Rewards: Recognising everyday successes through rewarding

One-off bonuses promote the development of our workplace culture and recognition of success. We paid a total of approximately €13 million in one-off bonuses. 

Rakennamme Helsinkiä, maailman toimivinta kaupunkia, arjen työssä onnistumalla. Tarvitsemme tähän We are building Helsinki, the most functional city in the world, by being successful in our day-to-day work. This requires input from all the City’s employees. Workplace communities and employees can earn a single-payment monetary reward based on performance.

The focal points of these rewards include ideas and changes that increase efficiency and productivity and are closely linked to the duties of the community or employee in question. Throughout the year, the City granted these rewards in a quick and targeted way, despite the pandemic, in recognition of work communities’ and employees’ performance excellence. When the connection between success and reward is clear, it boosts work motivation and encourages continued good performance.  

We asked our staff to let their supervisors know of any colleagues within their immediate work communities who deserved to be rewarded. In these instances, the criteria typically included improving cooperation, assisting colleagues and actively promoting mutual interests.   

A total of approximately €13 million was paid out as performance-based one-off rewards. The number of individual bonuses granted was 40,000, and their average amount was €300. In addition to that, about a 700 days of leave were granted as one-off rewards. At the end of the year, the Social Services and Health Care Division was granted a 0.5% amending budget to cover the one-off bonuses, so that the division remained able to reward its staff for their excellent performance during the pandemic year.  

Performance-based bonuses are paid to everyone if a division, agency or municipal enterprise meets its shared goals and the funding criteria are met.  

We changed our performance-based bonus system’s funding to a city-wide model, which gave the different divisions and agencies more equal opportunities to receive these bonuses. This is a self-financing system, i.e. performance-based bonuses are funded from the amount left over from the entire City’s target operating cost, and no separate budget exists. The funding of the municipal enterprises’ performance bonuses remained the same.   

For the first time, this bonus system included all of the City’s staff. We linked our result objectives increasingly closely with the implementation of the City Strategy, so that the objectives could steer us towards actions that promote positive customer experiences, productivity trends and service renewal.

In addition to that, we set our supervisors a management goal that made the expectations regarding their work more tangible and created a uniform leadership culture throughout the City. 

The unprecedented conditions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic were also financially challenging. Therefore, our performance-based bonus system’s funding was not achieved according to plan, and we were unable to pay out these bonuses in the divisions and agencies. In addition to that, the funding criteria in the municipal enterprises were generally not met.  

The Social Services and Health Care Division recognised flexibility and promotion of community spirit

Head Nurse Päivi Toivola from Laakso Hospital’s Ward 6 believes that one-off bonuses are a meaningful way of rewarding staff members for good work performance.

‘What makes rewarding so important is that it serves as personal recognition. It makes clear to an employee why they specifically are being rewarded, and makes their good performance visible.’

During the pandemic year, Ward 6 granted rewards for several different reasons. They included being flexible during a pandemic, having good work community skills, boosting the general mood, shouldering responsibility, improving elements of hygiene, improving the induction process in connection to pharmacotherapy, providing guidance to students and receiving good feedback from patients.

Toivola points out that spontaneously thanking someone is valuable too, but being able to reward a person for their excellent work with a cash bonus is fantastic. Often, these cash bonuses amount to several hundreds of euros.

‘As a supervisor, I feel that we now have ample means of rewarding our staff. The City’s reward system has come a long way.’

These days, we are able to give recognition to people who go the extra mile or expand their skills. The ability to reward employees has been particularly important during the pandemic, especially since our work changed so rapidly last spring.

Toivola thinks that feeling concerned for her own staff’s ability to cope made the pandemic year particularly challenging.

‘Wearing all that PPE while working was hard in itself, but on top of that, emotions were initially running high, because we did not yet know much about the virus. In addition to the changes in our work, we were worried about falling ill ourselves, spreading the virus from work to our loved ones and infecting our patients.’

Toivola says that the staff members were highly flexible when it came to their working hours: they agreed to do longer days, rescheduled their annual leave and quickly responded together to new situations as they arose.   

Moreover, financial aid is available for those who want to buy a bicycle, and this option is an alternative to the commuter tickets.

Focus on critical roles

As in the past years, we reviewed the competitiveness of our salaries with the help of a salary development plan that spans across several years. The salary development plan is the City of Helsinki’s long-term plan, the aim of which is to increase the City’s appeal as an employer and systematically increase salaries of those roles in particular where the City lacks experienced staff and which the City wants to make more competitive in terms of pay.  

We reviewed the most critical professional groups in cooperation with the divisions, departments, managers of public enterprises, HR professionals and the City Executive Office. We wanted to focus on the work of health stations’ doctors and care providers; doctors at hospitals, rehabilitation units and care services; various types of early childhood education and care providers; and certain roles in the afternoon activity provision for the intellectually disabled. The increased role-specific salaries became effective at the start of the year. 

We also increased all salaries as part of a general pay rise, starting from August in accordance with the national collective agreements. Furthermore, we also began the negotiations for local salary arrangements, included in the national agreements, even thought the actual pay rise will not come into force until April 2021. These local arrangements will result in a permanent and targeted rise in either role-specific salaries, based on how demanding a role is, or personal bonuses, based on long-term work success and good performance.  

In accordance with the City’s own salary development plan, we allocated approximately €5 million to the pay rises in certain areas. This figure includes the employer’s secondary personnel expenses. 

Commuter tickets and sports vouchers

Our staff members enjoy a variety of perks. The most popular ones are the commuter tickets and lunch vouchers. Another notable benefit is company housing, which the City can use to attract new talent, particularly to sectors with a high demand for workforce. 

Furthermore, we encourage our staff to exercise by providing them with the City’s own sports services for the staff, such as instructed group classes, discount tickets to gyms as well as indoor and outdoor swimming pools, and Elixia Online remote sports.

Moreover, financial aid is available for those who want to buy a bicycle, and this option is an alternative to the commuter tickets. In addition to that, those of the City’s employees with contracts at least six months in length receive a city bike season pass free of charge. We also support staff clubs that organise hobby groups and leisure events. 

We began to develop our staff perks further, and our aim is to continue to improve the employee experience through these perks as well.  

Strong support from the management

Executive Director Juha Jolkkonen from the Social Services and Health Care Division says that the City’s policy – even before the pandemic began – was for the one-off bonus sum to equal one per cent of the salary.

‘In the Social Services and Health Care Division, this amounts to roughly €5 million, which is no small potatoes,’ Jolkkonen says.

Initially, these funds were not intended for work involving the coronavirus, but Jolkkonen believed that it would be a reasonable gesture on the employer’s part to reward staff for their flexibility and a challenging year. 

Before Christmas, the City’s steering committee proposed to the City Council that the one-off bonus amount in the Social Services and Health Care Division in 2020 be increased to 1.5%. Jolkkonen thought that the increase would be a clear indication that the employer understands the pressure that the division’s staff are under.

He says that it is important for the decisions on these bonuses to be made close to where the actual work is being carried out. After all, it is the units and teams that know best whose performance has been exceptionally good.

According to Jolkkonen, the rewards are appropriate because they come as an immediate response to meeting a goal.

‘A reward leads to joy over a success. I believe that a fair reward system has an effect on motivation, the ability to cope at work and the willingness to commit. In addition to that, immediate verbal praise, whenever appropriate, is also required.’

The Social Services and Health Care Division’s HR committee, as in the other divisions, monitors the reward system and the way that bonuses are distributed. All rewarding measures must be transparent and based on certain criteria.