Rewarding work

Dr Mark Penhale, Port Kennedy Veterinary Hospital, WA
Dr Mark Penhale, Port Kennedy Veterinary Hospital, WA

When times are tough, incentivising programs may be just the ticket to keeping staff happy and all targets in clear focus.

By John Burfitt.

For 10 weeks of every year, veterinary surgeon Dr Mark Penhale takes off on extended leave from his job of 12 years at the Port Kennedy Veterinary Hospital, Western Australia, to work in overseas volunteer veterinary service projects.

Dr Penhale’s bosses, David Hoare and Margaret Horsley, not only arrange a locum to cover his extended absence, but have on occasion paid his airfares, donated pharmaceutical supplies and contributed cash towards the projects.

This support is in addition to regular workplace rewards Dr Penhale and other staff have received, including department store vouchers and bottles of wine. Dr Penhale laughs at the suggestion he has the best bosses in the country, but does agree they offer an excellent program of rewarding hard work and loyal service.

“I like to think I am a decent vet and it is no secret we work bloody hard in the job,” Dr Penhale says. “The rewards and incentives they offer here really do make a huge difference and it adds up to making a big impact on the way you feel about working long hours and doing extra overtime. “It comes down to loyalty and feeling appreciated, and that goes far beyond what the dollar value is.”

Incentivising staff in challenging economic times is being increasingly recognised as an important workplace strategy by employers to not only keep staff motivated, but to also retain their service into the future. It is a basic fact of business that the very cost of recruitment makes it far more cost effective to retain existing staff who are performing well, rather than recruit new staff. Traditionally, offering pay rises and big annual bonuses has been seen as the best way to keep the team happy, but that can be problematic when cash flow is being closely watched and the budget is already tightly balanced. It is therefore up to employers to find increasingly more creative solutions when it comes to offering workplace incentives to the staff.

Incentivising can play the role of not only keeping staff more involved in how the business is performing, and rewarding them for doing so, but it can also be seen as a value-added enticement to lift their overall performance. “Incentivising is about recognising the efforts and contributions a staff member makes that goes beyond their basic job description,” says Louise Davis of Melbourne management consultancy, On The Bus. “It is a pretty simple concept to follow that when someone is acknowledged for their performance, they feel valued and appreciated and then the incentive motivates them to be more productive. “Being appreciated is a fundamental human need and this is reflected in people being happy at work, which then creates a positive, caring culture. That should then attract you more loyal clients which makes for a profitable business.” Some of the most effective methods of incentivising include holiday trips, gift vouchers, mobile telephones, movie tickets, gym memberships and professional development coaching.

When compared to the real workplace value of long hours of overtime or an extended high level of service commitment, the cost of some gifted airfares or coaching sessions pales into insignificance. “Incentives don’t need to have a high monetary value in order to be highly valued,” explains Karen Gately, author of the book, The People Manager’s Toolkit. “Even a token gesture can have a powerful influence on the extent to which someone can feel appreciated. “What really matters is that the reward is given in the first place, and is appropriate relative to promises made, performances delivered and reasonable expectations on both sides.” Linking incentives to business objectives, so they are seen as a goal for all to work towards in order to achieve a strong result, is what the experts agree is the most effective way to set up an incentivising program. Setting targets and focusing on areas management decides they want to see an improvement in, such as achieving budgets, increasing new clients or repeat business from existing clients, is the important first step.

To then reward the team when it has been achieved can have a dramatic effect on morale and overall performance. “The key to successfully growing any business lies with building long-term relationships,” says Joe Wojcik, managing director of corporate incentive and reward business 212F. “Loyalty and reward programs can really help build those engaging relationships. A token gesture is a free gift and nice to have, but often soon forgotten. A true incentive is designed around real value and reward for performance.” Incentives should never, however, be seen as a replacement for pay increases or the basic rule of fair pay in line with government awards, Wojcik insists. “Remuneration is separate to reward and recognition,” he says. “Pay rises should be paid to employees for simply doing their job. Incentives, on the other hand, are given in recognition of exceptional performance and for reaching specific targets.” In tough times when pay freezes have had to be implemented, Karen Gately believes that an incentive program can prove to be a smart staff policy to implement. “Pay rises must be determined based on both the market value for a role as well as a business’s ability to pay,” Gately says. “So long as someone is paid fairly relative to what they could reasonably expect to earn from a similar employer doing a similar job, then incentives may well be an appropriate replacement for a pay rise in a given year.   “This may be especially relevant when the business cannot afford a higher payroll, but wants to recognise their team for the hard work.” As he prepares for another overseas volunteer assignment, requiring another long-term absence from his Port Kennedy job, Dr Penhale says a workplace that recognises a job well done is one he is always happy to return to.

“At the end of the day, you have to be paid a decent salary for what you do and you must always be paid for the work you do,” he says. “But these added aspects on top of that do make you work harder, make you loyal and make you want to stay around. “And it is not just about the gifts. It is about those rough days when you have had one euthanasia after another and you are emotionally drained. The fact the boss is on the phone at the end of the day to check in on how I am and if everything is okay emphasises that ours is a good place to work.”


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