Never Try To Motivate Employees With Money

Money Does Not Motivate Employees

motivate employees

I can’t think of anything I love more than being acknowledged, unless it’s rewarded at the same time I’m being acknowledged. Employees are the same way. They love to be rewarded. Heck, we all do! It makes us feel good for putting our hearts and souls into a task, even if it is our job. But, believe it or not, money probably isn’t the best way to reward employees.

The prepaid gift card people may have a booming business going, but there’s something even more powerful to give than money. While money is great for the short-term, but there’s too much “routine” involved in giving money to make it lasting and memorable, or warm and fuzzy. You’re like all, “Aunt Jenni gave me $50 last Christmas,” but I dare you to remember where you spent it or what you spent it on. You love getting it, but 10 minutes later you’re like, “Did anyone bring ice cream for the pumpkin pie?”  And, even if you do remember what you got with the fifty bucks, does it make you think kindly of Aunt Jenni. Probably not! Afterall, she gave you $50 and not the gift you got yourself.

You know the routine – Remember when it’s time to give out the Christmas bonus again? What was it you gave everyone last year, an extra two weeks of pay and a pen shaped like a candy cane? This year, you better match it, even if you can’t afford to my dear entrepreneurial Santa, because, well, your employees are expecting it. You’ve set a precedent and you have to match or exceed it from here on out. Don’t get me wrong. From the employees’ standpoint, money is a great gift! But when it comes to routine, it isn’t so much ‘nice’ as it is ‘expected.’ And when you don’t deliver on that expectation, well, people get upset and disappointed and grumble about you on the loading dock or around the water cooler or wherever they go to talk about you.


Change It Up

motivating employees
So here’s the first lesson: Whatever you do, don’t reward employees the same way every time. Don’t always give them the same $100 or the same pat on the back. You threw a pizza party for the last launch? Take everyone out for burgers or pasta after this launch. You need to be careful about setting an expectation where the reward is perceived as simply being part of their “normal compensation.” It has to feel unexpected and special.

The biggest thing employers’ miss when we talk about this reward thing is that money is a very short high. When you get money, unless you’ve won the Powerball lottery, it’s exciting for maybe 10 minutes. Then the thrill dies off as the person starts assigning jobs to every dollar and stops seeing it as a reward and starts seeing it as a way to pay their bills. The reason they do that is because money isn’t tangible. I mean, really. You get it on a small piece of paper (like a check) or a few bills, and then it disappears. There’s no “souvenir” left for them to look at and share. That’s why people give plaques and trophies, but even then, you’ve got to personalize it and change it up.


Lasting Options

motivate employees

There are dozens of ways to reward employees, and they all start with a thoughtful, personalized gift that’s unique to them, not something you find flipping through an “employee rewards” gift catalog. Why? Because personalized gifts are tangible and they send a message—“we really appreciate you.” They have lasting power. They’re a souvenir of the appreciation and recognition the employee felt when they received it. That gift will come up in their thoughts again and again, especially if their friends and family ask where they got it. The employees will also get to use the gift again and again – providing that you gave them something they will actually use and that is an appropriate recognition for their efforts.

Here is what you can do to make sure you give them a gift they will truly appreciate:

As you work    with your employees, and personal conversations happen, make a note of the things they like or want. Don’t do this in front of them. They’ll think you’re weird or spying on them. Wait until you leave them and then write it down.

Write those things down because, when it comes time to get a gift, you will not be able to remember whether it was Joe who loves gardening or power tools, as hard as you try.

Build a list of these things you can choose from to reward the employee with, when the time is right. You will also need to make sure that the gifts are appropriate.  I did this with an intern who worked in my office last summer. He was working for free to build his resume and gain some experience in the field. He was an awesome intern. One day, he mentioned how he loved the Xbox and wanted one. It caught my attention, and I asked him what kinds of games he liked, and how many people he liked to play the game with. After the conversation ended, I quickly jotted down the details of the conversation as it related to the Xbox.

With that accomplished, I bought the Xbox, games and controllers. One vital tip you need to understand is that if you give a gift, give the full function of the gift, including the batteries if that’s required. An Xbox is useless without games and controllers. So giving just the Xbox would have been a burden on him, not a gift. Being able to open a gift and slap in the 20 AAA batteries it runs on makes the experience all the more memorable. If you’re giving the gift of electronics, make sure you have all the cords, and whatever else the person needs too.


Making It Special

motivate employees

I’m not sure who had more fun or felt more excited when our intern’s last day came. That’s the day when I gave him the gift! Like the commercial says, the total gift cost around $650, but the experience was priceless. On the last day of his internship, I walked him into the conference room. I know he thought he was probably getting some cake and a warm soda, but boy was he in for a surprise. I had the gift wrapped up in seven different boxes laid out on the table. It was like Christmas morning for him, and kind of for me too! I told him how much we had valued his help, and our hope for his future success, and then I told him to tear into the gifts.

I can’t tell you how thrilled he was! He jumped up and down, and shouted. He even hugged me. He called all his friends to share the news and announce a game night, that very night at his house. He was absolutely thrilled! And, as a little extra surprise, I told him he had the rest of the day off so that he could head out and set up for his game night.


The Payback

motivate employees

What we got back in return from that simple gesture of appreciation for his contribution was huge! He sent a nice thank you card and a voice mail, saying he couldn’t believe the generosity of the company, and that all his friends wanted to work there. Over a year later, I interviewed a really exceptional guy who seemed eager to do anything, just to work for us. After we hired him, I asked why he wanted to work with us so badly. He said, “Everyone does. Everyone knows you guys care about your people like family.” As it turned out, he had heard about us from the intern, when he stopped by his house and asked, “Where did you get the Xbox?”

So giving thoughtful gifts works! But one note – don’t think that giving money to an employee so they can get the gift for themselves is the same thing. They will have the momentary excitement over the money, but it will be quickly forgotten. And when they buy the gift themselves, it won’t make them think of you, it will only make them remember what they picked out for themselves.



4 thoughts on “Never Try To Motivate Employees With Money”

  1. I totally agree with your post. I have read that identifying a specific good deed or accomplishment that is being rewarded is important too.
    It’s too bad so many business owners still think it’s about the money.

  2. Awesome! This goes beyond the ‘hey kid, great job.’ You reached into his psyche and found the nugget that cemented the human connection and gifting. That’s the difference between the lazy man’s way (money) and the caring individual.

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