Benefits and Compensation

Travel Incentive Competition Boosts Productivity, Retention

At some companies, worthwhile projects fall by the wayside due to lack of sufficient time and resources. Not so at eni, where teams of employees who successfully complete special projects are rewarded with a companywide, all-expenses-paid trip to an exotic location.

How It Works

The travel incentive program was implemented more than a decade ago at Vestal, New York-based eni (www.eniweb.com), a behavioral healthcare provider offering work-life balance solutions.

Each year, after employees complete a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis survey, eni’s directors identify 12 projects for three cross-functional teams of employees to complete within a specified time frame, usually 3 to 4 months, says company founder and CEO Gene Raymondi.

Each team is assigned a project leader and four projects to complete, such as identifying cost savings to lower overall phone costs, enhancing marketing, or improving customer service.

The cross-functional teams not only help address projects that might not otherwise get tackled, but also foster learning within the company as well as match employees with colleagues with whom they otherwise would not work, Raymondi explains.

If all three teams complete their projects on time—and in line with the company’s definition of what a completed project entails—then each of eni’s 32 full-time employees is eligible for a 4-day, 5-night spring getaway (typically Thursday through Monday) on the company’s tab, Raymondi says.

Only twice during the last 12 years has the company had to forego the trip because all projects were not completed according to established guidelines, says Raymondi. “We’re kind of all in it together, and if we fall, we fall together.”

In other years, when it looked as though a team might not meet its deadline, other teams pitched in to help so they could all take the trip—even though the teams compete against each other for a much-coveted team excellence award. The award is a glass trophy presented to each member of the winning team along with an extra $300 in their paychecks, Raymondi says. Members of the other two teams each receive $150.

This spring, the company went to the Dominican Republic. Past destinations have included Cancun, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica. Employees can bring a spouse or significant other on the trips at their own expense, but most employees opt to go only with their colleagues.

A small percentage of employees choose not to go on the trip, mostly due to family commitments or scheduling conflicts. Those employees cover the office with the help of temporary workers. “We can’t shut down,” says Raymondi. “We’re a 24/7 service.”

Employees on the trip participate in training sessions a few mornings and are required to attend a meeting at which Raymondi presents the awards. Otherwise, they are free to spend their time as they choose, but most opt to stick with their colleagues.

Although the trips are not inexpensive, he says the company’s return on investment (ROI) is high. “From an employer standpoint, I’m sure we get ROI five times over in production and morale and the great project work we get done.”

Offering incentive travel has helped the company with morale, retention, and recruiting. In fact, Sales and Marketing Director Emily Mancini says the “best part” of recruiting at eni is “telling people they need to get their passport to work here.”

Given the bad press last winter about lavish business trips among companies receiving so-called government bailout funds, eni had considered whether to continue its own travel incentive program. Based on the ROI and the quality improvements made as a result of the project work, however, Raymondi says the company decided to proceed.

The company is a recipient of a 2009 “Best Companies to Work for in New York” award (www.bestcompaniesny.com).

What to Do

Companies that decide to engage employees in project work and reward them with travel incentives may be interested in some advice from Raymondi:

  • Go right to the source. When looking for ways to improve your company, get input from your employees. “The best ideas for improving your company typically come from the people delivering the actual services,” he says.
  • Set clear expectations. Before assigning projects, create a clear “definition of what the project will look like when it’s done,” Raymondi advises.
  • Think long term. “Just believe that the return [on investment] is there,” Raymondi says. “If you take care of the people who deliver your services, they’ll take care of the company.”