How To Motivate Without Spending A Cent – By Narelle Hess

Earlier this year I received a phone call from a journalist asking my opinion on what businesses can do to motivate staff without spending a cent. Funny that when we think motivation we immediately think money. How much money can I give Jane to make her engaged, motivated and achieve more. It was the same thing that businesses were thinking in the 1940s, when employers said that the most important thing that employees valued at work is “good wages”. They said it again in 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and again in the last decade. So the question the journalist was asking me was not coming from a completely naïve place, it is what managers keep saying their employees want. More money, money, money.

The problem of course is that businesses don’t have endless pits of money.  In any case when we ask employees the question, although they do indeed value money (hey we need to pay the bills!) it is not the thing that is valued most. It is not the factor that makes us most motivated and engaged at work, or even the number one reason why we leave a job.

This may be surprising, given that it is up there as one of the top reasons people give at interview when asked their reason for leaving a job. This results in businesses throwing more money at an employee in a counter offer to get them to stay. Unsurprisingly this is short-lived. Money can only engage us to a certain level – it is the most basic of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and once it is met we need more. People may accept your counter offer, but soon the money will lose its affect.  That’s why people who accept counter offers are likely to leave anyway less than 6 months after the offer has been accepted. We need more than money to allow us reach peak performance.

This month, just as in the research that has been replicated since the 1940s, it was not “good wages” that you said was most important to you. Rather what you value most, what you need most to reach peak performance is “interesting work”, followed closely by “demonstrated appreciation for work done”.  You of course valued “good wages” but this came in as third in the list of factors that you value. Dead last in value on this list was “tactful disciplining”.  Some may say this is unfortunate, given that many employees say that it is what they get most of from their managers!

So how can businesses motivate their staff without spending a cent? Give your team members a chance to do work they find interesting and stretches their skills and a simple “thank you” for a job well done. Of course, if you want to throw more money at staff with the aim of motivating them, I’m sure they won’t mind – they may even say thank you!