Employees motivated by appreciation rather than money, survey finds

The American writer, Mark Twain, once said: "I can live for two months on a good compliment."

Judging by the results of Robert Walters' recently released Employee Insights Survey, it would seem Twain is not the only one.

The survey asked New Zealand employees to rate which factors motivated them the most at work: money, acknowledgement and appreciation, the challenges of the role or workmates/company culture.

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Nearly a third of those canvassed cited acknowledgement and appreciation as their key motivator, with the challenges of their role coming a close second. A mere 11 per cent rated money as their top priority.

This is not surprising, according to Kim Nicholas, a consultant with Robert Walters' Human Resources recruitment division.

"People have a basic desire to be recognised for the work they do, and it is hugely demoralising when they feel their labours are ignored."

Companies that fail to acknowledge the efforts of their employees and do not offer them career development opportunities do so at their peril in the current market.

"We are still talking to some pretty disaffected employees who stuck with their organisations in the aftermath of the recession, but have yet to receive any reparations, acknowledgement or career development for the additional work they took on.

"The loyalty these individuals once felt for their employers has been seriously diluted, and they would now move for the right opportunity.

"Many of the organisations we deal with are very mindful of these issues and are actively engaging with HR to ensure that their business is focusing on employee engagement, training and succession planning in order to retain talented staff and to help attract talented candidates."

So what measures can companies take to create an outstanding company culture which will simultaneously retain staff and attract top talent at a time when budgets are tight, salaries largely static and the state of the economy precarious at best?

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According to Nicholas, a bit of flexibility can make all the difference.

"In the present market, candidates have a pretty realistic outlook. They know salaries have not really gone up appreciably and so they have re-evaluated their priorities when looking for a new role. They are now primarily attracted to companies with a strong, stable reputation, a great culture, good training programmes and progression opportunities.

"However, flexible work initiatives can be the clincher when candidates are considering several opportunities. Most companies now recognise that the once-clearly defined lines between work and personal life are becoming increasingly blurred. Providing employees with a smartphone may mobilise them, but can equally increase the length of their working day, as they are available outside of office hours.

"In addition, dual-income families are becoming the norm and, due to an ageing population, many workers belong to the 'sandwich generation' - juggling both family commitments and caring for elderly relations. Responding to these employees' needs by offering flexible working times, leave and work methods can dramatically improve their engagement and retention."

This desire for flexible working practices is echoed by the respondents to the survey. Out of those who were offered work-life balance initiatives, such as working from home and flexible hours, an overwhelming 71 per cent felt their performance improved as a result.

As one survey respondent put it: "My manager's attitude is that we're all grown-ups who can manage our own workloads. It's all about give and take - the fact that I actually have the option to work from home occasionally means that I am far less likely to abuse the privilege - if anything, I am probably more productive."

While compliments are free to give and workplace flexibility is often inexpensive to arrange, when it comes to staff retention, they can be priceless.

Fringe benefits
When it comes to perks that are guaranteed to add to your culture's kudos, a quick viewing of the Google recruitment video on YouTube will make the average New Zealand employee green with envy. Google boasts on-site childcare facilities and a restaurant so good it's apparently guaranteed to add 7kg to the frames of its patrons. We can only dream of such luxuries in New Zealand.

Within some New Zealand organisations, however, it would appear that traditional Friday night drinks no longer quite cut it.

Some of the more interesting work "perks" include:

Affectionately known as "fight club" to its devotees, one large corporate lays on a free weekly martial arts club for its staff.

One multinational IT firm allows employees to take one "bad hair day" a year, which brings new meaning to the term "fringe benefits".

One organisation's staff start the week with a (voluntary) weigh-in and pay for the privilege. At the end of three months, the staff member who has lost the most weight gets the most money.

The employees of one large firm are allowed to bring their dogs to work on Fridays.

* Lucy Nichols is New Zealand marketing & international development manager for recruitment firm Robert Walters.