Forget Cash. Here are Better Ways to Motivate Employees

In today’s tight job market, employers must focus on how to attract and keep top talent. Giving away stacks of money may not always be the best incentive.

Josh Bersin

Much research shows that pay is a “hygiene factor,” not an “engagement factor.” In other words, in most cases if compensation is not high enough, people will leave—but increasing compensation does not directly increase engagement (with certain exceptions).

What Really Motivates Us

What really motivates us? Humans have pondered this question for decades. Is it money, power, and fame? Or rather fear and punishment? Psychologists’ answers have varied, along with a broad transformation in prevailing views. Developed by Richard Ryan and Edward Deci nearly four decades ago, self-determination theory (SDT) has become one of the most widely accepted theories of human motivation in contemporary behavioral science.

Take 5: How to Motivate Employees

Research sheds light on which employee incentives work best.

Susanna Gallani

These findings echo one of the main concerns associated with monetary rewards that sometimes fail to accomplish their goals. Academics refer to this phenomenon as the crowding-out effect of explicit incentives on intrinsic motivation. In other words, associating an economic value with a certain activity changes the nature of the exchange. If health care workers sanitize their hands because it is in the best interest … [ Read more ]

Richard Ryan

Unfortunately, so often when people try to motivate others they take responsibility rather than helping the person find responsibility themselves.

Don Faul

Most startups don’t spend nearly enough time recognizing people. Most people need to know their managers and org leaders see their hard work and value it. They’re hungry for this type of acknowledgment. When you tell a story about them, you kick their motivation into hyperdrive, and you make them a model for the rest of the team to follow their lead.

Don Faul

I firmly believe that leaders at companies need to be in service to their people. They need to ensure they have everything they need to succeed. One of the most critical needs they have is a complete picture of why they should show up and pour their heart into their work every day. It’s not a nice to have, it’s a basic need.

Don Faul

… people attach emotion to individuals. They love rooting for people. They love experiencing the world through others’ eyes. The more you can tell stories about actual people that connect to the broader purpose, the more your audience will feel and not simply hear what you are trying to tell them.

Julie Zhuo

Teams that fall in love with a problem have more successful outcomes than teams that fall in love with particular solutions. This is because knowing that a problem is worth solving continues to be motivating even when a team doesn’t come across the right solution on the first, second, or Nth try.

Jeffrey Pfeffer

Measures signal what is deemed important inside companies, because what is measured must be, almost by definition, important—just for the very fact of it being measured. Conversely, what is neglected by measures is, by inference, unimportant. Measures focus people’s attention. Measures typically drive rewards and reinforcement, because performance on measures has consequences for people’s raises, promotions, and job tenure. Therefore, and it should come as … [ Read more ]

Dan Gregory, Kieran Flanagan

One of the risks of using motivation and discipline as single bullet strategies is that none of us is disciplined in every part of our lives. Neither are we motivated all of the time. And yet we rely on these two psychological factors to drive engagement and performance.

A better option, in our opinion, is to utilize design over discipline. What this means is, designing systems … [ Read more ]

Barry Schwartz

When we lose confidence that people have the will to do the right thing, and we turn to incentives, we find that we get what we pay for. […] There is really no substitute for the integrity that inspires people to do good work because they want to do good work. And the more we rely on incentives as substitutes for integrity, the more we … [ Read more ]

Susan Fowler

When individuals’ rankings of workplace motivators are compared to rankings of what their managers think motivates them, the results reflect how most individuals feel: managers simply do not know what moti- vates their people. Why the big disconnect?

One reason is that leaders depend on their observations of external behaviors and conditions to evaluate their employees’ motivation. Unfortunately, many leaders are not perceptive observers, nor … [ Read more ]

Johan Aurik, Martin Fabel, Gillis Jonk

Research shows that motivation works very differently for mechanical tasks versus tasks that require even minimal cognitive efforts. Mechanical tasks can be motivated by money. But this is not true for cognitive tasks where motivating factors include autonomy (having some say about the outcome), mastery (having a sense of personal growth), and purpose (having a sense of meaning). These are all achieved by giving people … [ Read more ]

Benjamin Schneider

I like to say that people come to work for money, but they don’t work hard for money. That’s an overstatement, but you get my point — that managers always want to incentivize everything. I think it’s a cop-out to always focus on money as the key to motivation when we have known for 100 years that it’s not the key once you get beyond … [ Read more ]

James March

Why do we do what we do? Our standard answer is that we do what we do because we expect it to lead to good consequences. [Don] Quixote reminds us that there is another possible answer: We do what we do because it fulfills our identity, our sense of self. Identity-based actions protect us from the discouragement of disappointing feedback. Of course, the cost is … [ Read more ]

Keith Yost

What I learned is that burning out isn’t just about work load, it’s about work load being greater than the motivation to do work.

Hugh MacLeod

What people say they want and what people are willing to work their ass off to get are two different things.

Henry Ford

No one is apathetic except those in pursuit of someone else’s objectives.