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The Eternal HR Dilemma: How To Get Staff Motivated

The big fat salary or the exciting challenge: which would YOU choose?

So here’s a scenario for you: let’s say you’re on the lookout for a better job. You’ve recently got an internationally recognised qualification in Business & Management or Human Resources under your belt and you want to put it to the best possible use.


You see a job that looks ideal: you’ll be working in a tightly defined role for a big company – and the salary’s awesome. What’s more, your up-to-date diploma means you tick all the right boxes.

You’re just about to send off your C.V. but then you scroll down the page and something catches your eye. A tiny company is looking for a junior manager. The money’s not great, but there’s talk of profit sharing – and stock options eventually (assuming there’s going to be any profits!). You’d be right at the heart of things; helping the fledgling business get off the ground. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Share options: making employees part of the company

It’s usually the tech niche that steals all the headlines. We’ve just seen the flotation of Twitter; along with the now familiar story of employees pocketing “six-figure windfalls” thanks to share options. Last year’s flotation of Facebook, (over)valued at $104bn was a record breaker – helping to create a handful of billionaires and more than a few millionaires among the Facebook staff.


Share options aren’t just about money though. Sure, they’re one of the tools used by employers to reward employees – and require little or no initial outlay. More than that, they provide employees with a direct and long-term interest in how well the company’s performing.

It’s all part of a much wider picture …

What motivates staff to jump out of bed with a spring in their step – before skipping into work ready to “give it 110%”? The obvious answer might be a large cash-flavoured ‘carrot’. It’s not quite that simple though.

As part of the Diploma in Human Resources Management, you’ll learn that waving cash at an unmotivated workforce probably isn’t going to solve the problem. The psychology of workplace motivation is complex; but it’s fascinating too!

Studies in Employee Motivation

Back in the 1950s and 60s, a Harvard psychologist called Frederick Herzberg started to look seriously at what motivates employees. He found that the list of stuff that makes people unhappy is predictable: a low salary, a bad boss, and annoying workplace rules came out top of the list.

So, you’d think that the way to motivate people would simply be to remove all those things, right? It seems not. Pay them a decent salary; provide them with decent conditions and manage them well and they’re not demotivated. They’re not motivated either though. There’s something missing. To keep people interested, you need to provide them with interesting work, new challenges and responsibilities.

Of course, this is all good news from the point of view of the employer too. Faced with an unhappy member of staff, the boss has other options to consider other than getting out his cheque book. It’s the job of the HR professional to work out what those other options are.

Meanwhile: back in the real world …

Harvard research papers are all well and good, but what we’re interested in is the situation on the ground. One thing you can be sure of with the ABE Diploma in Human Resource Management is that it prepares you for the reality of how individuals operate in organisations in the 21st Century.

Let’s face it; we’ve all got bills to pay.

The theory suggests that if we’re unhappy in our job, an attractive pay rise will be a mere temporary fix.  At first, we’re delighted with the extra money each month. We eat out more; upgrade the car and generally learn to adapt to our slightly changed circumstances. After a few months, we’re left feeling the same way as before.

Introducing … the Magic Number!

Well, it turns out that there might be a “magic number” in the trade-off between choosing between a job we’d enjoy and the pay cheque we’d like.

In 2010 a study called High income improves evaluation of life but not emotional well-being published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the US (reported in The New York Times) suggests that the ‘magic number’ in the US is $75,000. On average, that’s the household income level beyond which further income does nothing to bring about further contentment. After that point, chasing “the big money” no longer brings happiness.


Of course, that figure would differ massively across the world due to differences in living costs – and a lot also depends on your responsibilities. As a general principle though, is the salary figure the first thing you look at when checking out the jobs market?

What Do You Think?

What’s more important to you; a big salary or a job you enjoy?

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