Wanted: more praise and a sense of being valued

motivation signIn the late 1990s, a survey involving thousands of employees in the U.S. compared what motivates employees, and what employers think motivates employees at work. Here’s what the survey found:

Employers ranked motivating factors in the following order:

  1. High wages
  2. Job security
  3. Promotion in the organisation
  4. Good working conditions
  5. Interesting work
  6. Personal loyalty of supervisor
  7. Tactful discipline
  8. Full appreciation of work done
  9. Help on personal problems
  10. Feeling of being in on things

However, employees answering the same questions ranked the factors that motivate them in the following order:

  1. Full appreciation of work done
  2. Feeling of being in on things
  3. Help on personal problems
  4. Job security
  5. High wages
  6. Interesting work
  7. Promotion in the organization
  8. Personal loyalty of supervisor
  9. Good working conditions
  10. Tactful discipline

What was interesting about this survey is that it highlighted that there was a huge gap between what employers think motivates their employees and what employees say motivates them. The question is have things changed since the 1990s?


Staff motivation is still misunderstood

Unfortunately, it seems a large number of employers haven’t yet learned what motivates their employees. Research undertaken since then, including a survey of 800 people by the recruitment company Randstad, reveal that there is still a mismatch between what employers think motivate their staff and what employees say.

Employers tend to rank the main motivating factors as employee benefits, culture and brand, whilst employees rank their motivating factors as pay, appreciation, training and development, career path and flexible working.


Recognition creates motivation

More than anything else, apart from pay, employees want to feel valued and appreciated. In The Human Capital Edge, authored by Bruce Pfau and Ira Kay, it states that employees want to be recognised for their individual performance, with pay tied to their performance.

good workSo how, as a manager, can you foster a culture of recognition and appreciation?

You first need to start with your employees. Spend some time getting to know them and what engages them. Ask your employees what motivates them, and if they are getting that at work, and if they’re not getting things that motivate them, why not?

I suspect that you’ll be surprised at how many simple and low-cost opportunities you’ll uncover that can motivate your workforce, such as a simple ‘thank you’, or leading a project to help their career development. And once you are armed with this all important knowledge you can focus on creating the right environment within your team.


Creating the right environment

We are all products of our environment, both at home and at work. At work you have the opportunity and the ability to create an environment that fosters recognition and appreciation. Start by walking the walk as well as talking the talk. Spend some time each day thanking your employees; thank them by name, be specific about what you are thanking them for, and the impact that had.

You can also encourage your employees to say ‘thank you’ to their colleagues, as peer-to-peer recognition is often more powerful than manager–to-employee recognition. Encourage your employees to say ‘thank you’ verbally, send an email or set up a thank you wall where employees can leave messages for their colleagues.

As employees see others giving and receiving recognition, they will adapt their behaviour in order to be a part of it; they will go out of their way to do a great job and to give recognition themselves. And so the culture of recognition and appreciation grows, because actions that get recognised also get repeated.


John Sylvester

John is responsible for the motivation division of p&mm ltd and a Director on the board of the IPM. Specialising in developing, implementing and directing many large scale staff motivation, recognition and employee communications programmes.
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