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Employee motivation à la carte: Not all employees are motivated by money

Posted by Deb Muoio

Oct 3, 2013 2:07:00 PM


It’s inevitable. Announce to people in the office or at home that you’re going to order a pizza, and you’ll get 3 different topping requests multiplied by the number of people, divided by the size of the pizza. Essentially, not everyone likes the same thing on their pizza, and as it relates to work, not everyone has the same motivational needs.

Employee motivation is not as simple (or as one-sided) as the old “dangle the carrot in front the donkey” bit – or in this case, dangle the big fat bonus. In fact, in our own research where we assessed over 1,000 different people about what keeps them motivated at work (check out CAMOP (Career Motivation Profile) on ARCH Profile), our results revealed that Financial Reward didn’t even crack the top ten of the 23 work motivators. The top five motivators were: Customer Orientation (desire to make customers happy), Achievement (desire to work in a goal-oriented and challenging work environment), Inspiration (desire to inspire others through one’s work), Identity and Purpose (desire to work in a company/field that is in line with one’s values and ethics), and Fun & Enjoyment (desire to work in a position/corporate culture that is inherently entertaining). Financial Reward took the 12th spot.

We can break that down even further. For example, women were motivated by factors like Altruism (desire to help make the world a better place), Balanced Lifestyle (desire for work hours and company culture that is conducive to maintaining a life outside of work), and Customer Orientation. Men, on the other hand, were motivated by Financial Reward, Power (desire to be in a position of leadership/authority), Status (driven by the social standing their job will bring them), Contribution (desire to make a noteworthy theoretical/inventive/creative contribution to one’s field) and Responsibility (desire to take on major projects and be fully responsible for their success). In terms of Financial Reward specifically, it ranked 8th for men and 15th for women.

As age increases, a desire for a more dynamic work environment becomes important, as does the desire to express one’s creativity, to learn new things, to be autonomous, and to have job security and steady pay.

So how can you possibly keep each of your employees motivated without “breaking the bank?” Because if these motivators are like pizza, you’d better hope you’ve got coupons and a 30-minutes-or-less guarantee. Here’s the thing: When managers think of motivation and incentives, many of them automatically assume it has to be a bonus or some other financial reward. Clearly, this is not what employees need, based on our research – at least not money alone. Our advice is pretty straightforward: Ask! Ask your employees what they need from you to thrive in their position. A lot of managers may be surprised to learn that most employees get a motivational boost from simple things like regular verbal praise, opportunities to learn new skills, or more independence and decision-making power. These are incentives that not only boost morale, but also benefit the company in the long run.

Our research further highlights the importance of tailoring motivation to each employee, as the factors that lead to job satisfaction can vary greatly. For example, people who indicated that they were quite content with their job scored high on 14 different motivators. Interestingly, those low in job satisfaction had only 2 top motivators! Balanced Lifestyle and Stability - two basic motivators that they are clearly lacking in their company and that could potentially be standing in the way of their success and sense of fulfillment. And if you’re still convinced that dangling money in front of your employees is the key to productivity, we’ve got one more interesting tidbit.

When we compared people in different socio-economic brackets, we uncovered significant variability in the types of motivators that were important to each group. Makes sense so far, right? Those in a high economic bracket were motivated by factors like Change and Variety, Independence, Responsibility, Power and, interestingly, they also enjoy being in a very active and high-pressure work environment. Those in the middle class were motivated by Stability, while those in the lower economic bracket only had Structure and Order as a motivator (desire for clear tasks, roles, and a structured hierarchy of employees). Once again, money was not a significant motivator.

The bottom line is that managers need to step out of the one-topping-for-everyone mentality – or the “everyone-has-a-price” one. The most important piece of information we uncovered from our study is that only 18% of people feel that their employer motivates them effectively – that’s worrisome. People aren’t getting the motivation they need from the company they work hard for, and this can lead to disenchantment, dissatisfaction, and in turn, lower productivity.

So skip the pizza. Try a buffet.

If you’re interested in using CAMOP (Career Motivation Profile) or other tests for HR purposes, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.


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Topics: Talent Retention, Employee Engagement, Employee Attitude, Management Skills, Motivation, Team-building, Productivity

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