More Than Money: 6 Often-Overlooked Factors That Motivate Employees

Many believe that competitive financial compensation is the primary reason employees stay with a company or organization. And, while compensation is a key factor for employee satisfaction, survey data shows that pay is one of the least important factors that contribute to workplace happiness and employee retention.1 If your goal is to decrease turnover, it can help to look beyond purely financial considerations and dig deeper into your employees’ intrinsic motivations. What else keeps them coming back and feeling fulfilled? And what can your organization do to make that happen?

To answer those questions, we’ve identified several strategies for maintaining engaged employees.

6 Ways to motivate your employees

Consider these six factors that contribute to employee happiness and motivation as well as ideas on how to implement them in your own workplace.

1. Establish growth opportunities

Although a good paycheck may be an effective way to attract employees, providing them with opportunities for career growth and lateral movement is often more effective for motivation. Studies show that 73 percent of employers believe offering career advancement opportunities is important, but only 49 percent of employees say their employer actually creates these opportunities.2 Providing opportunities for career promotion, skills development and further education shows employees that you’re with them for the long haul. By investing in career and skills growth, you can motivate your employees while also enhancing their performance abilities.

One way to promote employee growth is by establishing opportunities for employees to further their education while working — such as tuition assistance programs and comprehensive educational benefits like Rasmussen University’s Corporate and Professional Achievement Grants. Other strategies include providing additional responsibilities to each employee and creating employee development plans. Finally, make sure to remove any barriers to their advancement such as policies that limit promotion eligibility based on an employee’s tenure or a lack of an internal job posting system.

2. Create a gratitude-centered workplace

When working for a company with many moving parts, employees can easily feel overlooked. A 2019 Employee Engagement Report states that only 1 in 3 employees felt their hard work was recognized the last time they went the extra mile, and only 25 percent said they felt consistently valued by their employers.3 Creating a gratitude-centered workplace is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to boost employee performance and decrease turnover. Employees are more motivated to do their best when they feel appreciated by their employer.4

Beyond just saying “thank you” more often, there are many ways to incorporate gratitude in the workplace. Emphasizing quality over quantity and being specific about what you appreciate often adds to the authenticity of gratitude.5

Additionally, consider varying the ways in which gratitude is expressed. Whether it’s by implementing a physical or digital platform where employees can recognize each other’s success or using gift-giving to express gratitude, showing appreciation in different ways can help your employees feel valued.

3. Provide effective leadership

Not only do employees want to feel like they’re working for a great company, they also want to feel like they’re working for great leaders. Poor leadership is one of the top reasons employees leave a company.6 Because managers serve as the bridge between employees and the larger company, ensuring managers understand employees' needs is a great way to keep boost company motivation and engagement. Positive employee-management relations are built on two things: trust and communication. Managers can show they trust employees by giving them opportunities to succeed with minimal oversight. Consider how your management supervises and ensure that employees can work freely and make their own decisions on a day-to-day basis.

Additionally, managers should set up honest and transparent pathways of communication. By creating communication that is frequent and available, employees will feel that their opinions are being considered. For more tips on successful management, take a look at this article on what makes a great manager.

4. Cultivate employee relationships

In addition to strong relationships with management, employees are also motivated by strong relationships with coworkers. Surveys show that employees with six or more close workplace relationships feel more engaged with their company than employees with fewer.7 Because employees spend large parts of their day at work, having a workplace culture that encourages strong relationships is important to employee happiness and one of the driving factors of employees’ motivation.

Opportunities for employees to socialize and form relationships can take many shapes. The opportunities include regular online or in-person meetings where employees can chat casually or share life updates, pre-planned company events or regular team outings. Try giving more opportunities for staff collaboration through team-based projects. Building a collaborative team allows employees to not only get to know each other, but also each other’s strengths.

5. Encourage autonomy

Since 2020, “flexibility” has become a prominent buzzword when discussing the workplace. When employees say they want flexibility, what many really want is autonomy. Employees want the ability to decide when, how and where they work. In a 2021 study on hybrid work, 61 percent of respondents said they would prefer to come into the office based on when they feel it’s necessary.8 To many employees, mandates feel like a loss of autonomy. Plus, when employees can choose the optimal conditions for their daily work, their performance is optimal as well.

You can start encouraging employee autonomy by setting principles rather than policies.9 Instead of mandating that employees wear business professional attire each day, allow employees to choose their own attire based on the demands of their daily schedule. Another way to encourage autonomy is by providing employees with the tools they need to be autonomous. These tools range from education and training needed to build competences to dependable equipment and technology needed to do the job.

6. Offer unique perks

Beyond just a paycheck, employees are motivated by unique perks offered by their employer. Small perks such as break room snacks or a flexible dress code can make employees feel like their employer values their role in the workplace. Larger perks that save the employee money like educational benefits and employee discounts can show employees that their employer is willing to invest in them just as they’ve invested in the company.

Consider incorporating benefits that let employees advance their skills while saving money. Rasmussen offers companies and organizations a way to reward their employees for their hard work through educational benefits like the Corporate and Professional Achievement Grants and co-cost self-directed assessments. You can also check out more resources about factors that contribute to a standout educational benefits program.

Ready to motivate your employees?

Whereas competitive compensation packages once were the driving force behind employee satisfaction, today’s employees expect more from their employers. Equipped with this information, you should be prepared to further both the motivation and longevity of your staff.

Showing your employees that you understand their motivations is key, and what better way to do that than by giving them the opportunity to further their education at reduced rates? Rasmussen University can help make that possible. For details on offering your employees educational benefits through an alliance with Rasmussen University, visit:

1 Rainer Strack, et al. “Decoding Global Talent,” Boston Consulting Group, October 6, 2014. [accessed July 2022]
2 "Developing Employe Career paths and Ladders,” Society for Human Resources Management, 2017. [accessed July 2022]
3 “The 2019 Employee Engagement Report: The End of Employee Loyalty,” TinyPulse, 2019. [accessed July 2022]
4 “APA Survey Finds Feeling Valued at Work Linked to Well-Being and Performance,” American Psychological Association, 2012. [accessed July 2022]
5 Jeremy Adam Smith, “Five Ways to Cultivate Gratitude at Work,” Greater Good Magazine, May 16, 2013. [accessed July 2022]
6 Brian Robinson, “Discover the Top 5 Reasons Employees Want to Quit Their Jobs,” Forbes, May 3, 2022. [accessed July 2022]
7 Kathy Gurchiek, “Survey: Workplace Friends Important Retention Factor,” Society for Human Resources Management, December 16, 2014. [accessed July 2022]
8 “Jabra Hybrid Ways of Working: 2021 Global Report,” August 2021. [accessed July 2022]
9 Holger Reisinger and Dane Fetterer, “Forget Flexibility. Your Employees Want Autonomy,” Harvard Business Review, October 29, 2021. [accessed July 2022]