On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, causing an unprecedented amount of destruction from one end of the Gulf Coast to the other. During the storm the Twin Span bridge, which crosses Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans East to Slidell, was heavily damaged and would need to be replaced. After the completion of a new bridge, the old Twin Span was dismantled, broken down, and recycled into 9 miles of shoreline protection over the stretch of bank line in Lake Borgne known as the Orleans Landbridge.
The process of breaking down and recycling the bridge was a labor intensive, very schedule sensitive undertaking that would require the construction of over 7,200 marine mattresses that were 38′ long, 5′ wide, 1.5′ thick, and weighed 10 tons each. Once half of the mattresses were completed and stockpiled, the marine based placement would commence. From this point forward, an average of 66 mattresses would need to be made each calendar day to keep the expensive marine operations from being delayed.
Unfortunately, with the intense labor required to build each mattress, and an inability to reward people with any kind of meaningful pay raises, motivating employees day in and day out could be challenging, to say the least. In order to overcome these limitations and motivate the crew to safely meet and exceed our daily quota, we developed an incentive program that took production to the next level.
Statement of Purpose
Throughout one’s career there are many challenges that will be presented that will need to be overcome. When complacency sets in and morale is low, many managers may look to monetary incentives to get things back on track. When raises are not available, however, managers must get creative to determine what their goals are, and what non-monetary incentives may be available to motivate their employees.
In order to successfully design and implement a non-monetary incentive program, there are several steps that one should follow that will allow for a full buy in from employees. According to Gordon and Kaswin in their article “Effective Employee Incentive Plans: Features and Implementation Processes,” incentive programs must begin with a review of the current objectives and purpose of the equity plan (Gordon and Kaswin 3). While dismantling and recycling the Twin Span bridges, our main objective was to build 66 marine mattresses per day in order to keep the marine placement operations working. We needed to find a way to break the daily cycle and cure people of their complacency. We needed to challenge people. As stated I the September 2017 issue of Communication Briefings, “If the work is rote and not demanding, people will disengage. Assign employees roles and tasks that challenge them” (“Motivate Apathetic Employees” 5). Our work was physically challenging, but it was also rote and difficult to engage.
Gordon and Kaswin’s second step is to identify alternative rewards (Gordon and Kaswin, 3). Because giving raises was not an option, we looked at what else may motivate our labor. Our typical work day was sunrise to sunset, seven days a week. Our crews wanted time off so we laid down this challenge: if your filling frame met its daily quota, you could go home at whatever time you finished with a full 12 hours pay. With more time off, the crews came to work each day more rested and with a renewed effort. Assistant Professor J. Jyothi of New Horizon College wrote that “Employees have lives outside of the company…time off (or working from home) allows them to better serve those needs and increases their desire to do more for the company, boosting morale among staff as they contribute more to their personal lives” (Jyothi 2). While this may seem like they were given raises, the payroll expenses remained the same – either crews finished early and got time off with a full day’s pay, or they actually worked the full day at the risk of not meeting our daily quota. After exploring this option and ultimately deciding to try it, we proceeded to Gordon and Kaswin’s third step – develop a communication plan for how the plan will be measured (Gordon and Kaswin, 3).
Communication in construction is essential. It is clear, consistent communication that ensures that the contractor, engineer, and owner all have the same interpretation of plans and specification and ensures that employees “understand what is expected of them while decreasing the likelihood of morale problems that result from misinterpretations of how incentives are awarded” (Gordon and Kaswin, 2). In order to develop our communication plan and decide exactly how our incentive would be measured, we began talks with upper management. Without their buy-in, the plan would not work. As Bruce Bolger stated in his 2004 article “Ten Steps to Designing and Effective Incentive Program”, “performance thrives when employees feel engaged in the goal” (Bolger, 27). In our case, to earn buy-in, we needed to upper management to be confident that the price paid would be comparable to the costs otherwise incurred without the incentive program.
After working with upper management, we would need to gather employees’ perspectives (Gordon and Kaswin, 3). We needed to talked directly to the crews because we wanted to “empower them to make decisions that impact not only themselves but their colleagues…” (Staren, 76). Our objectives and requirements were laid out clearly and we listened to what our employees thought was achievable and what was fair. With everybody in agreement, we could then move forward. Gordon and Kaswin would suggest that the next step would be gathering external market information, or what Bolger would refer to as external motivation. These motivations would include things such as product or service availability, function, identification, and convenience (Bolger, 28). While this step may be of some importance in the sales or retail markets, outside of what value and costs may be associated with our incentive, external motivations were not given consideration. Fortunately, the sixth step in the implementation process is to determine costs.
In a study conducted in 2016, Marji Tania Issa Eid posed the question, “what do people want from their jobs?” (ISSA EID 42). She concluded that, of all the factors studied, working conditions, salary, and achievement were found to be substantially related to overall job satisfaction (ISSA EID 52). While salary