When it Comes to Motivating Employees, Money is Only the Tip of the Iceberg

Everyone tries to get more for less. This is a foundational axiom of the economics profession. We allocate our scarce resources in a manner that we believe will maximize our satisfaction.

We might expect, as a corollary principle, that everyone wants to work less and get paid more. This is true to an extent, but it’s not quite that simple. Some people attain fulfillment out of their work. Indeed, many people would like to attain even more fulfillment out of their work. Thus, while money is important, it is often not the driving factor behind motivation. Furthermore, for those whose work is fulfilling, working less is not always the highest priority either.

The question then becomes, how does a business leader make employees’ work fulfilling for its own sake?

Many professionals are driven by a sense of personal achievement and success. When they start a new job they like the feeling that they are learning new skills and quickly contributing to a team. They like to be part of a bigger vision that will create new opportunities for growth, responsibility, and compensation (yes, including a larger paycheck).

Thus, the first step is for senior management to articulate and model a clearly defined vision. This can be captured in a vision statement about where the organization is headed. The organization should also have a mission statement that communicates what the enterprise is and what it does. Finally, the organization needs goals that help define the purpose for each function and role.

Helping the owners make more money for themselves isn’t the most compelling vision for most employees to latch onto. Employees enjoy listening to their favorite station, WIIFM: “What’s in it for me?” Senior management can best help themselves when they clearly define for employees what’s in it for them.

I suggest challenging employees to latch onto the company’s vision and to define their own goals and development plan within the organization. Management should not pretend to have the prerogative or role of owning the careers of the employees but should help the employees understand how they can fit into the team. Don’t make the environment conducive to the employees who prefer someone to hold their hand and spoon-feed them through the complexities and challenges of work life. Each employee has the ultimate personal stake in career development and should assume the burdens and rewards of the development process. This is the type of employee who can help the organization thrive.

Almost everybody wants to make more money. That’s no secret. However, satisfaction and motivation on the job is more complex than simply being able to expect increases in pay over time. Motivated professionals want the ability to demonstrate their value and earn their higher salaries. Employees will attain a sense of achievement if they know they are contributing to the vision and mission of the organization, staying on track with personal and organizational goals, and developing career skills to attain higher levels of professional success.

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