Incentivizing Employees

By Rebekah Page-Gourley posted 08-16-2021 10:07


I recently filmed a Trade Secrets Update on-demand seminar with ICLE contributors Paul Mersino and Bernie Fuhs (available soon in the ICLE Partnership), and one of the things we discussed was the recent wave of employee resignations spurred by COVID-19. Paul and Bernie pointed out that some of the folks who hung onto their jobs through the first part of the pandemic are now craving change and balance after over a year of working remotely and spending more time with family. This desire for flexibility, combined with increased burnout and enhanced financial security, is emboldening many employees to look elsewhere.

The seminar tackles the trade-secret implications of this employee mobility, but the surge in resignations also raises questions about the potential impact of incentives on employee retention. (Of course, many employers are currently testing ways to incentivize employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine, ranging from mandates to cash bonuses and paid time off—and it seems to be working.) And there is also a lot of broader chatter at this particular pandemic moment among employers, employees, and HR professionals about what employers can do to meet employees in the middle and ensure productivity, satisfaction, and longevity. Some of the emerging best practices include:

  • Recognition to boost engagement. A Workforce Institute survey indicates that 87 percent of employees report a high level of inclusion at work if there is a “strong culture of recognition.” In a recent article in Forbes, George Elfond, CEO of Rallyware, argues that such recognition should be provided “at least monthly” in order to boost engagement and productivity. Per Elfond, a robust recognition program should 1) focus on the individual, 2) motivate and encourage employees at the right time, and 3) provide a virtual space for employees to track goals and progress.
  • Paid time off to stave off burnout. The tech firm Momentive (formerly SurveyMonkey) combatted employee burnout by closing the office and giving its workers one week off in the summer. This article in Human Resource Executive recounts how a number of other big name employers have done the same, with extremely positive response.
  • Individualized approaches to keep employees happy. Anthony Klotz, professor of management at the Mays Business School at Texas A&M, argues in this NBC News article that especially during this period of time, “[a] more personalized, listen-first approach is needed.” Klotz suggests that employers have “one-on-one conversations with employees about their well-being and about how their jobs can be re-crafted to support their pursuit of happiness and purpose.” Vipula Gandhi and Jennifer Robison of Gallup discuss that engagement is the key to battling employee discontent, and managers should “conduct meaningful conversations, set expectations and create accountability, individualize performance management to get the best out of people—and create an employee experience that retains workers.”

It seems clear that lawyers advising employer clients or managing their own firm workforces will be thinking through many of these issues in the coming months. As those conversations happen, it may be helpful to note that the most talked-about incentives center on ensuring individual employee well-being as opposed to implementing a one-size-fits-all approach.