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Incentives for Workers Combine Cash and Fun

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Incentives for Workers Combine Cash and Fun 
From The Wall Street Journal Online

Deborah Kratzer-Reid says she isn't a gambler, but 
she uses her work computer as a slot machine -- 
with her boss's blessing.

Ms. Kratzer-Reid, who opens accounts and loan 
applications for First Interstate Bank of Laramie, 
Wyo., has won $2,000 since March 2005 through an 
unusual incentive program, dubbed Snowfly, in 
which employees can win money by playing Las Vegas-
style games.

About two dozen companies, including financial-
services and marketing firm Alliance Data Systems 
Corp. and an eight-person Roto-Rooter Inc. 
operation, use Snowfly. Managers credit the program 
with increasing sales, reducing turnover and 
improving morale.

Snowfly is among a wave of incentive programs that 
human-resource consultants say are proving popular 
as relatively inexpensive ways to offer extra 
compensation, linked to performance. Bill Morin, 
chief executive of consulting firm WJM Associates 
Inc., says employers frequently tell him they plan 
to reduce or maintain salaries while boosting 

Other employers, such as FedEx Corp. and Edison 
International, use reward programs that offer 
employees cash or points that can be redeemed for 
prizes. The new programs, aimed primarily at 
front-line workers, replace an earlier generation 
of incentive systems that consultants say largely 
failed because they were too random and sometimes 
created rivalries among employees.

Many newer programs incorporate elements of 
behavioral psychology, offering more targeted 
incentives for increasing sales or productivity, 
for example. They tend to offer smaller rewards 
more frequently so that employees make a mental 
link between their behavior and the reward. Ravin 
Jesuthasan, managing principal at consulting firm 
Towers Perrin, says employers are shifting to 
instant-recognition programs, instead of quarterly 
or yearly incentives.

Consultants urge employers to take care in 
structuring incentive programs, by budgeting care-
fully, choosing rewards that employees will like 
and aligning the goals with broader corporate 

Employers who use Snowfly's service say it is 
effective because it offers quick gratification -- 
and it is fun. Managers give employees electronic 
tokens for achieving certain goals. Employees use 
the tokens to wager on games such as a slot 
machine, horse race or fishing contest. The game 
is set up so that employees always win something, 
though the haul ranges from two points to 5,000 
points. The average game will win 10 points, and 
the average company will value a point at one 
cent, though that can vary.

"People love to gamble," says Bob Myers, chairman 
of the Human Resource Planning Society, a profess-
ional group.

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Snowfly is the brainchild of Brooks Mitchell, a 
management professor at the University of Wyoming. 
Dr. Mitchell, 62 years old, studied behavioral 
science in graduate school and in 1990 founded a 
company, which he later sold, that offered 
computerized employment interviews. 

The inspiration for Snowfly came in 1989 at a 
casino in Elko, Nev., when he watched a group of 
older people rush off a tour bus to play slot 
machines. The passengers seemed too frail to walk 
across the room, Dr. Mitchell says, but "they were 
almost elbowing each other to get bags of nickels 
and quarters."

He began thinking of ways to channel that 
enthusiasm for employers. Clients say he succeed-

LDF Sales & Distributing Inc., a Wichita, Kan., 
beverage distributor, began using Snowfly three 
years ago to improve operations in 10 ways. To cut 
inventory losses, for example, managers gave 
employees tokens each time they double-checked the 
quantity of a shipment.

Since then, LDF's inventory losses have fallen by 
half, saving the company $31,000 a year, says Bill 
Goodlatte, LDF's senior vice president of human 

At First Interstate Bank, President Gary Negich 
says he trusts employees to use the system 
responsibly. Mr. Negich used to offer a Las Vegas 
vacation to the employee who signed up the most 
customers for the bank's credit cards. He switched 
to Snowfly in March 2005 in an effort to motivate 
more of the bank's 45 employees at three Laramie 

The program is more expensive -- First Interstate 
spends $12,000 a year compared with $4,000 on past 
incentives. But Mr. Negich says it generates more 
profit. Each branch has exceeded its goal for 
credit-card referrals -- one branch nearly eight-
fold. "I'm a nice guy, but I'm not a fool," Mr. 
Negich says with a laugh. "It's making us money."

Ms. Kratzer-Reid, the bank employee, says she 
likes the recognition conferred by Snowfly. But 
the money doesn't hurt. She uses her winnings to 
support her gardening hobby and her 2-year-old 
son's train obsession. She plans to use the $500 
left in her account for a family vacation to 
Philadelphia. "There's no way I can lose money, 
but I can always gain," she says.

So what did you think about this issue? Drop me a line and let 
me know at mailto:mandi@gophercentral.com 

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