Members suggest alternatives to traditional raises

It's no surprise that many companies are finding it difficult to offer raises this year. Until the economic IT meltdown is over, these suggestions from members on compensation alternatives might just fill the company bill--and your employees' needs.

According to TechRepublic members polled in a recent e-mail survey, the fact that companies might not be able to offer raises this year doesn’t mean there aren't good alternatives that will keep employees happy without breaking the bank.

While some suggestions were pretty traditional—an extra couple of paid days off and flexible work hours—a few were quite unorthodox. These included a golf membership, providing housing close to the office for workers having over a two-hour commute, tuition payments for day care needs, and providing each worker with a new home PC. Gale Dallyn, an assistant controller at a Canadian glass company, suggested giving employees a paid-for trip with some spending money—as long as the trip costs came in less than the usual total raise cost for the year. Member Eric Wong suggested a very nonmonetary, yet career focused option—allowing IT leaders to be "CEO for the day."

“Very few [IT professionals} can make it to the top during their life-long working career,” Wong wrote, “so why not trade a year’s raise for a one-in-a million lifetime experience. Who knows, with this exposure one might even figure out how to get there.”

Time is money
A majority of members responded that additional paid vacation time would be a very good replacement option. “I’d be very happy to negotiate time off in lieu of raises,” wrote Gary Pfeiffer, director/IT at LucasFilm, Ltd.

Pfeiffer’s sentiment was echoed by John York, who would like a four-day, 10-hour workday, and some “self development activity time”—time for things not related to work, such as sailing classes, music lessons, etc. York also would welcome low-cost perks like a season pass to an entertainment park.

John Landkrohn, who recently changed jobs and is back to a two-week vacation level, would eagerly trade a raise for more free time, as would Michele Jamieson, for whom layoffs have meant longer workdays and more hours this year.

“The remaining IT employees are left burning out on more projects with fewer people,” wrote Jamieson. “While I realize many people are in this boat and that I am lucky to still be working, I would gladly take more time off, at this point, than a raise. Although both would be nice!”

And James Barret wrote: “I find that as I advance in my career, additional salary is not as great a motivator and that my vacation time is more valuable to me.”

Workday alternatives
Several members’ suggestions focused on workday issues, such as technologies to help productivity, and the opportunity to incorporate flextime and telecommuting. Bob Peterson would love to have a job guarantee, as job security is just as important as salary when it comes to employee motivation.

“Many IT professionals (including myself) have found out over the past three years, there is no such thing as job security,” Peterson wrote. “So if you want to retain your employee status and can give an honest affirmative answer to the CEO’s question, ‘Are you a good employee who is making a positive contribution to the company’s bottom line?’ Then, if it was me, I would say, ‘I would like an employment guarantee.’"

“For sure, there would need to be some guidelines on performance, etc., but I think it would be nice to have the security that I could count on a certain amount of money for the next period of time. I think this suggestion does have merit, because a person who feels they don’t have to worry about their job for X period of time can now concentrate on doing his or her job,” Peterson explained.

Fellow TechRepublic member John Schlosser would like a prepaid subscription to a cable Internet service provider and approval to work some hours from home. “The number of hours could be flexible and determined by my first line manager and me, depending on the needs of our work group,” Schlosser explained. Schlosser said the employer benefits would include improved morale, because the situation would give employees more home time, boost productivity, and reduce sick days.

The benefits for employees include Internet access, the ability to eliminate two hours or more of commute, and the ability to eliminate some amount of work time distractions.

Schlosser did acknowledge that his proposal has some hidden costs for the employer, like security, liability, computer upgrades or laptops, and help desk expenses. But said they shouldn’t be viewed as stumbling blocks.

The availability of high-speed access, as well as a laptop and PDA were also at the top of Mike Lermon’s options list. “I live 30 minutes from work and I am expected to respond to troubles at all hours. I consider any and all tools that give me a chance to correct problems without that drive to be valuable,” wrote Lermon, who works at a global petroleum company.

More training requests
Training, specifically more training, hit the top five in terms of most popular options. Sameer Gaikwad, a solutions architect, said he’d like a "respectable job profile where I deliver 70 percent and learn 30 percent.”

“In a word, training,” wrote Richard Gilbert, systems manager at RapidForms Inc. Gilbert would love learning the basics of being an Oracle DBA, and learning about Solaris system administration. “Then give me some responsibilities that use this training,” he wrote, adding that the training also will help him in the long run as well. “It makes me worth more…makes it easier to find a new job.”

Hermal Sanghvi agreed that the best compensation replacement is additional training. “This would benefit both the employee and the employer in the long run and will be money well spent.” But if that couldn’t happen due to business costs, then Sanghvi would gladly take an additional vacation.

Unique business proposals
Two of the raise replacement suggestions involved rather unique approaches to the problem.

The first was proposed by Jay Warsaw, director of Internet technology and electronic business solutions for Fujitsu Network Communications. Warsaw’s raise replacement suggestion is to create a cash bonus based directly on cost reductions in year-over-year spending, which is a program that would end up paying for itself. ”We work very hard at continually updating and renegotiating service and maintenance agreements to ensure we are paying the lowest price possible for the required services,” explained Warsaw. “Cost avoidances should also be recognized, but since they address money not currently being spent, they would not be self funding and not used for paying a bonus,” he wrote.

The second proposal, from a member who requested anonymity, is a "bonus coupon" system that has proven successful at her company. While the company does offer some level of cash incentives and rewards, one of the employees’ top compensation choices are coupons for local luxury restaurants where employees enjoy the same VIP treatment that company leaders receive when dining at the establishments.

The company initiated a "bulk deal" with the restaurant chain to buy 4,000 coupons per year. “When people are awarded $500 dinners for three to five guests, they value this higher than a $300 raise,” she explained.

The added value for the company is that parts can be written off, and paid every 60 days, after the dinners were consumed. “The seats cost us $300 per reservation, but the perceived value is $500, plus attention and special service, which is priceless for the employee,” wrote the member.

Since the company only pays for used dinners, and up to 10 percent of award recipients end up not using the monthly dinner reservation allowances, the cost is even lower for the company.