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How do you motivate employees? It isn’t with money!

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How Do You Motivate Employees Leaders

How do you motivate employees? Money doesn’t work!

Okay, to a point money does motivate, of course. And the more money you throw at me the more motivated I will become, especially these days… for a little while anyway.

But that will soon fade as it becomes an expectation more than a reward. At some point more money isn’t going to matter as much. It is going to take something else.

Study after study has shown that being happy at work is more about the little things than it is about large bonuses, stock options and exceptional benefits.

I’m not saying those things don’t help, but feeling valued, respected and trusted at work is even more important.

How do you motivate employees? Here are three things you can do as a leader to help.

1. Communicate regularly. Your employees need to feel that you are being transparent, honest and open.

It is bad news for your staff to find out for the first time that the company is in the midst of massive layoffs when they look over and see Mary packing her things.

They don’t want to find out something big is going to happen when George, the department head says, “something big is about to happen, but I have been told I can’t say, you will find out.”

When possible, communicate transparently, honestly and openly with employees. If you don’t they will fill in the gaps themselves. It is demotivating. People want to feel they are “in the know.”

2. Recognize and appreciate employees. I’m not talking about large rewards or huge recognition banquets.

Taking the time as a leader to do the little things (e.g. personal handwritten notes of appreciation, specific recognition in a team meeting, a sincere email of gratitude) can go a long ways in helping people feel appreciated for what they contribute. And it costs little to no money.

People only know how much you care when you demonstrate how much you care. Taking the time to genuinely recognize and appreciate those you lead yields amazing results.

3. Provide meaningful work and opportunities. Most people like assignments that challenge them and say to them, “I/we trust you with this. You have proved that you can do this.”

While promotions are great, they aren’t always readily available. However, challenging and increasingly responsible assignments are.

It takes a little effort to find them, but they can be found. For example start by asking, “what could be taken off my plate and delegated?” By answering this question you are motivating an employee with a challenging assignment and lessening your load at the same time!

How do you motivate employees? What other things have you done as a leader to help them feel respected and valued?

Other helpful related posts:

Beware Managers and Employers – You better treat your employee’s right or else…

Don’t forget this in your motivating employee plans…

What to do at the end of a team project or goal…

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Leave a Comment

  • Velan April 8, 2010, 6:49 am

    Well Said. Absolutely true from my point of view.
    Money is not the motivator and is more an exit barrier for several positions.

  • Phil Wrzesinski April 9, 2010, 9:23 am

    Mike, there is a fabulous book on this topic that came out recently by Daniel H. Pink called “Drive”. In the book Pink talks about how the carrot & stick model of motivation (what he calls motivation 2.0) no longer works like it did, and that the new model (motivation 3.0) is based on intrinsic value, the three proponents being Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. When you can give the people you lead those three things, you will find them motivated beyond belief.

  • Maxwell Pinto April 9, 2010, 1:03 pm

    Well written…if you show people that you care for them and lead by example, people will work wonders for you.
    Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

  • Mike Rogers April 14, 2010, 7:36 pm

    Thanks for your comments Velan, Phil and Maxwell. Phil, that is a great book. I am in the process of reading it right now. That is what inspired some of my thoughts. I am just getting to the three components of motivation. Great stuff.
    Intrinsic motivation is the key, but it requires effort and a little risk to create it.

  • Matt Heller September 4, 2012, 7:10 am

    So true! Thank you for articulating this so clearly! Now if we can get our leaders to spend as much time on these three items as they do pouring over the numbers, maybe the numbers would actually improve!

  • Dave September 5, 2012, 1:50 pm

    Motivation is a choice – we ‘choose’ to be motivated … or not. As leaders, all we can do is make sense in what we propose, show people personal value in what we are suggesting, and get people involved early and often to gain a sense of ownership.

  • Mike Rogers September 6, 2012, 1:38 pm

    Matt, very true ; ) How do we get them there though?
    Dave, thanks. As leaders, we have to set the table in such a way, that they want to partake.
    Peter, I appreciate your comments and never really looked at it that way. It’s true, what happens from the time they start to when they become less motivated? How do we change what we are doing to cause that?

