Goof off at work, get a bonus

One small company is turning the tables on productivity by using Internet games and instant prizes to motivate employees.

By Jessica Seid Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- We've all, at some point, been guilty of playing a hasty game of Solitaire on our computer while the boss isn't looking, secretly wishing that winning a round could be part of the job description.

A Laramie, Wyo.-based company developed a program to do just that. Snowfly's system uses Internet games that can pay off with cash prizes to reward employees who meet their managers' goals.

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How does it work? Employees are given certain objectives - such as coming to work on time or completing a task correctly - that are designed to boost workplace productivity. When a worker fulfills the goal, he or she is awarded a token that can be used to play an online game, such as virtual slots, fishing for points or horse racing.

The games only take about 10 to 15 seconds to play and tokens, or points, can only be won, not lost. A player can win anywhere from two to 5,000 points on a single game. Points accumulate in employees' individual accounts, and can be redeemed at any time for cash and prizes. While logged on, employees can also check their points or peruse the rewards catalog.

The prizes can range from Starbucks (Charts) gift cards; debit cards that can be used on eBay (Charts) or PayPal; time off from work; or even cold hard cash.

Each company establishes its own objectives, value per token, and types of prizes, which are set within a budget.

Because of the system's tracking capabilities, Snowfly also lets the management team generate real-time reports on employee behavior changes and accomplishments.

Snowfly or mutiny

Andy Orr, president and CEO of Circulation Services, a provider of customer service for large newspaper companies, says keeping employees motivated has always been extremely difficult.

In the last year-and-a-half since Orr employed Snowfly in the Circulation Services call center, he says retention, attendance and productivity have all improved.

"It breaks up the monotony and encourages better work," he said.

"In between calls (the employees) can log on and play games, and the game turns off automatically if a call comes in," Orr said. "When they log back on they can resume the game."

Orr's company allocated $4,000 a month to cover the cost of Snowfly, which includes the fee and the total cash prizes. Orr says it pays for itself, because the expenditure is "self-generated" - as employees work harder to win points, the company can afford to pay them more.

Besides, "if I took it away there would be mutiny," Orr said.

Gambling? At work??

Snowfly's president and CEO, Books Mitchell, a behavioral scientist by training, founded the nine-person company six years ago. He says he faced a lot of skepticism at the outset, especially from people put off by the idea of encouraging what could be considered gambling on the clock.

But Mitchell knew he was on to something, and the business has finally begun to take off.

"The incentive business is a $27 billion business and it's founded on a false premise - that people want merchandise and trips, but that is not true, people want money, cash right now," he said.

And his conviction about human behavior brought his company a cash prize of its own - close to a million dollars in revenues last year.


Forget the office party, 'tis the season to get cash

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.