Fridays (in the garden) with Lila
Years ago (in what seems like another life!) I was in the giftware industry. I had a ball marketing and selling for a small, local company that sold high-end, hand-made stuffed animals into major retailers like Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus and Marshall Fields.
I crisscrossed the country working with sales reps groups in each region, and worked in our booth at the national trade shows from Boston to LA. It was a truly fun job. And what was most gratifying is that I got to know personally many of the buyers who were regular customers of mine; some are still friends to this day.
On one trip to New York, I met one of these friends for dinner. She was the head gift buyer for all Neiman Marcus stores. During dinner she told me she was thrilled that her daughter had just accepted a position at Reader’s Digest in Pleasantville, NY. Not only did she get a great job with fantastic benefits, but one of those benefits was that employees of the Digest had every Friday in May off. “Wow,” I said, “that’s great! But how come?”
My friend went on to explain that Lila Wallace, co-founder of the Digest, was a great gardener. She encouraged her employees to garden as well by giving each employee those Fridays off to get in their annual flower and vegetable gardens. I thought that was really cool and I still do (even though I’m not sure it’s still one of Reader’s Digest’s benefits).
This is a terrific example of how a company can distinguish itself by getting creative with their employee benefits. Is your company doing that? “Soft” benefits like these are a powerful recruiting and retention tool.
Here are a few ideas to get you “down the garden path” thinking about what your company might do:
- If you’re an avid cyclist, offer incentives to employees who cycle to work or participate in bike-a-thons to raise money.
- If you believe that every employee should be building for his or her financial future, match a portion of their 401K contribution.
- If you believe strongly in good health and nutrition, offer employees a subsidy on health-club fees and offer healthy snacks in the kitchen.
- If you’re an art lover, how about a day at the museum? Many companies have museum passes (family passes, too) available for employees. (And, if there’s a Children’s Museum in your town, that’s a fabulous benefit.)
- Enjoy charitable giving? Why not encourage employees to get active in their favorite causes? Would you give them a day off to run a marathon? How about a dollar matching program for charitable contributions?
- And one of my personal favorites, give your employees their birthday off (with pay). I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t consider that a real gift!
You get the idea. There are a number of ways you can get creative with your benefits package. Your HR professional will be more than happy to help you with suggestions. Or, better yet, ask your employees!
What Lila Wallace did was extend an employee benefit that truly reflected her values. She believed that gardens are an integral part of the human experience, and she passed that belief on to her employees with visible action.
How about you? What can you pass on to your employees that you’ll be remembered for many years from now?!