Motivating Employees – Going Beyond the Paycheck

When we ask people what motivates employees, many respond with a simple answer: Money. Sure, money might be a factor. But let’s be real. Is it the ONLY factor? It may also be true that in addition to money, there are a wide range of motivators that are more personal and individual to your employees. Few people would turn down a raise or bonus, but true satisfaction is more complex than that.

What motivates people?

Let me take you back to the textbook. In 1943, A.H. Maslow studied motivation and published his results. He found that all humans have the same basic needs. Further application of his findings positioned this theory into the workplace. From lowest to highest, the levels for motivating employees are:

  1. Survival: A decent salary. Having enough to eat and a comfortable home.
  2. Security: Job security and safe working conditions. Insurance and/or time off benefits.
  3. Belonging: Feeling part of something bigger. Being a part of a group.
  4. Status: A simple pat on the back. Work is valued and respected.
  5. Challenge: A chance for growth. The ability and freedom for a personal challenge.

Once a person’s lowest level needs are met, they typically can move on to higher level needs. If a lower level need is not met, most people will forgo the upper levels.

For example, a person may choose a job with a high level of risk in terms of personal safety if that is the only way to make enough money to survive. Or an employee may give up the opportunity to seek status or challenge if they feel they do not belong in an organization.

Companies with a culture where motivating employees is important will ensure that they create an environment where many types of motivators are actually available. Granted, at the upper levels, there may be fewer opportunities. But there are still established criteria for accessing those opportunities, making it possible for people to demonstrate value and achieve motivation.


So how do you provide a motivational environment in each area? Here are some tips to help you with motivating employees:


  • Survival: Do people make a wage that is competitive with similar businesses and positions? Can you do better and still remain competitive in price and value? Are there other benefits that may help balance the expenses an employee has?
  • Security: Does your company portray stability and longevity? Is there an emphasis on safety beyond actions to comply with governmental compliance? Do people feel valued?
  • Belonging: Are people able to connect with others? Do you encourage people getting together? Do longer term employees embrace new employees?
  • Status: Do people give each other encouragement? Are employee’s achievements visible in the workplace? Do people even know what actions are rewarded?
  • Challenge: Can employees try new things? Can they enhance their skills? Is there opportunity for advancement based on ability instead of tenure? Are there opportunities for people to give input, try new methods, or to “own” a part of the process?

These questions can give some insight on motivating employees and where they might be on the five levels. One way to really determine if you are meeting employee need(s) is to ask them. Sounds simple, but many managers don’t think to ask. Be prepared to hear what employees have to say and to consider and/or implement some of the suggestions. Ignoring the feedback can have consequences and could potentially create a new problem of negative employee morale.

Begin by asking for input, creating the right environment for people to become motivated, following through, and making adjustments where necessary. Creating a workplace where people can access their own type of motivation results in a self-directed workforce that is productive, loyal, and can become your best recruitment tool.

Looking for more on employee motivation? Check out more articles like this one!