Motivation: Why Money Won’t Work

Today’s employees want more than just a paycheck

by Anne Grady

roundtableSpending time trying to identify what motivates one’s employees and then finding meaningful ways to do those things might not be the easiest strategy, but it is one that is consistently more successful than money. While we all love a good gift card, why do organizations continue to spend countless dollars trying to motivate and engage their staff with monetary incentives if we know it doesn’t work?

Here are just a few of the reasons money doesn’t work:

All people are already motivated – by something. It’s not possible to make someone motivated. Sure, one can threaten them or offer incentives, but then what? Keep threatening and incenting? At some point, one must make good on the threats or provide additional incentives — and even at their best, these strategies only work 20-25 percent of the time.

In fact, all one can do is provide an environment where one can tap into what already motivates them. Is it praise, recognition, serving a greater purpose, becoming a subject-matter expert or something entirely different? A motivator will not motivate if it isn’t important to the individual.

Money can’t buy engagement. It is estimated that only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work. Employee engagement comes from feeling valued and appreciated, knowing one’s opinion matters, and being clear on what contribution one makes to the overall success of the organization. Driving employee engagement is most critical at the immediate supervisor level because an employee’s relationship with his or her supervisor dictates job satisfaction more than any other factor.

Money might not be able to make better leaders, but leadership development can. If the manager relationship is so critical to an employees’ success, why aren’t more organizations investing in leadership development instead of Starbucks gift cards? Investing in the right leadership development program for a company’s managers and high potentials can provide a significantly higher ROI.

Common sense isn’t always common practice. Let’s face it, it’s not rocket science. If demonstrating appreciation, developing team members, and ensuring employees are clear about their roles and responsibilities improves productivity, morale and engagement, why aren’t we spending more time and money doing that? Because sometimes it’s just easier to give a $25 gift card. Creating a motivational climate takes time, effort and energy. Knowing it works doesn’t translate into taking the time to make it happen. It has to be a deliberate effort.

I’m not suggesting that money should never be used as a motivator. Some people thrive on bonuses and incentives — but not everyone does. The next time you have a one-on-one with an employee, ask them what motivates them. At the very least, ask them what demotivates them, and stop doing it.

Anne Grady, who holds a master’s degree in organizational communication, is an author, corporate leadership consultant and expert in personal and organizational transformation. With humor, passion and straight talk, she grew her business as a nationally recognized speaker and consultant while raising her severely mentally ill son. Grady shares lessons she has learned in her new book, 52 Strategies for Life, Love and Work.

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