Why money is not the best motivator

If you are a manager or leader, money is the best way to reward and motivate your people, right?


In many cases, managers and leaders that focus on pay as a reward find their teams becoming less successful. What’s more, businesses that focus on making money to the exclusion of all else eventually lose pace compared to their competition.

To understand what’s really important to us we have to look to science - neuroscience to be precise. There are five key elements that matter to all of us:

  • Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relationships
  • Fairness

As a leader, if you get these right then you are a long way down the track of building a successful team.

We’ll take a closer look at all five of these elements and how they can act as motivators in business.


We humans need to know where we stand. Status is not to be confused with hierarchy (although, that is one element of it). It’s not just about being as senior as possible. If it were, then promotion would be the key motivator here.

It’s about being recognised and valued. So when we acknowledge someone for doing a good job, we increase their status.

When we publicly criticise or demean them, we reduce their status. So give praise in public, and deal with poor work or behaviour in private.


We need to know where we’re going. Whilst some of us find change exciting, many fear it. And we need to have a sense of direction and purpose. When we don’t know where we are going or why, we lose momentum and start floundering. In a work context, we lose focus and the quality or quantity of our work goes down. Great business leaders understand this implicitly. It’s why they have mission or vision statements, set out strategies, and develop business plans.

But, absolute certainty is not always possible.

For example, if there is a restructuring or an office move, we may not immediately be able to give chapter and verse on what the new structure will be or where we will move to. But, even telling people when there will be more certainty is helpful, and gives them something to hold on to. So, set milestones and give progress reports.


We need control over our destiny. So many organisations are exerting ever more control from “the centre”. The risk with this is that people feel disempowered.

A former colleague of mine said to me recently “I feel like I’m just a number”. She didn’t feel that she mattered or that she had any control over the work she did or when or where she did it. Consequently, she was finding it hard to show the same degree of commitment that she used to have.

So, find ways to empower people - whether that’s working hours, how they arrange their working area or how they carry out their work.


We need to connect with each other. Society functions on relationships, and the workplace is no different. These days, conference calls often replace meetings, emails replace phone calls, and many people work from home. So it can be hard to build relationships with colleagues.

Look for ways for people to connect. Encourage conversations around the coffee machine, hold physical meetings when possible and use video sometimes instead of conference calls, if virtual meetings are unavoidable.


We need to know that we are being treated fairly. I know from personal experience that unfairness at work can be a real demotivator. This can relate to money i.e. where two people doing similar roles are paid differently - but it can apply in other areas too.

For example, if the boss regularly favours one or more people over others, or one team seems to get all the best projects, then our sense of unfairness kicks in, and we find it hard to deliver our best work. So, make sure that you are consistent and fair in your dealings, and that this is transparent to everyone.

How do you motivate people? What are you particularly good at, and where do you need to pay more attention?

If you’re lacking in motivation, a coach can help you find your drive and passion again. Contact a coach today to find out more about how they can help.

Life Coach Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

Share this article with a friend
Show comments

Find a coach dealing with Leadership

All coaches are verified professionals

All coaches are verified professionals

Related Articles

More articles