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5 things that make work worth it

Pay is part of what keeps employees happy, but it's far from the only thing.

5 min read


5 things that make work worth it


What gets employees excited to go to work?

If you ask a highly engaged employee, they might tell you what they hope to accomplish that day — the tasks or projects they’ll complete, the customers they’ll help, or the problems they’ll solve. Or maybe that they enjoy the relationships they have with coworkers or they like doing something that makes a difference in people’s lives. These are the kinds of answers you hear from employees who are satisfied with their jobs.

What you probably won’t hear from a highly engaged employee is “I’m going to work because of the paycheck.” This is because salary doesn’t matter nearly as much if an employee values other aspects of the job that fulfill higher-level needs. In fact, a Gallup study found that only 22% of employees leave their jobs because of salary concerns. More frequently, job disaffection is caused by factors that include lack of advancement opportunities, poor alignment of skills and issues with managers or the overall work environment.

In other words, nearly three-quarters of people leave their jobs due to organizational culture and factors that leaders and line managers can control. In this day and age, any manager that believes an employee is leaving just because of money may need a refresher course in basic motivational theory.

It’s not about the money

In psychology 101 we learned about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a fundamental basis for all management techniques since it was written in the 1940s. Maslow’s landmark study on motivation showed that in order to achieve satisfaction at home or work, people need not only the practical material means to obtain basic living essentials, but also the inner satisfaction of progress, growth and community that make a well-rounded life.

Maslow’s theories were applied to business management and reshaped into intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, the former being feelings such as achievement, responsibility and inner satisfaction that come from the actual performance of the task or job, and the latter being a person’s work/life environment, pay, promotions, feedback and working conditions.

The best of both worlds

After decades of studies, books, and white papers the general consensus is that extrinsic motivators like cash have excellent short-term motivational effects, whereas intrinsic motivators like recognition are better at long-term motivation. Ergo the most efficient and effective way to motivate employees is to strike a healthy balance between the two, capturing the best of both worlds.

The companies that are consistently voted among the best places to work are taking a proactive approach to building an organizational culture where salary is only one facet of overall employee satisfaction. Culture starts at the top with leaders who are committed to building an environment where employees can flourish. Regardless of company size or budget, here are 5 ways to keep employees engaged and motivated at work (in no particular order):

1. Culture

Randstad found that 58% of employees have left or would leave a job if they felt there was a negative culture. A study by SHRM backs this up. In 2016, roughly two-thirds (65%) of employees agreed with the sentiment that respectful treatment of all employees at all levels was a very important contributor to their job satisfaction; however, only 38% of workers were very satisfied with this aspect. Developing organizational self-awareness is a necessary first step to culture change.

2. Appreciation and recognition

A study by Office Team found that two out of three employees say they would likely leave their job if they didn’t feel appreciated. If there isn’t regular recognition and appreciation for the work being done, there is little incentive to achieve more. The purposeful act of recognition can have a significant effect on performance, retention and overall engagement.

3. Career advancement and growth opportunities

Promotions and advancement are among the most powerful retention tools available, yet very few managers effectively provide career advancement to employees. In a Towers Watson survey, only 25% of respondents said their managers effectively provide career advancement to employees. This means that companies need to do a much better job of clearly defining and communicating career paths.

4. Relationship with manager

A Randstad US survey found that 60% of workers have left a job or would leave a job over a bad boss. Frontline managers interact with employees the most, creating the daily experience, profoundly affecting retention, and pointing to an obvious and immediate step that employers can take – teach managers how to lead.

5. Purpose and meaning

Not surprisingly, employees with a strong sense of purpose find deeper levels of fulfillment in their work. An Imperative study found that purpose-oriented employees report 64% higher levels of work satisfaction. Organizations that are able to communicate how employees’ efforts align with the larger goals of the company consistently achieve higher levels of engagement and performance.

Make work worth it

It’s always good to keep in mind that at any given time, the majority of people leaving their jobs are doing it for reasons other than pay. What remains are areas where managers and leaders can have a direct and meaningful impact on employee satisfaction. Gathering feedback from your workforce and applying some deliberate strategies to tackle weak spots is a good way to start ensuring that your employees think their work is worth it.


Cord Himelstein is vice president of marketing at HALO Recognition.


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