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Money Isn't Enough: 4 Incentives to Motivate Your Employees

Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela

Time off and a hefty paycheck might sound like the way to employees' hearts. However, while workers won't exactly turn these benefits down, they shouldn't be your only means of motivation and compensation.

"If the workplace environment doesn't fit with the conditions where the brain can thrive, they probably won't hold on to their best employees for long," said Don Rheem, author of "Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures" (ForbesBooks, 2017) and CEO of E3 Solutions. "Money satisfies, but it has very little impact on daily behavior. Far more impactful are things that money can't buy – things a responsive employer should be providing every day."

Rheem believes in a science-based approach that shows a 30 percent increase in engagement in one year, and a 75 percent increase in high-performing staff in four years. The approach outlines four things you can do to motivate your employees.

1. Encourage trusted relationships.

As a leader, you should focus on your relationships with your workers. You can't buy trust and respect, but you can nurture an environment that promotes these standards.

"Since today most people spend a majority of their waking hours at work, employers that promote a prosocial workplace can reap hardwired metabolic benefits," said Rheem. "This will outpace pay for performance and other monetary rewards in the long run."

The way to do this is by communicating with your employers like they are people, not machines going through the motions and creating quality work.

"Effective interpersonal communication allows team members to build relationships, increase productivity, reduce conflict and problem-solve more efficiently," Rheem said.

To encourage open communication, Rheem advises you to keep these three factors in mind:


You want your workers to know you are there with them, in that moment, while conversing. You're not thinking about yourself or your workload, or wondering what you'll eat when you get home. You're listening to them, their concerns and their needs.

"The sense of presence you convey to the person you are communicating with is your opportunity to show you respect their time and their message," said Rheem. "Are you fully committed to the conversation in the moment?"

Rheem recommended making direct eye contact rather than texting, checking your watch or smiling at others. Also, be aware of your expression – no blank stares advised.


If you have something to say, say it loud and clear. This will not only encourage your employees to do the same, but also show that you are transparent, increasing their trust in you.

"We need to be clear whenever we communicate with others and ensure the right message is being received," said Rheem. "Speak in a linear way – don't bounce around with parenthetical … content. Stay on point … [and] make sure you understand one another."


Genuinely care about the conversation you're having and the person you're having it with. Don't be in it just for yourself. You can get a lot out of a conversation if you let your curiosity peak.

Rheem advised asking thin yet effective questions, actively listening, seeking to understand rather than assuming, and being open and vulnerable.

2. Help employees find meaning and purpose.

No matter how much time off and money you offer your workers, you can't spark inspiration that just isn't there. The only way to truly motivate employees to channel their passion is by giving them work that feels meaningful to them.

Employees don't want to feel like they're replaceable. Provide them with an assignment that has purpose rather than a repetitive task that anyone in the office could do.

"At a cognitive level, employers should clearly connect core values and mission to the work employees do every day," said Rheem. "At an emotional level, leaders need to create the conditions that allow their team members to contribute and thrive when they show up to work."

Rheem recommended identifying common values; creating a shared sense of social identity; being congruent and relational with mission, vision and target values; celebrating success; and validating effort.

"Humans thrive when they are a part of rich, supportive social networks," he said. "Creating a team environment with a shared sense of social identity will give your team the feeling that they are part of a community, rather than just an organization."

3. Create challenging work.

Just as work should be meaningful, it should also be challenging. Employees won't learn if they aren't given the opportunity to take on difficult tasks or mess up. Spending time on a difficult or labor-intensive assignment will help them feel more valuable and satisfied.

"Leaders need to realize the benefit isn't simply from the challenge – it is in the recognition and celebration that comes with successfully crossing the finish line," said Rheem. "The key point is for leaders to set goals that are within reach, and to recognize the victory before rushing into the next challenge."

4. Give employees authority.

If workers think they're being looked down on or talked down to, they won't produce their best work, whether that's a conscious decision or not. Employees need to feel like they're in control of their careers and have a say in what they do. This breeds confidence and encourages professional growth.

"Healthy risk-taking is one of the most powerful characteristics an employee can embody, because employees who are willing to step out and try something new will help companies move further faster," said Rheem. "One of the key ways leaders know when they have an engaged employee on their team is when the employee looks beyond their job description to invest themselves in bettering the company in innovative ways."

If you want your team to be open-minded and willing to take risks, you need to nurture a safe and secure environment for them, Rheem added.

"When an employee's limbic system senses conditions it identifies as safe, metabolic resources increase – resulting in more risk-taking, better focus, increased creativity and prosocial conduct," he said. "In contrast, when conditions are perceived as unsafe … the chemical processes that respond to threats take precedence and can devastate mental capacity for work-related tasks."

To create this environment, Rheem added, ensure that you have a trusted team and the proper resources available.

"When leaders instill this safe environment, healthy, productive risk-taking is a key benefit," he said.

Image Credit: GaudiLab/Shutterstock
Sammi Caramela
Sammi Caramela
Business News Daily Contributing Writer
Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't writing for and Business News Daily, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. She is also the content manager for Lightning Media Partners. Check out her short stories in "Night Light: Haunted Tales of Terror," which is sold on Amazon.