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Does non monetary motivation work for adult workers?

Those of us whose education included management science and those of us who learnt more and better about human motivation doing our masters in the University of Life have realized that motivation, either positive or negative, doesn’t work on everybody in the same manner.

Way back in 1960s itself, Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Y enlightened us about the two contrasting assumptions of human motivation, leaving us to choose between the carrot and the stick and we now have Stephen Covey who talks about the wisdom of migrating from an Industrial Age (Theory X) to that of an Information Age (Theory Y) to get the best of people.

As seasoned managers, we have our own experiences and opinions about what works in motivating our people and what doesn’t. We know that monetary rewards are necessary but so are the small little trinkets that even battle-scarred and war-weary generals and soldiers love to receive in recognition of their services. What would you say?

Here are some of the responses of learning experts and professionals in verbatim:

  • In a word - Yes! Praise and Recognition are extremely powerful when used purposefully and appropriately. Too much water downs the impact. There must be balance. If Praise is lavished on all, those who are the more deserving will observe that they do not stand out... that those who are not as deserving are being praised too - the praise becomes meaningless.

    It is also meaningless when praise is given over long periods of time and is not accompanied by the appropriate rewards. An individual who is an outstanding performer, recognized for his/her works, and given stellar performance reviews will be satisfied... But repeat this scenario year after year with little or no program of monetary reward results in words that are very empty and meaningless.

  • There is no such thing as too much "sincere" praise. Attach it to something real and it has meaning. Insincere praise, silly crappy gifts, patronizing attitudes will always back fire.

    According to most surveys people want recognition as much if not more than money. It's a sign that what they do matters, it helps them feel secure in their job. As people get more senior in a firm, they have more confidence in their abilities, and their desire for cash as recognition goes up accordingly. But the majority of the people in a company want to be paid fairly and acknowledged for good work in equal amounts.

    While I agree with above comment to some degree, the problem is that most people aren't comfortable giving praise, and so use the idea that too much praise is bad as an excuse to not give any at all. They praise everyone or no one, rather than using praise to celebrate good work, and show people what it takes to make a difference. All things being equal, no praise is worse than too much.

  • Recognition and Reward

    If we look at recognition and reward as points on a spectrum going from left to right, we might get a better clarification of some terms commonly used in discussions.


    Good Manners Compliments/Praise Positive Recognition

    Good Manners Starting all the way over on the left, we find those things that mom was teaching us like saying A please! A thank you! In this group of comments you also have A good morning! or A good afternoon! or A good evening! or Have a nice day! This is usually pleasant recognition; one individual to the other.

    Compliments: Compliments are forms of recognition usually at the center of the spectrum. Comments such as - that dress/suit looks good on you! or what a great looking car! A nice job! A good work! are often in the center of the spectrum. Compliments are usually nonspecific or personal in nature so very often words like terrific, fantastic, and great are used in the compliment. Compliments are mostly honest with a sprinkling of flattery.

    Positive Recognition: Positive recognition talks about specific behaviors and specific resulting benefits so it's important that this kind of feedback be honest and sincere. There are only a few exceptions to being honest and sincere and those might include feedback given by Grandpa or Grandma to their grandchildren or feedback given to a small child by their parents following the child’s first successful trip to the bathroom, or when an athlete at the Special Olympics wins a medal.

    Positive Recognition is recognition of past behavior, and even though future behavior may be improved, the positive recognition should be restricted to the past behavior with no strings to the future. Statements like keep up the good work, or let's see the same results next time are a thread to future behavior and should be avoided. It is like saying to the person !If you don't keep up the good work I'll take back my positive recognition that you already earned.!


    Team Based Rewards, Individual Based Rewards, Bribes, Cons and Kickbacks

    Looking at rewards as points along a spectrum may also be helpful in our discussion.

    Team based Rewards probably the two most common organizations wide reward systems for a team based organization would be profit sharing or gain sharing. Both of these plans recognize the contribution of every individual, and every individual shares in the profits or gains of the organization. There are also many supervisors, managers and leaders who will occasionally provide rewards for groups in the organization. These rewards may be cans of cold pop in the break room on a hot Summer day, a box of candy put out for everyone to enjoy or small rewards of coffee cups, pens, caps or T shirts.

    Individual Rewards or Incentives Some organizations give a larger individual rewards for high achievers or develop incentive systems that will reward groups of high performance individuals. Since these programs promote and encourage individual competition, they are often counterproductive in team based organizations were the focus is on win-win.

    Bribes, Cons, and Kickbacks a negative use of rewards is to use extrinsic motivation to encourage increased performance. Taken to extreme, individuals can be lured into the illegal, unethical or poor business practices.

    A promotion or a raise is more than recognition or a reward; It is an earned result of past and projected future accomplishments.

  • According to Gallup in their celebrated Q12, aside from not struggling everyday due to lack of goals or tool, recognition and praise come high in the expectations of employees but not only in the form imparted by bosses. Peer recognition is also important in establishing a quality work environment...

    When it comes to praise and recognition as a general mean of reinforcing belonging and contribution to the organization, we should keep in mind these basic guidelines: Reinforcement works only if done ON THE SPOT, it must be timed right after the fact deserving praise and it must also include WHY and HOW it relates to the big picture.

    As for freedom, I believe it is a matter of personality: some people will feel at a loss if not provided with clear guidelines and boundaries while other will actually perform less on a too structured environment.

