Is Money the Top Motivator of Your Employees?

A friend shared with me last week how her colleagues at a financial trade publication shot down an idea for an article on serving many small investors rather than a small pool of large investors. They noted that it didn’t make sense from a financial perspective because it was known to be more profitable for financial advisors to have a smaller number of wealthy clients than a large number of middle-income clients. We both saw the potential flaw in that thinking: It presumes that financial advisors’ primary motivation is money. It might seem that as financial advisors, money would be the biggest driver of career decisions, but with the heightened focus of Millennials on finding a greater meaning in work and having work-life balance, that assumption may be too one dimensional. Money is a motivator, but not necessarily the whole story in the career choices that even a financial advisor makes. I suggested a reader survey that asked: “What Motivates You?” 

That’s a good question not just for financial trade publications, but for all companies. Have you conducted employee surveys and research within your own organization to find out what most drives your employees?

I found this Forbes article from 2012 that explores the question of employee motivation. Author Glenn Llopis lists nine factors that have been known to motivate: trustworthy leadership, being relevant, proving others wrong, career advancement, having no regrets, a stable future, self-indulgence, impact, and happiness. What’s not on the list? Money.

When I think about my own career, I note employment decisions I made based on money, but once in the job, money wasn’t a driver of my work. The times I have worked the hardest have been the times when I felt the most appreciated, and when I saw an opportunity to pursue an area of interest, such as writing about a topic that had meaning for me. 

How important is it to know your employees’ interests outside of work? If you can train managers to get to know employees as people, it opens up more opportunities to motivate. There may be a way to tie a personal passion to a work assignment. In my case, I was thrilled when I got a chance to write a series of “Day in the Life” articles for Trainingyears ago. As a tremendous animal lover, imagine my delight when one of those Day in the Life pieces meant spending the day on a horse farm watching executives interact with horses to learn lessons in management and leadership. It was quite a day for me! And it made for an interesting, unique piece for our readers.

If an employee has an interest in a particular community or population of people, you can use that interest and insider knowledge to help with your marketing efforts, or to help develop a product especially for that subgroup of the population. Or if you find out your employee has an interest in a particular aspect of nature, you could possibly use that knowledge to help with the science behind your research and development process. Sometimes it’s a life experience that provides motivation. When people experience milestones—such as getting married, having children, or experiencing the death of a parent—they acquire a new perspective. They may have ideas for products and services, or new ways of communicating with people in those circumstances. Sometimes motivation can come from wanting others to benefit from the insights you’ve gained from personal experience.

Another motivator: eliminating pet peeves. If there’s something that bothers an employee, he or she can be motivated to alter your products and services so no one else has to be bothered by that particular annoyance. Maybe there’s a particular kind of packaging for items shipped in the mail that drives them crazy, making a mess when it’s opened, or maybe they find a particular process for placing an order online irritating because it’s cumbersome and time consuming. Just as it’s valuable to listen to what your employees love, it’s equally valuable to listen to what they loathe.

What motivates your employees? Is it more complex than money? What have you found to be the best ways of learning employee motivations, and then tapping those motivations to create a better company?

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