Which approach is more likely to positively influence a coworker’s sartorial choices:
In the first example, your coworker will probably be genuinely pleased with the compliment, and will be more likely to wear the same shirt again, and to buy others like it.
In the second example, and at risk of using a trendy phrase that will almost immediately become outdated the second I use it, your coworker is likely to “clap-back” as the kids say — denounce you on her multiple social media sites, and start a hashtag campaign to show support for colorblind, myopic rodeo clowns. And, more relevantly, double-down on continuing to wear the offensive shirt, along a multitude of other offensive tops.
In other words, the old expression that you get more flies with honey than vinegar is true: positive reinforcement is generally the best way to encourage positive workplace behaviors. In turn, that principle forms the foundation of successful workplace incentive programs (versus their opposite, which are workplace discipline or punishment programs).
The purpose behind any incentive program is to change employee behavior in some way. In turn, building the most effective program should involve answering each of these questions:
Let’s take a look at each of these considerations.
The answer to this question begins with understanding where you’re starting from.
For instance, are you being reactive or proactive? Have you discovered a workplace problem that needs to be fixed, or are things already going pretty well, so that what you’re really looking to do is build on a good foundation and drive further employee engagement?
Knowing your trigger for wanting to adopt an incentive program is critical to determining what your actual goal is. Let’s take the example of attendance. If you’ve got a team of employees, most of whom have good attendance, but a handful of whom don’t, then your incentive program should probably be coupled with the understanding of possible discipline, if attendance doesn’t improve (i.e., a carrot-and-stick approach).
However, if you’ve got a team where everyone has generally okay attendance, and you’d like to move the needle higher, then your efforts should focus on the carrot side of the equation, and not the stick, since alluding to disciplinary consequences for an acceptably functioning team can actually work as a disincentive.
You have the opportunity to get creative when it comes to rewards. Money or gift cards are obvious (and commonly utilized) rewards, although they can have both legal and tax consequences. Providing additional days of PTO, a prime parking spot, the opportunity to swap out an undesirable shift, the ability to wear casual clothes to work, or the chance to use the company’s reserved seats at a sporting event or concert are only some of the myriad of ways to provide rewards to people, and you can even allow people to pick and choose between options.
The key to selection the right incentive(s) is to know what actually motivates the people you’re trying to incentivize. For example, providing an extra day of PTO to a group of employees who tends not to use all of their PTO every year isn’t likely to change behavior.
Once you arrive at an incentive, you then need to make sure the incentive is achievable in both a timely and a realistic sense. Applying that to attendance incentives, offering, say, $200 for perfect attendance throughout the year fails both tests, and thus isn’t going to inspire anyone to behave differently. With respect to the timeliness, 12 months is so far away (and $200 comparatively so paltry) that the possibility of the incentive will quickly be forgotten, and thus won’t influence anyone’s attendance.
As to being realistic, you should recognize that there are times where people are legitimately sick, and truly can’t come to work. If you adopt a one-strike-you’re-out approach, such that a single absence kills the ability to get any incentive, then people will stop trying after they have a single absence.
As a result, having a regularly recurring attendance bonus with more than one level of reward is most likely to influence employee behavior in an ongoing fashion, since someone who misses out during the current evaluation period will have a clean slate in the next period, and thus another potential bite of the apple. For instance, a monthly attendance bonus of $100 for perfect attendance, and $50 for a single day of absence will give more employees the opportunity (and thus desire) achieve your goal.
The answer to this question, of course, will be driven by what your specific goal happens to be. That said, you should build a structure for your program that’s similar to the other initiatives you have in your workplace. Someone (or a team) should be specifically responsible for designing the program, monitoring it, regularly assessing whether it’s working. And, that same person/group should also try to change things up once and awhile, since some programs can become stale or lose their impact over time.
Finally, although it shouldn’t need saying, if your program isn’t achieving your goals in the ways you’d envisioned, then you should revise or replace the program, since continuing to do the same thing, but expecting different outcomes, is the very definition of insanity.
While not the focus of this article, recognize that there can be legal, tax, and regulatory implications to incentive programs. For instance, did you know that the value of the rewards received through such programs may have to be factored into the wage rate at which overtime is paid?
Well, if you didn’t, of if you’d like more information about workplace incentive programs, consider attending our free webinar, “Workplace incentives and rewards: Understanding the risks and restrictions,” in which we’ll cover such things as:
James provides guidance to employers on a variety of topics with a focus on employment, risk management and liability issues. In addition to working directly with employers, he regularly conducts in-depth training through webinars, at client sites, and through the University of Minnesota’s Continuin
James provides guidance to employers on a variety of topics with a focus on employment, risk management and liability issues. In addition to working directly with employers, he regularly conducts in-depth training through webinars, at client sites, and through the University of Minnesota’s Continuing Ed program. He previously was a plaintiff’s attorney and brings that perspective into his advice to employers. James received his law degree from the University of Minnesota and his BA from Washington University in St. Louis.
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