Motivation in the Workplace: Top Employee Motivators

Employee Motivation in the Workplace: It’s Not About Money. It’s About Productive Work Relationships.

Part Two

“I’m learning recently, you can’t motivate people. You’ve got to provide the work environment that’s going to make them want to do a better job. You just can’t make them do a better job by paying them more money.”– Company owner*

In part 1 of this series on employee motivation in the workplace, we made a key point:  “…you know ‘jackass (money) motivation’ doesn’t inspire you.” And we followed that with this self-test of the point:

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“Think of a concrete time when you were operating at peak productivity – a moment when you were really on top of your game, when you were using much of your potential, when you were inspired and operating a very high level. What role did money play in motivating you at that moment, inspiring that great performance?’”

So in part 2, we’ll ask you to revisit the question, and explore what employee motivators have inspired your peak moments? If it wasn’t money, what was it that motivated your peak performance?

Here’s the hard part: the answer probably isn’t a simple sound bite.

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And yet, isn’t “sound bite” management wisdom what sells?

So, tell us, on your most productive work assignment or project, what employee motivators were inspiring to you?

Here are some of the answers I’ve come across over the years:

  • The chance to make a real difference to customers, co-workers, etc.
  • The pure joy of the accomplishment
  • The chance to grow as a person
  • Failure was not an option because the stakes were very high
  • The chance to do something that I would be remembered for
  • To pursue something that was so worthwhile

All of these top employee motivators point to a work environment that was so productive that employees were inspired by what they were accomplishing.

For example, Kennedy set the goal of a man on the moon by the end of the decade. With that goal, who wouldn’t be inspired? You almost wouldn’t need a job description; you could self-direct, as in, “What do I have to do today to get that man on the moon by the end of the decade?”

Here’s an example from my experience. I helped a client with employee communications during a difficult business period. We committed to openness. In that work, an employee asked, “Will there be layoffs in my group?” The executive in charge of the group didn’t want to answer the question publicly because the answer was, “Yes, but not for a few months and we don’t have the details worked out yet.” So, I helped him frame that full response so that it was productive. He was very nervous when we published the response in an all-company email late one Friday afternoon.

The following Monday, at 9 a.m., an engineer responded to the email by saying, “I can’t tell you how bowled over I am by that response, by someone telling the truth. As a result, I’m pulling my resume off the street.”

The Central Question: What Motivated the Engineer?

What motivated the engineer to pull her resume off the street, to quit looking for a job?

A slick internal PR campaign that said, “Hey, here’s why you’ll want to keep working here!!!!”? No. An employee retention bonus? No. Pressure from the boss, as in, “We need you to recommit to us, to know your head is in the game.”? No.

What motivated her, in my opinion, is that the company, personified by the senior VP’s response, was willing to enter into a full relationship with her, and treat her like a trustworthy adult.

Another of her comments reinforced my conclusion about her workplace motivations. She said, “I know there’s no job security in an environment like this, but any company that will tell me what’s really going on provides me with a different kind of security, with ‘information security,’ I can count on. They’ll tell me what’s really going on, so I don’t have to worry about what they’re not telling me, and whether that’s scary.”

I believed she was bowled over by the positive work relationship that was being strengthened between her and her employer, not by any extrinsically-oriented employee motivator, sound-bite style gimmick, bonus, etc.

There could easily be a part three on this subject of employee motivation in the workplace where we review great thinkers’ ideas on employee motivation. But, first, tell us what motivated you during your peak moments of productivity. We’re curious. And thanks…


Stuart Jennings

Part One – Motivation in the Workplace: Why It’s Not All About Money

Part Two – Motivation in the Workplace: Top Employee Motivators

Part Three- Different Types of Motivation Theories

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