Pursuit, Maverick cash awards might discourage sick workers from staying home | Opinion

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The S 358 built by Pursuit Boats in Fort Pierce will debut at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show Oct. 27-31, 2021.
The S 358 built by Pursuit Boats in Fort Pierce will debut at the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show Oct. 27-31, 2021.

I don't know how I did it, but somehow I made it through four years of high school without missing a single day.

That actually became a bit of a problem when my high school decided to recognize me during our graduation ceremony.

Since F isn't the first letter in the alphabet, I was planning to follow my classmates when the time came to collect my diploma. Therefore, I hadn't really bothered to familiarize myself with the stage layout.

When they called me up early to get my attendance certificate, I got a little bit lost on the way to the principal's podium.

No big deal. Among the list of most embarrassing moments in my life, that incident wouldn't crack the top 10.

Even if it caught me off guard, I thought it was a nice gesture for my school to give me credit for showing up consistently.

However, what Maverick Boat Group and Pursuit Boats plan to do this week goes way beyond "nice."

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The Fort Pierce boat manufacturers are each planning to give away $10,000 prizes to two employees selected at random. Employees qualify for the drawings by having perfect monthly attendance records.

Both companies, which are part of Tennessee-based Malibu Boats Inc., plan to hold the drawings twice per year.

This is no small investment. Each company will be shelling out $40,000 annually to reward employees for their loyalty and dedication.

It makes companies handing out gift cards to Starbucks or Chili's look like cheapskates.

Raffles typically don't get me too excited, but I have to admit if I worked at one of those places, I'd be all in.

Charlie Johnson, Maverick's sales and marketing director, said the raffles can be an incentive to recruit new employees at a time when both boat builders are staffing up.

"It's something people can get excited about," he said.

Well, yeah. With cash prizes that big, a recipient could buy a used car, do some major home renovations, or plan an expensive vacation. Maybe even buy a nice boat.

Therein lies the problem. We are still in the middle of a pandemic, with the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID continuing to drive up case numbers in Florida and elsewhere.

Last month, the number of COVID cases reported on the Treasure Coast shot up 2,120% from the month before.

Student absentee rates in local school districts soared — and in one district actually doubled — when classes resumed this month after the holiday break.

One of the most obvious ways to stop the spread of infection is for people who are feeling sick to stay home.

Bearing that in mind, is it wise to dangle large cash prizes based on attendance that might encourage workers to act against their own better judgment?

I asked Megan Morris, Pursuit's marketing manager, if that was considered when the incentives were discussed.

"I don't really think we ran into that as an issue, no," she said.

Johnson said the drawing format awards employees one chance for every 30 days of perfect attendance. Someone who goes the entire six months without missing a day would have six chances entered into the raffle. Someone with a few sick days during the six-month period would still be eligible, albeit with fewer entries.

"The design of the program took that (occasional absenteeism) into consideration," he said. "That's why the program starts over every month."

I hear what he's saying. I'm just not sure I'm buying it.

If I worked for Maverick or Pursuit, I'd like to think I'd do the right thing and stay home if I felt sick and didn't want to infect my co-workers. But if a sick day could cost an employee one of six possible chances to win $10,000? Well, that's a pretty strong temptation to try to resist.

Plus, the attendance-based raffles could unfairly penalize employees with chronic illnesses or injuries they suffer through no fault of their own. Not everyone who calls in sick is a malingerer.

One of my colleagues suggested the incentive program could encourage employees to take better care of themselves. Maybe some would feel inclined to wash their hands more often, wear face coverings, or even (gasp!) get vaccinated.

That would be a positive development, obviously. On the balance, though, I see more potential problems than benefits.

TCPalm columnist Blake Fontenay
TCPalm columnist Blake Fontenay

I don't want to seem overly critical of Maverick or Pursuit. Both seem like fine companies and, as our reporter Lamaur Stancil reported last week, boat manufacturing represents a significant portion of the Treasure Coast's economy.

I think it's admirable they are willing to offer such generous perks to their employees. At a time when many businesses are having a hard time attracting and retaining employees, they're demonstrating their commitment to boosting morale.

Yet it seems like now isn't the right time to establish an incentive program that's tied to attendance. Why not simply offer the raffles twice a year, with all employees who are in good standing given equal chances to win?

It's been said 80% of success in life is just showing up. That saying may have made sense in a pre-COVID world, but it seems a little bit more dubious — and risky — these days.

This column reflects the opinion of Blake Fontenay. Contact him via email at blake.fontenay@tcpalm.com or at 772-232-5424.

This article originally appeared on Treasure Coast Newspapers: Fort Pierce boat builder employee prizes may encourage working while sick

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