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Dr. Matt Grawitch: July 2010 Archives

The Hay Group and WorldatWork recently published a report suggesting that money and pay were less motivating than non-monetary incentives, such as leadership. This means that how much you pay people means a lot less than putting them in a positive work environment with strong leadership.

Though this may seem like a revelation to some, it really shouldn’t be. In 1968, Frederick Herzberg published a book in which he argued that there were two different elements at play in the workplace: hygiene factors and motivators.

Hygiene factors were elements that if not considered could cause greater levels of dissatisfaction at work. That is, increasing hygiene factors beyond a certain level had no effect on worker attitudes. It was when they fell below certain levels that organizations had problems.

Motivators were factors that needed to be focused on to improve satisfaction. These were factors that needed continual attention because this was where managers and leaders could improve motivation.

Interestingly, pay (among others) was considered to be nothing but a hygiene factor, whereas achievement, recognition, and advancement (among others) were considered to be motivators.

Though our terminology has changed (we talk more about engagement than satisfaction), the ways to increase those positive outcomes has not. You could pay people all the money in the world, but if they do not like the work they do, if they are not recognized for their achievements, and if they stagnate in their positions, they will become disengaged.

This is obviously not to say that pay is unimportant. Pay is important, but only to a certain point. You have to pay people what they feel they are worth or you run the risk of sending them mixed messages (like, you are important, we just won’t pay you much). So, in a way, you have to reach a certain threshold when it comes to pay. However, that is just to keep people from becoming dissatisfied (or disengaged). If you want to take them to the next level, try something else.

Try giving them a positive work environment, with leaders who care and leaders who inspire. Try giving them the opportunity to excel. Try giving them opportunities to make their work more meaningful. Try giving them opportunities to grow and develop, personally and professionally.

Maybe I’m way off base here, but most people want their work to be fun and meaningful. Giving them the context in which to make their work fun and meaningful is the best way to motivate them. You’ll be glad you did.