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Motivating People to Work

From the February 1996 issue of
HR Fact Finder

What motivates people to work?

The obvious answer is a paycheck. People work because they need money to feed, clothe, and house themselves and their families. In years past, the way companies got people to work harder was to offer them more money. But today's flat organizations offer less opportunity for raises and promotions. And today's workers respond to different motivational tools.

A professor at the University of Massachusetts surveyed people on whether they'd work if they had inherited enough money to live comfortably. Eight out of ten said yes. Billionaires Warren Buffet and Bill Gates throw themselves into their jobs as if their next meal depended on it, but that's obviously not the case. Clearly, a paycheck is not the only reason people work.

What Do Workers Value?

So what are the best motivators? The Challenger Outplacement Council asked recently discharged managers that question. The replies, ranked by frequency of response:

  1. Recognition and appreciation.
  2. Independence and status.
  3. The chance to contribute to company goals.
  4. Salary.

Industry Week surveyed its readers on the question, "What is the biggest long-term motivator for you?" The results were different, but money didn't take the number one spot here, either.

  1. Working for a leader with vision and values.
  2. Pay raises and bonuses.
  3. Being given greater responsibility.
  4. Developing the respect of subordinates and peers.
  5. Recognition from supervisors.

Creating the Right Atmosphere

Leaders who want their employees to work hard should:

  • Demonstrate that they are worthy of respect by acting with personal integrity. Consistency and dependability are important.

  • Involve workers in defining problems, solving problems, and making decisions. Social psychology studies show that if you can get people involved in a collaborative process, their level of commitment to that process will increase.

  • Provide on-going learning and skill improvement opportunities. Discovering new and better ways to do things can ignite an employee's desire to perform.

  • Establish conditions under which collaboration occurs easily and naturally. Camaraderie and teamwork create a sense of community for the individuals involved and may make them feel like contributors--a significant motivator.

  • Respond to each individual's needs. Show concern. Demonstrate an alignment between personal and organizational goals. Explain how workers can profit individually, while benefiting the organization at the same time.

  • Create an environment of mutual trust and respect. The first step to doing this is to follow the Golden Rule and treat your employees as you would like to be treated.

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