Real Life Reward Systems

As a manager of a retail establishment, it really sucks to have people call out sick.  First off, chances are because of budget constraints you are running your schedule pretty tight anyway, possibly even being short handed at times because you just can’t plan for random explosions of store activity.  Sunday at 11 am might be one of your slowest times of the week, but this week every church group in a twenty mile radius has decided to come to your store, and the two staffers you’ve got are struggling to work the registers praying they’ll survive until more people show up at 1pm, when traffic usually picks up on Sundays.  Even worse, employees of retail are notorious for, you know, actually having a life outside of work, so when someone calls in sick it is almost impossible to find an employee to come in and work an extra shift (usually because the money isn’t really worth giving up a day off).

To combat this, and to create a trail of evidence for firing people, most retail outlets adopt systems of penalties.  Late for work?  Earn a point.  Clock in early?  Earn a point.  Miscount your drawer?  Earn a point.  Call out sick?  Earn a point.  And so on… and at some arbitrary level, say 10 points, you are fired.  Points, of course, expire over time, because the intention is to fire people who are chronic “bad” employees, not people who make a mistake now and then.  Unfortunately, the result is that the employees also realize there are mistakes to be made and accidents to be had, and they only have any real control over certain things.  Like being sick.  If calling out sick earns you a point, then you just go to work sick.

Head to Google and look up studies on people working while sick.  All the data shows that employers who let people stay home when sick results in overall less sick days taken by employees, and a generally happier environment.  If your employees are afraid to take a sick day, they come to work sick, get everyone else sick, and now everyone is miserable and sick and working.

Obviously, the answer is: let people stay home when they are sick, and don’t count off for it.  But it isn’t as simple as that.  The store needs to run, and earlier I mentioned how hard it is to find people to work an extra shift.  So why not offer people who fill in for a sick employee an opportunity to improve their status?  Say… you work the shift of a sick employee, a point is wiped off your record if you have one.  Now, when Bill calls in sick you can look at your list, see that Jane has 6 points, call her and offer to drop her to 5 points if she’ll come work Bill’s shift.  If the situation is dire, offer to drop her to 4 points.

Beyond sick day stuff, why don’t companies offer more rewards for being a good employee?  How about a catered meal or a little bonus ($20 – $50) at the end of the month if an employee has 0 points?  Would it be worth $20 per employee per month to eliminate tardiness and counting errors?

Anyway, this is just another place I’ve run into over the years where people thought up a penalty system to try to encourage better behavior but forgot to provide any rewards or control to the employees.

One comment

  1. Isey says:

    As an owner of a chain of retail outlets I can’t agree with you more. While we don’t use the point system to ensure staff fulfill their expectations of being a productive employee, there are other systems in place. They tend to quickly show you who you can count on anyway, which I suppose is the spirit of your aforementioned system.

    Rewarding employees shouldn’t happen for ‘doing the expected’ – show up on time, perform your duties to the best of your abilities, etc. The over and above definitely needs to be recognized though – even in the simple example you use.

    Two examples:

    1) We lost a manager at a corporate location who abruptly left his position. In the two weeks we ran with corporate staff running the show, a certain front line employee really stepped up who realized we were in a bind. He took extra shifts, was on call to assist the flown-in part time managers with questions from the most basic (where is that form?) to a bit more advanced (do these two staff, in your opinion, work well together? I’m doing the schedule). While he doesn’t have management aspirations of his own, he received a dollar an hour raise after those two weeks – outside of his normal periodic performance review. He showed he really cared and was willing to do extra to make things work while we searched for a new full time manager. He deserved the recognition.

    2) We hosted a charity day where we gave out free product all day with a donation to a local food bank. We coincided that day with an area development meeting for our Operations staff. The staff are salaried. The day was a huge success and we collected enough food to stock the food bank for an entire week. It was also incredibly busy, and the operations staff stepped in and worked their tails off collecting donations and serving our product. It wasn’t really expected of them, but as a team they just decided it was the best thing to do. The exec team was also there pitching in, and after the day the salaried staff all received a $500 bonus.

    The best part is, the staff were all commenting ‘I don’t need that!’ and ‘I would have done the same thing without a bonus!’. When it is unexpected I think it is more appreciated. They weren’t working because they knew they would get a bonus – they were just working because they cared enough to.

    Anyway, just a couple of real life examples and the positive impact it has. I’m sure you can figure out from those examples the lasting impact those little gestures have on the future efforts and dedication of the employees involved.

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