Robinson Nugent Inc., a $41-million manufacturer of sockets and connectors in New Albany, Ind., offers its 170 salaried employees an opportunity to buy personal computers with financial assistance provided by the company. Although the computers must be used mainly for work-related purposes, the machines become the employees' property after a two-year period.

The company approves an employee's proposal to buy a computer whenever the machine seems likely to pay for itself within 18 months through improved productivity. If employees use their own cash, Robinson Nugent "leases" the computer by paying a maximum of $1,000 spread out over a 24-month period. Employees who can't foot the entire cost up front can get a loan of up to $900, to be paid back over two years through weekly payroll deductions and lease payments totaling $1,000. At the end of either arrangement, the computer belongs to the employee, who is allowed to use it for personal business and remove it from the workplace.

Robinson Nugent owned only 2 personal computers when it implemented its lend-lease program in June 1983. Since then, employees have bought 38 computers, primarily Apple IIe models used for administrative, technical, or engineering tasks. The company estimates that employees will purchase at least another dozen by the end of this year.

"The program enhances productivity and computer literacy," summarizes Mike Schreiweis, manager of human resources.