What motivates us at work? More than money!

For years, businesses have operated under the assumption that money was the primary motivation for employees to remain with an employer, dedicate themselves to the company’s success and strive to produce exemplary work.

Managers have dangled merit increases, bonuses and other financial incentives in front of their employees in the belief that the pursuit of money would result in greater productivity, reduced turnover, improved product quality, better customer service and even lower rates of absenteeism.

If money is such a great motivator, why are so many companies still plagued by low productivity, high turnover, plummeting quality, disappointing customer service and high absenteeism?

The answer is simple: money is not the best motivator for most employees.

Why money does not matter more?

Naturally, employees are individuals who are motivated by different things. Even the same employee can have motivations that change over time. However, for more than 70 years, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and its revised models have been used to demonstrate what motivates people. The concept is typically illustrated as a pyramid with five to eight tiers. Only after the needs defined in the lower tiers have been met does the motivation for the next tier become relevant.

1.The bottom tier represents the basic physiological needs that are required for survival. These include sleep, shelter, food, warmth, air and water.

2.The second tier represents the desire to be safe. This tier includes needs such as freedom from fear, protection from the elements, law and order, stability and security.

3.The third tier includes the need to belong. It includes concepts such as being part of a group, friendship, trust, affection, acceptance and love.

4.The fourth tier covers the basic need for self-esteem. Esteem needs include independence, self-respect, achievement, respect from others, prestige and mastery.

5.In the revised models, the fifth tier represents cognitive needs. These include curiosity, exploration, the need for meaning, knowledge and predictability.

6.The revised models devote the sixth tier to the need for aesthetics. Needs include the search for and appreciation of beauty, form, balances and similar concepts.

7.The seventh tier in the revised models and the fifth tier in Maslow’s original hierarchy are devoted to self-actualization. Self-actualization involves self-fulfillment, realizing one’s own potential and pursuing personal growth.

8.The eighth tier in the revised models is labeled as transcendence needs. It involves helping others to reach self-actualization.

What works better than money?

In an ideal world, managers would know all employees well enough to accurately predict what they need. In companies with more than one or two employees, however, it is highly unlikely that the level of mutual trust and openness will be sufficient for this to occur.

This does not mean that it is impossible to find the right motivations, however. For all of their differences, humans share many common needs and desires.

1.People want to feel that their work is appreciated. Recognizing an employee’s performance can be a powerful motivator. A sincere compliment would work best, but even an acknowledgment of the employee’s efforts is better than silence.

2.People want to see the fruits of their labor. It gives tangible proof that their work had meaning.

3.People want autonomy. Allowing employees to choose the method that is most efficient for them can be an effective motivator. Employees who can use their own skill sets and creativity to succeed are being motivated from within. Their success is directly tied to their own initiative and talent, allowing them to have greater pride in the results.

4.People want to be challenged. The more difficult it is to perform a task, the more pride people feel when they accomplish the task. Employees tend to tie the value of their work to the effort they expended. Limiting employees to simple, easily mastered tasks can rob them of their motivation to contribute to the company and make them feel unappreciated.

5.People want to feel a sense of belonging. Relationships in the workplace can be powerful motivators. Whether the actions manifest as not wanting to let others down or a desire to do their part for the greater good, a sense of belonging increases the employee’s happiness.

Specific actions to motivate employees

Just as employees are individuals, every organization is unique. This means that not every approach is suitable for every situation.

However, here are some actions that can help motivate your employees.

1.Be fair. Employees who perceive that you are “playing favorites” are not going to be highly motivated.

2.Give employees sincere praise frequently. Let them know that you appreciate the fact that they worked over the weekend to conduct an inventory, for example, or that you found the new format used for a report to be a great improvement.

3.Host company parties. Group activities can help build camaraderie and promote a sense of belonging. Throw monthly birthday celebrations for employees, host a company picnic or organize a potluck luncheon.

4.Recognize the personal and professional accomplishments of employees. Include a blurb in the company newsletter, take the employee to lunch or just make an announcement.

5.Find out what employees really want. Allow employees to respond to a survey anonymously or put up a suggestion box. Some employees might be motivated by flex time, others by opportunities to cross-train and still others by increased mentoring. Once you know what they want, you can decide whether it is possible to provide the opportunities they prefer.

6.Take a genuine interest in your employees, especially in their career goals. Discuss possible paths they can take to move up in the company, for example, or inquire about their progress if they are taking night classes to improve their skills.

7.Allow employees to take responsibility for their own work. Make sure that they understand the goals, any relevant deadlines and the quality of work they need to produce, but let them decide on the order of tasks and the methods they use to accomplish them.

8.Give employees the opportunity to prove themselves by giving them special assignments that will challenge them. If they succeed, praise them. If they fail, refrain from criticism; ask them what they would do differently next time or similar questions that will allow them to identify their own mistakes.

In conclusion, there are many ways to motivate employees, but for most, money is a bad motivator. If you still doubt that fact, ask several parents two questions.

1.Without a safety net or harness, would you walk across a 6-inch board suspended between two skyscrapers for $1 million? Most people will say that they would not take the risk.

2.Without a safety net or harness, would you walk across a 6-inch board suspended between two skyscrapers to save your child’s life? Most parents would.

You see, despite the cynicism that has become increasingly prevalent in modern business, there are simply some things that many people are not willing to do for money that they would readily do for a different motivation.

Knowing what your employees want is at the core of a good company culture and workplace climate.




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