What motivates most employees to come to work every day? And why do some employees never seem to make it, especially on a Friday or Monday?
Is it just that most employees are very conscientious, while others are not? To some degree, this may be true. But for those employees who can’t seem to get to work, something else may be happening behind the scenes.
In these difficult economic times, when jobs are scarce, we all think that not only would employees come to work every day just to keep their jobs, but most employees would even go the extra mile just to ensure that they stay in front of any potential job contractions. Yet some employees continue to be absent from duty on a regular basis.
If your district is like ours — and most districts these days are in the same boat — you are operating under great budgetary pressures. Facing and/or having already faced cutbacks, you have probably also curtailed the hiring of new drivers. This would mean that any employee that you lose, you are not going to be able to replace — at least not right away.
So what do you do with employees with poor attendance records, especially if firing them means you cannot replace them?
Do you, and can you, motivate this type of employee to come to work regularly?
Is money an incentive to get employees to come to work?
Once upon a time, in days well gone by, our South Florida school district had a budget — not unlike many other school districts’ budgets — that was a little more flush than today’s budgets. We were able to convince our school board that an experiment was in order that might have a very positive impact on the district for both employees and students. We wanted to experiment with a very old idea and see if it was true. The old idea was:
Money motivates people.
We decided to put our money “where our people were,” and that meant ultimately into our employees’ pockets. We began what we believed would be an exciting venture.
The experiment was this: Drivers who were present and on time for every reporting shift during an entire pay period would receive a $75 incentive on their following paycheck.
We proposed operating this experiment as a pilot program for four months. We would then compare attendance rates to the same period from the previous year. We were obviously looking to see if monetary incentives would decrease absenteeism.
We hypothesized that a monetary incentive would increase employees’ attendance by 10 percent, and that attendance would also increase in times of typically high absenteeism, such as the days before or after a holiday, pay days, Friday afternoons and Monday mornings.
A financial plan was developed to support this pilot project and allow it to be as budget-neutral as possible. It was projected to be cost–neutral by utilizing fewer substitute drivers to operate the same number of routes, since more regular drivers would be on duty on any given day.
You may have already reacted to this idea in the same manner that our senior staff reacted to this idea, which was to ask, “Why would you pay employees extra to come to work?”
It took a bit of explaining, as you can imagine. However, at the same time we were convincing senior staff, our drivers were complaining that when their co-workers were absent, the burdens of absenteeism fell squarely on their shoulders. They had to double out runs and return to pick up missed students.
Many drivers expressed that they were tired from helping out and that it was unfair to them — especially as they came to work every day and received no extra compensation for their efforts.
Morale was clearly being affected. So, in addition to providing a carrot to those with poor attendance, the incentive became viewed as a reward for those employees who already had good attendance and were steadily helping us out.
A last hurdle had to be overcome with the union. Their initial position was that the program should apply to all their members, which includes custodians, cafeteria workers, maintenance personnel, mailroom employees and the like. They felt it should not be limited to drivers. Ultimately, though, they agreed to a trial program with drivers only.
We ran the program for the four months and tracked attendance. Upon completion of the project, the two calendar periods were analyzed.
The experimental period — the period that included the $75 incentive — showed that, compared with the previous year:
• Attendance had increased by only 1 percent.
• Absenteeism had actually increased on six of the 12 critical days described above.
The program did not achieve the reductions anticipated, and it was discontinued.