A recent study showed 89 percent of employers assume their employees leave for more money elsewhere. But in reality, studies from Gallup and the Incentive Research Foundation said only 12 percent of employees actually earn more from their next company.

In my experience, people become demotivated first. The decision to leave for another job, whether it pays more or not, is an outcome of the lack of motivation and engagement. It’s not the cause.

So what does actually motivate people?

Maslow’s widely known and accepted hierarchy of needs gives us some clues. Once people get past food and shelter, which in today’s world is accomplished via money, humans want belonging, self-esteem and self-actualization.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re at work, home or in between – the needs stay the same. And despite our belief that we are more sophisticated and evolved than previous generations, the 1961 book “The Achieving Society” pretty much nailed employee motivation. Before cellphones, millennials and the birth of this writer, author David McClelland identified three motivators that can keep you in a job or drive you away from one.

McClelland’s theory is that most of us are driven by one of these three things:

1. Need for achievement

McClelland described the need for achievement as a drive to excel in the set standards. Someone with a high achievement need is more likely to choose a difficult vocation. Brain surgeons aren’t content to be average. Employees with a high need for achievement are more likely to be effective leaders.

People with a low need for achievement typically focus on avoiding failure. That’s great for an assembly line worker, but it’s not so great for an employee who needs to make decisions. However people can be trained to have a high need for achievement. One of our clients, Foundation Supportworks, refers to this as “The Gift of High Expectations.” They believe employees need to feel challenged to achieve a sense of accomplishment.

Managers can provide clear and high expectations. Top performers thrive on deadlines and tough projects.

2. Need for power

Power doesn’t necessarily come with a title of management. The need for power is simply the need to feel as though you have the ability to shape the future.

Employees with a need for power want to be influential. In an organizational setting, this need could be met via an open-door management policy or group brainstorming sessions.

Managers can ask for suggestions and assign meaningful project leadership roles.

3. Need for affiliation

Some people are motivated by the desire to be close and friendly with others. Traditionally, this need has been filled outside work. But now, with socio-economic changes such as the absence of small towns, declining participation in church environment, reduced engagement with extended family and the bleed of work into traditionally private time, work has become the new community. Those who have a high need for affiliation tend to prefer cooperation over competition. Tapping into this need can be a powerful motivator.

Managers can assign group work or ask for employees’ help.

Different individuals have different magnitudes of each need. As a leader, understanding these needs and working to satisfy them are critical for creating a successful organization.

People don’t start looking for new opportunities because they want more money. They start looking for a place that will meet their needs.

– Lisa Earle McLeod is a leadership consultant and the author of several books. For more information on her company, visit McLeodandMore.com.


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