Despite the cliche, it seems that we are not motivated by money…

Despite the cliche, it seems that we are not motivated by money…

Travis Schultz Law

When it comes to employee engagement, money matters. But if my instincts are right, genuine and timely appreciation, flexibility, and a positive culture motivate staff far more than financial rewards alone.

And it’s a recipe for retention. We all know that staff turnover costs; both in cash and in productivity, so it makes sense to be alive to the factors that drive an enduring commitment to the enterprise, right? But how many professional service firms and businesses have a considered or even documented strategy to drive organizational employee engagement?

It could just be the unique bunch of personalities that I have had the privilege to work with, but they are a group who have stuck together – most of them having worked in the same team for over a decade. So, I decided to ask them a few questions in a short survey. They were asked to use a scale of 1 – 10. A score of 10 means that they agree with the proposition in the strongest possible terms. On the other hand, a 1 means that they disagree with the proposition in the strongest possible terms.

The Questions

  1. I would rather have flexible working arrangements that better suit my personal needs and I would forgo income to make this possible.
  2. I would rather get a personal thank you and statement of appreciation from my boss, than receiving a voucher for a weekend away as recognition of a job well done on a particular project.
  3. I would rather have a great working environment where I enjoy a few little perks and good relationships with my colleagues, than take the offer of a job elsewhere where I hear that it’s not such a great place to work but they will pay me 20% more than I’m currently earning.

No prizes for guessing the answer to the first question. Overwhelmingly, the team strongly agreed with the first question. Flexibility in work arrangements is way more important than a few extra dollars.

Similarly, the group strongly agreed with the third question – that they would happily earn a little less if it meant job satisfaction and living a culture that suits their values.

But the answer to the second question had a wide range of responses – some strongly disagreed while others strongly agreed, – while there were a range of positions in between. Which perhaps underscores the need for managers to design reward systems that take in to account the personality and priorities of the individual staff member.

I drew comfort from the conclusions of some Harvard academics (Thibault-Landry, Schweyer and Whillans) in a recent research piece Winning the War for Talent:Modern Motivation Methods for Attracting and Retaining Employees. The authors opined:

“In today’s workforce, rewards—including cash and non-cash rewards— are ubiquitous and necessary. However, unless rewards are selected and presented in a meaningful way, and are designed to convey recognition and appreciation, rewards are not sufficient to motivate employees who increasingly seek autonomy, mastery and connectedness at work. Accordingly, understanding how best to motivate employees in today’s tight job market involves a focus that moves beyond cash and cash-like rewards. Organizations will profit from moving toward well designed total reward strategies that include cash, non-cash tangible and intangible rewards that are designed to convey recognition of an employee’s contributions, generate optimal outcomes and foster a highly-engaged workforce.”

To me, it begs the question, if employee engagement is driven by such a myriad of tangible and intangible factors, should organisations not be developing a detailed strategy to manage the risk of inadvertently driving a culture of underperformance due to a reward system which unduly focuses on financial decoration?

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