  • Peter A Hunter September 6, 2012, 12:49 pm

    Perhaps if the 21 theories of motivation worked we would not still be asking, How do we motivate Employees?
    The reason current theories of motivation do not work is that they all try to find the Silver Bullet that when we “Do it” to someone else, will motivate them.
    This assumes that employees lack of motivation is their fault and that management have to do something to fix it.
    If instead we start from the assumption that everybody, when they start a new job, is motivated it is not a great stretch of the imagination to realise that something must be happening to them, after they start that job, to demotivate them.
    Thus instead of looking for the magic ingredient that is going to motivate our employees, our time would be better spent figuring out what it is that we are currently doing to our employees that demotivates them, then stop doing it.
    Ben points out well exactly the kind of management that demotivates.
    Peter A Hunter

  • Krishnan September 8, 2012, 5:35 pm

    Yes Agee with Mike..” being happy at work is more about the little things than it is about large bonuses, stock options and exceptional benefits”
    You may also want to read a short write up on building winning teams at the link below

  • Elizabeth September 9, 2012, 12:11 am

    Ask the employees what motivates them other than money. If your company if having financial issues, it’s ok to share that with staff. They will feel respected and valued. They will also understand and feel as though you are all in something together. As Americans we love to help others, giving employees an opportunity to help will increase morale an allow an opportunity for creativity to come through.
    I know employers like doing for their employees, but leaving them out of a process like this can make a huge difference in the attitude within the department. One of the good things about this challenging economy is that we can all share the impact its having on our lives. And communicating this to your staff will only make them feel valued and included by the organization.

  • Adelin September 10, 2012, 5:02 am

    Great tips! I found lots of necessary info. Just bookmark your blog for more explore! Thanks a lot.

  • Mike Rogers September 11, 2012, 10:46 am

    Thanks Krishnan, Elizabeth and Adelin!
    Elizabeth, Including employees in the decision making and communicating on a regular basis helps employees feel valued.
    Adelin, I am glad you like them : )

  • Robert Gately February 4, 2014, 8:36 am

    Hello Michael,

    Motivation is Free, so why try to buy it?

    Managers are seldom equipped psychologically to talk to their people on a personal level. One reason is that many people are managers because of their technical ability not because of their managerial or people skills. We should reward technical experts with higher salaries but not with promotions to management. We would be far better off if we promoted to management the people who have good managerial and people skills and poor technical skills — which will solve two problems:

    1 – Improve overall technical competence
    2 – Improve managerial effectiveness

    As long as executives do not know how to identify future effective managers, management will be stuck with The Peter Principle:

    “In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”

    When managers are asked to list the Top Ten Motivators for their employees the list looks like:

    1 – Salary
    2 – Bonuses
    3 – Vacation
    4 – Retirement
    5 – Other Benefits & Perks
    ——— the money line ———-
    6 – Interesting work
    7 – Involved in decisions
    8 – Feedback
    9 – Training
    10 – Respect


    Managers rank money items as their employees’ Top Five Motivators. When employees are asked to rank their own Top Ten Motivators the list looks like:

    1 – Interesting work
    2 – Involved in decisions
    3 – Feedback
    4 – Training
    5 – Respect
    ——— the money line ———-
    6 – Salary
    7 – Bonuses
    8 – Vacation
    9 – Retirement
    10 – Other Benefits & Perks

    Employees rank items that are equivalent to money as their bottom five motivators.

    The managers’ top five motivators are the employees’ bottom five motivators. The managers’ top five motivators are more related to the need of the managers to avoid personal contact with employees than the desires or motivational needs of their employees.

    Managers pick the top five motivators because these are the things that managers can “give” their employees without ever having to ask what the employees want or need, i.e., no involvement on a personal level is needed and all decisions can be made behind closed doors–all the while avoiding personal contact even to the detriment of the organization.


    Managers give the same sequence as employees when asked to rank their own motivators which is very interesting and revealing.


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