Overview

Suggest that your team member take a break. Propose that they take the day off or work from home. This is a great reward as compensation time for someone who has been putting in extra time to meet a deadline or is otherwise working to support the team’s goals.

Why We Do It

Setting expectations with your employees is always important. Key among those expectations should be whether you expect effort (i.e., time spent) or results. Examining this question may inform you a lot about your company’s values and culture.

When employees go above and beyond your expectations, it makes sense to reward them. For some of the people on your team, time off may be something they especially value. And while almost everyone enjoys time off, not everyone would make time off their number one choice as a reward, so consider other actions based on employees’ values.

How We Do It

If you’ve determined that some schedule flexibility is the best reward for a particular employee, great! You may be able to directly authorize the person to take a day, or you may need to seek approval through your HR or management team. If you need additional authorization, hopefully it goes without saying that you should secure that before you inform the employee.

It’s important to verbally connect the desirable behavior (e.g., extra time spent, goal reached) with why you’re awarding the employee the time off. Let them know that you recognize how they exceeded expectations and this is the reward for that effort. This is a great time to give them specific praise about the job they’ve been doing.

You: Jenkins, you really stepped up on the effort to get Shiny Widget v3 shipped over the past week. When the flimflazzle issue cropped up and almost derailed us, you took ownership and worked extra time to sort things out. I really appreciate it, and I’d like to give you next Friday off as a thank-you.

Don’t Reward Meeting Expectations

One thing worth noting is that you should not apply this action when someone is putting in extra time or effort just to meet expectations. Perhaps their skillset is behind the curve, and it’s taking them much longer to do the things the rest of the team can complete in a normal workweek. Perhaps they’re working extra time to make up for a mistake they previously introduced. Whatever the circumstances, make sure you are rewarding someone’s exceeding expectations, not meeting them. Doing so would send the wrong message to the individual employee—not to mention the team in general—about what you value.

Bonus: Let the Employee Pick When to Take Time Off

It may not be practical for a number of reasons, but if you can give your high-achieving employee the choice of when to apply the time off, it will be even more valuable to them. They may have an upcoming vacation, or there may be a three-day weekend coming soon that they can extend. The more notice you can give the employee about when their free day is coming, the more valuable it’s likely to be to them. Your employee might select a Friday several weeks from now, allowing them time to make plans to do something fun. That’s better than a company-selected Wednesday happening tomorrow, which gives your employee very little opportunity to make plans other than to hang out at home or to run errands.

Damage Control

While most of this has been focused on reward, this action can also be useful as damage control. Perhaps someone in the management team goofed and made a commitment on the team’s behalf without checking with the team first. Perhaps a particular client or project is just really a lemon. If you’ve got someone highly valuable to your team or organization who has had to go through a frustrating situation, giving them a day off by way of apology could go a long way to smooth things over.

Don’t Ruin Intrinsic Motivation

Be careful about how you apply a reward like this. If it’s something you do after the fact, it can be effective. If it’s something that you promise beforehand or something your employees simply expect, it may not have the desirable effect. Consider the following snippet from Daniel Pink’s book Drive:

Over and over again, they discovered that extrinsic rewards—in particular, contingent, expected, “if-then” rewards—snuffed out [intrinsic motivation].

The lesson here is that one should be careful promising rewards up front in an if-then format. Instead, reward your team member afterwards for a job well done.

Expected Results

Tying reward to success provides a clear reinforcement to the employee and to the team in general about what you as a manager (and a company) value. This encourages the employee (and the team) to repeat the behavior in the future. It shows the employee that you recognized their contributions, and it provides a nice way to help them decompress if they’ve been pushing hard toward a goal.

Example

Consider a scenario where an engineer, Charles, has been putting in extra time to help his team reach a release milestone:

You: Hey, Charles. How’s it going?

Charles: Whew, I’m tired, but we got all the defects cleared up, and the release will go out as scheduled this evening.

You: Awesome. I know it’s been a tough push, but I appreciate your efforts. I’d like to have the full team around the rest of this week in case we run into any post-release emergencies, but why don’t you go ahead and plan to take a day off next week? Your vacation balance in the HR system should be updated later today.

Charles: Great, thanks!

Research