Motivating employees: going beyond the pay cheque

Motivating employees: going beyond the pay cheque

Each employee is different from the other, by virtue of their qualifications, experience, knowledge, professional expertise, expectations, and last but not the least, their motivation. It is true that a happy employee can help a company to prosper. However, that happiness or satisfaction may not be derived from one common factor, a salary. Most employers make the mistake of thinking that only a fat pay cheque can motivate their employees. Certainly, a pay cheque can be a high motivating factor, but overall motivation and happiness can be achieved by meeting a number of other factors such as, for example, job satisfaction and recognition.

Business psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist Lynda Shaw suggests that there are two basic kinds of motivators that play a pivotal role in general motivation levels.

Internal motivation: This kind of motivation works around work ethics, pride, and passion for the job. Dr. Shaw explains “This type of motivation comes from within ourselves and pushes us to always do the best we can”.

External motivation: This is inspired by fiscal rewards or valuable incentives. Dr. Shaw explains “We know for example that praise from managers, attention from leaders, and our opinions and ideas being heard can be as effective as or even more effective than the short-term boost of pay raises, bonuses, or shares in the company. Treating employees with dignity and respect seems to outweigh giving them cash to motivate them…”.

Considering the various motivation theories, with pay being the predominant element, the following are the most discussed factors for employee motivation:

  • Appreciation of their hard work
  • A fine sense of achievement
  • Empowerment and responsibility
  • Advancement opportunity
  • Environment of challenge and enjoyment

If an employee feels valued and is considered an asset to the company, the employee is more likely to remain motivated, and hence, more productive. Let’s take a look at ways to motivate and boost employee productivity.

Recognition and Commendation

A pat on the back is a major boost for an employee. A company can praise a team, a department, or an individual, and such an initiative is crucial for the professional well-being of each and every employee of the firm. The staff in a company expect to contribute towards the success of the team, department, or the company as a whole. They want to be recognised and appreciated for their hard work. Therefore, a simple “well done” or “keep it up” can immensely boost employee confidence and performance. Your channels of appreciation could be formal or informal, personal or neutral, based on the scale at which you intend to offer recognition and praise. This tactic never fails to improve the personality and confidence of your employee and also raise their dedication towards the employer and the job.

Leadership Development

In order to maintain a charged and highly motivated environment within the workplace, it is imperative that the leaders are encouraged to be exemplary in leadership and motivation. Motivation is a continuous process. It begins with an individual while gradually influencing an entire department, the vertical and the company. Thus, in order to sustain employee motivation, you must ensure that your leaders and managers have the right set of soft skills. You can arrange for training sessions that could help these leaders create a culture of morale-boosting across the firm. Highly motivated leaders, with the right set of skills, can bring out the best in their subordinates. Demotivated leaders cannot perform up to the standards while demotivating the entire team and bringing down performance. Invest in your leaders and managers to create a highly engaging and productive workforce.

Goal setting and Reviews

Help each employee set their own goals and align them to the goals of the company. It instils a sense of belonging and helps employees motivate themselves. Arrange for a periodic review of the goals to let the employees show how they have achieved what they aimed for. These sessions help you to recognise the hard work and contribution made by an employee toward the company’s success. From the point of view of an employee, this initiative, not only helps the drive towards personal progress while identifying areas of improvement and success, but also helps to strengthen the bond with leaders and the company.

Employee Survey

It is imperative to obtain honest feedback from an employee on a regular basis. Regular could be monthly, quarterly or annually. To keep this process more private, and hence more reliable, a company must employ ways to receive feedback anonymously. This will not only help an employee to open up and speak the truth, but also help the company to understand the expectations of their employees. Anonymity allows freedom of expression without being challenged or judged. That prompts honesty and creates unity. If a company is able to gather authentic feedback on a regular basis, it helps the former to build an effective internal communications strategy, a very solid foundation that will enable each employee to fully connect with the company.


There are various ways to motivate an employee with incentives. If a company understands the pulse of their employees, it can easily establish a system for incentives. Employee motivation does not necessarily have to be expensive. Smaller budgets can also make deeper impacts. The aim is to make the employee happy. One good incentive could simply be a day out with a team or a short weekend trip. This enables employees to enjoy themselves and connect beyond work. It not only helps an employee to connect with their colleagues, but also instils trust and loyalty towards the company.

There could also be other rewards like a late start and an early finish on a particular business day; a highly gratifying reward to spend more family time on a working day. There could be surprises such as a lovely bouquet of flowers delivered on the morning of an employee’s birthday, or a company-sponsored cake on special occasions. These tiny initiatives or incentives can make your employees feel valued. Such a feeling generates complete satisfaction and boosts morale.

A report by Red Letter Days for Business (a company which provides incentive programmes to a large number of employers across the UK) found the top five motivating factors to be:

Motivator Voted
Good work/life balance 45%
A motivating boss 25%
Great motivation from peers 19%
Boss is very good at saying thank you 17%
Office environment is very motivating 16%

Motivation at TESCO

Tesco’s initiatives for motivating employees are commendable. A British multinational grocery and retailer, Tesco ensures that each employee works in partnership with others while achieving team and individual objectives. This implies that an employee focuses on their customers, treats everyone fairly, and receives feedback sportingly. Tesco also endorses motivation via training and development programmes. The company aims at motivating their staff by focusing on the hygiene factors.

Staff benefits include:

  • Lifestyle break: An offer of 4-12 weeks of leave and a guarantee of getting the job back
  • Career break: An offer of 6 months to 5 years of break with the right to return
  • Pension scheme: An offer of well-defined long term benefits.

Interesting facts:

Argos, one the UK’s top retailers, recognised and respected for their multi-channel retail business, employed a specialist division, Argos for Business, to launch their idea “Employee Motivation Day”. A day dedicated to inspiring appreciation and passion across the workforce of United Kingdom.

John Lewis, one among few British companies that get employee engagement right, by empowering their employees is actually owned by its employees. This company therefore calls their staff, ‘partners’. They involve their partners in decisions and solutions while enabling them to build the finest customer experience. Employees, when offered the role of a partner, they are more likely to take personal responsibility towards the overall success of the company.

Thus employee motivation is worthwhile and important, and it can be achieved with creativity and effort.


Shaw, L. in Frith, B., 2016. A third of workers did not feel motivated once in 2015. HR Magazine [online] 5 January. Available at: <>. [Accessed 1 June 2016]

Red Letter Days for Business, 2016. Report Employee Motivation: Who came out on top in 2015 [online] No longer available March 2017 [Originally accessed 1 June 2016]