Motivation at Work

Business agent running for chasing her aim

Work: It’s about more than money.

As a recruiter I spend the majority of my time interviewing candidates for positions in our company and I’ve noticed a common theme. Time and again, candidates say they are looking to leave their current employer because they want to work for a company where they can have a career, not just a job.

Often, these candidates make more money at the job they have, yet they say they’d make a lateral move or even take a demotion in exchange for the opportunity to have professional growth.

Psychologists and academics who conduct research on what motivates people at work also point to other intrinsic motivators beyond money. At a recent seminar held at Central Oregon Community College, the presenter — Michael Canic, who holds a doctorate in the psychology of human performance — talked about what motivates employees. On a paper flipchart, he wrote a list of top motivators, and not only was money not at the top, it was actually fourth or fifth on the list. Ahead of money were factors like:

• Autonomy
• Opportunities for development
• Mastery in a field
• Ability to make meaningful contributions
• Working in a fun environment

Canic then asked the audience to describe some ways they create fun working environments. Folks shared ideas ranging from quarterly potlucks and recipe shares to a designated “dance closet” (complete with disco ball!) to holding meetings on paddleboards and in brewpubs. (Only in Bend, right?)

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
But when it comes to motivating employees in their daily work, if data indicates that money is not the top factor for motivating employees in their day-to-day work, does that mean people will do what they love no matter their salary? Not exactly. Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed his famous Hierarchy of Needs to illustrate his theory on how humans are motivated. He asserted that the basic human needs — food, shelter and stability — must be met before people will seek things such as growth, development and mastery of their work.


His hierarchy illustrated that once certain needs are met, the human experience is to seek out and fulfill higher needs that producer higher levels of satisfaction until we reach self-actualization or the highest expression of our potential. Having a stable work environment with fair pay is an essential foundation from which employees can cultivate their growth and work.

What does it look like in the everyday work environment for people to feel they have a career, not just a job? Well, if we understand that the motivators have to do with meaning, purpose, growth and development, then it would follow that any activities that include a consistent commitment to those initiatives would help create an environment where employees are engaged.

Initiatives used to reinforce top motivators
Ask employees for input on as many things as make sense, from strategic plans to new products or services the company is developing. This creates strong buy-in and involvement in big decisions.

Empower people to take ownership and responsibility of their work. Micromanaging can kill creativity and dampen innovation.

Acknowledge work that has been performed. A great example of this principle is found in a TED Talk by behavioral economist Dan Ariely that illustrates the demoralizing effects of working hard on something only to have it go nowhere.

Communicate often to update employees on business revenues, plans for growth, areas of concern and other business news. When people are looped in, it communicates to employees that making sure they’re informed is important to the company.

Hold regular one-to-one meetings between employee and supervisor to discuss things that the employee is working on, as well as identify obstacles and chart progress in development.

Develop paths of open communication. Q&A sessions with upper management or having a suggestion box where employees can drop anonymous feedback give people options to communicate their feelings, questions and concerns.

Carve out time for employees to work on anything other than their jobs. This is explained in Dan Pink’s TED Talk on “The Puzzle of Motivation.” The idea is to relinquish employees from their day-to-day work in order to explore, create and work on things unrelated to their jobs.


Marielle Gallagher is a Talent Acquisition Specialist for TDS/BendBroadband. As an internal recruiter for the company, she handles the full-cycle process from posting to interviewing and identifying top talent. She has been with BendBroadband for a year and half and previously worked at The Bulletin, where she coordinated the recruiting process for the newsroom.

Motivation at Work

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