Anna Wells, Editor, IMPO

Incentives can provide more than just hard benefits like actual dollars—they can provide a great way to increase employee involvement and interest in the overall success of the company.

The word bonus has almost become synonymous with unabated corruption these days: I flipped on the news a few weeks back to watch a multi-million dollar company’s CEO raise his dirty hands in defense to a barrage of questioning from a grand jury, his millions of dollars in perk packages putting him under fire.

What’s unfortunate is that the premise of these scandals is based upon the opulence of ‘benefits’ and extravagant incentive packages—but there’s the flip side as well. Now when I hear the word “bonus” it strikes me as one of two things:

-A great way to pay someone too much, and keep it under the radar.
-A great way to pay someone too little, on the pretense that those whose operational merit is up to snuff will exert adequate effort to attain this incentivized pay.

I realize it’s a lot of pressure to put on an employee if company leadership makes them feel as though their compensation comes by way of the company’s sales and revenue success in a rollercoaster market. But if company success is the ultimate goal, should not the employees on the floor—the one actually manufacturing the product—be integral in this process?

I’d argue that incentives can provide more than just hard benefits like actual dollars—they can provide a great way to increase employee involvement and interest in the overall success of the company.

The idea that “our” goals are the same is critical. By this I mean, employees should feel involved in their day-to-day processes, with an overall company translucence so they know the way their specific role affects the company as a whole. Whether this means sharing information like quality control reports, returns, throughput numbers, or on-time delivery, the idea is to share the bigger picture with all of the employees—not just those with a necktie on.

As for the rewards for these goals, I’m not being naïve; I realize everyone wants money. But what I think is undervalued here is the positive reinforcement factor—how are you making employees feel respected, involved, and productive? Incentives can mean throughput goals that result in company outings, extra vacation days, plaques, or awards.

I’ve been through a lot of manufacturing facilities, and some of the greatest employee incentives I’ve seen come down to just creating a better, more comfortable workplace environment. Better lighting, ventilation, break rooms, workout facilities, rest rooms—these are all great ways to show employees that their hard work is what keeps your factory up and running, and that you’re not afraid to reward them for it.

Creating goals is not the problem. The problem is using the right types of incentives to both keep employees happy and improve your plant environment. Does someone have a great attendance or safety record? Recognize it. I recently saw a company give out Harley leather jackets to its top performers. It’s not a million dollar bonus, but it’s a great start.

Click here to read Assistant Editor Amanda McGowan's take on employee incentivizing

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I can't tell U how refreshing it is to hear somebody say that the grunts should actually get incentive pay!  The prevailing attitude seems to be that the guy on the floor is being compensated for his time, so that should be enough.  While true that he should be compensated for his time, if there are no incentives, this kind of arrangement will generate a workforce that shows up on time - but not much more.  Such an environment is also a breeding ground for resentment of management, along with the attendant issues that can cause (unions, strikes, etc.).  If U treat people like adults and actively solicit their input (and that includes being willing to explain in detail, in writing, and in person why a suggestion is being rejected), your workers will be far more contented and productive.  Nobody wants to spend 30% of his life in an environment in which his suggestions are ignored and in which he is treated as little better than a potential thief.  Businesses would do better to treat their workers as their most valuable resource instead of their biggest liablity.