“The best things in life are free

But you can keep them for the birds and bees

Now give me money.”

The Beatles weren’t singing about employee motivation when they recorded Money (That’s What All I Want) in 1963. But it’s fair to say that money has always been seen as a key to workplace harmony.


Like Beatlemania, those times have long gone. We now realise that offering more money isn’t the only (and certainly not the best) way to increase employee productivity.

Gavin Freeman is a motivator, psychologist and author of the book The Business Olympian. His next book, Just Stop Motivating Me, is due for release in early 2016. He thinks managers need to stop thinking about using blunt motivational tools such as money and start using methods that truly inspire staff.

“We’ve given up on the concept of the fact that money motivates,” Freeman says. “It does to a point, but it effectively falls short very quickly. What we know is that money is only motivating until it hits your pocket. The minute it hits your pocket, it is no longer motivating.”

Freeman says the challenge that managers face is getting staff to produce discretionary effort, not just what is in their job description. “That’s when the business will become successful,” he says. “It’s when individuals give you effort, over and above what’s expected.

“A lot of organisations and managers don’t do two things. They either don’t have the time to recognise the individual requirements or they don’t care. They just go: ‘This is what it is’. Finding the sweet spot is really about the connection between what you, as an individual, need and what me as a manager, or as a company, need at that particular level. The end product is that you as the worker feel like you want to give that discretionary effort.”

He says the tactic of paying a valuable worker more to do a job that isn’t satisfying is also likely to backfire. “Don’t bank on them staying much longer,” he says. “A worker’s value system has to be aligned to the work that’s being done.

“I’ve got a hard call on that one. As a manager, you have to say: ‘I want the right people, with the right mindset, doing the right work’. If they’re not, don’t think you can change them. Don’t make that mistake.”

Freeman says managers need to have an inspiring and clear vision, recruit the right people, bring them on your journey and show a little humility. “[As a manager] you need to align people’s visions to your vision, and allow them to be inspired . . . then you’ll get the effort required.”

“You’re lovin’ gives me a thrill

But you’re lovin’ don’t pay my bills

Now give me money”

In the keynote speech at the Future of Work conference at the University of Melbourne in April 2015, Canadian author Daniel Pink said that money can be a motivating factor for employees … but it’s certainly not the only one.

“Money matters a lot. Money matters a heck of a lot. It just matters in a slightly more nuanced way than we think.”

Pink has written a number of books about employee motivation, including Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us and Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working for Yourself. In the speech, which was reported by Smart Company magazine, Pink said fairness is a bigger issue than financial reward.

“Human beings in general, but human beings in workplaces in particular, are exquisitely in tune to the notion of fairness,” Pink said.

“So how do people evaluate fairness? Well, if two people do the same kind of work, have the same level of experience, have comparable levels of contribution, and one is getting paid a lot more than the other, you’ve demotivated the other person.

“What do you want people thinking about? You want them thinking about the work. And one way to get them to think about the work is to not have them think about the money. The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people fairly, pay people well; indeed, pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.”

Pink told the audience that the three great motivators are “purpose, mastery and autonomy”. He said workers needed to believe they are making a difference, want to get better at what they do and are able to direct themselves.

“We’re trying to manage people into engagement but people don’t engage when they are being managed,” he said. “The technology for engagement is self-direction. That’s how people engage.”

“Money don’t get everything, it’s true

What it don’t get, I can’t use

Now give me money”

You want money? We all do. But if employees don’t get a lot more from their managers, then money won’t make a great deal of difference.