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The Boomer Bulletin - 2012
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Increasing Employee Motivation

Posted By Arianna Campbell, Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The ability to retain the best employees is an important part of firm growth. When evaluating ways to increase retention, the effect of positive employee motivation is often overlooked. However, there are many benefits to having motivated employees: increased productivity, increased engagement and accountability, increased job satisfaction and decreased absenteeism. All of these benefits can lead directly to higher retention as well as increased firm productivity and morale. How can you increase employee motivation in your firm? The answer can be found in understanding and identifying the primary motivators in your firm.

Understanding Employee Motivators

Palmer Morrel-Samuels, Ph.D., led a study conducted by Workplace Research Foundation in cooperation with the University of Michigan that found that as employee motivation improved, the firm's stock enjoyed higher subsequent returns the following year. While this study was based on corporations that were listed in the Wall Street Journal 1000, the findings are relevant in any industry.

It is common practice to use compensation as the main employee motivator, but this may not be the most effective option. Morrel-Samuels, Ph.D., commented that, "employee motivation cannot be purchased. It has to do with intellectual challenge, pride in developing a sense of mastery and the need to make a contribution to both your job and society.” Money is an undeniable motivator but there are several reasons why firms should be careful not to use this as the only motivator. 

The first reason is that consistency is an important attribute for motivators and monetary motivators are dependent on the profitability of the firm, which can vary from year to year. Staff still needs to be motivated when budgets are tight and bonuses and salary increases are not available. In fact, this is likely the time when the staff needs the most motivation. Secondly, when monetary motivators are small or nonexistent, employees may feel undervalued even though this was not the intent of the employer. Lastly, monetary motivators are usually only given once a year and it is important to motivate your staff year round. These challenges can be minimized by understanding other ways to provide motivation. 

During the 2008 Boomer Technology Circle Summit, Jennifer Wilson, Co-Founder and Partner of ConvergenceCoaching, gave a presentation entitled, "Leveraging Technology to Promote Diversity.” Her presentation included a section about the importance of employee motivation and listed the following six professional motivators:  

  • Acknowledgment and respect
    • Show appreciation, listening to and soliciting ideas, saying thank you, showing trust, implement employee appreciate programs
  • Camaraderie and fun
    • Incorporate team building activities, relationship building, seasonal activities, and recognition for birthdays and time of service anniversaries 
  • Compensation - Money and benefits
    • As discussed above, this is the most common motivator and includes bonuses, raises, stock options, match 401K, etc 
  • Flexibility and time off
    • Make arrangements for flex hours, remote working opportunities, or additional vacation hours.  
  • Increased responsibility and challenge
    • Delegate, project lead, process improvement team
  • Personal and professional development 
    • Support lunch and learn programs, professional certifications, continuing education, and attendance at industry related conferences

Lasting employee motivation is usually a result of a combination of these six motivators. The key is to identify the right mix for your firm.  

Determining What Motivates Your Staff

After gaining a better understanding of employee motivators, the next step is to determine the staff’s main motivators. One approach is to send an email to the staff explaining the firm is interested in increasing employee motivation. Provide a brief description of the importance of employee motivation and include the six professional motivators and ask each person to rank them. It may be helpful to mention that while the firm is planning to make an effort to increase employee motivation, this does not necessarily mean that you will able to meet every employee’s main motivator all the time, and ranking their priorities will not exclude them from receiving others on the list (i.e. indicating flexibility and time off as a main motivator will not make them ineligible for a raise). 

This list of priorities can give you valuable insight into how to get the best from your staff.  Open the lines of communication by giving each staff member an opportunity to discuss their list. This discussion can be added to the next one-on-one meeting or review, and should be revisited at least annually.  For new employees, this list should be included in the onboarding process. 

Keep in mind that motivators can change with different phases in an employee’s career and personal life. I will use my current work situation as an example. I work remotely from my home office part time and I spend the rest of workday taking care of my young daughters, so I rank my motivators as follows:

  1. Flexibility and time off
  2. Acknowledgment and respect
  3. Compensation - Money and benefits
  4. Camaraderie and fun
  5. Increased responsibility and challenge
  6. Personal and professional development

I value my compensation but my main motivator is flexibility and benefits. However when I first started with Boomer Consulting, my main motivator was increased responsibility and challenge. When my children start school my priorities will likely change again.   

Understanding motivators at the individual level is important, but depending on firm size, it might not be possible to accommodate each employee’s main motivator. Fortunately, the motivators can also be viewed from the firm level. For example, if the majority of your firm is motivated by flexibility then you may want to think about a flex time schedule. If compensation and benefits motivates the majority, than incentives and bonuses are better options. However, it is important to remember that the main motivator should not be the only motivator. All six motivators are essential, but the most success can be found from focusing on the motivators that are most valued by the staff.    


Discovering what motivates your staff is a way to take a right step toward enhancing your firm culture. Take the time to ask your staff what motivates them and give careful consideration to the feedback. This simple exercise could result in increased morale, productivity and employee retention. 


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