I like getting paid. Who doesn’t? If my employer ran out of money tomorrow, I’d be looking for a new job fast. Yet basic salary isn’t what motivates me to work harder. My regular salary is like getting a C on a report card. It says, “You did your work. It was was we agreed upon. It was satisfactory.” In order to feel satisfied in my work I need to feel appreciated and valued. I need more than a C.

Employees who feel valued are more likely to stay long term with an organization. A basic paycheck does little to motivate people to go the extra mile. A little positive feedback motivates people and reduces attrition rates. Most of these ideas have little financial cost and yet companies have the potential to save a lot of money by not having to hire and train new people, having workers who consistently work harder and who are loyal to the organization.

Here are a number of different currencies.

Financial Remuneration

This is basic pay. It’s my agreed upon wage. It’s very motivating in terms of keeping my job but doesn’t go much beyond that. It absolutely needs to be there for most people. If you work in non-profit, you may have a number of volunteers. It’s especially important to pay your volunteers with a different kind of currency if you have any hope of keeping them long term.

Financial Bonus

A financial bonus can be tied to company profit or individual effort. It’s a monetary bonus on top of a regular salary. Sadly, regular yearly expected bonuses become much like regular salary. Unexpected bonuses or bonuses that individuals can work towards can be a great way to increase morale and motivate employees.

Token Bonus

A token bonus is a small gift that recognizes an employee’s effort. This might be a gift certificate, a book or in the case of RIM employees, tickets to a U2 concert! It doesn’t have to cost much but recognizes effort in a tangible way. I know of one large company whose employees make signifiant salaries. Yet the weekly meeting where one outstanding employee receives a $20 gift certificate to a local restaurant, has been a huge motivating force.

Public Verbal Recognition

Public verbal recognition occurs when a supervisor publicly recognizes employees. It may be in front of one or two other employees or in a larger group meeting. This is the one that is farthest from what motivates me. I have a supervisor who does this regularly and I’m often embarrassed to be publicly recognized. I don’t like being the centre of attention. For others, receiving public recognition is key to feeling valued.

Private / Written Recognition

I confess. This one is my currency. During an interview when an employer brings up remuneration, I’m often tempted to hold up a sign that reads, “Will work for appreciation.” All it takes is a one line e-mail that says, “Well done”, “Good job on the presentation”, “Keep up the good work”, and I’m good to go for months. I thrive under authentic feedback.

Positive Formal Review

For some, receiving a positive formal review makes all the difference. It’s a formal tangible document that becomes part of that person’s employment history. It shows quantifiable areas of success and growth.

As an employer, it’s important to figure out what it is that motivates your employees and helps them to feel valued and appreciated. One of the best methods is to try them all and see what works. Don’t be surprised when different people are motivated by different currencies.

People are discouraged in these difficult economic times. I’ve heard from many recently that morale is low in their organization. Remunerating people in their currency is a great way to increase morale and encourage employees. It doesn’t have to cost a lot but the dividends are priceless.

What’s your currency?

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.


  1. FrugalTrader on October 27, 2009 at 10:01 am

    Great post Kathryn. For me, I enjoy a fair base pay, but I am most motivated when I am paid for performance.

  2. Scott on October 27, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Those who don’t like to suck lemons may skip over this post. :)

    The only currency I accept at my work place, in trade for my time and skill, is the fiat Canadian dollar.

    I should clarify, the only currency paid at my workplace is the C$. It is void of all other “payment” options (I can’t even set up an automatic RRSP transfer, and I work for the effin’ provincial government!). This is due to a pathetic management duo whose sole focus is sustaining their own ego through employee degradation and laughable power-trips. Outside of my immediate work realm, political favours take up a big chunk of the currency pie. That, and, according to the desks of most secretaries, boxes of chocolate.

    As I like to say, “Can’t pay the rent with a compliment.” Don’t tell me I do a good job — I KNOW I do a good job, I bust my ass (mentally and physically) to ensure it. That isn’t egotistical, it’s just the truth. I’m sure very many readers here would attest the same of their own professional skills and abilities. I don’t need assurance of my abilities, I want cash remuneration. Free-market capitalism and all that, eh.

