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"A Mansion or a Yacht?"

Life Lessons Series: Six of One Dozen of the Other- "A Mansion or a Yacht?"


I recently received an email that was both condescending and demeaning. Once my blood pressure returned to normal, it proved to be an interesting experience for me as I sat and pondered my emotions, my response (or lack thereof) and the underlying meaning I walked away with. In the end it got me thinking about what really motivates people. I can tell you the condescending and demeaning email did not motivate me. It turned out, the email did not create motivation in others either. Four of the five individuals copied on the email called me as soon as they read it to tell me how outraged they were on my behalf. The wagons were circling!

In the end, my response was a non-response. I am too old to engage in email arguments. The sender was being immature and unprofessional in his attempt to demean and bully me with his words. I bit my tongue, chose the higher road and did not respond. I decided if the sender wanted to further discuss his points, I would welcome a call without the grandstanding postulation. I knew he was not likely to call. He would not have an audience. More interesting is that nothing ever came of the email. No follow-up, no action and no motivation for any involved whatsoever. (I have not done the math- which would be an interesting exercise- to see what the cost of the email was in lost production time for the five of us which the bully clearly did not consider for something that proved to be a non-issue!)

What is the right answer then if bullying and aggression are not effective motivators when you need the support and hard work of others? How do you best motivate people? We've proven that condescending and demeaning emails are not likely to motivate staff. In my career experience, many managers swing the pendulum in the complete opposite direction and use what I like to think of as the Mansion or Yacht Syndrome. By this, the manager assumes the employee is motivated solely by compensation. I agree there is a baseline component to an employee’s compensation. Once an employee is compensated at what is considered market (i.e., another company cannot easily come in and buy the employee at a higher rate), there are typically more over-reaching motivators. In my experience paying a bonus or giving a raise lasts a very short period of time as an employee motivator.

What Really Motivates People?

There have been decades of research on the subject of motivation. The results of these studies are not only difficult to comprehend, but also contradictory. One incorrect assumption is that motivation is easy. Wrongly, many managers believe that what motivates them personally will motivate others. Motivation is complex because people are complex. There are no simple answers.

The problem is not how to motivate people, but how to keep from turning people off.

I believe we greatly undervalue the importance to people of having a job worth doing. I ran across an old study in my mom’s research files in which workers were asked to rank order things that were important to them. To my review, the list remains absolutely correct today. At the top of the list is working with people who treat me with respect and interesting work. Conversely in this study when managers were asked to rank order what they thought was important to their employees, they ranked good pay and job security first (i.e., the Mansion and Yacht Syndrome) which came in much farther down the list.

Most Important Job Values to Employees

  1. Working with people who treat me with respect.

  2. Interesting work.

  3. Recognition for good work.

  4. Chance to develop skills, abilities and creativity.

  5. Working for people who listen if you have ideas about how to do it better.

  6. Having a chance to think for myself, not just carry out instructions.

  7. Seeing the end results of my efforts.

  8. Working for respected managers.

  9. A job that is not too easy.

  10. Feeling informed about what is going on.

  11. Job security.

  12. Working with people I like.

  13. Having the opportunity to make as much money as I am capable of making.

Two Factory Theory of Motivation

This above list is interesting for the information it gives about what is important to employees. It aligns with the Two Factory Theory of Motivation which is that motivation and satisfaction are different, caused by different factors in the workplace.

Factors that commonly lead a person to feel satisfied with a job include pay, company policies, benefits, environment and peer relationships. These factors only take care of the person’s comfort zone. They are important for maintaining a level of satisfaction. A satisfied worker though isn’t necessarily motivated to produce work.

Factors that commonly lead to motivated behavior include achievement, recognition, interesting work, responsibility and advancement or growth. It is noteworthy that these same motivators relate to the above Most Important Job Values to Employees study. Here motivation is not encouraged by management actions which overrate satisfiers such as money. Increasing a person's pay tends only to increase their belief that what they are presently doing warrants that extra pay. It does not encourage an employee to want to DO more.

The manager’s job is to pay attention to what employees tell them is important – respect, recognition, challenge, fair pay- and create an environment where the employee can experience the self-rewards of motivated behavior.

Checklist of Rewards and Incentives

Consider the below Checklist of Rewards and Incentives you offer your employees that encourage self-rewarding motivated behavior. Try completing this checklist for each of your direct reports and end with a specific action plan for motivating them from the checklist.

  • Assignment of new duties.

  • Opportunity for more self-management.

  • Re-design of present job.

  • More freedom to decide and/or implement changes.

  • Change in ratio of preferred duties.

  • More frequent participation in decision making.

  • Greater opportunity to select own goals or tasks.

  • Chance for advanced training.

  • Assignment of preferred work partner.

  • Schedule own time; set own priorities.

  • Greater access to information.

  • Feedback on quality of work.

  • Receiving “fan mail” aka customer compliments.

  • Receiving information on the effect of performance (the big picture).

  • Certificate of Accomplishment or Award.

  • Letter in personnel file.

  • Informal acknowledgement (pat on the back, praise).

  • Publicity (employee of the month).

  • Lunch with you!


In summary, I believe there are five levels to motivating employees. 1- Economic Security: employees feel that their time and effort will be fairly rewarded. 2- Emotional Security: management must create a climate in which employees “trust” their superiors and feel that their jobs contribute to a worthwhile goal. 3- Recognition: employees feel that good work will be appreciated and praised. 4- Self-Expression: employees have the right to communicate ideas, suggestions, fears, and opinions to their superiors without fear of retribution. 5- Self- Respect: this is simply the need to be treated as a human being, an individual – not a statistic.

Try ending the day today by thinking of how your actions motivate or de-motivate others. Start by listing 5 individuals you work with closely day-to-day. They can be any role: subordinates, peers, superiors, vendors, centralized teams, etc. When was the last time – the actual date – you gave each person a Positive comment? Why did you give the person a Positive comment (performance, attitude, appearance, etc.)? When was the last time – the actual date – you gave each person a Negative comment? Why did you give the person a Negative comment (performance, attitude, appearance, etc.)? Are you not able to provide specific dates for either Positive or Negative comments and only have No comments? Most people find that the overriding percentage is for Negative or No comments in their recent interactions with the 5 individuals.

Always remember, employees will provide service and production equal in quality to the way they are managed. Employees are not typically expecting a mansion or a yacht.

What is Your Life Lesson…

  1. Do you remember the last time you received a caustic, unpleasant email from a superior? Did this communication motivate you?

  2. Do you consider compensation to be the primary employee motivation factor?

  3. Do you know what best motivates your top producing employees?

  4. Did you try listing 5 individuals and looking at your recent impact on their motivation or de-motivation?

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