Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm
Many southeastern Wisconsin companies are finding creative ways to reward their employees over the holidays this year. Small Business Times surveyed local employers to collect information and provide its readers with benchmarks for employee holiday compensation. Nearly three-fourths of the employers who responded to the survey plan to give bonuses or some other type of extra compensation to their employees this year. The following are summaries of the employee holiday plans of several local employers.
Jeffrey Remsik, chief executive officer of Bottom Line Marketing & Public Relations in Milwaukee, takes his staff every holiday season on a Friday trip by train to Chicago, where they are treated to an afternoon at a museum or some other cultural and educational destination. After the museum excursion, Remsik takes his troops to lunch at a posh Chicago restaurant, and he then provides cash for them to shop on their own in the Loop. "We buy train tickets, and I usually force them to go to an art museum or something with me," Remsik joked.
David Kliber, chief executive officer of S-F Analytical Laboratories Inc. in Milwaukee, gives discretionary cash bonuses to his employees based on their roles and their length of service at the company. "The bonuses are very informal, because we are a small business. We give something in a check," Kliber said. Kliber said the bonus checks are given to employees before Thanksgiving, enabling them to have more to spend on their families for Christmas gifts. "I view it as more of a gift. This year, we did a little better than last year. Business is good, and employees get rewards throughout the year. Our fiscal year ends Sept. 30, so those things are all tied to that when considering a gift," Kliber said.
Tina Chang, CEO of SysLogic Inc., a Brookfield custom software and consulting company, treats her employees to an elaborate Christmas party that includes an overnight stay and dinner at a hotel conference center. Last year, she gave $300 to each invited couple to spend as they wish at The American Club in Kohler. Michelle Finnegan, operations manager for SysLogic, said, "This year, we will do a little bit more because it is our 10-year anniversary. I am not sure what exactly it will be, but it will be more generous than last year."
Sarit Singhal, president of Superior Support Resources Inc., a technology support company in Brookfield, gives his employees gifts instead of cash. Those gifts, valued between $350 and $700, are picked out by employees. Gifts given out last year included a camcorder, a DVD recorder, several computer upgrades, digital cameras and other high-tech goodies. Singhal said he meets with each employee several weeks before Christmas, talks about how the company and employee are doing and allows the employee to pick from a list of potential gifts. "We try to get them some of the things they hadn’t done for themselves yet but would want," Singhal said. "We want to get them something they really want but wouldn’t spend the money to get." Singhal said he enjoys shopping for his employees, because it gets him into the holiday spirit. "I start planning about a month before the holiday season," he said. "It’s fun to go out and see the latest and greatest things out there I want to put on my list."
Mary Scheibel, a principal at Scheibel Halaska Inc., a Milwaukee public relations firm, said her company gives its employees a $500 to $1,000 cash bonus during the holiday season. Bonuses are determined on the role each employee plays in the company, she said. This year’s bonuses will be the same dollar amounts as last year, she said. Scheibel Halaska also holds two parties for employees during the holiday season. The first is a dinner for employees and their spouses at a restaurant. The company also holds an annual internal Christmas party, "where we just celebrate amongst ourselves," Scheibel said.
Mike Malatesta, president of Advanced Waste Services Inc. in West Allis, usually gives each employee a card with a hand-written note and a check for $400 to $500. He said the amount of the checks is largely determined by each employee’s length of service at the company. Advanced Waste Services has also discontinued its annual holiday party in favor of its annual summer picnic. "We found it’s so tough to schedule it in at a time when everyone can make it," Malatesta said.
Fred Anderson, president and CEO of Wenthe-Davidson Engineering Co., a steel fabricator in New Berlin, gives each of his employees a $400 check during the holiday season. "We wanted to make it worthwhile, something that our employees could use at Christmas time. Being that it’s a gift, we all get it. We’ve always looked at no matter where you work in the company, we’re all treated as equals. Everyone here is part of it, and we all share in its success," Anderson said.
Mary Steinbrecher, director of the Council of Small Business Executives (COSBE) for the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), said the association typically pays cash bonuses to its employees during the holidays. Those bonuses are less than $500, she said. Some employees who have been employed there longer receive a bit more, she said. The association also conducts an annual holiday party for employees and their spouses at a Milwaukee-area country club, she said.
Smart Interactive Media, a Thiensville technology firm, gives its employees extra time off during the holidays in lieu of a cash bonus, said Kirk Strong, vice president. The company previously issued cash bonuses, but Strong said employees seem to like the extra time off more. "It’s one of the few times of the year that we take time off and it won’t be detrimental to our business," he said. "All of our customers are off then too."
He said the company also takes a day during the holiday season to hold "Christmas day," when the entire staff goes to a movie during a work day. "We try to celebrate the season. Time seems to be what the guys like, and it’s (the time of year) when you can do it."
Joe Skotarzak, president of River Run Computers in Glendale, focuses more on giving small gifts to employees rather than large cash bonuses. During the course of the year, the company has a profit-sharing plan for employees, where they have opportunities to earn bonuses, he said. Instead of holding its holiday party in December, when employees are so busy with their families, Skotarzak said his company’s holiday party is held in early February, "when everybody starts getting a little stir crazy (from the winter)." He added, "We go bowling or shoot pool, where we can all get involved. Then we’ll meet up with the spouses for dinner and that sort of thing."
Steve Balistreri, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based Sun Cleaning Systems Inc., said his company has changed the way it provides holiday bonuses to its employees. The company formerly gave employees a cash holiday bonus, which varied depending on how the company did that year, the employee’s position and the employee’s contribution that year. "It was entirely subjective," Balistreri said. However, Balistreri stopped giving out holiday bonuses for three years because he was unhappy that employees expected to receive them, instead of just being grateful for the gift. "It became an expectation," he said. "It became part of (the employee’s) salary, in their mind. It’s not. It’s a gift from me. Then it became, ‘OK, what did we do last year?’ You’re always tied to (the holiday bonus from) last year. After a while, I had a couple of people come up to me and complain if they didn’t get as much as the year before. They asked what they did wrong. That’s when I said, ‘Forget it.’"
In the last couple of years, Balistreri started giving out holiday bonuses again, but in an entirely different way. The company now has a Christmas party for its employees. Each employee receives a gift at random. The gifts are wrapped in boxes, and they can be cash, Green Bay Packers tickets, store gift certificates, a leather jacket, etc. Each employee receives something, but the gifts are not all equal in value. Whatever they receive is based on the luck of the draw. The company is probably spending more than $10,000 for its Christmas parties and holiday gifts for employees, Balistreri said. "Which probably equates to more than we did before," he said. "But it’s not just showing up in their paycheck. It’s a gift, and people realize that. Now, it’s fun again."
"Johnny V" Vassallo, owner of Mo’s Restaurants, offers a trip to Las Vegas as a holiday bonus for his employees, if their restaurant meets its sales goal. This year, the Mo’s A Place for Steaks restaurants in downtown Milwaukee and downtown Indianapolis met their sales goals, so up to 100 employees from the two restaurants will be making the trip from Jan. 1-3. "We just built it into part of the business," Vassallo said. "In our business, December is a very tough month. People spend a lot of time away from their families. We want everybody to stay positive. We want everyone to have a good holiday. (The trip) really creates a sense of community (among the employees). It’s almost like our family Christmas trip."