Employee happiness and motivation are not driven by compensation but by advancement, respect and trust, as I explained in a recent blog. As is often the case when I voice this belief, I got a flood of emails telling me I’m wrong.
While everyone has a right to their opinion, my position is supported by my experience turning hundreds of unhappy workers into happy employees —without increasing compensation above and beyond normal raises.
It’s not that employees don’t want more money. They do. Or, perhaps, it’s more accurate to say they think they do. The key issues are: why do they want more money, and are they happier when they get it?
Let’s tackle the second issue first.
When employees get a pay raise, most feel happier — for a month or two, six months tops. But then, the slight change in their lifestyle has become routine, and most go back to being just as disgruntled as they were before the raise. The happiness of the raise is fleeting and cannot be maintained over time.
This happens because more money doesn’t address the reasons why most employees are unhappy with their jobs.
Money doesn’t motivate. Instead, it represents what employees believe it means. In other words, getting paid more symbolizes they are important to their firms. The same is true for firm owners. The more the business produces in revenue, the more important firm owners feel their firm is to the world.
But more money doesn’t make an employee feel happier in their job, because they do the job to find more meaningful and sustainable significance in their careers — they want to feel that what they do matters and makes a difference.
Therefore, firm owners have a choice. They either can buy into the fiction that more money is going to make their employees feel better about their jobs, or they can take some time to determine what makes their employees feel significant working in their firm.
To Be Significant, or Not
In most cases, people simply want to know that they are significant, which can mean different things to different people. I’ve found that with employees, it represents being worthy, appreciated, respected and trusted for showing up each day to do their job.