Employers get creative with incentives when money is tight

Employee investments are becoming popular forms of indirect, or non-financial, compensation

August 2, 2010

HACKENSACK, N.J. - For some small businesses, the troubled economy is a good climate to invest in employees.

Employers are paying for business coaching and college tuition, training staff, subsidizing meals and extending family leave to ensure high productivity and strengthen themselves for post-recession expansion.

"If we invest in our associates and do things focused on customer service and retention, that really helps during this tough time, and we become part of the solution," said Rob Francis, president of building services provider Planned Cos. in Parsippany. "The return is, we'll solidify our base, grow and come out of it with an ability to grab significant market share."
Companies say employees who are happier do their jobs better, and that helps increase revenue. Perks also justify asking for higher productivity and more hours, enabling businesses to compete for talent and boost employee retention.

Such employee investments are becoming popular forms of indirect, or non-financial, compensation, said Vicky Ribon, team manager at human resource consultants Administaff in Florham Park.

"Money is a simple motivator," said Ribon. "However, the recognition for a job well done is becoming more of an issue in small businesses than compensation."

These are examples of how New Jersey companies are investing in their workers:

* New York Jets, Florham Park, 160 employees, excluding players

Employees have to work weekends for more than half the year as the Jets try to win the Super Bowl, said Matt Higgins, executive vice president of business operations.

To foster loyalty, management allows employees use of the workout rooms, lockers and showers and the indoor football field for after-work games at the Jets' new 120,000-square-foot training facility. This creates unity among staff and management, said Higgins.

For $4 a day, employees get breakfast and lunch at the cafeteria, which serves the healthy food they've requested.

"I know if staff is staying on-site and eating at the cafeteria, you're gaining productivity," Higgins said.

As for the workout rooms, he said, "Employees who exercise result in less absenteeism. They work better and work smarter."

With those and other perks, the $230 million business was named one of Inc. magazine's Top Small Company Workplaces this year.

* TransWorld Marketing Corp., East Rutherford, 125 employees

Six years ago, the designer and manufacturer of in-store product displays initiated the TransWorld Universe training program to teach staff how to use technology in retail displays — a new trend that clients thought would attract and educate consumers, said President William Carafello.

The program has grown and now uses industry experts and consultants to teach topics, such as retail trends and lean manufacturing to remove wasteful practices, for all staff. Sessions will soon be put online, Carafello said.

Employees from creative and manufacturing departments have responded positively, he said. Designers are more aware of industry trends, and display builders have learned faster and easier techniques. The courses are also "probably saving us hundreds of hours of engineering time," Carafello said.

Clients now look to the business as an industry authority, said Carafello. "If we don't stay current, we're not going to grow and survive."

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