    I also take into account the SOURCE of any recognition. If — IF –my boss ever tells me, “Good job”, the hollow ringing is deafening. A major cause of this is that I do not value, nor respect, my boss or the work he does (hint: never work for an ignorant racist). But, that’s the way it happens sometimes in the endless ranks of bureaucracy. I’m sure there are vast numbers of bosses out there who have absolutely no idea on how to evaluate their staff and praise accordingly.

    I have also learned how to control my output in order to not exceed the output of the most lame, yet equally paid, employee. Sort of a self-imposed ‘Peter Principle’. It helps to conserve my energy in an ultimate dead-end job (ie. zero movement options, income not based on performance, etc.). So that in itself is somewhat of a “bonus”.

    Outside of my full-time job I have a position at a publicly traded corporation (sounds almost worse than government!). I’ve had many clients approach me with very sincere appreciation for my work and efforts. This type of “currency” I do take to heart because I know its source is true. It’s not about me doing a “good job”, it’s about my workmanship improving the quality of life for others. I get paid less than at my government job, but it is the PEOPLE — co-workers and clientele — which keep me coming back. It’s actually…enjoyable (gasp!).

    With all that said, however, it takes a LOT of money to erase work-place unhappiness (yet so little to improve work-place happiness). My salary has DOUBLED in the last four (4) years (hey, it’s your tax bux!), and my motivation has declined at an equal (or greater) pace. Perhaps another doubling could buy happiness…

  3. Four Pillars on October 27, 2009 at 10:26 am

    I’m with Scott – I know it’s part of a managers job to praise once in a while so it’s pretty meaningless.

    I work for my paycheck!

  4. Gerry on October 27, 2009 at 10:29 am

    I have to agree with Scott’s sentiment, after a certain point cash doesn’t motivate employees. I’ve worked at a few companies that used salary as a means to reward employees and it’s probably the most short-lived morale booster. When I got a raise, I’d feel great and have an extra boost for a few weeks, but after that period the excitement of looking at a larger bank deposit just didn’t cut it. To be fair, I’ve got pretty simple tastes, my salary was enough to keep me living in the lifestyle I wanted so the extra money really wasn’t a big deal to me.

    Now that I’m actually paying and rewarding people myself, I’m taking a different track. We pay well based on benchmarks, but “only” around the 70th percentile. Employees are rewarded with things like afternoons and days off when they need it without question, working from home, completely flexible hours, and surprise lunches at Dave and Busters. Cash bonuses are paid, sometimes, but not on a regular basis. It seems to be working for us. Some people have left for money, but really they weren’t a big loss to us.

  5. STone on October 27, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    My currency is work/life balance. I have a good job that pays well, not quite as much as the same job with other companies. I am happy with accepting a little less money though, because of the time that my job allows me to spend with my family. I get every second Friday off, and I have the ability to be flexible with my hours if required, or work from home if required (if kids are sick). I have great healthy benefits, a defined contribution pension and an annual RRSP contribution from my employer.
    I honestly can’t put a price on the time that my job allows me to spend with my kids.

  6. Poor Little Me on October 27, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    While I do like to hear that I’m killin it at work (which should probably equate to some sort of performance related compensation) that doesn’t pay the bills nor get me to early retirement any faster. I’ve been a plough horse at work for the last 4 yrs and every single year my company, which is a bohemoth oil and gas producer, breaks out the violin and says we’ve had it so rough. All the while management, who’s compensation is public knowledge, keeps filling their pockets and taking their flavour of the week girlfriends on vacations with our company jet. Phew… I digress. Just pay me for the job I do. If its mediocre give me a mediocre bonus… if I’m killin it… gimme some munay!!!!

  7. Adam on October 27, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    I’ve come to learn that $$ will not buy you satisfaction as satisfaction is priceless.

  8. Stephen on October 27, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    The money needs to be there, but I agree praise and a well-run well-managed organization goes a long way.

