What Employees' Motivations "Actually" Reveal About The Workplace - The Red Herring That Completely Misses The True Psychophysiology Of What Is Happening

What Employees' Motivations "Actually" Reveal About The Workplace - The Red Herring That Completely Misses The True Psychophysiology Of What Is Happening

What Motivates Employees in the Choice of a Job?

This is a Question that Leaders have been Wondering the Answer to, and Failing to Answer, for Decades.

Why is that though?

If we can get Reports about What Motivates Employees, stated by those Employees, and have Updated Versions of those Reports Yearly...

How do Leaders "Still" Fail to Attract, and Keep, Employees?

That's what we will look at today.

If you ask Employees what the Number One Motivation is for them when it comes to Work, what do you believe it is?

If you said, "Money" you would be correct!

I was just reading one report from a Newsletter I regularly read that said "Money" was the Top Motivator for Employees after surveying 3,500 Readers.

Money was the answer given for nearly 1/3 Employees.

Money was listed Higher than Remote Work/Flexibility, Work-Life Balance, and even Recognition from Coworkers.

So, do we have the answer?

If Leaders want to Attract and Keep Employees, is the answer to just Pay More Money?

Well, before you make that assumption we should look at Psychophysiology More Deeply.

In Psychological Research, they discovered that Money is only a Motivating Factor for Humans to a certain point.

Some of the Original Studies stated around $75k to be where Money Begins to Matter Less, and some more recent studies say it is closer to $95k.

Why is this?

Well, Money itself has no "True" Value to us as Humans.

Money only has "Value" insomuch as "What" it does.

What does it do?

Allow us to Survive.

See, the "Only" Reason Employees ever say that "Money" is a Primary Motivator is because you need a certain amount to Live!

If you are Below a Certain amount of Income, it often means that you are in Physiological Danger.

You will Struggle to Afford Food, Health Care, Shelter, and Clothing, and what you "Can" Afford will likely Negatively Impact your Wellbeing due to Environmental Factors such as Clean Air or a Safe Environment.

Once you reach an Income that allows you to be "Out" of that Physiological Danger, Money ends up having No Purpose anymore.

It might allow us to have certain "Niceties" in Life, but many people find those "Niceties" are Worthless to their Wellbeing.

That is why many of the Richest People are still Horribly Miserable.

Money has No Inherent Value to us as Humans.

So what does Employees saying that their Number One Motivator is Money Actually Reveal?

It tells us that Money is a Red Herring for Larger Problems in the World.

If you compare the Entire List of Motivations to a common Psychological Tool known as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, we begin to see that "Money" is not the Real Issue.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a Pyramid that Shows the Order of What People Value in Life in the Order of Importance.

At the Bottom, you have Physiological Needs - Breathing, Food, Water, Shelter, Clothing, and Sleep.

If you Struggle to have these, then little else matters to a Human, and Money only matters in that it is needed to "Pay" for these.

The Next Level Up, you have Safety and Security - Health, Employment, Property, Family, and Social Ability.

Many of these are important to us as Humans because, without them, we are at risk of "also" losing our Physiological Needs.

For instance, a "Job" is only important at the Lowest Levels as long as it Provides for our Physiological Needs.

If a Job "doesn't" do that, then we as Humans will Not Care for that Job.

For the Third Level of the Hierarchy, we have Love and Belonging - Friendship, Family, Intimacy, and a Sense of Connection.

By Nature, Humans are Social Creatures, and we "Need" these types of Connections to Live Healthily.

When we Do Not have Social Connections, we end up having Major Psychological Challenges.

On the Fourth Level of the Hierarchy, we have Self-Esteem - Confidence, Achievement, Respect of Others, and the Need to Be Unique Individuals.

Once we feel we are a Part of a Real Community, we want to become an Interdependent Part of that Community, Unique and Respected for what we Do within that Interdependence.

After this, we hit the Highest Level of Maslow's Hierarchy known as Self-Actualization - Morality, Creativity, Spontaneity, Acceptance, Experiencing Purpose, Meaning, and Inner Potential.

At the Highest Levels this "Self-Actualization" encompasses much of what is "Truly" Most Important to Humans.

However, we Will Not Care "Or" Be Able to Do "Any" of those, Unless the Rest of the Hierarchy is Taken Care Of.

So let's go back to Employee Motivations from this Report:

1) Money (32%)

2) Remote Work/Flexibility (18.9%)

3) Work-Life Balance (14%)

4) Recognition from Coworkers (11%)

5) Something Else (24.1% with Multiple Answers)

What happens when we mix this Breakdown of Motivations with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?

We begin to see the "Real" Problem.

The reason 1/3 of Employees say that Money is their Number One Motivation is that they are Unable to take care of their Physiological Needs.

If we look "More" Closely, one of the Top Reasons that Employees are Demanding Remote Work/Flexibility is "Also" because it "Saves" them Tremendous Amounts of Money on Food, Transportation, Childcare Needs, and More.

