What motivates employees?

What really motivates our employees? Loudly, benefit and compensation would naturally come first. However, based on a research from Harvard Business School, that is not the correct answer. Toward in either the ends (led to satisfaction or dissatisfaction), salary is not dominant in either of the ends. See the figure below. Is it true? Do you believe in that? Hard to believe for our employees. But for management, this should serve as principle in building a positive environment in which employees are naturally motivated by what they are unconsciously looking for at work.

As for a small / startup company, it may be too much to address all of the factors below. My suggestion is to pick top 3 from the satisfaction end (intrinsic motivators) and the other top 3 from the dissatisfaction end (hygiene factors) and work on them first. Once you can have a good positionsin improving those factors at your start-up/small company, you can always go further down the list.

So, for me, we should start with:

  • Achievement
  • Recognition
  • Work itself
  • Company policy and administration
  • Supervision
  • Relationship with supervisor

You may doubt immediately about the fact that if I can’t get my people in, due to the fact that not competitive salary for them to first accept the job, those 6 above should not be that effective. Well, I would generally agree with that. However, also note it’s not that too difficult to bring people in, it’s much more difficult to keep people motivated. And with that, salary is not the answer. No matter how high you pay them, it is not linear with their performance. And salary is not the key for sustaining the business. Rather than that, it is people the key to sustain the business. It’s like the chicken and egg question. If you have good people team, you’ll have high performance team. And in turn, it would yield better profit coming along with employee’s benefit. My point is to focus on people and the benefit will come after naturally, instead of focusing on compensation which naturally would attract people with monetary driver. Monetary driver, in my opinion, would always be a short term objective.


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