  • There are some tasks for which non-monetary motivations work better than monetary motivations. Tasks which provide intrinsic satisfactions to the worker are examples of such tasks. In fact providing monitory motivations for such tasks may reduce the motivation of the individual. For an example an amateur painter who paints for the joy will find his motivation level going down if he is paid for his paintings. This typically happens because the individual senses a loss of control over the task. Once he is paid for the task, it means that he has to perform as per the expectations and objective of the payer. And this burden will reduce his motivation.
  • In my personal experience, if the generous praise/recognition/freedom is not balanced out with a constant reminder (to self and team) of high standards, a team can quickly become listless.
  • In my experience, it is not the amount of praise that matters as much as the perceived truthfulness of it. Overly enthusiastic praise for every little thing, regardless of how simple it is, quickly begins to ring hollow. On the other end of the spectrum, not recognizing someone's good work, especially if extra effort or creativity was required, just for the sake of not giving them a swelled head, comes across as petty and can be very demoralizing. You need to set your standards, encourage your team as they work to meet those standards, and work to help them improve when they don't meet them.

    Non-monetary motivation definitely works for adult workers, and freedom and flexibility in doing their work is part of that motivation. I have managed teams of people where I did not have the budget to pay them the salaries that they should have been paid, so I had to use other types of motivation. Our team's productivity and morale both increased to the point where other managers and teams took notice. As with the matter of praise (above paragraph), it all comes down to dealing honestly with your people and treating them as an important part of your team, not as children who have to be constantly monitored and told what to do.

  • In my experience which spans over years of dealing with people of all ages and people in voluntary and paid positions, including people who do things for self development and to help others, I have found that "verbal praise and active praise" and little gestures and very occasional meaningful gifts of appreciation are very powerful motivators. For example, I give out an ATTITUDE pin to people who do things for me sometimes. Sometimes I give a small plaque of a positive word or phrase with a meaningful picture - such as TEAMWORK or MOTIVATION, etc. In addition I have found that one of the most powerful incentive is the honesty and truthfulness with which all these are bestowed - they MUST carry with them MEANING and FEELING and PERSONAL APPRECIATION. Watch the language you use in delivering the message and the music in your voice when expressing the language. The tone in the voice and the music work wonders. Try it.

    Yes, I do give away to special people and sell in quantity these ATTITUDE pins. They are positive motivators. Yes, I agree with the money aspect as well - even though it is NOT the most important.

  • A skilled project manager knows that different people are motivated by different things. Some people need recognition, others need to feel that they have freedom to make some decisions on their own, others need social approval and connection, others need to be seen as creative, some just want security and predictability. In my experience, men seem to want to be recognized in terms of money more, and women tend to need more social rewards and praise. It is definitely possible to over-praise. Many people who are not recognition-oriented feel embarrassed by public praise and may sense ulterior motives in private praise. Too much freedom can frighten employees who want to feel more social connection, or want the security of only being responsible for what they know best. Creative and recognition-oriented people need more freedom than others, and these people can generally be identified because they are not reluctant to speak up in meetings and voice divergent opinions. Successful groups usually have some of each type of person. When a manager understands each person as an individual, as well as a "resource" with a certain skill, he will be rewarded with greater loyalty and improved productivity. I spent 8 years as a manager, so these lessons were hard-learned because in the beginning I thought all my people were workaholics and would have the same standards. Not true.
  • Too much? Is there such a thing? As long as the praise and recognition is sincere and earned, I doubt there such a thing! As for freedom that comes back to the Theory X Theory Y models of management. One believes people are basically lazy and need to be controlled, one believes people are basically self-motivated and will perform if given the chance. Guess which one produces higher level performance? The one with more freedom, of course!

    And as for non-monetary rewards, it depends. If the person does not have enough money to meet their needs, non-monetary rewards are actually a disincentive. But if compensation is perceived as fair, and the non-monetary awards are of value to the employee (as in a chance to learn something new), yes, absolutely! Research suggests silly rewards also work well...

  • Non-monetary motivation absolutely works! I've had employees clearly state they prefer recognition in front of peers and leaders, over a bonus or raise. I used praise and recognition techniques with them and experienced solid results.

    I don't believe it works for everyone as I've had other employees clearly state they are motivated by the almighty dollar.

  • I think it depends on the employee. How do you know what motivates them? ASK THEM! I am motivated by both, money (raises, bonuses, gift cards, etc) and the non-monetary, but right now, in this economy, I do understand that the former is less forthcoming. I'll take freedom (telecommuting or flex hours) in the absence of and sometimes in lieu of money to try and achieve some work-life balance.
  • According to many motivation research gurus, non-monetary is the most motivating force for performance excellence. Monetary is motivating for the person taking the job in the first place, but not necessarily for peak performance on assigned tasks.

    Hertzberg and the 3-N model are two that immediately come to mind.

    Overall, each person is unique in what is most motivating for them--you have to find out and handle it individually to be most effective in motivating a person. After all, what one person thrives on (e.g., public praise) another person might be de-motivated by.

    BTW, there is one N-type the Power Driven person that may be very monetary-based in motivation because they use the money as their way of keeping "score" of how much perceived power they have.

  • Intuitively, it seems to me that when you give a group of people a privilege that comes with a concurrent responsibility, it would be prudent to prepare them with some training on how to take advantage of the new privilege without abusing it. Clear, written HR policy guidelines, along with some e-learning, showing positive and negative examples of appropriate leave-taking would help ensure that all employees have the same understanding of the policy, its proper use, and might help avoid the appearance that some employees are favored over others.
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