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Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: Chief days would be no big deal in business

June 30. 2018 10:25PM

If you've been paying attention to the news, you may have read the story last week about "chief days" given out at the Manchester Police Department being exposed.

A chief day is a paid day off that is used to reward police officers for doing a good job or used to incent behavior the department desires. An officer going all year without calling in sick was used as an example of a reason an officer could be awarded a chief day. Nearly half the department - 108 officers - received one last fiscal year.

Unfortunately, chief days were exposed as a result of an investigation of two officers accused of some pretty horrible things. That aside, news of chief days has created an uproar with many people criticizing the unofficial policy. As a result, Chief Nick Willard announced that he would be immediately suspending the chief day program.

I was a bit surprised to hear all of the concerns being voiced. I was talking with several business associates about the issue, and we all agreed that this was a very common practice in most companies. As a matter of fact, every company I have ever worked for had a similar type of program where employees were awarded time off randomly that didn't count toward their earned time off. And it wasn't always the CEO awarding the time off. Oftentimes, front-line managers had the authority to do it, and some even did it on their own without any approval needed. And it's certainly not viewed as wrong, illegal or unethical.

Now don't get me wrong, I certainly understand that people who are laser focused on policy and procedures look at this situation as extremely concerning and borderline unethical. I recognize that government entities that are funded by taxpayers are managed much differently than a private business. And when it's taxpayer dollars, the expectations are certainly different. The chief day program was apparently not well known outside of the police department, and that appears to be why there is so much concern. As a taxpayer, that is understandable.

There has even been talk that the chief day practice may be illegal. I'm not sure how it could be illegal in a city department yet perfectly legal and widely adopted in most businesses. I'm not an attorney, but I do think this situation is being blown out of proportion.

Let's look at this from a business perspective. Let's say there's a department head in a fairly large organization that is trying to find ways to keep morale up and recognize the tireless efforts of the team. Their work is grueling, and everyone is giving all they can every day to succeed. Budgets are tight, resources are slim, and there really isn't a whole lot that can be done if it costs money and will require budget approval. It just won't happen.

This leader looks for creative ideas to recognize and reward employees and decides that the reward people would likely appreciate most is time off. So, this leader does just that. It could be a day off. It could be a random announcement that the team is being sent home at 2 p.m. on a Friday to get a jump start on the weekend. Or maybe this leader decides to give people a half-day off prior to a long weekend.

Now imagine this leader being chastised and ridiculed for that decision. Do you think this would ever happen in most businesses? I suppose not everyone would agree with this tactic, and in more rigid companies, there may be a chain of approval or legal review needed. After seeing the chief days being exposed, leaders better know they must do their due diligence and ensure they are doing everything by the book if they are ever in a situation like this.

Keeping morale high is a critical success factor for leaders in every role, regardless of the organization. You have to find ways to keep people happy and motivated. And most importantly, you have to find low cost, creative ways to reward the behavior your organization needs from your team.

The chief-day story shouldn't make leaders hesitant to do what is best for their team. And it shouldn't scare leaders from doing what they believe is right. The main takeaway is to ensure that whatever you decide to do to reward your team, you cover all of your bases and ensure it won't be met with backlash when people learn about it.

Christopher Thompson ( is the vice president of business development at Talient Action Group in Manchester and writes Closing the Deal weekly for the Sunday News.

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