Departments - July/August 2012

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On the Defense
IMA Fights Backlash From 'Hats Off' Program

By Deborah L. Vence

Research has proven that incentive programs can boost morale and improve employee performance. They can help motivate employees to go the extra mile and, thus, help contribute to a company's bottom line.

But, even with that in mind, incentive marketers have had to defend incentive programs in recent months, all because of a probe of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) by Congress. At issue is questionable spending by the GSA on its "Hats Off" incentive program, and that there was a lack of proper management and oversight.

According to news reports that surfaced in April, the "Hats Off" program was an employee incentive initiative for the GSA. The program came under fire during an investigation into GSA spending for meetings, training initiatives and recognition programs. The GSA allegedly had spent thousands of dollars on an employee incentive program, in which workers could accumulate points for doing good work. Then, if a certain amount of points was accrued, employees could qualify for a gift card, iPod or other electronic device.

"Theoretically, GAS employees earned points for meeting certain goals and were able to redeem the points for a variety of awards. It appeared program administrators were the primary award recipients," said Karen Renk, CAE, Executive Director of the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), based in Naperville, Ill.

"As a taxpayer, I am not happy to learn that a government agency may be misusing funds. But, it is important that the focus of this story stays on the real issue and that issue is one of mismanagement. IMA responded because it is important to set the story straight," Renk said.

In the case of the "Hats Off" program, Renk said that it is unclear if the program's goals were realistic or clearly communicated.

"We don't know if proper measurables were in place. We don't know if the award choices were appropriate for the program," she said. "The important thing to realize is that the problems at the GSA are due to lack of proper management and oversight and should not be an indictment of the value of incentive programs."