motivation in the workplace

Motivation in the Workplace: The Role of Money

I have often heard the disgruntled comment, “I pay them, don’t I?” but is money really what motivates people to work harder? 

Motivation in the workplace is a big topic for people who are responsible for managing teams and as a business coach, it often comes up in my conversations with clients.

Ironically I have learnt the most about motivating teams by leading teams of volunteers.

I discovered that once you take the money out of the equation, you quickly learn what intrinsically motivates people to put in extraordinary amounts of time and energy.

Every day there are volunteers across the country doing extraordinary things without any hint of payment, yet many workplaces fail to create the same level of motivation.

So if money doesn’t guarantee people will be motivated, what does?

Maslow’s Theory of Motivation

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been used for decades as a way of understanding human motivation.

Maslow was a psychologist who developed the human potential movement in the 1960’s-70’s. It was his belief that we all have a need to strive towards self-actualisation. In other words, we are not satisfied unless we are striving for our true potential, whether it is as an artist, a teacher or a carpenter.

Maslow’s theory of motivation also recognised that before we can truly focus on self-actualisation, we must get our other more basic physiological needs, such as food and lodging, met first.

It is obviously very hard to focus on self-actualisation when we don’t know where our next meal is coming from, or we are busy dodging bullets.

Once these basic survival needs are met, Maslow outlined how humans then work towards ensuring their safety, then their social sense of belonging, their self-esteem, and ultimately, their sense of purpose and higher calling (self-actualisation).

Is Money Motivating?

If we follow Maslow’s theory, yes money is motivating to people, but only when we need to get our physiological and safety needs met. It doesn’t motivate people beyond this basic level.

Once people feel well provided for and safe, money has less of a role to play. It does not inspire drive, passion and commitment. Assuming you are paying the people in your team well enough for them to have a decent standard of living, you need to look towards other more intrinsic sources of motivation.

Chip Conley

Chip Conley is the author of a book called Peak, which outlines his story of rebuilding his hotel chain. It breathes new life into Maslow’s work because Chip used the theory and put it into practice as a foundation for rebuilding his business.

Chip grew his fortunes from his Hotel Chain, Joi de vivre. Whilst quickly successful, it was the equally quick demise of his success during a recession that instigated his research into Maslow and borrowing from the human potential moment.

When rebuilding his hotels he had to compete in a very tough market with no extra money for marketing or renovations. He decided to trade on goodwill and excellent customer service.

He looked closely at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and made sure that he was fulfilling on every level of those needs for his staff, his customers, and his share-holders. Everything from giving staff birthday presents that were relevant and meaningful, to showing shareholders a higher purpose.

It’s an amazing story of how Chip achieved a highly motivated team and rebuilt his award winning Hotels after going completely bust.

Talking Point:

  • Are you meeting your teams needs beyond the physiological?
  • Are your teams achieving peak performance?
  • What strategies do you need to put in place to increase motivation in the workplace?