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How To Determine Real Employee Motivations


by Emily Egbert, co-founder of HitUp

Successful businesswomanEmployees are gold diggers.

Or at least that’s what many employers think: They’re only into you for your money.

You see the sparkle in their eyes on payday, and that excitement is amplified when you give them a bonus.

But the paycheck itself could be a lot less important to them than you realize.

Research shows that people are more creative and work harder when they’re motivated by “the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction and challenge inherent in the work itself” rather than the paycheck that results from it.

As an employer, you can use this principle to make a big difference in your team’s productivity.

Step 1: Find Out What Motivates Them.

Some people are motivated by financial rewards, while others are motivated by personal growth, praise, competition, job security, fear, results, or even free muffins.

Frankly, the best way to discover what motivates your employees is to ask them. It’s never too early to start doing this — in fact, recruitment interviews are an ideal opportunity to find out whom you’re hiring and what motivates them.

You can also use self-assessments, personality tests, or just informal chats. Ask questions like these that elicit personal, considered responses and will illuminate each employee’s personal motivations:

  • What would it take for you to do something if you weren’t being paid for it?
  • What has been the most exciting work experience for you this month? Why?
  • What are your short- and long-term goals?

Asking these questions when you hire someone is important, but it’s also important to keep returning to these questions because employee motivations often change over time, and an employee’s level of motivation can drop without you realizing it.

Step 2: Watch for Motivation Suckers.

There are so many reasons people lose motivation at work or start being motivated by different things. As an employer, you need to be on top of these changes so you can be ready to pep up your employees in a new way. There are six main causes for a drop in motivation:

  1. Lack of progress: If there are too many hoops to jump through to realize a creative idea, employees will quickly lose motivation.
  1. Unnecessary rules:When things like Internet usage or vacation policies become too restrictive or the workplace seems unnecessarily rule-bound, employees can lose respect for the system.
  1. Job insecurity: Employees need to feel like they’re needed. If you don’t make your employees feel comfortable and important, their motivation is sure to plummet.
  1. Poor communication:If information isn’t clearly communicated, employees can end up guessing and feeling unheard and uncared for, which can lead to frustration.
  1. Lack of team spirit:You don’t have to be best friends with everyone you work with, but a close-knit team with members who care about one another can make going to work feel like less of a chore.
  1. More work, no life: Maybe your employee is moving or suffering bereavement, and he needs some personal time to get back on track. A healthy work/life balance is key to happy, productive employees. By staying connected to your employees, you’ll know when something needs to change to correct the balance.

By staying on top of these potential motivation suckers, you can solve problems before they affect productivity.

Step 3: Tailor Rewards to Each Employee.

Once you’re tuned in to the motivations of your team, you can start rewarding each individual in his preferred way. Here are four fun ways to reward your hard-working team:

  1. Praise: Take some time to recognize your employee’s good work, either publicly or privately. For some people, a pat on the back goes a long way.
  1. Time off: If your employee has been putting in a lot of hours and making great contributions, offer him a three-day weekend or an afternoon off of his choice.
  1. A fun project: Since most people are motivated by the satisfaction inherent in the work itself, giving an employee a particularly creative or independent task that plays to his skills will make him feel fulfilled.
  1. Gifts: Incentives like tickets to a football game, a basket of goodies, or a drink somewhere nice after work can give your employees the boost they need.

Employees are not gold diggers. In their eyes, there are more reasons to come to work than just getting a paycheck. So zone in on what motivates your employees, and watch out for changing or flagging motivation. Once your team is satisfied, you’ll see a boost in productivity, and then you can reward yourself for being such an awesome boss.


Emily EgbertA professional ballerina-turned-entrepreneur, Emily Egbert is the co-founder of HitUp, an app that allows customers to purchase and send business gifts to clients or employees in an efficient and personalized way.