The dash for cash

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Is it all about the money?

It is strange that people say they work for the money but at interviews it’s one of the few things people are reluctant to talk about as it ‘may give out the wrong message’.

As anyone who has studied business can tell you money is regarded as one of the ‘hygiene factors’, in other words it is a ‘dissatisfier’, especially if it’s not perceived to be enough. However, life is more complicated than that.  

Sure, money can mean a sense of achievement to some people, a level of comfort and life is much easier if it’s there, but not everyone is driven by the scent of the cent.  Studies have suggested that incentives can be limited.

There have been numerous studies that show that many people can be de-motivated if they get paid an incentive for something they enjoy doing. This sounds counter-intuitive; however in my case where I undertake a number of roles for charity, I do this because I enjoy it, not because I get paid. The chances are a charity would not pay me a commercial rate, and even if they did, I would not want the money. I accept this could be classified as a ‘special circumstance’ but research into incentives suggests that the impact of short-term bonus payments wears off, even in typical work environments. People come to expect a bonus and are very disappointed when it varies.

There is probably more employee unhappiness about remuneration when it is perceived to be inequitable. You are more likely to be dissatisfied with your salary if your fellow workmate is earning more than you for doing the same job than if you were both on a lower rate.

So if incentives are not the answer what is?   

Some employer’s opt for a package of benefits. This can include extra holidays, pension provision, dress down Fridays and a host of other ideas only limited by the imagination of the human resource department.

This will be terrible news to large organisations; not everyone appreciates these benefits.

What do people really want? They want to be valued (sure, enough money for the job), they want to be heard, they want to be recognised, in short, they want to have meaning in their life.  For most people these things are more important in the long-term than benefits and short-term incentives no matter what they tell you.

There is a battery of alternatives to short-term incentives to keep employees motivated. A bright example of this, close to my heart because it is my daughter’s business, is the recruiter iMultiply Resourcing. Kirsty Mackenzie, the MD, does not use the single blunt instrument of cash to engage with her employees but an interesting mix of: social engagement (direct charitable involvement), customer satisfaction incentives (ethical trading), clear conversations (you know where you stand) and fun staff competitions to engender a sense of team, vision and belonging. These ideas helped her win ‘Young entrepreneur of the year’, have shaped the nature of the business which is growing apace.

The dash for cash is not the panacea of business; life has moved on, employers need to speak to potential recruits around ‘engagement’ a phrase much misunderstood.   Discovering exactly what employees seek for long-term motivation is not a quick-fix. Management have to earn their living by working hard at it, however the rewards will be lower attrition rates, higher morale, and service above and beyond basic effort.




Dr Colin Mackenzie is a High Growth consultant, trainer and lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University.


Image: Money Suit by Zoomar