Employee motivation, an individual's internal drive to achieve a goal is now one of the most studied areas of human resource management. Over the years, multiple theories have been put forward.
For instance, the popular Maslow theory suggests that employees are motivated to first look after their physical need, then their safety and social needs and, finally, they are motivated to seek satisfaction for their own ego and self-gratification. The Skinner theory on the other hand, suggests that if an employee's behaviour is positively reinforced, this will lead to ongoing positive outcomes.
One of the older and common motivational strategies has been to reward employees by giving them money. In this case, employers would typically give bonuses for good work as well as increasing wages annually as much as the economy allowed. Employee motivation does indeed increase initially but unfortunately in most cases, employee happiness is short lived. That's because employees simply forget what their bonus was for and behaviour/motivation quietly slips away.
In addition, in my view, this type of financial reward system has simply taught employees to continually look for money as their only work reward. And, if an employee is so materialistic that they only value money, wealth and possessions over other things in life, then I doubt that any employer will ever make them happy. Not only that, it's well known that throwing more money at an employee doesn't necessarily increase their overall performance.
However, at the same time, if we're realistic, most employers cannot afford to continue giving bonuses or increasing salaries if the economic situation in their industry sector cannot support it. As well, if an organization has a well-structured compensation system, there are established salary scales set for each and every job based on the value of the job to the organization and the market rate for their industry and geography. To arbitrarily increase these salaries based on desires of employees rather than the value to the organization would create chaos. In this case, if salary doesn't meet an individual's needs, then it is the employee's responsibility to look after their own career and move on.
So, if money is not considered to be a lasting motivator, what alternative reward strategies are perceived to be effective for today's employee? Some of the following strategies have proven effective.
A sense of achievement -- the desire to work in a goal-oriented organization and challenging work environment where employees can gain a sense of achievement by seeing the results of their work.
Identity and purpose -- the desire to work for an organization where the employee feels a sense of belonging and identity and they can identify with the values of the organization.
Interesting work -- employees want to be involved in interesting work otherwise work becomes too routine, boring and can lead to inattention. Interesting work involves employee minds and requires thinking and involvement.
Team collaboration and reward -- team-based rewards where a portion of the individual reward is contingent on the group performance appears to contribute to high performance as well as job satisfaction.
Making a difference -- employees are motivated by making a difference and then sharing in the success when it is achieved.
Effective leadership -- leaders who support and back their workers develop a good deal of respect and this motivates employees to want to do their best.
Goals and objectives -- employees can be effective when they are fully aware of the goals and objectives of the organization and how their own personal job goals and objectives fit into the overall goals. The closer the connection, the more motivation the employee will demonstrate.
Input and involvement -- employees want their voices heard, especially if they have an idea for improving work processes and making their work more effective.
Opportunity for learning and advancement -- employees are motivated by having the opportunity to learn new things, especially if it represents an opportunity for advancement.
Balanced workload -- employees who are stressed and overworked may have energy for a period of time but will soon burn out and lose their motivation. Therefore, a more balanced workload contributes to motivation.
Praise, praise, praise -- rewarding employees by praising employee contributions individually and collectively goes a long way as employees appreciate recognition for work well done.
Tactful discipline -- while it is inevitable that employees may make mistakes in their work, how it's handled by a supervisor makes a critical difference to motivation. Being tactful, sensitive and using a coaching, teaching model to correct work deficiencies is much more likely to increase motivation.
Sympathetic help -- it is also inevitable that an employee will at some point encounter some personal challenges in their family life. If this is managed from a helpful and considerate perspective, it will go a long way to helping employees maintain their motivation.
Positive interpersonal work relationships -- most employees are more motivated by a harmonistic work environment where team relationships are positive, motivating and where conflict is minimal.
Job Security -- while I always say that the only job security is one's own skills, I know that employees continue to be motivated by working for an organization where they see that job security has potential. Once their physical security is looked after, employees can start focusing on other things. Thus, it's important to introduce change slowly and carefully in order to avoid creating fear about job security.
Job enlargement/rotation -- increasing the variety of tasks in a job can also increase employee motivation. Adding new challenges creates new enthusiasm and renews interest. Cross training among employees is a good way to do this.
As you can see from the variety of employee motivational techniques described above, there is simply no secret formula that will meet each individual's personal needs. In fact, employee motivation is far from an exact science, yet I believe that employers should stay away from focusing on giving money as their only motivational technique. In my opinion, those employees whose prime motivation is money will never be loyal to your organization and will soon move on to the next highest paying job.
Barbara J. Bowes, FCRHP, CMC, CCP is president of Legacy Bowes Group, a talent management consulting firm.She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org