Executive Suite: Motivate Your Employees

Face it, my friend, we need our people’s committed efforts more than ever. Many of you have cut your payroll to conserve a few greenbacks and watched technology replace job after job. So you are now left with fewer people, but ones who are absolutely critical to your success. The question before the house is this: How do you motivate your good employees so they will stay and work hard? Or we might phrase it this way: Why—other than for economic survival—do people work?

Most cynics out there will answer in but a single word—money. And they will be wrong. If money were the prime motivator, people would leave one job for another over a dime an hour. But they don’t. Not in boom times, and not in recessions. So what are the drivers that keep good people happily employed?

There are five, and here they are in order.


People want to feel noticed and appreciated. Companies that recognize good work with plaques, letters from the owner, verbal praise, and other simple gestures have happier workers. It can be as simple as having the company owner send a congratulatory letter to the home of an employee who received a good review. It all counts—big time.

Employee of the Month awards, pictures in the entry way of good employees, associating employee names with company awards for excellence, and other such efforts may sound corny, but they pay off in employee loyalty.


People spend more time at their jobs than with their families. In fact, many have no families. They are single, widowed, or divorced. Their job is their relational home. Company parties and events, team-building exercises, and other ways of helping your people feel they are a part of your company family are huge.

On one of my consulting trips a number of employees’ biggest complaint was that the owner no longer walked through the plant each morning greeting the workers. Instead, he parked his car and took a side door to his office. They felt they no longer belonged.


I consulted in a huge NYC corporation some years back. Part of the project was to interview the employees and understand their perception of the company. What do you think was the number one employee concern? Well, it wasn’t money. It was the failure of the company to conduct employee reviews on time.

“I don’t care whether I get a raise or not,” said one. “I have no idea what they think of me; no idea of where I stand.”

Another was a tad more sarcastic. “My review is now 45 days late, but they will want me to work overtime tonight!”

No feedback sends a powerful you-are-not-important-to-this-company message. It cuts across Recognition and Belongingness.


Employees want to feel their company trusts them enough to allow them to work without excessive “snoopervision.” In short, they accept supervision and accountability, but want to feel they can take some initiative in their jobs.


Here it is, gang. Money. Dead last. Unless you are paying your people well below the industry standards, you will find that the Big Four—Recognition, Belongingness, Feedback, and Autonomy—will rank ahead of money in retaining good employees.

If you skip by the Big Four, I can tell you what will be your harvest. Employees griping about compensation. When people are unrecognized, “dissed,” receive no feedback for their efforts, and are treated as if they are in a prison yard watched by the warden, they are going to be unhappy. And unhappy employees want to be paid for their misery.

Take a look at your company in the context of the Big Four. Ask some questions of your management team and key employees about how you are doing. Do a bit of brainstorming on how you can be as effective as possible in delivering on the Big Four. Then implement your ideas.

Most of these items will not lay a glove on the company checkbook, but they may be among the best investments you ever make.

Dr. David Claerbaut is a consultant to the graphic arts industry, focusing on workplace dynamics and employee relations. Give him a call at 702-354-7000.