Many managers believe they can motivate most of their employees with money. Others counter that appreciation and recognition is the driving force. But Ilona Jerabek, a Montreal-based psychological researcher, says it's much more complicated. She has tested 23 tangible and intangible incentives, and says motivating employees is multidimensional.
"What we discovered is that we can't single out one or two motivators and say: 'These are the Holy Grail of motivation and inspiration; these are the keys that will unlock your team's potential.' The idea that motivation is not a one-size-fits-all solution is a concept that many managers fail to grasp, says the president of Psychtests Aim Inc.
Ms. Jerabek's testing found these top 10 motivators: achievement; learning; inspiration (the chance to inspire others); creativity; fun and enjoyment; improvement; financial reward; change and variety; identity and purpose; and stability.
So financial rewards fall seventh on the list. (It's actually fifth for men, but 12th for women.) If employees feel underpaid and used, that will drag down motivation in a work force. But offer financial carrots and many people aren't particularly revved up (although some definitely are). But many people aren't particularly revved up by financial carrots.
Appreciation and recognition fared even more miserably, landing 14th on the list. Fun and enjoyment does not necessarily mean parties, and it will vary depending on the person. Ms. Jerabek says she finds looking at results from her testing to be highly enjoyable. Somebody else may get excited by the chance to brainstorm. An accountant may relish working with numbers. The key is understanding how employees define their own fun and enjoyment.
"If you motivate people properly, their job satisfaction and engagement improves. And when they are engaged and happy, they are more productive," she says.
She feels it's helpful to categorize employees into five clusters, according to how they prefer to be motivated, while not forgetting that everyone remains an individual with their own particular dynamics:
Trailblazers: This is the most common group, with 35 per cent of respondents falling into this category. They want to make an impact on others and leave their mark on the world in general. They have an altruistic streak, they are forward-looking, and they love social contact. They are not extremely ambitious for themselves; they want to be promoted, but they won't step on other people's toes. Their top motivators are altruism, customer orientation (the desire to truly satisfy customers), inspiration, achievement, social contact, identity and purpose, learning, creativity, contribution or legacy, and fun and enjoyment.
Workhorses: This was the second most common grouping, 23 per cent of the sample. They are the worker bees of your organization, liking structure and wanting to get the job done well. "They are people you can rely on to show up on time and do the job to the best of their ability. Work is really, really important to them," she says. Ask for 100 per cent and they will give you 150 per cent. Their top motivators are achievement, stability, financial reward, structure and order, recognition and appreciation, power, and status.
Heavyweights: This was the third most common type, at 12 per cent. They like a fast-paced, pressured environment, and they are interested in achievement and influencing others. They seek to be in control, craving status and approval. Work-life balance is not a motivator. They are often workaholics and quite enjoy that pressure as long as they are properly compensated. They also cherish challenges. "The more motivated heavyweights are, the more obstacles they will plow through, the more ladders they will climb, the more competition they will dominate," she observes. Top motivators for this group are achievement, responsibility, active/high-pressure work environment, power, status, and contribution/legacy.
Gen-Yers: Members of Generation Y, who account for 11 per cent of the sample, tend to drive many managers crazy, because they seem unmotivated and appear to believe they should be allowed to rise through the ranks without having to pay their dues. But Ms. Jerabek says they're misunderstood. "Gen-Yers want to do what they love and love what they do. Don't be mistaken, however; once focused on a goal they love, Gen-Yers are not afraid of hard work, and are the masters of balancing heavy workloads and different life spheres," she says. They thrive in a job environment that is team-oriented, encouraging participation, enthusiasm and an open mind. Give them projects that allow them to think (and act) outside the box. Top motivators are inspiration, social contact, financial reward, recognition and appreciation, creativity, power, status, mobility, contribution/legacy, and fun and enjoyment.
Explorers: The fifth most common group, at 9 per cent, hate routine, preferring change and variety. Don't expect them to stay in a job for long, but instead arrange it so they can continually learn new things. Generally, they are quite creative. Top motivators are learning, change and variety, job-hopping, creativity, independence, power, mobility, and contribution/legacy.
Managers should know what cluster individuals they work with – or want to hire – fall into, and then within that cluster they need to know the key motivating factors for that person. If you understand the motivators, Ms. Jerabek advises, you can arrange any job so it will be fulfilling.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter