The Art of Motivating Employees

What motivates employees to do exceptional work? According to HR consultant Robin Paggi, money alone won’t do the trick.

The Art of Motivating Employees

Phil Jackson, former coach of two championship basketball teams, said, “I don’t motivate my players. You cannot motivate someone, all you can do is provide a motivating environment and the players will motivate themselves.” To which you might ask, why does someone need to provide a motivating environment for players who make millions of dollars a year? Isn’t the money motivating enough?

Numerous studies have tried to determine whether money motivates employees. University of Notre Dame professor Timothy Judge and colleagues reviewed the data from 92 of those studies and concluded in their article “The relationship between pay and job satisfaction: A meta-analysis of the literature” that “pay level is only marginally related to satisfaction.” In other words, the answer to the question above is no – money is not motivating enough for NBA players or any other employee to perform at their best.

Which brings us to why employers should even care about providing a motivating environment. In her article “Motivation and Productivity in the Workplace,” Carla Valencia says what most employees already know: “Unmotivated employees are likely to spend little or no effort in their jobs, avoid the workplace as much as possible, exit the organization if given the opportunity and produce low quality work. On the other hand, employees who feel motivated to work are likely to be persistent, creative and productive, turning out high quality work that they willingly undertake.” Employers thinking that they’ll just replace unmotivated employees with people who are grateful to have a job should think again. In an un-motivating environment, those grateful people will soon turn into unmotivated employees themselves and the cycle will start all over again.

So, how does an employer provide a motivating environment? Jim Bock, managing partner of the Bakersfield, CA accounting firm Daniells, Phillips, Vaughan and Bock, says that providing a number of opportunities for employees to get to know each other outside of the workplace motivates them to work together better.

For example, the firm hosts a “Mystery Day” once a year when employees spend a workday doing something fun outside of the office. Employees are not told what will happen (that’s the mystery), but are given clues leading up to the big day. This year employees were treated to a day at Universal Studios, with prizes given during the bus ride to Hollywood for accurately guessing arrival time, mileage, and other trip-related trivia.

Bock says that the numerous team-building activities the firm provides its employees throughout the year are well worth the investment in money and time. But, what if you can’t spend that kind of cash? Numerous studies have shown that it’s not about the money spent – it’s about the time together.

“Much of the workplace environment that encourages employee motivation involves management time and commitment: genuine interest and caring…and attention from both senior managers and line managers are all appreciated and valued,” according to Susan M. Heathfield in her article “The Bottom Line for Motivating Employees” found on

Bock and his partners know that spending quality time with employees is important because “when we’re at work, we’re always in business mode. Outside of work, we can get to know each other and appreciate each other as people.”

Appreciation, of course, is key. Said Heathfield, “Motivation is prevalent in workplaces where people are treated as valued human beings” and says that simply having civil conversations, listening, and providing clear direction shows employees they are appreciated and valued. The problem for employers is, these conversations take time and, as a result, often go by the wayside.

My advice for employers who want to provide a motivating environment is to spend some time with your employees. Tell them what’s going on with the company, ask them for their input, and let them know that you appreciate their contribution. I say that’s time well spent.

Robin Paggi is the Training Coordinator at Worklogic HR.

Robin’s last column was on do’s and don’ts of friendships at work.

Prior to that, she wrote about  keeping and maintaining employment records.

Before that, she wrote for this blog on the topic of fashion rules do’s and dont’s.

She has also written on making sure terminations are not related to romance.

For other prior columns by Robin appearing in my blog, click here, here, here, and here.


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