Some people respond well to punishment, and others don't. If your employees fall into the latter category, you need to turn to positive reinforcement if you want to keep them.
Mason Hearn of McGuire, Hearn, and Thoms, Manakin-Sabot, Va., has set up an extensive incentive program for his field employees. "Under the old system, if you showed up late, you'd be reprimanded, and the third time it happened, you'd be fired," Hearn says. "Basically, you got spanked. We realized that it was no way to treat the good people we had working for us."
In the current program, now in its fourth year, employees earn points on a quarterly basis in a variety of areas, such as safety, attendance, and timeliness. For instance, perfect attendance for a quarter earns the employee 250 points; 50 points are deducted for each day missed.
Additionally, employees can earn points for training and education. They also earn an award if they refer a person who is hired and kept on for at least three months.
Hearn's production manager and lead carpenters are largely responsible for reporting safety violations, absenteeism, and tardiness to Bunnie Pinkston, the office manager. Each quarter, Pinkston passes out a score sheet, and the employees can see where they stand against each other. It also gives guys an opportunity to see why they've missed out on certain points.
In 2002, the person with the most points, lead carpenter Wayne Wilfong, won a trip to the Bahamas. However, Wilfong is afraid of flying, so he swapped his prize for a vacation to Disney World instead.
For this past year, Pinkston turned the reins over to a professional travel agent, who came up with a few destinations from which the winner could choose. Wilfong was victorious again, and he's thinking of conquering his phobia with a mid-summer trip to Las Vegas.
Second prize this year was a weekend trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina. Three other employees won gift certificates to local vendors.
Hearn notes that the program can get competitive, but in a good way. "It's all geared in a positive way," he says. "We make sure they know we want them to work safely. We want them to earn points."
It seems to be working. "We all strive to get to as many meetings as we can," Wilfong says. "And we make sure we don't miss a day of work, even if we're sick. As long as I ain't dead, I'm coming in."
The program isn't 100% foolproof, however, as at least a few employees who get behind in the beginning make little effort to catch up. The majority, however, "are very cognizant about their performance and their point total," Hearn says.
At the very least, he concludes, "it's spawned a consciousness. There's been a definite improvement in things like attendance and timeliness since we put this in place."