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Jessica Chesher

Managing Editor


Innovation eReview
Is Money *Really* a Motivator?

Because it’s the holidays, because not much hiring happens over the next several weeks, and because (blush) we had several emails about last month’s “Celebration Week” article (and none of them were from Bill O’Reilly, accusing us of turning the traditional “Christmas” Party into Employee Celebration Week), we thought we would again suspend our regularly scheduled programming in favor of a holiday special (hey, at least we’re not running re-runs!).


Now we don’t cruise the Internet a great deal, but we do get around a little, albeit mostly on cooking, gardening and “home” sites, and at this time of the year there are a lot of questions about tipping people, holiday gifts, etc.  Call us cheap (many have), but all that talk about tipping at the holidays got us thinking about employee motivation, money and managers.  


It’s a common perception that money motivates people, and it does, to a certain extent.  Many studies on Americans have show that up until the point where most people reach the infamous “middle class” (which can mean many things, depending on which part of the U.S. of A. you reside, but for our purposes we will define it as owning a home, a car or three, ample food in the pantry, clothing, some recreational opportunities, etc., etc.) they are extremely motivated by money. 

Think of a high school kid’s first job, they may make minimum wage, but they love to work, because they love the green.  Money = independence and stuff they want to own.   A small raise thrills them, and their quest for money continues, usually unabated, until they reach that “middle class” mark.  Then, for most of us, the pursuit of money pales in comparison to the pursuit of good working conditions, good benefits, respect from our boss, co-workers we like, paid vacations and holidays, proximity of the job to our home, etc.  That is why the “money doesn’t motivate” adage came into being, and why it is still true today.  Now if we were talking about a developing country, or a place with virtually no employment, that’s a different story, but, in our country, for most people (the Ken Lays of the world excepted), once you have a halfway decent roof over your head, food in your kids’ bellies, shoes on their feet and a few bucks to spend on a hobby, money ceases to be the issue.  OK, Liz, if money isn’t the issue, then why are you harping on about it?  Well, mostly because I have to convince you that money isn’t the issue, or you won’t believe me.  But, for argument’s sake, let’s say that I have convinced you that motivating mature employees isn’t about the money.  So, what is it all about?


Well, we happen to think that Ms. Aretha Franklin said it best: r-e-s-p-e-c-t.  Yup, you have to respect your employees, and the best thing is that respect can be expressed in many ways, and most of them are at least low cost, if not free.  And closely related to respect is dignity (alas, there isn't a catchy song with "Dignity" as the title or we would surely have employed it as well).  There is dignity in ALL work, and a true leader understands and acknowledges that.  After all, if those in leadership positions don't feel there is dignity in scrubbing toilets, and srcubbing them well, then why should the employee doing the scrubbing feel the dignity and take pride in the scrubbing of those toilets?  Treat employees with dignity and respect and they will perform for you.  It's really that simple.  

So, your ever helpful Innovation e-Review staff has compiled five ways you can respect and honor your employees, gleaned from our own work experiences in everything from menial work to some pretty high level stuff.  (And a hint to those of you who think this article doesn’t apply to you because you only have salaried managers working for you; first, managers need respect too, and second, you can practice respect even though the person doesn’t work directly for you!) 

Praise.  Just like kids and dogs, employees need praise for the work that they do, and, also like kids and dogs, they crave praise from you, their leader(s).  But how to give it without feeling awkward?  An old manager gave me some very good advice once, advice that I try to follow even to this day.  He said start each day with ten dimes in your left pants pocket and every time you praise someone move one dime to your right hand pocket.  If you have done your job, all the dimes should be in your right hand pocket by the end of the day.  Because so many of us feel awkward giving praise, this is a very useful exercise, for it forces you to do it more, thus feeling more comfortable doing it.  And, by the way, a dime can also be moved if you praise someone who is “working for” you only peripherally, such as a store clerk, or the maid in a hotel room.  

Sweat the small stuff.  Yes, yes, we know that pop culture tells us not to sweat the small stuff, but, as a leader, it’s your job to notice (and sweat) the small stuff.  How does the microwave look in your employee breakroom?  It probably doesn’t shout, “Put your lunch in here cuz I’m so clean and shiny”, right?  Have the of the janitorial staff clean the microwave every day.  If it starts out clean most people will keep it clean, if it starts out filthy, well, it will only get worse until some nice (probably female) employee takes pity on her co-workers and cleans it herself.  Just because old Janet from accounting will take on the heinous job once in awhile doesn’t mean that you can’t have the janitorial staff (whose job it is to clean) do it every night.  That’s called respecting people’s roles, and employees notice.  And how.

Have as many creature comforts as possible in place.  Do all your women’s room have sanitary napkin and tampon dispensers?  Is there a clean and appropriate place to put cigarette butts in the smoking area?  Is the employee parking area well maintained?  Is the grass mowed and are flowers planted at the employee entrance?  How does your breakroom (the place where your valued employees spend time each and every day) look when compared to your lobby (the place where sales representatives and few others languish)?  Which has more comfortable furniture, flowers or plants, flooring that is not stained or dinged up and natural light?  We thought so.  Spend a few dollars and fix up the employee areas.

Give people a voice whenever you can.  We don’t mean turn your workplace into a democracy, but if there are areas where employee voices can be heard and be effective, find them: those breakrooms and employee bathrooms that you want to spruce up, for example.  Instead of asking your assistant or the human resources department to make the decisions on paint colors, etc., why not get post notices on the bulletin boards asking for volunteers to be on a “Spruce Up” type of committee?  People love to have input into those kinds of decisions, and when management provides the structure within which to work, they make great decisions that benefit the majority of employees.

Let your employees feel visible.  Since we are always on the lookout for a good movie to rent, and there is a dearth of same, we sometimes end up with quirky indy films to watch.  Such was the case last weekend, when we rented “Pipe Dream,” a very good story about a plumber who, through a series of events, becomes a movie director.  One of the running gags is that he was the plumber for the money grubbing agent of the star, and the agent’s wife keeps calling our plumber-cum-director to their house to fix a plumbing problem.  And the agent, who knows the director by name, does not even recognize him when he becomes the plumber again, because he is part of the invisible class of workers.   The lesson here is to smile, be friendly and look employees, all employees, in the eye and say “hello.”  Makes no difference if they work for you or not, if you are a leader in your organization it is your obligation, nay, your duty, to be friendly and approachable to people at all levels.  Acknowledging a person’s presence makes them feel visible, and not invisible, which is, unfortunately a common feeling for some classes of people.  Everyone deserves to feel visible, and you can help a person’s dignity and self-respect by remembering that.

OK, boys and girls, that’s about it for this month.  We really, truly hope you have a wonderful holiday season, and we’ll be sure and bring you back to our regularly scheduled hiring column for January of 2006!  Until then, consider this our friendly smile and “hello” to you, our dear readers.

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