Money is Not a Motivator — but These 7 Things Are

RTS Labs
5 min readFeb 6, 2016

What’s the energy like in your office on any given day?

Is it heads down all the time?

Are your employees smiling?

Is there camaraderie in the group?

Are your company meetings energizing — or demotivating?

The answers to these questions can tell you if your employees are not properly motivated — which means they’re not delivering the best work they could be. You can talk about company culture and collaboration until you’re blue in the face, but if your employees aren’t motivated, your company culture will likely be depressing and won’t foster collaboration.

While there are many ways to inspire your employees, money is not a motivator — but these 7 things are! Trying even one of them could raise morale at your office and inspire the best your employees have to give.

It’s not about the paycheck

Any more, it’s not all about the money — especially with millennials, who generally prioritize quality of life over financial gain and material things. While it’s important to pay your employees fair wages and offer competitive pay, money does not continuously motivate people. Behavioral research shows that money, incentives, and rewards only produce temporary compliance. Why? Because these types of motivators do not change the attitudes that can contribute to our underlying behaviors, nor do they change any values or commitments we hold.

Rewards are not only ineffective, they actually stifle creativity. The Harvard Business Review article “Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work” uses a phrase from the late professor and author John Condry to describe rewards as the “enemies of exploration.” This is because rather than taking risks and exploring creative options, your employees will focus on simply completing the task in a timely manner to get their reward. They won’t be incentivized to take risks — the kinds of risks that lead to innovation.

Everyone is motivated by different things

So what does motivate your employees? It depends on the individuals in your work force. Good leaders get to know their employees — including what motivates them. For some, personal growth is a motivator. For others, recognition is a motivator. Overall, motivation is less about pay and more about feeling connected to one’s work and good about oneself.

“Motivation is much less about external prodding or stimulation, and much more about what’s inside of you and inside of your work.” — Clayton Christensen

Frederick Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation (also known as the two-factor theory or the motivation hygiene theory) points to these motivators:

1. Growth

Culturally, we all have the need to succeed. We all need to feel like we’re moving forward, moving up, or growing somehow. Otherwise, what are we doing? We spend over 50% of our waking lives working. If our work has no purpose, we will not be motivated to do anything.

Personal growth can come in a variety of ways: through mentorship, new experiences, learning opportunities (continuing education), etc. It all depends on that particular employee’s personal goals.

2. Recognition

It’s easy to forget to show appreciation for your employees, but recognizing their accomplishments will mean a lot to them. Praise and recognition are a common motivator for people. Some people like to be publicly praised, while some people are more introverted and prefer to be praised privately. The onus is on you to figure it out.

Recognition can come in many different forms: listing their talents on your website, recognizing their achievements in meetings or newsletters, or praising one-on-one are all great ways to offer deserved recognition.

3. Responsibility

Responsibility can also be a motivator when given in a meaningful way. Don’t just start throwing new responsibilities at your employees. Responsibilities that motivate employees engage their skills and abilities and even stretch and help hone their skills. A good leader and/or mentor will know when their employee is ready to take on more responsibility and when they need to be coached more first.

4. Challenging work

Employees who are not challenged become bored and disengaged. As a leader, it’s important to make sure your employees are working on things that require them to flex their creativity, abilities, and skills. Challenging your employees is probably the most difficult way to motivate them, because it’s hard to know where to draw the line between pushing too hard and not pushing hard enough. A healthy mix of challenge and support is the recipe for successful motivation.

5. Achievement

Employees need to feel as though we’re going in the right direction — that we’re successful in our work. The feeling of achievement can come from completing projects, promotions, increased responsibility, etc. This feeling of achievement can also come from feeling like the work one does is meaningful and contributes in an important way, either to their team, to their company, or even in the community and to the world.

6. Advancement

This goes hand in hand with growth and responsibility. No one wants to stay in the same place or at the same level. Employees need to see that there is room for advancement. Then they need to see that their growth and added responsibilities lead to advancement.

7. Bonus: Casual, open work environment

This one isn’t included in Herzberg’s theory, but it can be an easy one to try right away. What we’ve found here at RTS Labs is that a relaxed work environment can be a huge motivator. It allows employees to loosen up, be themselves, and share more (which is great when it’s time for collaboration and ideation). A team that shares personal interests is going to share knowledge and solutions, too. A relaxed and open atmosphere also contributes to the supportive “don’t be afraid to fail” attitude that innovators need to have. If everyone is feeling comfortable, they’re not afraid to throw out ideas. Even if an idea doesn’t work initially, that doesn’t mean it won’t lead to the solution that wins in the end.

A few things that make our work environment relaxed at RTS Labs are the open concept floor plan, collaborative work spaces for brainstorming sessions and meetings, company lunches, team events, and midday walks around the pond when the weather is nice.

Next time you walk into your office, look around. What kind of mood does your office have? What kind of mood are your employees in? What can you do to motivate the team and improve your workplace culture? Take some time to figure out what makes your team tick — and then try the method you think will best motivate the individuals on your team. Any one of these motivators is likely to have an impact — for the better.

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RTS Labs

RTS Labs is a progressive software firm trusted by leaders of high-growth companies to build their products, automate their processes, and maximize efficiency.