Who Does Money Really Motivate?

MoneyI’ve been a manager for quite some time and I have always wondered how to motivate my people to work better but I have never got a good answer. Until recently, when I read Pawel Brodzinski’s post Money as a Motivator and David Carr’s 7 Reasons why Money is not the best Motivator (not available anymore). Pawel also referred to Rob Walling’s post Nine Things Developers Want More Than Money.

We all know Frederick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory. There are motivation and hygiene factors that drive our job satisfaction. Here is my simple understanding of them:

  • motivation factors drive us to work more, to perform better, to be more creative
  • hygiene factors are the ones that their lack demotivates us and drive us to work less, to perform worse, and to be less productive and creative

David gives 7 very good examples why money is not a motivating factor but rather hygiene one. Pawel, on the other hand seems disappointed that in reality people are most interested by money and the other forms of motivation seem not being too effective.

Reading all this stuff you may think that these are objective factors and they are valid for all people. But it’s not true. People are different and they are interested in different things. And here came my enlightenment: There are two major kind of people based on what kind of factors are more important to them. I would call them active and passive people. There are people who consider the hygiene factors as more important (passive) and there are people who are interested in motivation factors (active).

And there are also two major types of work:

  • interesting, dynamic, creative, and varied, and
  • routine, monotonous, and boring

There is a need of both kind of people to match the corresponding type of work and respectively, you have to motivate them differently. The active people better fit the dynamic type of work – designers, architects, project managers. They are ambitious and creative type of persons and they can be motivated using a variety of motivation factors. All of them will work.

On the other hand, for more monotonous type of work you need the passive kind of people. Even in the field of software development there are many tasks that require persistence and patience and the active people are not the right choice because they get bored very soon. You need passive people but you cannot motivate them because they are not ambitious – they are not looking for improvement – they just want to do their job peacefully and quietly. For them the hygiene factors are determining so you need to secure them.

If you mix the factors and use the opposite approach you will get nothing. If you secure the hygiene factors for the active and ambitious people they won’t be satisfied because they will always be looking for some improvement and growth that you don’t provide. And if you try to motivate with achievement, recognition and personal growth people who just want to receive their salary regularly and to have an always-working vending machine for free, you again will get only their dissatisfaction.

Having all these considerations I think every manager should follow these simple rules:

  1. Analyze the different jobs in your team or organization and define which of them require active people and which of them require passive people.
  2. Hire people who match the job type – active people for a dynamic job and passive people for a routine job.
  3. Use the appropriate motivation mechanisms according to the person’s type and the job type – hygiene for the passive people and motivation for the active people.

There are professions or countries where there are more people of the one kind and less of the other. For example, in Bulgaria passive people are much more than the active ones. I believe this is the reason for Pawel’s skepticism – both Bulgaria and Poland have been a long time on the same side of the Iron Curtain so probably this is why the most people he has met are passive ones and they are interested mostly in the salary as a hygiene factor.

Finding the right people for a job may be a problem and may take a long time but I think it’s better to work with fewer people before you find the right one instead of hiring the wrong person. If you put a person that doesn’t match the job you will never be able to motivate them.


  • Pawel Brodzinski says:

    I don’t think the post is worth a blog-reaction. I think it’s worth at least a bunch of them. You’ve touched at least several different ideas.

    1. Active vs passive. If you consider ability to resign from significant part of remuneration as a compensation of more interesting and dynamic tasks as a label of “active” people, there will always be shortage of them, no matter the country.

    2. Different kinds of motivation. I would move your point further: every person needs different kind of motivation. Money is one of factors. Not the only one, but in almost all cases (no matter of character type) that’s one of essentials.

    3. Wrong side of Iron Curtain. Yes, the heritage our nations bring results in significant percentage of passive people. That’s vividly visible when we come to United States and we compare our typical approach with their standard optimism and “we are the best” beliefs. Anyway it doesn’t really change the background significantly. No matter if you’re located in Sofia, Krakow or New York you won’t be willing to agree to get less money in new job.

    Thanks for bringing food for thought.

  • Craig says:

    This is a great post with some fantastic insight.

    There is some other research into money that complements your thoughts here; that you have to reach a certain level of financial security before you can abandon it as a priority, but once you are there then I think your theory kicks in. Or maybe you are then set free to be able to become ‘active.’

    And as for the Iron Curtain thing – I see what you are saying, but I agree with pawell; that the ‘active’ types are rare in most places. The US, and particularly big-city US are the exceptions.

  • Mike Ramm says:

    Pawel, Craig: Thank you for your comments!

    I just realized that my thoughts have something in common with two very-well known theories.

    First, there is the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He postulates that first and the most important ones are physiological and safety needs but what I observe is that those needs are different for the different people. One just needs a roof over his head and once he has it he starts to think of something bigger. Another may need comfortable office with air conditioner and vending machine, company car and many other things and still he may consider that his basic needs are not satisfied.

    You can motivate the first type of persons many ways, even without money but the second type you can’t – you just need to satisfy their hygiene needs – with money.

    The second thing is the research made by the Dutch psychologist Hofstede who defines the “masculine” and the “feminine” types of people. These types are almost the same as the “active” and “passive” types in my categorization. And his research showed that in the different countries the “masculine”/”feminine” ratio is different – there are countries where people is mostly “masculine” and others where they are mostly “feminine”. You should have this in consideration when you (1) hire people and (2) try to motivate them.

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  • just came here from liz’s blog. interesting post. you know, i had never heard about the hygiene factor. very interesting, will have to look that up. makes a lot of sense.

  • Arlene says:

    Well written article.

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