Your portal to
enterprise engagement

What Melts Your Employees’ Butter?

For today’s workforce, the truth is that money, while important, just isn’t what it used to be

By Jim Finkelstein and Melissa Mead, FutureSense, Inc.

There’s no law that says you have to actually like your job. But what is it that motivates people to get up everyday and go to work? And think about this: If your employee population all won the lottery tomorrow – that is, they were all financially set for life – 95%-98% of them wouldn’t show up the next day! Can you really and truly afford to not understand what melts their butter?

Some will argue that the bona fide way to a committed and loyal employee’s heart is solely through monetary earnings – not to mention the gratification of a steady income. Others say it has to do with working in an inspired environment, where appreciation and respect for fellow co-workers and employees not only exists but is the norm.

Cooperation and Communication

Let’s first start with understanding what turns an employee off. Performance appraisals in the workplace are frequent, and nearly impossible to avoid. They’re the quintessential “CYA” activity. People tend to shun the word “appraisal” as if it were the plague.

But performance appraisals shouldn’t be feared. In fact, they should be welcomed with open arms. In an ideal world, employers wouldn’t “manage” people like two year olds. Rather, they would encourage skill development and offer training, mentoring and coaching to make that happen. There would be a whole lot more empowerment going on, instead of nitty-gritty micro-management, which everyone just loves… 

The focus of monitoring and assessing workplace performance should be placed on setting attainable and collaborative goals, making collective decisions and being able to tackle and solve problems within one’s own relative sphere of responsibility and authority along with one’s colleagues.      

While workplace performance is frequently monitored (as some believe it should be), there’s no reason why appraisals shouldn’t focus on the positives and be a catalyst to cooperation and communication. The butter will start to soften up a bit.  

Understanding UMPs

Increasing the value of people and truly understanding why they show up to work – and why they stay – is just as important as why they leave.

The tricky part, however, is that not everyone is motivated by the same things. One key point about motivation is that it’s an incredibly individual expression. Figuring it out might prove to be quite a challenge, but it’s worth probing and prodding to discover what melts your employees’ butter – what we’ll call their unique motivational profile, or UMP.

Employers and co-workers both need to be willing to understand and pay attention to the profile of each individual, which is why listening is a vital component of maintaining goal- and action-orientated motivation. Real communication is nonexistent without listening, and the ability of employers and employees to actually listen and comprehend what the other has to say goes hand-in-hand with the potential to recognize, encourage and motivate.

That being said, do you really understand your employees?

Extrinsic Vs. Intrinsic

Most people leave their jobs because they: a) don’t like their boss or co-workers; b) don’t have the tools to be productive and move forward; or c) are working in a toxic environment.  

People in the workplace can be motivated by a myriad of things. Yes, some of these things might be “extrinsic”’ motivators like having (and keeping) a job that can pay the bills. But money isn’t the only thing that gets people out of bed and off to work every day. If money were the only motivating factor in existence, it wouldn’t take very long for people to become exhausted with those tedious tasks and risk leaving their secure occupation for something better – for potentially more money.  

A lot of what motivates people in the 21st century is actually “intrinsic” – things like the excitement and satisfaction that work brings them, engaging projects, the interesting environments in which people work, the captivating people they work with, the work/life balance that one’s job allows them to have, not to mention the ongoing search for meaning and purpose within their life and passion for their work.  

For today’s workforce, the truth is that money, while important, just isn’t what it used to be. 

The Best of Both Worlds

For every ten articles you read on compensation, five will say money is key and five will say lifestyle, workplace accommodations, etc. are key. In a workplace populated with everyone from recent grads and Millennials to Baby Boomers and semi-retirees, the truth is that everyone wants – and expects – to have it all.   

Because of this diversity, there are unfortunately no best practices that will apply across the board to all organizations and all people. The good news, however, is that there’s a plethora of tools and techniques at your disposal; your job is to find the right mix for your people and situation. Find out what melts their butter.

Jim Finkelstein is the President and CEO of FutureSense, Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in people and organizations. He is the author of ‘Fuse: Making Sense of the New Cogenerational Workplace.’ Melissa Mead is the Social Media Coordinator for FutureSense. For more information, go to

[ return to top ]

Enterprise Engagement Resources


EGR International Inc.