At the Newport Beach, Calif. based Lunsford Group, there's an employee known as the "Get a Life Administrator." This individual has a unique charge: "to seek out ways the company can cater to employees' individualized needs and enhance their job performance by improving the quality of their overall lives." This might include an all-expenses-paid long weekend away with a spouse or services such as financial counseling --or even marriage counseling, if that's what the employee needs most.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off Allan Lunsford, president of this holding company for firms in the fields of demographics, real estate, media, and Internet services, is a true believer in the partnership between company and employee. "You have to be involved with employees and their personal lives," he says. "People are individuals, not numbers on a list. We're doing business in a community, not a vacuum, and the company is an extended household."

It's no surprise, then, that Lunsford designs the company's incentives around who the employees are and what they need, rather than tying them to performance quotas, which, he says, "works more like a cattle prod than an incentive."

"People are worked like beasts to meet quotas," Lunsford says, "and their spouses look upon the trip as their reward for putting up with an absentee breadwinner. If they don't make the quota, they fail their spouses as well as their bosses."

At the Lunsford Group, the most sought-after reward isn't a group trip, but a holiday of the employee's choice, named "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" after the Hollywood movie. People can do anything they choose to enhance their personal development and growth: read a book, commune with nature, or spend the day at a museum or art show. The only requirement is that they send an e-mail message to their fellow employees telling them about their free day.

Lunsford has many supporters when it comes to advocating employees getting a life. Roger Herman and Joyce Gioia of The Herman Group, of Greensboro, N.C., coauthors of the new book Lean & Meaningful (1998, Oak Hill Press), say the incentive now regarded as the most valuable is time off. "Give me a day to get some other things done" is a request employers are hearing more often. In one study, they say, 66 percent of employees said they would give up some of their pay for greater flexibility.

Lunsford Group employees also participate in educational incentive trips that, for instance, take them behind the scenes at Disney headquarters for two days to learn about cutting-edge service, or allow them to meet with chief executive officers from top high-tech companies or financial experts to give them and their spouses an overview of economic trends to help them manage their portfolios.

Lunsford provides these experiences for people at all levels of the organization. Receptionists are sent to Microsoft headquarters in Seattle for a three-day seminar with computer experts, with free-time activities that include a boat tour. The trip, which costs $1,800 per person, offers the same basic computer training as would a $90 class down the street.

While Lunsford believes in tying incentives to professional development, Gerald Celente, a trend forecaster with the Trends Research Institute, of Rhinebeck, N.Y. and author of Trends 2,000 (1997, Warner Books), foresees a trend toward restorative incentives.

More employers, Celente points out, are rewarding top performers and their spouses with two-week sabbaticals at spa resorts, where people go to recharge and regenerate, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He predicts this will be "the greatest commodity item of the 21st century" and says that at many companies, sabbaticals and other specialized, individualized trips will replace the group trips now so commonly used to reward sales leaders.

David Riddell, vice president of certificate marketing at Marriott International, of Bethesda, Md., points out that individual trips like this can be used for nonsales employees and for "super achievers" who have outgrown group travel. In addition, individual travel is less expensive to administer and program costs are known up front. Riddell also says that Generation X employees, "who want to do their own thing" and prefer not to travel as part of a group, favor this kind of incentive.

Flexible Incentives Herman, Gioia, and others predict that two of the most sought-after incentives of the future won't be trips at all. Rather, the most popular incentives of the future will be work-at-home schemes and flex hours.

"Work is becoming more of a state of mind than a place to be," says Bob Nelson, president of Nelson Motivation, Inc. of San Diego, author of the popular books 1001 Ways to Energize Employees and 1001 Ways to Reward Employees (both published by Workman Publishing), and a monthly CMI columnist. Gioia agrees: "If the work is getting done," she says, "then the time in the seat doesn't matter."

Others predict that American companies in the next millenium will build into their incentive schemes a selection of benefits and rewards that employees can tailor to their individual needs. These would include everything from daycare to eldercare to doggie care. The amount the company subsidizes the benefit would be tied to the incentive.

Other ideas that could be tied to a company's incentive programs, say Herman and Gioia in Lean & Meaningful: home repair, laundry and dry-cleaning services, concierge services for planning personal travel or entertaining, courses on time management, and even massages at work. All of these are built around nurturing employees and giving them time to do what is most important to them--or be with the people who matter to them.

"Employees in the future will not be mere cogs in the machine, but rather the fuel that drives the engine," Herman and Gioia say. "Evolving corporations already know that the intellectual capital of their employees is a most valuable asset. This new kind of partnership between employees and employers is the key to moving successfully into the future."

We asked several executives about their ideal incentives of the future. Since most preferred to remain anonymous, we have withheld their names and companies:

"A flexible schedule, sufficient time off, tax-deferred compensation, company support of favorite charities, assistance in finding spouse employment"

--Female plastics industry human resources executive

"An insurance plan to provide for aging parents, time off to further my education"

--Male oil industry communica- tions executive with parents in their 80s

"An annual check-up at the Mayo Clinic"

--Male food industry research executive in his mid-50s

"Half-time workload, personal growth programs"

--Female advertising executive

"Educational fund for dependents, prepaid legal services"

--Male airline industry publications executive

"Equity, stock options, extensive retirement benefits"

--Male computer industry sales executive

"Not have to relocate, more free time"

--Female oil industry operations executive who lives in a relatively small mountain community