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MOTIVATING employees

Oct 1, 2002 12:00 AM

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In a scene from the 1999 movie, “Office Space,” jaded employees gather together for a company meeting called by their office manager. After introducing the employees to a consultant hired to “streamline” the company (and instilling them with the fear of losing their jobs), the office manager wraps up the meeting with, “Oh, and remember, next Friday is Hawaiian shirt day. So, you know, if you want to, go ahead and wear a Hawaiian shirt and jeans.”

Although the movie is intended to be a satire, this scene demonstrates a scenario common in many of today's printing companies. Employees are constantly bombarded with news of printers and clients downsizing or filing Chapter 11, salaries and budgets are slashed, and yet their rewards for a job well done are often woefully inadequate.

Motivation suffers. As the movie's hero, Peter, observes, “My only real motivation is not to be hassled — that, and the fear of losing my job. But you know, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.”


So how do you motivate someone to excel? AMERICAN PRINTER spoke with some printers who responded to a call for motivational ideas in our free biweekly e-newsletter, “In Register.” Their tips — from simple recognition for good work to a DVD player for surviving a probationary period — have stoked employees' desires to succeed, and resulted in happier customers and smoother-running operations.

A manager at a $50 million, 400-employee document-design and printing business shared his department's incentive program, which has reportedly helped cut spoilage significantly. The exec, who oversees 17 employees in the estimating, order entry and planning departments, explains that if the entire department goes spoilage-free for the whole month, he takes them all out to lunch. In fact, last year alone the department was rewarded with lunch eight out of the 12 months.

“Getting out of the office and having a department lunch at a nice restaurant has done wonders for pulling the team together,” the manager notes. “I can honestly say that our morale and image have changed 180 degrees since this plan was implemented. We all pull for each other and are always looking to help a teammate out. Because of this, the real beneficiaries are our customers, both internal and external.”

Individuals are rewarded as well. This, the exec explains, allows an employee who excels to not be held back by co-workers who are not at their level of performance. If an employee goes three months without spoilage, he or she gets a $50 gift certificate to a restaurant; six months with no spoilage earns a $75 certificate. As the months with no spoilage increase, so does the reward's value — a $100 gift certificate to the mall at nine months, and $200 for a year of no spoilage.

“I would say we have at least cut spoilage in half over the year prior to implementing the incentive plans,” the manager notes. “That is key, as virtually every job that our company does passes through our department.”


In addition, the department manager and his supervisors bestow an Employee of the Month Award for those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty. The supervisors also consider an employee's individual accomplishments that further the image of the company, as well as feedback from co-workers. The winning employee receives a $50 gift certificate to a restaurant and a framed certificate. His or her name is also engraved on a plaque displayed in the department. A yearly award brings with it a $200 gift certificate.

Mentzer Printing Ink (Indianapolis), a two-year-old print distributor with an in-house graphic artist, customer service and a digital press for proofing and short-run color, also has an Employee of the Month program. Although the company only has seven employees, owner Jamie Mentzer notes that many times, the same employee is given the award multiple months in a row, simply because he or she has helped more than one person. He notes that the program helps employees focus on how they're helping each other, and fosters teamwork. Prizes range from a 20-minute massage to a $100 gift certificate to a local restaurant.

According to director of operations Allen K. Jenkins, new employees of manual and booklet printer ePAC Technologies Inc. (San Leandro, CA) who have reached their six-month anniversary are rewarded with their choice of a DVD player or $700 gift certificate toward the purchase of an iMac. For long-term employees, stock options are offered.

Eileen Rogers, owner of an Allegra Print & Imaging in Scottsdale, AZ, keeps a supply of $2 bills. Whenever a client expresses satisfaction with an employee's service or attitude, Rogers gives that prize worker a $2 bill and delivers the compliment. “The funny thing about a $2 bill is, no one spends it. So the idea is, every time someone looks at it, they think about why they got it,” she explains. The money is handed out in front of other employees, so they can share in the compliment. Rogers notes that employees obviously like the $2 tokens of appreciation since many post the bills by their desks — and one star employee is close to wallpapering her work area with them.

Another printer recommends end-of-the-year cash bonuses, which are especially appreciated in this tough economy. “It helps relieve holiday money pressures,” he notes, adding, “if there are too many raises, it could lead to layoffs in slow times.”


Gifts and money are sure-fire ways to brighten employees' days. Investing in their education, however, not only increases workers' value to the company, but also sparks their own drive to learn and achieve more.

Allegra's Rogers has created her own educational program to enrich her 13 employees. The “Education Bucks” program allots a certain amount of “dollars” to each employee that he or she can spend on personal and professional development. Employees have used their “dollars” on anything from church retreats to videos, books and software, to conflict-management seminars.

“The only person you have to convince in order to use your bucks is me,” Rogers says. “Just tell me why it's a benefit for you.” Even after employees have exhausted their education bucks, they still receive paid time off to attend educational events.

At the company's annual retreats, Rogers tries to incorporate an educational element — whether it be a motivational speaker or an update on the printing industry and graphic arts technology. The exec, who is actively involved in Allegra performance groups, also tries to put the Arizona location's success in perspective. “A lot of times, our staff doesn't have a sense of who we are nationally, so it's a nice opportunity to highlight our success and the respect we have gained among other franchisees, and also let them know the bigger picture of what's happening in our industry,” she explains.

This update has the added benefit of acclimating employees with the level of adaptability the company needs to keep pace with industry developments. One example the exec cites is her company's efforts to become a one-source solution. As such, the Allegra location has been focusing on strengthening its design services, an effort that hasn't gone unnoticed by press operators. “It's implied that I expect you to stay on top of the industry, that I consider you a professional, and we'll continue to educate ourselves so we are here in 10 years,” Rogers says.

Mentzer at Mentzer Printing Ink often sends his employees — as well as himself — to training opportunities at manufacturers and sales consultants. The company recently sent its graphic artist to GATF (Sewickley, PA) for certification training. “He had been in the business for 20 years, but had never attended any courses of that nature,” notes Mentzer. This investment in the individual reinforces the idea that both the company's and employee's successes are dependent upon each other.


It's easy for employees to get too serious about improving company operation and outperforming and absorbing new skills. The ideal end result is that you should look forward to — and enjoy — going to work. That's where the occasional distraction comes into play.

Rogers definitely believes that, after all of the hard work, “you've got to be able to laugh and have fun.” When the Arizona printer recently surpassed a monthly sales goal, Rogers closed shop and arranged a Hawaiian luau with a catered lunch in the lobby. “We had a hula contest, and gave away Arizona Diamondbacks baseball tickets, prizes and grab bags,” she recalls. Rogers is now deciding on the next venue for a celebration, as her shop has just enjoyed its greatest sales month ever. On the table: go-kart racing.

The Allegra Print & Imaging in Torrance, CA, owned by Bob and Marianne Kelchner, uses ping-pong to help its five employees unwind after a long day. The ping-pong table, situated in the production room, is pulled out on almost a daily basis. Sometimes, the Kelchners invite customers to join them in a friendly game, building client and employee relations in a fun way.

“The old line used to be, ‘the customer is king,’” observes Rogers. “I think the new wave of management has to be that your staff is king — because if you have a happy staff, I guarantee you will have happy and satisfied clients.”

Where this story got started

The printers featured in this story are active readers of AMERICAN PRINTER's e-mail newsletter, “In Register.” Subscribers enjoy news on innovative products, educational opportunities and upcoming events, as well as inspirational stories from their peers. To subscribe to the free biweekly e-newsletter, visit