Employee Motivators Beyond Money

March 26, 2020
Colleagues having a discussion over laptops and a wooden desk

To borrow a phrase from a popular Tom Cruise movie, when it comes to motivating employees, many will readily say, “Show me the money.” But, that’s not all that motivates employees.

In fact, while competitive salaries and robust employee benefits are highly valued by employees, so too are some less tangible things. Here’s what some employee surveys revealed.

“Empathy and Recognition”

A Paychex survey asked 2,000 employees what would make them leave their jobs. Fifty three percent (53%) said they would leave their jobs if “employers don’t care about employees” and 45% cited “lack of recognition or reward.” Other worker surveys indicate that employees do place a high value on workplaces that are employee-centered and in which employers convey a concern and interest in their employees. Similarly, giving employees praise and recognition, especially in the company of other employees, has a profound effect on staff and has been demonstrated to increase employee morale, productivity and retention. A study sponsored by the gamification company, Make Their Day, involving 1,200 U.S. employees from diverse industries, found that 83% said recognition for contributions is more fulfilling than receiving a reward or gift. In the same study, 88% of those surveyed said praise from managers was very or extremely motivating. Additionally, workers across generations were said to find real-time feedback for their ideas to be very motivating.

“Respect and Purpose”

Making Work Work author Shola Richards, a prominent leadership trainer, points to the importance of showing respect to employees, stating,“…money satisfies the lowest level of the pyramid. It doesn’t affect the things that matter most – like feeling important and that the work you do matters. Respect causes people to run through brick walls for people.” Further, Richards noted that kindness and respect lead to improved communications which, in turn, leads to increased productivity and revenues.

Maintaining ongoing exchanges between employers and employees, top executives and rank and file workers is critical in demonstrating respect.  Executives who know the names of their employees and have some awareness of their lives generally gain greater employee loyalty and output. One way to achieve this is by scheduling regular meetings between executives and staff, including one-on-one meetings where individuals may feel more comfortable sharing their views, concerns and ideas.

Giving employees a sense of purpose by giving them meaningful assignments, and enabling them to work autonomously with some degree of control over their work, is also a way to give them a greater sense of purpose. Supporting their roles with training and development can further build their sense of purpose and professional fulfillment – also top motivators.

“Create a Sense of Community”

Finally, there’s more to work than just doing a job. It is, after all, where most adults spend the greatest amount of their time. By promoting activities that help build employee friendships, shared goals and social interaction are also effective employee motivators. In the Make Their Day study, 90% of surveyed employees said a “fun work environment:” was very or extremely motivating. By sponsoring employee activities such as softball teams or running clubs, as well as holding birthday celebrations, annual holiday parties and/or company picnics, provides reinforcement of an employee-centered, shared community culture. Creating volunteer teams to participate in local charity events and fundraisers is also a driver of this sense of community within the workplace.

Other Incentives

As part of this culture, employers should also look at incentives that aren’t money, but do help employees gain financial benefit. For instance, negotiating discounts for employees with local gyms, retailers, and travel and entertainment companies all demonstrate an employer’s commitment to its employees’ quality of life and financial well-being.

Here is a final though on this topic. An experiment was conducted by Dan Ariely, a Duke University professor and author the book, Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivation, and some of his coworkers at an Intel factory in Israel. In the experiment, the researchers gave workers the choice of three different productivity bonuses, which included: money (an estimated $30), a pizza voucher, or a compliment of “Well done!” from their superior. One group of employees was offered no bonus. Guess which bonus was the greatest motivator for these employees. The pizza voucher and the “Well done” tied as the highest motivators, while the cash bonus came in last.