Time is on Your Side

By Malcolm Fleschner

What incentive prize do you think is the best motivator for your staff? Is it travel to exotic locations? Maybe it’s high-end merchandise such as electronics or sporting equipment. Of course there’s always that old standby, cash. But did you ever consider that maybe the most valuable commodity you can offer as a reward to your hard-working sales staff is a break from having to do all that hard work for a while? As motivational expert and incentives guru Bob Nelson (www.nelson-motivation.com) points out, in today’s 24/7 email-cell phone-Blackberry-voicemail-teleconference-I need to-hear-back-from-you-within-the-hour world, the best employee reward often is time itself.

In a recent poll nearly two-thirds of employees said they would gladly give up some of their compensation in exchange for greater flexibility in their working hours, according to Nelson, who is also the author of the best-selling 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (Workman Press).

It’s no wonder workers place a high value on time. With the added work-related pressures of downsizing, mergers and increased competition workers today feel they must put in more hours and devote more energy than ever to the job. So what’s the solution? How can companies help their employees strike a greater balance without appearing to be less devoted to their jobs?

Nelson suggests employers open themselves up to the idea of taking a more fluid approach to employees’ work schedules. “This means alternating work schedules, time off during the day and the ability to leave early when necessary,” Nelson explains. “In my research employees ranked the following items as being very or extremely important to them: being allowed to leave work early when necessary (85%), being allowed flexible hours (78%), being given time off from work (76%), and being allowed time off for extra hours worked (66%).”

Nelson adds that one of the top motivators today is flexible working hours. Companies are exploring a range of options for using time as an incentive, he says. “For example, TRW in San Diego, CA, has a 9/80 work schedule in which any employee can work nine hours a day and get every other Friday off,” he explains. “Other companies allow employees to stagger working hours around traffic patterns or the times children are home from school. Cygna Group, an engineering and consulting group based in Oakland, CA, has a Take the Rest of the Day Off and Do reward when employees finish a big project. Workers at Eddie Bauer are allowed to call in well to encourage a more balanced work life. Valassis, a marketing company headquartered in Livonia, MI, gives half days off on Fridays before major holidays. The consulting firm Accenture has a 7-to-7 travel policy in which nobody has to leave home before 7 a.m. Monday and everyone is encouraged to be home by 7 p.m. on Friday. Other organizations are increasingly using concierge services to help employees save time with personal errands such as shopping, dry cleaning, car maintenance and home repairs.”

The point, Nelson says, is that with a little focus and creativity, nearly every organization can create incentives and rewards so spare time becomes a key motivator instead of an increasingly rare commodity that everyone grouses about.