With a tight labour market, farmers are looking for ways to attract and keep good employees. They naturally turn to incentives and rewards to try to keep employees happy and productive.
However, getting it right when it comes to employee incentives is tricky business.
“An incentive to one person can be poison to another,” explains Michelle Painchaud, president of Painchaud Performance Group in Winnipeg.
There are very few if any rewards or incentives automatically linked to employee performance and engagement, says Painchaud. “With people being motivated differently, some programs work while others don’t,” she says.
If something is supposed to be a reward, it needs to actually feel like a reward to the employee, agrees Sara Mann, a University of Guelph professor specializing in agricultural HR. Mann says different employees will value different things so you need to ensure that employees value the incentive you are offering.
“Some will be motivated by sports tickets but others will not. It is important to understand what each employee values and who is motivated by what,” says Mann.
After one farm business handed out company T-shirts, hats and other swag, one employee was heard to grumble “I’d rather they just gave me the money they spent on all this stuff,” says Painchaud.
Incentives are often ineffective, agrees University of Guelph psychology professor Deborah Powell. If incentives are going to work, they need to reward the right behaviour, she says. When you tie an incentive or bonus to a very specific behaviour, people focus on the behaviour that’s being counted and may ignore other important aspects of their jobs in favour of the reward, she warns.
If you reward individual performance, you may find you are discouraging team work — which may not be the outcome you want, explains Powell. On the other hand, this approach could be useful for rewarding a very specific behaviour (see below).
Painchaud has seen some companies have success when employees were asked what they wanted for incentives and rewards. “You’d be surprised what employees will tell you,” she says.
When is it a reward?
One of the biggest mistakes that managers make when it comes to employee incentives is to confuse rewards and reinforcers, says Mann. Reinforcers are tied to performance whereas rewards are not.
The employee needs to be able to see the relationship between exhibiting good performance and receiving the reward. If it is not tied to behaviour, it is a reward.
It’s an important distinction. Rewards increase job satisfaction but not necessarily performance, says Mann.
This is the problem with incentives such as profit sharing, says Painchaud. The employee can’t really understand what they have to do to ensure there is a profit. “What behaviour or action does one have to take to help ensure profit sharing?”
An employee may work hard but due to factors beyond their control such as poor weather, market fluctuations or livestock disease, there is no increase in profits.
Before creating an incentive program, it’s important to understand what you are trying to accomplish and how rewards, perks and incentives can help achieve your goals. Creating a rewards program that is team-driven and related to the team goal (in line with the farm’s strategic goals), can be effective, says Painchaud.
Providing lunch for staff following a safe harvest can be an inexpensive way to reward a job well done, suggests Powell.
However, when it comes to rewarding individuals, Painchaud urges caution. “Employee of the Month” programs can sometimes backfire when other staff question how or why the employees are chosen. And while public recognition is motivating for some people, others detest it, she adds.
Painchaud advises only giving individual rewards when an employee really goes above and beyond. In their online Agri HR Toolkit, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resources Council suggests recognizing individuals for long years of service, good attendance records, and exceptional safety records. These could be recognized at a staff meeting or with a monetary reward of movie tickets or a gift card.
Is offering tickets to a hockey game in return for taking a course a good idea? Rather than framing it to the employee as “take this course, and you’ll get the tickets,” Powell says it would be better to offer the tickets with a thank-you note as a show of appreciation for taking the course.
Fortunately, the things that seem to enhance employee satisfaction and engagement and also increase performance don’t cost that much, says Painchaud. Having great leaders who make the employees feel valued and appreciated and who spend time with them will go a long way, she says.
Powell agrees. She says we tend to underestimate how powerful it can be to recognize and show appreciation for the desired behaviour. These can be as simple as a compliment or sending the person a note for a job well done.
Most of all, it’s important to ensure procedural fairness when it comes to giving out bonuses and perks, says Mann. Do employees feel the system is tilted toward favourites?
Simply ensuring procedural fairness doesn’t quite go far enough though. Employees must also perceive that you are committed to it, says Mann. “Communication is key.”
Create a worker recognition program
Ask workers what they want and let their input guide your recognition activities. By getting workers involved, you can ensure that the program reflects their values and interests and that recognition activities will have maximum impact on productivity and morale.
Base your recognition on measurable behaviours so that the criteria are clear and workers view the process as fair.
Tailor rewards and recognition to reflect the unique preferences of specific individuals and teams.
Incorporate recognition into the everyday workplace rather than treating it as a once-a-year or once-a-season activity.
Don’t forget the small acts of recognition. While some forms of recognition may take more time and effort, just remembering to say “thank you” can be enough to let a worker know that their contribution is appreciated.
(Source: Canada Agricultural Human Resource Agri HR Toolkit)
The right incentives
Incentives can take different forms. These could include:
- Compensation bonuses such as raises, bonuses, profit sharing, signing bonuses, and stock options.
- Recognition incentives include showing appreciation with a personal note or certificate of achievement.
- Reward incentives would include sports tickets, gifts or gift certificates.
- An appreciation incentive would include a company lunch.