Success Strategies: Employee Incentives That Work

employee incentives

Great employees are the backbone of every great organization. We spend considerable amounts of time and money to attract and train people to become and remain “great employees”, but what incentive will it take to keep them? Is it money? Is it benefits? Is it the same for all? The following are the thoughts of some successful managers on the subject of employee incentives:

“Employee incentives certainly play a role in retaining good employees. However, many associate surveys indicate that employees value being treated with dignity and respect and value being included in the “information loop” more than they value variable incentive programs. Knowing that they matter and that they make a difference generally contributes more toward retaining employees than offering them an incentive does.” Lynn Uram, Senior Vice President of Human Resources, Dick Sporting Goods

“Definition of a Mentor is a person who is not satisfied until you succeed!” JW Wallace, RODC, Senior Director Diversity Initiatives, UPMC/University of Pittsburgh Medical Center

“In my experience, money alone is not enough to keep excellent employees and to keep them performing at a level of excellence. Employees must see their importance to an organization and see a potential for growth…in compensation, responsibility, and recognition. That said, salary and benefits need to be commensurate with responsibility and performance and reasonably competitive in the prevailing market.” Cheryl Sills, Vice President for Development and Communications, Family Health Council

“According to well-known psychologist and author, Dr. William Glasser, all human beings need four things: love, power, fun and belonging. These translate into employee incentives. Certainly fair salary/benefits contribute to employees feelings of power and love to the extent it enables them to purchase things important in their lives and to feel protected in their health and future. However, they also need an office atmosphere where they feel part of the work community, all working together towards a common mission (belonging); a place where they feel respected, even when they are being asked to grow (love); an opportunity to ask questions/offer suggestions (power); and an ability to share some laughter and human kindness (fun). Without these latter elements, the salary and benefits alone will not produce a happy, really productive employee.” Dr. Helen Sobehart, Director, IDPEL Program & Leadership Institute, Duquesne University

“We strive to create an environment in which employees feel that they are an essential part of the organization’s mission, that they are fairly compensated, and that their individual efforts represent a meaningful contribution to our organization and its mission; in a nutshell, that their presence actually makes a difference in what happens.” John Lovelace, Chief Program Officer, Community Care Behavioral Health Organization

“Incentives – I have worked mainly in non-profits, so it could not have been the money that attracted them to the work. I do believe that the people I have worked with felt they had to make a difference somehow and that passion directed them to the non-profit sector. One of the things I have learned when supervising people was that we needed to have consensus on the goals and that they understood their part in the big picture. In that way, they saw that they had the power to make or break a project. I tried to recognize each person’s contributions and recognize them publicly. It always seemed to encourage people to do their best when they felt the team was counting on them for whatever part they had to play. In other words, I gave whatever power I might have to the team–with that power came the responsibility of ensuring things were done correctly. I made sure they understood the risk factors, but I always tried to create an environment where someone could try something in a new way without fearing that their job was on the line because of it. Of course, sometimes things were accomplished in a way that was not exactly how I would have done it, but as long as the goals were accomplished, I allowed myself to learn from the team.” Rebecca Abrahamson Hebert, Director of Development – Learning Research and Development Center and the College of General Studies, University of Pittsburgh

“I am currently learning the principles of the Toyota Production System (TPS) and its application in healthcare. The foundation for success in this model is employee involvement. Implementation involves engaging the people who do the work to identify problems that keep them from meeting customer needs and as well to be an active participant in the problem solving process. Employees develop new skills that when coupled with their current knowledge, allow for creative solutions that meet the customer’s need. When customer needs are met, employees are successful in their work – this translates to increased morale and decreased turnover, in turn, everyone prospers.” Debra A. Ruckert, Director, Quality Improvement, Allegheny General Hospital, West Penn Allegheny Health System

“I believe that there are three things that motivate an employee who is fairly compensated for his/her work: (1) empowerment, (2) variety and growth, and (3) flexibility. I have found that empowerment is a huge incentive for an employee. A person who has input into his/her work day, has responsibility for the work, and can take pride and ownership of the work is motivated to stay and grow in their job at my company. The job must evolve in some way and the employee must feel that he/she is learning new aspects of the job to continue to make it interesting. I also believe that flexibility is important. Each of us have different life-demands at different stages of our lives, and a good employer will be as flexible as possible with an employee to accommodate his/her current needs.” Susan E. Gove, Ph.D., CEO, Gove Group, Inc.

Six Tips about Employee Incentives

  1. Be willing to be creative. Don’t limit yourself to the standard thoughts of money, time off, etc.
  2. Do some homework. Ask your employees to (anonymously if you prefer) tell you what they would consider to be an incentive. What motivates one may not motivate another. Recognize that you may not be able to even consider what would really motivate or reward them. There are many books written on the subject if you really get stuck.
  3. Publicize the incentives. Let each employee know what the “carrot” is that they are working toward, what it will take to reach it, and the timeline you have in mind. Even if your incentive is intangible, you should talk about it and bring that incentive to the level of consciousness of your employee. For example, if your incentive is “empowerment”, remark to your employees that you have given them this benefit.
  4. Be consistent. Make certain that the incentives remain in place and the employees can count on them. Give plenty of warning and justification before changing them.
  5. Change incentives periodically. With notice, provide new incentives to replace those things that have now begun to be taken for granted.
  6. Appreciate your employees. Remember that you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar. If you have an unmotivated or unhappy employee, find out the cause and try to remedy it – even if that means a transfer for the employee.