Your Employees Want To Be Valued and That Does Not Always Require More Money

small business employee motivation

Insights on what motivates employees beyond monetary awards.


Editor’s note: this is part one of a two part series.

Setting up and operating a small business that financially supports the owner is itself an accomplishment.

Building an operation that is able to support additional employees can be another level of accomplishment for many business owners.  

Additional employees can offer your business the benefit of providing helping hands that enables growth, but it also brings new challenges and another level of leadership stress.  When you have employees you not only need to navigate the logistics and administration of hiring, training, evaluating and paying you also need to ensure your employees are contributing, remain motivated and engaged so they can make a positive contribution to their business.

It can become a trap for a small business owner to get caught in the thinking that as long as you are consistently paying your employees fair wages your employees will work hard. To sustain performance over time people need to remain motivated and motivations change.  

A disheartening reality

For some business owners it can be disheartening to struggle to bring in enough money to pay your employees only to turn around and learn that their wages are no longer enough to keep them satisfied.

While your employees wish to be paid a fair wage after a time wages alone can decrease as a motivator.  I have worked with business owners who have said that if their employees are no longer satisfied with their wages they are welcome to leave.

However, it is in our nature that when we become acclimatized to receiving a benefit that benefit needs to be increased or changed to maintain the same psychological impact. People remain complex and our needs change. In times of famine what tastes good to eat may not be what tastes good to eat in times of bounty.

As a leader of an organization understanding how to meet the changing motivational needs of your employees can be the ticket you need to sustain a productive workforce.  

It’s really not about the money

It would be inaccurate to say that wages are not important to most employees. Most people certainly want to be paid for their time and paid appropriately with a fair wage. However, even people who appear highly motivated by money are not completely motivated by the money, often they are motivated by what the money can provide.  

It is not always easy to clarify what motivates people, in fact people don’t always fully understand their own motivations.

While the definition of motivation is simple enough understanding it is more complex.  Motivation is the reason(s) we have for acting or behaving in a particular way and those reasons can remain complex and even elusive. To be motivated for something indicates one has a general desire or willingness to do something to obtain something.

This “desire” or “willingness” is fuelled by many intertwined elements that include biological, emotional, social and cognitive forces that activate our behaviours. The reasons behind motivation can come from within, intrinsic or from outside, extrinsic.

An internal motivation might be your need to obtain food or feel love and an external motivating factor might be your need to avoid a threat.  You may be familiar with the famous Maslow’s Theory of a Hierarch of Needs.

These three hierarchy of needs is relevant to understanding your employee’s motivations.

Next- The three hierachy of needs