The top ten employee rewards and motivators
  • leadership
  • Blog post

The top ten employee rewards and motivators

What motivates employees to show up every day and do their jobs?

No joke: It’s the paycheck.

Let’s not forget that the most powerful job motivators aren’t anything about the job itself. People want to provide for themselves and their families. They want to live a certain lifestyle and achieve financial security. And that takes money.

Yet many managers are still uncomfortable with the money talk, as if not talking about the issue makes it go away. It doesn’t. If you’re looking to keep your employees loyal and engaged, you need to have open and honest conversations about money.

Obviously your employees will always want to earn more — who wouldn’t? — but when it comes to compensation the real issue is almost always fairness. Employees understand that compensation depends on many factors — the nature of the job, the value it creates, the job market, the organization’s finances — but they want to know that they’re not being taken advantage of.

But once you’ve addressed money, the most powerful drivers of employee motivation are social. They’re powerful. And every manager should be using them.

The other 9 employee motivators (besides the paycheck):


It’s easy to assume that people feel appreciated. After all, if they weren’t doing a good job, they’d hear about it, right? But the absence of  criticism is not the same as praise. The manager’s role in acknowledging each person’s contribution is essential. Nobody else’s opinion matters nearly as much as the boss’s. That’s why employee recognition should always go through you, the manager. An “Employee Appreciation” plaque from HR carries less weight than a few words of heartfelt appreciation from you.

Being in the know.

Managers often view information from a “need to know” perspective. Of course there are good reasons to keep some information closely held, such as personal information about other employees or competitive information that, if leaked, could hurt the organization. But some managers withhold other information because they think it’s irrelevant to the the employee’s particular job, and will only confuse or distract them. Not so. People have a need to see the big picture and know where they fit in. And they’ll do a better job as a result. So keep confidential information confidential, but for everything else be generous in sharing what you know.

Understanding when the employee faces a crisis.

Yes, some employees will try to take advantage by claiming  personal emergencies on a regular basis. You need to be firm and consistent with them — no hard feelings, but the job needs to be done. But every employee will likely face some legitimate personal crisis at some point. In that situation, a boss who’s understanding and willing to make some temporary adjustments will earn a huge loyalty bonus from the employee.

Job security.

Of course, no job is 100% secure. But employees need to know that as long as they’re performing, managers will do all they can to secure their jobs. If a position is eliminated, for example, will the boss try to move the employee to another job, even if  it requires a learning curve? Keep in mind that it’s not just about the employee whose job is at risk. Everyone else is watching too, and wondering the same thing: “If I get into a similar situation, will my boss go to bat for me or kick me to the curb?” That’s why it’s important to make the effort even if it’s ultimately unsuccessful. Employees need to see you try.

Engaging work.

If you have an employee who’s really good at something, it’s tempting to just give them more of the same. But are you feeding their soul? Give people the opportunity to take on additional, interesting tasks. Employees will willingly take on these tasks in addition to their primary duties if it’s something that engages them.

Growth opportunities.

Ditto the above. Don’t hold people back just because they’re good at what they do, or because nobody else would do it as well. Good employees want to move forward. If they don’t see an opportunity to do it at your organization, they’ll go somewhere else.


We touched on this under “Job Security.” But loyalty affects every part of the boss-employee relationship. If you want employees to have your back, you have to have theirs. Never allow yourself to trash talk or complain about an employee to their colleagues. Word will likely get back, and other employees will wonder what you say about them when they’re not around. Loyalty involves actions as well as words. Don’t throw a good employee under the bus to placate a customer, for example. And if they make an honest mistake, support them even as you acknowledge the mistake.

Tactful discipline.

Difficult conversations and negative feedback come with the territory for managers. Don’t wimp out and avoid the responsibility — your people deserve to know when they’re not meeting your expectations. But do it in a way that preserves their dignity. For example, don’t humiliate an employee in front of others. Don’t yell. And don’t make it personal.

A fun environment.

People try harder when they like where they work. Yes, the job needs to get done. But manage with a light touch. Recognize that people sometimes need to let off steam or have some fun.


  • John Borio says:

    Paycheck? Michael, I suggest you do some additional study on “motivation” – and start with Herzberg’s Hygiene and Motivation factors. For example – a few weeks ago there was a government shutdown; many government workers were furloughed and did not receive a pay check. Pay check is a “hygiene factor” i.e. it was part of the working contract where I trade my labor for some monitory compensation. When the government reneged on the deal, I became dissatisfied… When the pay started flowing again, the worker did not become motivated – they were simply no longer dissatisfied. Paycheck is not a motivator

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