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It’s Not About the Money: What’s Driving Employee Engagement?

April 20, 2016
Perks and higher titles can be more valuable in motivating employees than money.

A recent nationwide study sheds some light on what’s really driving employee engagement, job satisfaction and career advancement and it might not be what you think.

The study, from BambooHR, polled more than 1,000 U.S.-based employees and revealed that money is not always king. Simple employee recognition, a higher title (even without a raise) and employee perks can be just as effective, or even better, ways to reward/recognize employees than a small raise or bonus. 

“Recognition needs to feel personal,” said Rusty Lindquist, vice president of HCM strategy and intellectual property at BambooHR. “If you strip away the personal nature of that recognition, you can also lose impact. So some of the most effective recognition approaches are also the easiest…simply pull someone aside and say thank you.”

Some of the key findings from the survey include:

  • One in five employees would prefer to receive a promotion to a higher title without a 3 percent raise in salary instead of the raise without a promotion to a higher title.
  • Nearly one-third of employees would rather be recognized for their work accomplishments in a company-wide email from an executive than receive a bonus of $500 that isn’t openly publicized by a superior to their coworkers.
  • Gender matters when it comes to what matters most to employees. When asked to rank what signified a career advancement to them, women ranked “more money” and “a higher title” higher than men, and men ranked “more direct reports,” “expanded responsibility” and “more face time with company executives” higher than women.

While no one said they would turn down additional compensation, they did acknowledge that there were other aspects of recognition and engagement that also were highly valued. According to the research, employees who consistently contribute to successful teams and have the most responsibility are looked at as being more successful (in the eyes of their peers) than those who make the most money.

“We weren’t surprised that dollars were still king when it comes to the expression of appreciation,” said Lindquist. “What we were surprised to find though was just how valuable non-monetary recognition was, and the strength of correlation between frequency of recognition and employee satisfaction.”

While the study didn’t examine the compounding effect of in-person recognition as well as company-wide recognition, it begs another question, Lindquist noted. “If the most preferred method was in-person recognition from your boss, and fourth was a company or team-wide email from the boss, what happens if you do both? Because neither costs anything but time and attention.”

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