This One Thing Motivates Employees More Than Money

Employers need to step their game up in this category.

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To get your employees working harder, don’t promise them pay raises per se, says a new Harvard Business Review study — instead, make sure your promotions system is airtight.

Last year HBR surveyed more than 400,000 U.S. workers to determine what motivates them at work. Respondents reported that they’re more than twice as likely to give extra effort and to plan a long-term future with their employer if they believed that promotions were managed effectively.

So why do we care so much about promotions? Because they’re deeply personal and relationship-driven, says HBR. “A solid promotions process allows leaders to elevate each employee to their full potential — while showing the company what type of results and behaviors are valued,” wrote the report’s authors. Fair promotions give employers the opportunity to show they actually care about each worker’s progress and give employees confidence that their work is being noticed.

But if the promotions system is shoddy, workers are likely to build resentment and feel like they can’t achieve their goals at work.

Companies that effectively manage promotions get some big benefits. They boast stock returns that are nearly three times the market average and employee turnover that’s half of industry peers, the study found. And if employees believed promotion were managed well at their company, they were five times as likely to believe their leaders act with integrity (a big element of “high-trust, high-performing” companies the HBR says).

The study offered a few tips to help companies do better on the promotions front. To tighten up the process, organizations can start by helping workers set performance goals. And as time goes on, executives should inform staff members of new opportunities in the company and encourage them to apply. When the decision is made, employers can build trust by focusing on why a certain person was selected for the role. And don’t stop there. The final step is about “re-calibrating.” All other employees deserve a follow-up conversation that’s geared toward continued support.