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Is money a poor motivator?

You’re good at your job, you’re satisfied with your salary and benefits and you like your company and your colleagues. You’re not a person who trudges into the office every morning, disengaged and anticipating a miserable workday. Yet you’re finding it increasingly difficult to stay motivated. Your enthusiasm wavers. Some days you just feel like mailing it in.

You’re not really unhappy – just a little restless and discontent. It’s all part of the normal employee experience. Leaders at even the most successful companies are constantly looking for ways to keep their people productive. For years, executives believed that money alone was the key to motivation – just raise salaries or throw in bonuses here and there. To the contrary, numerous studies have proven that financial rewards rarely generate long-term results.

Money may provide a temporary energy boost but it doesn’t address the core issues that drive employees. Money doesn’t make you more creative or lively. It doesn’t make your co-workers appreciate you more. Money doesn’t provide a sense of accomplishment.

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Employees want to feel that their work matters

Career analyst Dan Pink, in his video, The Puzzle of Motivation, explains that offering “carrots and sticks – rewards and punishments,” goes against everything science knows about performance. He says that “autonomy, mastery and purpose” are the only factors that truly motivate people.

Employees want to be challenged. They want a pat on the back from their bosses. They want to be part of something greater than themselves. In a good work culture people feel appreciated.

“A paycheck is nice,” says behavioral economist Dan Ariely in his video, What Makes Us Feel Good About Or Work, but “people work harder and better when the job means something.”

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Commitment and productivity are compromised when people feel their work is futile

Ariely points out that savvy managers and executives find a way to acknowledge a team’s hard work even when a project is canceled. It really isn’t difficult to identify the components of a good work culture. People are generally upbeat and energetic. They view problems as “challenges.” They expect positive outcomes and take disappointments in stride.

CEOs and executives are responsible for laying the foundation for workplace culture. Remember that employees always take cues from their superiors. An unenthusiastic and pessimistic environment inevitably can be traced to attitudes that managers project.

Throwing money at people may have been an effective strategy decades ago. But employees have more options these days and are seeking a fulfilling work experience on many levels. More than ever, it appears that money can’t buy happiness.


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