How Do You Motivate Employees Who Really Don’t Need the Money?

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If you woke up today and discovered that you had won millions in last evening’s lottery drawing, would you still work?

Always a great conversation starter, the number of Americans responding “yes” has declined from over 80 percent in 1955 to 66 percent in recent years according to Psychology Today.

So what happens when there are people on your payroll who are in a similar financial situation? Those that have all the money they need and are not motivated by a paycheck. Can they be managed to consistently perform up to their potential?

Most don’t need/want to work in Qatar

Consider the children of rich celebrities, or those from wealthy families dubbed “trust fund babies.” Ever wonder why they are still working?

123RF Stock Photo
123RF Stock Photo

A growing number of the conferences I keynote are being held at large casino hotels that are situated on Native American reservations, but I seldom see Native Americans working in those resorts. The most obvious reason for this is that, in most cases, the residents on the reservations are legally entitled to a share of the gaming revenues generated on their native land. Thus, the financial incentive for them to bus tables, clean the rooms, check guests in at the counter, etc. does not exist.

It’s the same scenario in “gold rush” areas where a sudden boom to the economy wreaks havoc with the natural order of the employment landscape. I’ve gotten S.O.S. calls from the Alberta, Canada cities of Edmonton and Calgary when the insanely rich oil sands projects in Fort McMurray pulled the rug out from underneath their labor base. This has also been the case in western North Dakota where the fracking boom has created a tremendous labor shortage.

But rarely have I seen a situation quite like that in Doha, Qatar. I was there last week to present at the 2013 Global Innovators Conference where I heard (and witnessed) accounts of zero motivation on behalf of college students and workers who demonstrate little or no need for a paycheck or for a academic grade/diploma.

A previously poor country, Qatar is now a major producer of oil and natural gas. In 2010, Qatar had the world’s highest GDP per capita, while the economy grew by 19 percent, the fastest in the world. With few exceptions, Qataris (natives) are now financially set. Those that do need/want to work jockey for government jobs, where last year, these already good paying jobs had an across-the-board salary increase of between 65 percent and 120 percent.

Before my keynote address, I grabbed my iPhone, stepped outside the convention center, and recorded this video:

Money is ALWAYS an employee motivator

There is not an easy answer for motivating employees when their financial needs are not a concern. But here is what I know for sure:

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Money is now, and will continue to be, a fundamental reason for working. While many surveys suggest it is not the primary motivator for most workers, few of us would continue to do what we are doing if we stopped being compensated for our efforts. (As a former teacher, I can attest that, for a student, a grade is usually a primary motivator.)

However, to fully invest one’s self in any laborious pursuit for any duration of time, it takes more than money (or a grade). The pursuit must have some intrinsic meaning to the worker or student.

That puts the onus on the leader of the workplace – or the classroom – to make certain the employee/student is connected to their efforts in a meaningful way.

In short, they must see the bigger picture and the importance and relevance of their hard work.

If they don’t clearly see that picture, you’ll never be able to pay them enough to give their very best.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s Reviving Work Ethic blog. His new book is Reviving Work Ethic: A Leader’s Guide to Ending Entitlement and Restoring Pride in the Emerging Workforce. For copies, visit

Eric Chester is a leading voice in the global dialogue on employee engagement, and building a world-class workplace culture. He's an in-the-trenches researcher on the topic of the millennial mindset, and the dynamics of attracting, managing, motivating and retaining top talent. Chester is a Hall-of-Fame keynote speaker and the author of 4 leadership books including his newly released Amazon #1 Bestseller On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in their People without Burning Them Out.  Learn more at and follow him at @eric_chester


4 Comments on “How Do You Motivate Employees Who Really Don’t Need the Money?

  1. This is very true. I have had a very well payed job but there were no motivational benefits so I left it. I thought there is no way I could have problem to get employed, because I have excelent education, a number of certifications and I thought I knew “those right people” from whom I expected helping hand. But things gone pretty wrong. I had a serious problem finding appropriate employer for almost two years so I turned to even though my scepticism linked with personal agencies. That was the way I finally mannaged to get my dramjob worth 2 years of waiting. Keep your minds open. Best wishes, Cyril.

  2. Passion for work will always be better facilitated by the servant leader. The control oriented micro-manager can only thrive when people are dependent on the paycheck, and even then they tend to wander through thier work aimlessly, like uninspired zombies. Meaning in the workplace can always be generated by leaders who make others better by their selfless management style.

  3. First off, maybe only 2-5% of eloyees don’t need money. We motivate our employees by creating a team work family culture with all helping and working for everyone. I think company culture which does not create a me first approach or attitude is of the highest priority. True we are a small company, but team work should permeate all companies and in the end is better for all.

  4. I have always found it very helpful to understand what specifically motivates each person on the team that I am leading. With this information, I can then identify tasks or projects that would create both a rewarding and challenging environment for the individual.

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