Money not among top 10 motivators for workers

Customer orientation, achievement, inspiration of others make top 3, finds survey
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/06/2012

Money and other financial rewards no longer crack the top 10 employee motivators, according to a survey. Out of 23 motivators, financial reward came in 12th, found the survey of 6,000 North American employees by PsychTests.

“Money is a hygiene factor; it’s not really a motivator. If you have a decent salary and you don’t have to struggle to pay your bills and to provide, (money) loses its motivational power,” said Ilona Jerabek, president of PsychTests in Montreal. “There are many other things that trump financial reward.”

Managers may be surprised — and a bit skeptical — when they see how much weight employees place on non-financial motivators, said Chris Debienne, an HR business consultant based in Calgary.

The top employee motivator is customer orientation — a desire to make customers happy. This likely came out on top because of its strong intrinsic value, said Jerabek.

Employers can support this desire by ensuring company culture gives employees the opportunity to satisfy customers to the best of their ability, she said.

For example, if a customer service representative in a call centre is pressured by the company to keep calls short and just bounce off complaints, it will have a major impact on the employee’s self-esteem and the satisfaction he gets from helping others, said Jerabek.

“If you have a company culture that supports and teaches and coaches (employees) to do whatever they can to satisfy customers and if there are complaints, to resolve them and take a problem and turn it into an opportunity, you will get happy employees,” she said.

The second most effective motivator is achievement — a desire to work in a goal-oriented and challenging work environment, found the survey. Achievement is another strong intrinsic motivator that boosts employees’ self-esteem, helps them grow and makes them feel more useful, said Jerabek.

Although people may reach their goals in different ways, achieving them is a powerful motivator across the board, said Jim Fishbach, owner of Fishbach Consulting in St. Thomas, Ont.

“Companies have to know their workforce and know the personalities of the people they’re working with,” he said. “Some people might be drivers and they really drive to reach the goal; other people are cautious and look at different ways to reach them… but reaching their goal is a big motivator.”

To foster employees’ sense of achievement, employers need to make sure they are supporting employees’ individual goals and challenging them, said Debienne. They should have frequent discussions with employees to seek feedback on whether or not they are being challenged and if they need to take on more responsibility, she said.

“It comes down to local leadership and encouraging people on your team to set goals both personally and professionally and then more importantly is helping them achieve those goals,” said Debienne. “Keep them accountable — a lot of people need and want accountability and that’s what’s really going to help people feel a sense of progress or achievement.”

Inspiration — a desire to inspire others through one’s work — took the third spot on the top motivators list. This is about the opportunity for employees to express their ideas and perspectives and influence others, said Jerabek.

“You want to help people, you want to be remembered by something, you want to have an impact, you don’t want to leave this Earth and say, ‘OK, so I spent 50 years screwing on caps’ — that’s not very inspirational work but, that being said, in any work, really, you can inspire if you really try,” she said.

If an employee is motivated by inspiration, employers could encourage him to share best practices with other employees, become a mentor, get involved with staff training or lead a project, said Debienne.

Identity and purpose — a desire to work in a company or field that is in line with one’s values and ethics — came in as the fourth most effective motivator, found the survey. If employees work in environments that are highly out of line with their values, it causes cognitive dissonance, which can lead to chronic stress and other severe health issues, said Jerabek.

“Imagine you are a non-smoker and you have had an experience of a family member suffering from cancer, now you get a job opportunity at a tobacco company — there’s going to be a discrepancy,” she said. “Every single day, eight hours a day, you will be basically helping the enemy and it will be very, very stressful.”

Employers should screen candidates during the interview process to see if their values and ethics match the company’s because if they don’t, that employee won’t stay at the company for very long, said Fishbach.

Hiring managers should make sure they are really honest about the corporate culture and the type of position they are hiring for so they can find the best match, said Debienne.

“Especially in a competitive environment, talent shortages sometimes tend to (cause employers to) sugarcoat some things,” she said. “Just be honest — tell candidates, ‘Although there is a lot of potential for taking on more responsibility, this job is fairly monotonous and you’ll be pushing a lot of paperwork in the beginning.’”

HR should also ask candidates what type of organization they are looking for and why it didn’t work out at their previous employer to get a sense of what’s the right fit for them, said Debienne.

Fun and enjoyment round out top 5 motivators

Rounding out the top five motivators is fun and enjoyment — a desire to work in a position or corporate culture that is inherently entertaining.

“For generation Y, it may be to be able to take Rollerblades to work and to have lounge chairs, but that’s not really necessarily the only thing people enjoy or have fun with,” said Jerabek. “It’s really important to understand what the person finds enjoyable and how they define fun.”

A good social structure will foster a fun environment for employees, said Fishbach. Employers can organize company picnics, Christmas parties, team challenges or department lunches to bring people together, he said.

While knowing the top motivators is a good starting point, employers should realize motivators are “definitely an individual thing and a one-size-fits-all approach is about as effective as dangling a carrot,” said Debienne. They should figure out what motivates individual employees and tailor their approach to meet each person’s needs.

There are many business benefits for those employers that take the time to pay attention to what motivates employees, including decreased absenteeism and increased productivity, performance, loyalty and retention, said Debienne.

“Motivation has a big impact on one’s overall job satisfaction and the more satisfied somebody is, the less likely they are to be enticed by outside opportunities. Or, on the flip side, when somebody is kind of disengaged, that’s when they are a little bit more susceptible to think to themselves, ‘What else is out there?’”


Top 5 motivators

What motivates employees?

1. Customer orientation (desire to make customers happy)

2. Achievement (desire to work in a goal-oriented and challenging work environment)

3. Inspiration (desire to inspire others through one’s work)

4. Identity and purpose (desire to work in a company or field that is in line with one’s values and ethics)

5. Fun and enjoyment (desire to work in a position or corporate culture that is inherently entertaining).

Source: PsychTests

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