  9. zud on October 27, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    i wonder if a gender difference will show up, i work for what kathryn works for – private recognition. i guess knowing in a sense that i have pleased someone really makes me happy. i tell yah, if oprah has one more show on women being “people pleasers”….! i guess its true for this reader.

    this became abundantly clear when i switched to my current job, no more salary, completely 100% commission where i have not even begun to tap the ceiling. i could be working 10x harder and still not exceed normal work hours but even the extra money it would bring in is not motivating me. but once my boss says good job! i get right back on it…

  10. Ramona on October 27, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Great timing as I just got back into the office after a seminar on how to be a Proactive Manager. The top 3 things that people want from their managers are: support, being listened to and feedback. To that list, I personally would add flexibility, but overall a good list. Money is a short term motivator. It’s nice, but it won’t keep you where you aren’t respected.

  11. Craig on October 27, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    They say money is the least motivator for work. Your salary basically acts for most people as a way to work hard enough to earn it, but no more than you have to. Bonus is a great system as well as hope for promotions and moving up. Since a lot of work is not long term these days, those can be big factors.

  12. guinness416 on October 27, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    It would be nice if companies would ask what actually motivates you rather than assume. Personally, I could care less about the free breakfasts and lunches once a week and would rather that expense went into the bonus pool. And restaurant vouchers as “pop bonuses” are nice and all, but not I-love-my-job nice. And I’d gladly take a cut in my bonus for extra vacation time or a “take an extra week over Xmas, guinness416!” And other colleagues will be different. But when I’ve tried to bring this stuff up it’s ignored.

  13. Subversive on October 27, 2009 at 3:06 pm

    There’s a reason I switched to being a contractor and it’s because money is what motivates me. I work to fund my life, and I do an excellent job so that I can continue to do so. However the primary focus is to make enough money to ensure I can keep my family in a good quality of life, save for retirement, buy things we want, etc. I’ve switched jobs a number of times, and it turns out (in my experience) nearly all companies have bullsh!t, politics, and other annoyances. Since they all suck in their own special way, I might as well gravitate to the ones that pay the best.

  14. sco on October 27, 2009 at 3:59 pm

    I don’t care about $50 gift cards and “you did a great job”. I already knew that, and $50 for my extra hard and well done work is an insult. I expect to be compensated monetarily proportional to my extra work. The only other compensation that I would accept is time off.
    And I never forget that I work for a corporation because I have to. My objective is financial freedom and I need money for that. Useless gift cards or U2 concert tickets don’t help me at all.

  15. Sampson on October 27, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    Wow, sounds like a lot of people need to change jobs.

    Time off is very important to me. If given a choice, I’d choose this every time over extra monetary compensation.

  16. No Debt Guy on October 27, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Awhile ago I read somewhere that employers pay you just enough so you don’t quit and employees just just hard enough to not get fired.

    Seems that most of the people posting work pretty hard and are not being properly compensated.

  17. Subversive on October 27, 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Sampson, depends on the situation, but I agree time off is also a valid incentive for me. The jobs I refuse to work ever again are the salaried positions where you are “expected” to work overtime and no compensation is offered except a firm handshake and the odd ‘job well done’. My time with family is extremely important to me and I need to be compensated well for my (extra) time if I’m going to give that up.

  18. Scott on October 27, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    @ Subversive: I like your style.

    Yup, besides a fat pay cheque, the only other “currency” I would put on my list is ‘paid time-off’. Time is money, after all.

    Management praise is worthless to me because I do not value my bosses as people or “management”.

    And yes, I would love to change jobs. :)

  19. Tommy O'Dell on October 28, 2009 at 2:45 am

    Here’s some good advice I’ve found with regards to giving positive feedback that doesn’t sound hollow:

    1. Actually mean it
    2. Be specific. “Good job” or “Well done” don’t cut it.

    For example:

    “Hey Pete, just wanted to tell you that I think you’re doing a really good job. Keep up the good work.”


    “Hey Pete, just wanted to tell you that I think you’re doing a really good job these last few weeks with the Pullman account. The way you handled the situation with the schedule transfer is what has kept this whole thing afloat. Getting them to partner with Perkins was brilliant. Keep up the good work.”

    Receiving feedback like the second one is ten times more effective for me. And I’m pretty sure it has been received much better when I’ve given feedback in that way.

  20. Kathryn on October 28, 2009 at 9:03 am

    Tommy: I agree. Specific authentic positive feedback from a respected supervisor is way better than generic feedback.