This means that the Top Two Motivators are Driven by Money because Employees Cannot Afford their Basic Costs of Living.

When we search More Deeply into this Topic, it is Easy to See Why.

In 40 of the 50 States, to live "Comfortably" (ie Above the Safety and Security Level of the Hierarchy), people need $200,000/Year/Household.

That means with 2 Incomes, each person must be making "at least" $100,000+ per year.

Even in the "Cheapest" State, people need 2 Incomes of $88,899 to just "Live Comfortably".

When we look at the "Average Income" in the States, what do you think it is?

In 2023, it was "Less" than $60,000 per year.

That means that over 1/2 of People are Living "Extremely" Uncomfortably, by $57,798/year in the "Cheapest" State, and Significantly More in other states.

This further means a Household Must have 3+ Full-Time Incomes to Only Live "Comfortably".

I think it is telling that when you Combine the Categories of "Money" and "Remote Work/Flexibility", they combine to just over 50% of Employees.

It isn't that People "Care" about Money, they "Care" about Survival.

Most Businesses are Completely Failing to even meet the Most Basic Needs of Employees.

This Explains why Employees are Not Loyal - Why would "Any" Employee be Loyal to "Any" Leader or Organization that Fails to Provide for their Basic Physiological Needs?

Then when you think about the Next Largest Category of "Work-Life Balance", what is that actually saying?

Employees are Not having their sense of "Love and Belonging" being Met.

They want time away from Work, where they Do Not Feel Love and Belonging, so that they "Can" that Basic Psychological Need.

Really, the Demand for Remote Work is "also" pointing to the Failure of Employees getting this Need.

Why would Employees "Choose" to go into a Workplace where they Do Not get that Psychological Need of Belonging, aka a Toxic Workplace?

They Won't.

In fact, as Dell has been Discovering, Employees are starting to Rise Up and "Literally" Refuse going into Workplaces that are not providing for their Physiological Needs, their Safety and Security, or their Love and Belonging.

"Even" when they are Denied Opportunities for Promotions (aka Higher Pay) for Refusing!

As I said, "Money" is Not a Motivational Factor, Survival Is.

Why "Should" they Listen to their Leaders when it is "Very" Clear that their Leaders Do Not Care for their Wellbeing?

The Reality is that they "Shouldn't".

We can go even Further with the Hierarchy when we look at the Fourth Motivation mentioned by Employees - Recognition from Coworkers.

When Employees are not getting Recognition, especially when they are Forced to put in 50+ Hour Weeks for Jobs that Do Not Satisfy even their Most Basic of Needs, then they are Not Getting both the Sense of Belonging from the Third Level "Or" Self-Esteem from the Fourth Level of the Hierarchy.

One of the most Hypocritical aspects of the Return-To-Office Mandates that I've heard from Leaders is that the Return will bring "Unity" to the Teams.

But the Truth is that Leaders had been Completely Failing at Accomplishing that In-Office "Before" the Pandemic, and if anything it has only gotten Worse since.

If Leaders "Truly" wanted to Accomplish this, they would do the Wise thing and Create Unity and Community Online First, as it is Significantly Easier to Accomplish than within a Toxic Workplace.

So from these Top 4 Named Employee Motivations, we see that Businesses and Leaders are Completely Failing to Provide even the "One" Most Simple thing a Job is Supposed To - A Basic Living!

If you Combine these Top 4 Motivators, you get that Over 75% of Employees are Not Getting Their Needs Fulfilled.

It is also interesting to know that 80% of Employees are Feeling Burnout.

Is that a Coincidence?

Absolutely Not.

Burnout is the Psychophysiological Sign that Employees are not getting their Most Basic Needs, and they've had enough.

Leaders make such a Big Deal about how they Need Innovation, Creative Problem Solving, and for Employees to Reach their Potential, but Fail to Accomplish it.


Just look at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs!

All these things Leaders say they "Need" from their Employees exists at the Very Top of the Pyramid, at Self-Actualization.

However, Self-Actualization is "Not" Possible if the other Levels Are Not Met!

Which, as we can "Clearly" See from Employees' Top Motivations, are Not Being Met!

If you "Want" Employees who are Self-Actualized, you must Solve Burnout First.

If you as a Leader Fail to Solve Burnout, then you will "Never" get more than the Minimum from Employees, and that is if you are Lucky!

If trends continue as they are, we will be seeing Far More Revolts from Employees, as they Demand that their Basic Needs be Met.

This is why I am a Strong Advocate of Designing a Regenerative Legacy as a Leader.

If you Design a Regenerative Legacy, you not only Solve the Burnout Problem, but you Further will get Self-Actualized Employees.

But even Better, is the "Forgotten" Level of Maslow's Hierarchy which is called Transcendence.

This would be where Many Self-Actualized Employees come together to do something that is Beyond Themselves.

A True Legacy.

But to get there, Leaders must Focus on Regenerating their Workforce to Overcome Burnout.

Until that is Accomplished, Leaders will only see Worse Results in the Future.

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