CEO That People Thing Ltd
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Motivation: Money can't buy you love

In response to a recent Any Answers question about an employee pushing for a pay increase, Blaire Palmer gets to grips with the factors affecting staff motivation.

7th Sep 2020
CEO That People Thing Ltd
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There's more to motivation than money

A recent Any Answers discussion dealt with an employee who continually pushed for a salary increase. The anonymous poster felt pushed into a corner and wondered if this was justifiable at a time when so many accountants were furloughed or losing their jobs altogether?

Some of you focused on where to find a replacement – someone who will be grateful to have a salary at all – while others picked up on the fact that we are only hearing one side of the story. We don’t know whether the person asking for a pay rise has a point.

A few of you were curious though, as I am, about the deeper issue.

It’s never about the money

There are two distinct types of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic.

Extrinsic motivators are things like money, a big office, a company car and a new job title.

Intrinsic motivators include the enjoyment of the job itself, finding meaning in what you do, learning and growing, appreciation, the opportunity for advancement and a sense of belonging.

So when discussions about salary become the focus for business leaders I always wonder what’s really going on in the firm.

Beyond a certain level (fair pay for the work) salary isn’t an intrinsic motivator. It doesn’t generate loyalty or prompt people to put in discretionary effort. A pay rise rarely makes much difference to a person’s standard of living anyway. A few thousand pounds, minus the tax, is a gesture, little more.

So when someone is insistent about a pay rise it’s worth considering what is really going on.

While it’s easy to assume that some people are greedier than the rest of us and are genuinely only interested in hard cash, that’s unlikely. Just think about your own motivations. Why do you do what you do? The money cannot be compensation enough. And if you are sophisticated enough to be motivated by more than money there’s a fair chance others feel the same way too.

Feeling valued

In the absence of other measures of one’s value, salary becomes the only reliable indicator.

Feedback, being recognised publicly, being thanked, being invested in long term, being invited to participate in bigger decisions, being coached and mentored and spending time with senior members of the team all feed us at an instrinsic level.

When someone you respect in your firm is interested in you or offers to help you grow you know that you are of worth.

If they don’t do that, how can you tell? The only way is the cash. Employees who regularly push for more money may simply have no other way to tell, at your firm, whether they are doing a good job.

Continual feedback

At this time many firms need to cut back on their staff costs and that means making people redundant.

However I have seen many firms use a round of redundancies to get rid of poor performers or difficult individuals (including those pesky people who seem to think they are worth more money), seeing this as the perfect opportunity to have a clear out.

Dealing with poor performance and attitude problems should have nothing to do with a redundancy process. If you find yourself thinking “We’ve been looking for a way to get rid of this person for a while and now we have a chance”, then you are the one who has been performing poorly at their job.

As leaders it’s our responsibility to grow and develop our people. If you truly believe someone doesn’t deserve a pay rise because of their performance, that’s the conversation you must have. If investing in their growth doesn’t do the trick then a mature leader will help that individual exit the business some other legitimate way.

An employee should never be unsure as to why they haven’t been given a pay rise, more responsibility or by-passed for a big project. It’s your job to give the feedback, even when it’s uncomfortable.

People are good

It’s easy to assume that employees are selfish or don't take in to account the bigger economic picture when they start asking for more money.

But the idea that an employee, at this time, isn’t aware that many people are out of work or on furlough doesn’t really make sense. When we treat people as if they are self-centred and greedy that’s what we tend to get. We assume that, clearly, a person asking for a payrise right now must be callous.

However, when we assume people are good, that they care about their colleagues and about their clients and that they are sympathetic to those in a less fortunate position, we can have more meaningful conversations with them.

In a 2018 survey, Businessolver discovered 60% of employees would be happy to take a paycut if they felt they worked for an empathetic company. And we’ve seen many examples of leaders willing to take paycuts in order to protect their staff during Covid. Even rank and file employees have been willing to take pay cuts to protect jobs, such as those at KPMG Australia.  

If you’re genuinely worried that you can’t afford pay rises, even for those who deserve it, an honest and empathetic conversation with your people is far better than pretending they aren’t worth it or assuming they are cold-hearted and indifferent to the suffering of others.

How you behave now tells your people much more about you than shoving a few quid in their pocket or squeezing them out of the business because you want to avoid an awkward conversation.

Blaire Palmer’s free ebook, Punks in Suits, which busts the myths of leadership and gives you practical exercises to help you identify where you need to grow as a leader is available as a free download. 

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