The lighter side: Free beer, clean streets: HR goes on the bottle in Amsterdam

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Struggling with employee engagement? Want to retain staff without a raise? Try paying them in beer.

That’s the solution the Amsterdam government has found for a two-fold problem: finding workers willing to clean the streets on low wages; and keeping drunks out of public parks.

A curious government-funded program enlists Dutch alcoholics to clear the streets of litter, and the project is so popular that they can’t find enough litter for all the prospective employees.

Each day at 9am, workers are given their first payment: two cans of locally produced beer, followed by two more at lunch time. There’s free lunch for all employees, a final beer at knock-off, and a performance-based bonus beer if the job’s done well. Of course, they’re also paid a minimal wage of 10 euros a day, or about $13.70. (To put that in perspective, that would pay for a Big Mac Meal and a cappuccino in Holland.) Other employee benefits include a daily packet of rolling tobacco, and a wellness program of sorts that provides health workers and counsellors to help alcoholics recover from their addictions. The demonstrated community acceptance and emotional support the employees receive from the program fuels high engagement, keeping them connected to the program despite such low pay.

It’s a picture of great HR, but could it ever translate to the New Zealand workplace? Well, maybe not directly. But Amsterdam’s case serves as a potent reminder of just how simple – and cost-effective – it can be to invest in employee engagement.

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