Money Can't Buy You Love

By: MarkWeaver Friday December 28, 2012 comments

Ok, I’ll admit I was never a Beatle’s fan… of course, I was a small child when they were around and I had an older cousin who was one of those teenagers screaming and fainting at Beatle’s concerts which I thought was really stupid.  That said, you couldn’t grow up in the 60s without hearing a LOT of Beatle’s songs… like “Can’t Buy Me Love.”   I can still recite some of the words that were constantly pounded into my young brain – “I don’t care too much for money; money can’t buy me love.”  Nowhere is this truer than in the workplace.  Nowhere is money used more unsuccessfully to try to buy alignment, engagement, and passion.  And it doesn’t work.  Money can’t buy you love.
Sometimes I hear business owners and executives lament that even though they pay a great wage:

  • They have more turnover than they want and they lose key people;
  • Employees have too much of an entitlement mentality;
  • Employees don’t seem passionate enough about their products or services; or
  • No one seems to be aligned with the vision of their companies.

Recently I heard a business owner tell how he used to have a passionate, committed team back in the day when he was a Post Doc and those working on his projects were Graduate Research Assistant volunteers.  Today he has well-paid employees who lack the commitment and passion of the people he didn’t pay at all years earlier.  I’ve heard the same things from Not-For-Profit executives who note that their volunteers are more passionate about their mission than some of the well-paid staff members.  Many business owners and leaders think they have to throw more money at the problem.  It doesn’t work.  Money can’t buy you love.
I’m not suggesting that money can’t play a role in developing a great culture, but it only adds value when it’s used in conjunction with a lot of other strategies.  And it only works at all if it’s done right.  Get it wrong and it has the opposite effect.
Years ago, Fredrick Herzberg came up with his “Motivation - Hygiene Theory” of job satisfaction.  Herzberg believed that some things we do in the workplace cause satisfaction, while others create dissatisfaction.  The hygiene factors had to be met; and until they were, people would be dissatisfied.  But hygiene factors could never motivate employees.  The motivation factors are the only things that truly motivate employees.  Guess which one salary was on?  Hygiene!
If Herzberg’s theory is true – and in my experience it is – then the best employers can do with salary is to get it right, fix it if it’s wrong, and then move on.  Focusing more on it will only create dissatisfaction.  When dissatisfied with salary, employers find their employees making comparisons that pit one person’s concept of “internal equity” or the more nebulous term – fairness – against another’s.  Any satisfaction brought by salary – even a good salary increase – is only temporary.
Employers can use variable pay, pay at risk, or bonuses to enhance the culture, align incentives, reward accomplishment of strategic goals, and get everyone rowing the same direction.  But that only works when the other hygiene factors - such as the right kind of policies, a good boss, working conditions, relationship with peers, etc., are met, and when this form of pay is done in conjunction with a lot of other strategies and the extra pay is just reinforcement.
The real motivators though, are the work itself, achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement, and growth.  The right incentives done right can reward behaviors that help companies succeed.  And when done right, those rewards are really more than money because they mean recognition and achievement – things Herzberg would call motivation factors.
Stop throwing money at problems with alignment, engagement, and passion.  Create a culture where great employees thrive and you’ll find everything you do for employees to be part of an investment strategy that you can expect a good ROI on.

About the Author: MarkWeaver


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