princeton-Hightstown Road, covers everything from the design of standardized salaries to managerial techniques for special recognition.
The sheer variety of Doherty’s career has, by his own admission, allowed him to witness the effects of all kinds compensation on all kinds of employee cultures. Following a childhood spent in a Cleveland suburb, Doherty joined the Air Force. He liked his first four-year hitch in maintenance so much that he re-upped and was placed in recruiting. “This was my first taste of individualized compensation,” Doherty says, “and I was impressed by how successful the Air Force was.”
After his term in the service, Doherty tried his hand at real estate sales, working for the Gigliotti Group in Levittown, Pennsylvania. He soon left sales and took charge of the company’s personnel department. Doherty then spent several years helping entrepreneurs select and reward their startup staffs. Two years ago he joined Dataram, where he employs the same compensation principles he developed for the small startups.
“The trick is not to look for what’s valuable, but to look for what’s perceived as valuable,” says Doherty. Employers have a full range of tools: basic pay, bonuses, benefits, rewards, and recognition. By giving individual employees what they most want today, even if it has a lesser cash value than yesterday’s plan, the company gets a reputation of caring about its workers. And the firm finds itself attracting the caliber of workers it seeks.
Feeling the pulse. “Keep walking around, absorb the sources of motivation, and constantly survey employees for suggestions,” says Doherty. Surveying workers’ opinions on what they need and on how to improve their jobs is the most effective form of acknowledgment. In addition to the advice gleaned, it provides the cheapest form of reward.
“But for heaven’s sake tell the people the results of your surveys,” says Doherty. To ask a person for his opinion and then never let him know it has been considered is a slap in the face.
As managers are strolling around, they should be perceptive to change in how the benefits are being used. One owner noticed that when his company first launched almost none of his young staff used any of their three annual sick days.
Now five years later, his crew is out a lot more. The reason is biology. During those five years, many of those young, single workers had gotten married and produced babies, a group notable for its propensity for catching colds and running fevers. Rather than an allotment of whole sick days, this firm’s employees needed more compensatory time, allowing them to work late one night, so that the next day they could take their children to the doctor.
Individualize rewards. The woman who responded so negatively to her boss’s public praise and surprise bonus was not being ungrateful — she was simply very shy. The boss would have realized that had he taken the time to get to know her. Doherty recalls numerous occasions where surprise and public gifts have backfired. Not everyone enjoys being singled out, even for hard work. Additionally, employers should consider the effect on other employees — who feel they, too, have given their all.
Yes, acknowledgment remains the one compensation as powerful as money, but custom tailor it. Some people will labor like Trojans if given a little public praise. Yet for others, a quiet private lunch at a lavish restaurant, and a bonus check slipped into their hands with a single sentence of sincere thanks is far more effective than public recognition.
If the situation is right, suggests Doherty, a member of the board might be asked to join in this special luncheon.
It’s always $$. “I don’t care about the salary as much as the benefits,” has become the common cry of job seekers. But call it what you will, this is the voice of an employee seeking financial security. The shift toward ample benefits — coupled with soaring healthcare costs — has saddled employers with an expense so great that it eclipses raises and bonuses.
Employers search for a healthcare plan they can afford, while fearing that their staff will jump ship if the competition offers better coverage. Yet even in healthcare, employers can select options that show their concern. Walk past any row of offices and you will notice a large percentage of workers wearing glasses. Most plans pay a mere $50 for this $300 to $400 replacement item.
The employer who can work out an insurance plan where the emergency care deductible is raised a bit, while, at the same time, the pay-out on glasses goes up to, would be a hero. For the same cost to the company, he would be giving his employees a greater perceived value.
Creative perks. Doherty is always fascinated by salespeople who earn high six-figure salaries, but compete like mad to win sales prizes like getaway weekends, which they could buy on their own with one afternoon’s labor. Part of the motivation, of course, is the sheer competition. But what Doherty notices is that these special vacation weeks or weekends offer the sales person something all too rare in his life — free time with his family. Ironically, these contests both create and answer a need.
In flat organizations with little chance for actual promotion, or in unionized shops where percentage increases are difficult, bonuses can be effective, if creatively designed. Recently, one area company announced its CEO’s Award for Exceptional Service. The company is small and funds are tight. So instead of presenting a check whose size might be considered an insult, the company gave prized employees a getaway weekend at an expensive hotel. They partnered with the hotel for some publicity and then set up a plaque in the foyer, thus establishing the award as annual and perpetual.
All of us run on rewards. Providing them, says Doherty, is less a matter of giving away the store than staying in touch. “It’s all right to be a hard taskmaster,” he says, as long as you are reachable, appreciative, and let your employees know that you are giving them all you’ve got.