5 of the Most Unusual Yet Brilliant Staff Incentives

12 April 2016 -


Money, alone is not enough to keep staff happy, and the best employers are continually trying to find new and better ways to inspire and motivate their staff to work harder

Jermaine Haughton

As Twitter’s share price continues to tumble amid rumours of staff disharmony, co-founder Jack Dorsey is reportedly offering cash and stock to their top talent to keep them at the company.

Similarly in the public sector, British headteachers are suggesting that tuition fee loans for teachers should be written off if they stay in the classroom for 10 years to halt the alarming number of young workers leaving the profession.

More than just a crisis measure however, staff incentives are a valuable way of companies keeping their workers happy.

A number of academic studies provide evidence of the impact incentives can have, from building greater staff loyalty to the company brand to improving staff productivity.

While some of these examples are a little extreme and might not fit into all budgets, here are five inspirational ideas bosses can look upon to help incentivise their employees:

Berkshire Hathaway - $1m a year prize fund

During a TV interview on CNBC last month, multi-billionaire investor Warren Buffett offered $1 million a year for life for any employee at his company Berkshire Hathaway or one of its subsidiaries who correctly predicts the results during the Sweet 16 phase of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Men's Division I Basketball Tournament.

The winner is required to correctly pick 48 straight games of the competition which is played each spring in the United States. If no one is successful in achieving this feat, like Buffett’s previous billion dollar prize for NCAA predictions, the best-performing employee who picks the greatest number of games correctly during the tournament will win $100,000 (£70,000).

Although, Berkshire’s corporate headquarters has only 25 employees, some 360,000+ staff working for its legion of subsidiaries like Benjamin Moore, Brooks, Fruit of the Loom, Geico, Heinz, NetJets and more than 50 other firms were eligible.

Ontraport - Free Food for Staff

California-based software company Ontraport helps support its workers by providing free breakfast, lunch and snacks. Motivated by a desire to see more of its employees stay on-site during their lunch break, in turn, increasing communication and social activity between workers, the firm’s food scheme is also valuable for providing a healthy alternative to options on the High Street.

With workers believed to have saved over $2,000 (£1,300) on their lunch based on Visa survey results, Ontraport says the programme has strengthened employee commitment to the company.

“We are very passionate about our culture and encourage our team to build relationships beyond just work,” says Andrea Webber, P.R. and marketing assistant at Ontraport. “Feeling like you are among not only your peers but your friends is a huge part of what makes people stay with our company—and want to go above and beyond for their team members.”

According to a survey by grocery-delivery service Peapod, 67% of employees who have access to free food say they are "extremely" or "very" happy with their current job, compared to 56%, of full-time employees who don’t receive such company perks.

Additionally, Millennials were found to value food at work more highly than any other age groups.

Evernote - House Cleaner for Employees

Cross-platform, freemium note-taking app Evernote made the unusual step in 2011 to help their employees away from the office by hiring someone to clean and tidy their house twice a month.

With studies showing that workers who are stressed outside the office often bring their issues to the workplace and are less productive, this unique employee benefit was a simple way to keep staffers happy both at work and at home.

With the cost of professional housecleaning services costly and the prospect of doing chores equally as time intensive, taking up some 13 hours a week on average, the perk has ranked as the firm’s most popular over the past few years.

The company found that the service helped staff clear away some of their chore-worries and stay focused on their work.

"We thought that we needed to get spouses and significant others on our side," Evernote CEO Phil Libin told The New York Times. "I want the pressure from them to be, 'You better not be thinking about leaving Evernote.' I don't want the pressure to be, 'Maybe you should think about going somewhere else?'"

However, recently the firm abandoned the staff benefit as part of cost-cutting measures initiated by company bosses looking to drive revenue ahead of a rumoured IPO.

Zillow - Shipped Breast Milk

As more and more large employers look to address the startling lack of women in senior management positions, and the demands of Millennials to have a fairer balance between work and family-life, extended benefits to young families are becoming more common.

Online real estate database company Zillow Group took their parental staff policy to the next level by providing free overnight breastmilk shipping for nursing mothers on business trips.

Initially introduced in 2010, bosses were triggered to make the decision after one employee, who was traveling for work, had trouble getting through airport security with the milk she had pumped during her trip.

“Coming back to work as a new parent is challenging enough, and we wanted to do everything possible to support our employees and their families, and take away some of the stress of coming back to work after a new baby,” a company statement read.

Alongside offering up to 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave and 8 weeks of fully paid parental leave to all full-time employees, Zillow’s approach to looking after its parents in the workforce has lead to a boost in recruitment and engagement, as well as it's breastmilk shipping programme being ranked as one of the Top 20 Employee Benefits and Perks by Glassdoor, based on thousands of reviews.

Clif Bar - Paid to Exercise

Not only does the American organic foods and drinks brand have a head office filled with all the games and gadgets to keep even the most demanding employee content, Clif Bar also pays their workers to exercise.

Each employee gets 2.5 hours of paid time to exercise each week, in its in-office gym, complete with a climbing wall, a yogi, a personal trainer, a range of daily group exercise classes, and financial incentives for working out 30 minutes a day.

CEO Kevin Cleary says larger firms should adopt such a policy to get better engagement from their workforce.

“Do I think big companies can be run like this? Yes — if for no other reason [than] the engagement it creates, and the excitement and the energy it creates in your team,” he said. “So you can take that 80% [of unsatisfied employees] and flip it, and all of a sudden be able to say 90% of people say this is a great place to work.”

And the results suggest Cleary is right.

With employee turnover remaining at a low 3%, the firm is overcome with people wanting to work for them. The company reported that over a 12 month period, the company received 7,700 applications from individuals for just 114 open positions.

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