Innovations in Employee Productivity Aids: Perks from the Private Sector May Apply to Libraries

Several years ago, the U.S. Congress created a tax credit for businesses that incorporated an on-site day care. The purpose of this tax credit was to encourage employers to provide their employees who had young children with quality, affordable day care close to their children. One goal of the legislation was to improve day care with its extended benefits for the welfare of young children and their improved educational outlook. However, another benefit realized by these companies was that their employees who needed the day care facility became motivated, highly productive employees (Palmer, 1999).

Some of the most innovative companies seek out ways to increase productivity through enhancing their employees’ work environment and, consequently, morale with perks, i.e., benefits not necessarily directly related to the work being produced. Some of these are fads that fade away while others gain a certain amount of permanency. Most of these are likely beyond libraries’ ability or resources to provide for employees. For example, some companies provide at least top executives with in-house chefs and in-house masseuses. A recent National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast featured Google’s headquarters that has a huge array of restaurants, many with gourmet chefs, open 24 hours for all employees.

However, some of these innovations may be appropriate and useful within a library work place, though there does not seem to be any published evidence of them in this industry. Parties, from picnics and barbeques to costume parties, are often mentioned in the news as corporate events that build employee morale. The company most noted for this is Southwest Airlines, featured on such shows as 60 Minutes. Everyone, from the top CEO to the mail clerk, stops work for an entire day to participate in a costume party. In the 60 Minutes piece, the founder and CEO Herb Kelleher was dressed in a King Arthur outfit, dancing with employees (Green, 2004). This author recalls a news report in the late 1980s that featured an Indiana tool and die corporation that held impromptu parties, often rolling in a keg or two of beer for an outdoor picnic. The spontaneity of the parties added a dimension of value to the party concept for workplace productivity.  We see, through National Library Workers Day celebrations and our own experience in libraries, that parties and food-related events are well-integrated in libraries.

Within the last five years, the popular press has reported on two new innovations in perks for employee morale that might work in your library, of course depending on the environment. Some companies have become pet friendly and have a practice of allowing their employees to bring their dogs to work (CNNMoney.com, 2006). For obvious reasons, companies with this practice have to develop policies for proper “dog etiquette” in the work place, such as requiring employees to: (1) keep poorly trained animals or dogs with difficult behaviors at home, (2) immediately put a stop to or remove pets for behavior that is disruptive, such as loud barking and (3) set rules for providing comfort for the dog. How this could work in libraries would be an interesting experiment, but perhaps pets could be incorporated into some programming if there were no fear of allergies and legal risk from biting.  We do see fish and reptiles and even cats as regular residents of libraries.

Another recent trend is the “take a nap at work” movement (ABC News, 2007). This report notes that a NASA study showed that a nap of just 26 minutes in length can increase productivity by 34%. There is even a National Napping Day, the first Monday after beginning of daylight savings time; in 2008, National Napping Day was celebrated March 10. Scheduling naptime on a regular basis for employees could be a challenge, but one that would be much appreciated.

While there may be no systematic accounting of any of these practices in libraries, some anecdotal evidence exist that reports on a few individual institutions stepping out and trying such fads. The public sector tends to adopt private sector innovations more slowly than other industries and libraries are no exception. Some of these may be seen in library workplaces in the near future, if not already. Library managers should consider which type of perk can be reasonably provided because the private sector is reaping the benefits in productivity from such practices, and this may take some promotion for library employee groups to convince managers of their value.

John Harer is a professor of library science at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC and a former academic library administrator, including acting head of personnel for an Association of Research Libraries (ARL) library system.

References:

ABC News. “Why you need to take a nap at work.” ABC News, On Call, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/story?id=2831235, (Jan. 29, 2007) accessed April 29, 2008.
CNNMoney.com “Working like a dog: Survey of owners reveals that they would work more hours or for less pay if they could bring their pooch to work.” CNNMoney.com, http://money.cnn.com/2006/01/24/news/funny/dog_work/index.htm, (Jan. 24, 2006) accessed April 29, 2008.
Green, Sherri D. “Southwest Airlines keeps PR course with flying colors.” PR Week, http://www.sherrigreen.com/SW%20CCS.htm, (Jan. 26, 2004) accessed April 29, 2008.
Palmer, Alex T. “Who’s minding the baby? The company.” Business Week, issue 3626 (April 26, 1999): 32.