Benefits & Compensation News

Giving until it hurts


From Girl Scout cookie drives to workplace birthday clubs, non-work fundraisers have become a part of many company cultures. Should management be concerned?

There are no simple answers to this question. Most employers want to encourage a family-friendly company culture, but employee (and supervisor) solicitations often have a way of spinning out of control.

Left unchecked, onsite “selling” can go from a harmless activity to an unwelcomed one that causes tension and can actually hurt morale.

No-soliciting policy?

In one recent survey, 22% percent of employers said they have a policy against soliciting. In most cases, the policy limits the times and places (e.g., break rooms only) where employees can engage in the activity.

Some employers have created bulletin boards where workers can post their fundraisers for interested co-workers.  According to the survey, about one employer in 10 has banned unapproved fundraisers entirely.

Another thorny issue: In some cases, the one doing the selling is a supervisor or an executive, even if the company bans rank-and-file employees from doing it.

Unfortunately, this leaves HR/benefits in a real tough position. How can you be expected to enforce a policy that managers themselves ignore? It sets you up to be the bad guy, and also shows employees that the powers-that-be either don’t take the policy seriously or don’t think they need to follow the same rules.

Office sports pools: Harmless or harmful?

Odds are pretty high (pun intended) that your employees and/or supervisors have an office football pool going right about now and/or a March Madness pool during the college basketball tournament. If not, they’ve probably worked somewhere in the past where such activities have had the tacit — or open — approval of the top brass.

Is that a good or bad thing for your company culture?

Never mind the fact that the pools are rarely used for “entertainment purposes only.” Although wagering in office pools (and fantasy sports leagues) is technically an illegal activity in some states, the laws are rarely — if ever — enforced. In most states, the typical $5 to $20 office pool is legal.

A bigger, more practical concern: presenteeism.

Easy to spot, hard to stop

If you were to take a random walk around your office and glance at people’s computer screens, chances are you’d find more than a few folks who have game reports open in one Window and their work in another. Want to guess which screen the employee pays more attention to? Yup.

One estimate says March Madness costs employers nationwide $1.7 billion each year in lost productivity. During that time of year, many employees (and supervisors) are paid to do little more than check on how the teams in their office pool are doing in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Truth be told, even if your organization bans office pools, many employees will sneak glances at the scores, anyway. But people are more open about goofing off — and spend longer doing it — when they participate in a pool at work. Many supervisors simply look the other way.

Morale builder?

The typical reason given for allowing office fund-raising solicitation or sports pools is that the activity boosts morale and employee bonding. In reality, the morale-building advantages depend on your company culture and the demographics of your workforce.

One survey found that 30% of professional and business service employees eagerly look forward to participating in an annual March Madness pool at work. On the flip side, only 13% of employees in the hospitality industry expressed interest in the activity.

Gender also comes into play. Roughly 24% of male employees said they’re likely to participate in an office pool, while 11% of women do.

Bottom line: Some workplaces wouldn’t miss such activities if they disappeared. In others, the long-term morale boost cancels out the short-term productivity hit.

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