SLIGHTLY DEPRESSING realization: The average American works 1,797 hours a year, according to a 2008 ranking of the world’s hardest-working countries done by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. For the record, we came in at No. 9.
Though math is typically not a writer’s strong suit, let’s give a few equations a whirl: 1,797 divides out to be about 35 hours a week. However, though seven hours are, on average, spent at work, you can tack on two hours for a back-and-forth commute (unless you’re really lucky) and add in eight hours for sleeping. That only leaves seven hours a day for everything else. Plus, thanks to BlackBerrys, mobile phones and wireless e-mail, even those precious seven hours are probably infringed upon by career-related matters, despite any efforts to the contrary.
Work-life balance indeed. Fortunately, you can help.
Piece of Work
Crushing hours, deadlines and a list of benefits that are dwindling under today’s economic strain mean human-resource managers have their work cut out for them in terms of finding proper motivation tools. But believe it or not, now is the time to get selling. Jeanne Scully, vice president of human resources at Philadelphia-based North American Publishing Company, reported that now more than ever, the company is trying to keep employees’ spirits up. “We have tried to make an effort to do a little bit more,” she said.
In discussing her past experiences with employee gifting, Scully has run the gamut of incentive items. Though many are given out at holiday time, there are opportunities throughout the year for distributors to help human-resource departments find the right items. She pointed out that the company gives gifts to recognize achievements as well as little pick-me-ups throughout the year, such as the end of summer.
Below, Scully identifies some of her past gift programs and gauges each one’s success.
Pros: Citing presentation as an important factor in employee recognition, Scully and her team wrapped personalized leather padfolios for each employee.
Cons: While it was a considerable success across the board, there was one drawback. “For the majority of employees, that was a good thing. But there are employees that don’t have a need for that type of item,” she said.
Strategy session: “10 Tips for Motivating Employees,” a recent article posted at HR World, an online community for human-resource professionals, reported that encouraging employees “requires a strategy tailored to each worker’s needs.” Urging end-buyers to ask what their employees want, as well as considering their ages and positions, is a good way to start tailoring a program. However, always be cognizant of the fact that no HR representative can please everyone all the time, noted Scully.
2) Gift baskets.
Pros: An inherently impressive presentation coupled with the fact that, “Everybody has to eat,” laughed Scully, makes gift baskets one of her go-to incentives. The food items she most heartily recommends are cookies and sweets that each person can take home to share with their families.
Cons: There aren’t too many drawbacks to a food offering, Scully pointed out. Since many other items (mugs, bags, etc.) are subject to personal style and taste, food becomes more of a universal motivator. “I get the best response about the food,” she affirmed.
Strategy session: Pointing your HR clients toward gift baskets that are particularly eye-catching is a good place to start. Pay attention to the quality of wrapping paper, ribbons and the basket itself.
3) Choose your own gift.
Pros: As a holiday gift a few years ago, Scully gave employees a gift catalog and let them pick whatever appealed to them. It was hassle-free and the gift was shipped right to the employee’s home. “I was a big fan of those,” she said.
Cons: Price can be a big factor with these types of programs. In order to get a quality selection, Scully suggested companies should bring up their price points to about $100 per employee.
Strategy session: Now more than ever, companies are looking to save money. Finding gift-catalog suppliers that specialize in more-bang-for-your-buck selections is a good way to ease end-buyers’ budget fears while ensuring their employees get the high-quality gifts they want.
4) Gift cards/certificates.
Pros: The closest thing to cold, hard cash, gift cards are a more personal way to give employees spending flexibility, Scully pointed out. Plus, it has more impact than putting a cash bonus into a paycheck, which is subject to taxation and frankly, the meaning can get lost on payday.
Cons: Again, not too many with this choice. However, in a recent program Scully did where the gift cards she gave out that applied discounts to a selection of local restaurants, she noted that there were a few more steps for redemption than she liked. Employees had to go online and search for an eatery, “work” which might have lessened its impact.
Strategy session: Still, gift cards bridge the great divide between giving something meaningful and simply throwing money at people. A column on Inc. magazine’s Web site, “Twenty Ways to Earn Employee Love,” summed it up best: “Cash will always be directed toward necessities, while other perks are remembered and appreciated—they evoke an emotional response instead of merely a logical, financial one.”