Soft Incentives: All Fun and Games

A tidy cash bonus once a year is nice, but it seems awfully boring when you think of the creative soft benefits that some companies employ, like rooftop volleyball courts, doggy day care and locally sourced organic foods, to name just a few.

In fact, soft incentives like these might be coming to an office near you. That’s because more and more firms are using creative approaches to incentives in the workplace. These factors are powerful motivators for employees, and are being used as effective counterparts to travel or merchandise incentives. And workplaces loaded with nice touches aren’t just the domain of boutique companies or those on the bleeding edge. Big-name companies also execute extremely effective soft incentives, according to Dan Schawbel, a social media specialist at EMC Corporation, a $35 billion IT firm headquartered in Boston.

For example, says Schawbel, “eBay sets aside spaces at two of its San Jose campuses, decorated in earth tones with plump pillows and tatami floor mats, as prayer and meditation rooms so employees can decompress during the workday.” Google provides employees bonuses toward the purchase of a hybrid or electric car, and Microsoft offers dry cleaning and postal services at its Redmond, Wash., campus, plus free grocery delivery.

Indeed, highly motivated workplaces exist in all corners of industry. Read on for a few notable stories of soft incentives that contribute to organizational success.

Programmed for Motivation

Bellevue, Wash.-based software company Zango has a colorful corporate headquarters that helps motivate its highly creative employees. Vice president of human resources Ring Nishioka helps manage a variety of soft incentives designed to create an optimal environment for the company’s 220 workers. “We want culture that’s created by the employees,” says Nishioka, “and we want people who create a better place to work.”

One of the most effective motivational features of the Zango office is the building’s rooftop, which boasts a regulation-size volleyball court with competition-grade netting, plus a collection of propane grills and seating with tables. The roof sees a lot of use, says Nishioka. “Every Friday we try to leave our desks at five, and go outside, if it’s sunny. The company provides beer and snacks, and people will hang out on the roof until seven or eight at night.”

A sense of cohesion is a powerful incentive for employees of Zango, which has built community-enhancing mechanisms into nearly every aspect of the organization. “One of the things that I appreciate about working here is that anyone can talk with one of the executives,” says Nishioka. “Everybody here has an open- door policy.” The inclusiveness of executives is just one example of community at the company, which makes great efforts to provide information on a company-wide level, helping create a sense of a unified team. “I think that what makes Zango a great company is that everyone is on the same page,” Nishioka explains. One of the creative ways the company promotes equal access to information is through the use of seven 42-inch plasma screens located throughout the company’s nine divisions. The screens display monthly revenue goals for the corporation in addition to operational goals that are specific to the departments, where the screens are displayed in prominent places. The displays are also used for more explicit team-building purposes, like announcing employees’ birthdays and their anniversaries with the company. When new hires join Zango, their names and photos are shown on the displays, as an electronic introduction to the organization. “Somebody found an old picture of me from a prior life, on the Internet, and put it up on the displays,” Nishioka relates. “Everyone thought it was funny.”

Fun by Design