    Many of you make a good point: “Time off / flexability” should be another category. I often feel torn about this. In my current job in non-profit, the pay is low but the flexability is tremendous and so are the other rewards that increase personal satisfaction. I can’t imagine working in a job I hate just for the money. Money is essential for life yes, but I have to find satisfaction in what I do now. At the same time, I know to make any sort of life for my family AND save for the future, I need to find ways to bring in more money. My goal is to find a position that does both – pays a good wage AND is personally satisfying.

  21. Canadian CC on October 28, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I love being paid for performance!
    My bonus is definitely my main motivation.

    However, Hockey tickets to see the Montreal Canadiens would definitely be part of my currency ;-)

  22. Stephen on October 28, 2009 at 10:14 am

    I actually recently had my boss ask me what kind of compensation motivated me. I was pretty surprised when she brought this up. My wife is currently reading a lot about management and Human Resources so we had already been discussing topics like this, so I knew immediately that my boss had probably been reading something similar recently.

    Anyway, my top response was time off because that is my most valued resource. I made it clear that this was the thing I truly cared about most but that I also didn’t mind private recognition or the odd unexpected token bonus like a free meal or fun event with my coworkers. I find that can really boost company morale, but it isn’t essential for me.

  23. whiter teeth on October 29, 2009 at 7:29 am

    “Hey Pete, just wanted to tell you that I think you’re doing a really good job. Keep up the good work.”

  24. best satellite receiver on October 29, 2009 at 8:08 am

    I also love being paid for performance but praise is also required for motivating me.

  25. Credit Restoration Bureau on October 31, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Very good article. It’s given me a little to think about in regards to the company staff. Thanks!

  26. cannon_fodder on November 1, 2009 at 12:29 am

    I strongly believe in pay for results – not just for performance. How many of us work with people who work long hours, but don’t get as much accomplished because they are not as competent or just don’t work smart?

    And, if you work hard but you don’t produce, then how is that more valuable than someone who gets the job done in less time?

    I’ve been used to a base salary and a bonus/commission structure where the variable portion represents anywhere from 10% to 75% of my overall compensation. I felt more driven when I could independently impact my take home pay to a greater degree, so I do believe it motivates high achievers.

    I’ve always admired supervisors which privately criticize and publicly praise individuals for their efforts. I, in turn, thank them for letting me know that my efforts are truly appreciated.

    Some manners in which supervisors “reward” you for stellar results is with more responsibility and higher visibility within the upper reaches of the organization. That used to appeal to me more when I was younger and more hungry.

    One of the big pluses for me is when a manager trusts you enough to not manage you but support you – I remember one fondly. He said, “You don’t work for me, I work for you. My job is to remove obstacles in your way to success. If you need help, then it is my job to resolve the issues, escalate and be a buffer. If I do that, then I’ve done my job.”

    One particular item I don’t like in my current company is that we don’t have written policies regarding vacation days in lieu of overnight travel. Because I travel internationally, I’m away from home many evenings and weekends often for weeks in a row. To me it would only be fair that the company at least establish a baseline of accrued vacation for such situations and let the manager have discretion to increase it at their discretion.

    It is these sort of ‘people supportive practices’ that identify the kind of character that permeates throughout the workforce.

    In summary, my currency has changed throughout my career from money being the prime motivator to being given additional responsibilities, to increased independence. Now, I’m starting to consider winding down my career – I still do the best job I can but I don’t seek the limelight or recognition any more.

  27. Kathryn on November 1, 2009 at 7:14 pm

    CF: I like how you think. I am also finding that my currency changes as I age. Your wording of “people supportive practices” describes it perfectly.

  28. WM on November 2, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Well since it’s your currency: Great job Kathryn! I alwasy look forward to your guests posts and wish I could read more of your stuff. You’re a great blogger and I really like the useful way that you approach topics.

  29. WM on November 2, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    I subscribe to Herzberg’s theory on the money/compensation debate: if you don’t pay someone a fair amount (as determined in their head) they will always be dissatisfied, no matter how much of everything else you give them. But if you paid them more than a fair wage, you won’t get any extra motivation.

    Different pieces of compensation serve different purposes and it’s a savvy manager’s (and employee’s) job to figure out how to piece together the puzzle in the best way.

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