Boost employee morale at low cost, with surprise days off

Issue: How to improve benefits and employee morale without busting the budget.

Benefit: Employees soon forget how they spent bonus money but will remember what they did with a surprise day off.

Action: Suggest to senior staff that your organization incorporate surprise vacation days in its benefit strategy.

No doubt, your organization wants to hold the line on benefit costs, yet still offer competitive perks. One good way: Provide low-cost, highly valued benefits like extra days off.

Organizations of all sizes can use that tactic. Here's a big-company example: Procter & Gamble recently surprised employees with two extra vacation days as a reward for the company's improved stock performance. P&G gave employees the option to take two days' pay, but the overwhelmingly majority chose the time.

Tough Talks D

Why? Time is more valuable than extra pay and offers a bigger impact. Employees usually remember what they did with the surprise time off but would soon forget how they spent the money.

Other options: Some organizations give employees a day off before a holiday (such as Thanksgiving) or hold a day-off drawing for monthly top performers.

Examples: Gen-Probe, a San Diego biotech firm, reduced some benefits but instituted nine-hour workdays, giving employees a day off every other Friday.

A medical consulting firm in Houston gives employees a half-day off if monthly sales rise at least 15 percent over the same month from a year ago. In 2003, sales rose at least 15 percent during nine of 12 months.

Tips: Urge your company to tie days off to a specific goal, achievement or duty. Don't hand out free days frequently or employees will view them as entitlements.