Does non-monetary motivation work for adult workers?

Does non-monetary motivation work for adult workers?

Those of us whose education included management science and those of us who learnt more and better about human motivation doing our masters in the University of Life have realized that motivation, either positive or negative, doesn’t work on everybody in the same manner.

Way back in 1960s itself, Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Y enlightened us about the two contrasting assumptions of human motivation, leaving us to choose between the carrot and the stick and we now have Stephen Covey who talks about the wisdom of migrating from an industrial age (Theory X) to that of an Information Age (Theory Y) to get the best of people.

I am sure all of us, as seasoned managers, have our own experiences and opinions about what works in motivating our people and what doesn’t. We know that monetary rewards are necessary but so are the small little trinkets that even battle-scarred and war-weary generals and soldiers love to receive in recognition of their services.

As a first generation entrepreneur most of my working life, I have always used non-monetary motivation copiously (for an excellent reason that I couldn’t afford too much of monetary rewards!). It worked very well for me, cutting across levels, departments, gender and education/ experience.

A small example – In the beginning of this year, when we conducted a climate/ morale survey, we found that the team felt that they do not have enough freedom when it comes to taking leaves. We decided to give total freedom to avail eligible leave – a person need not take anybody’s approval before taking leave; they need to only inform in advance that they are availing leave. We had our usual share of Doubting Thomas’ apprehensions that this freedom is bound to get abused and will result to utter chaos. It is 2 months since we announced the new leave policy and there isn’t a single case where a person has not behaved responsibly when availing leave, keeping the company’s interest very much in mind.

A number of visitors – business associates, customers, suppliers – who visited our facility and came to know about our initiates toward making ‘Happy Employees’ have commented that “too much of a good thing is bad”; too much of praise, recognition and freedom is bound to bring about negative returns.

We don’t think so. What would you say? I would love to hear your comments, advice and experiences.

Thank you for reading my blog. If you are interested in the subject of motivation, you will find our free online course on ‘POSTIVE REINFORCEMENT’ quite interesting. Click on the link to access it:


  • Hi Jim,

    Thank you very much for the compliment.

    Best regards


  • Shilpa Somani

    Hello Mr. Prasad,

    Thanks for sharing the information.
    I’m Manager HR in an Creative organization in Mumbai.

    I found the concept and the thought very impressive from the employees point of view, but do you think we should give the employees so much freedom to manage their leaves.
    Being an creative firm we have flexi timing schedules and freedom of work. but still have certain issues on leaves management. Employees take lot of leaves when they have deadlines for the project inspite of having a limited leaves in the account. this is one aspect.
    I’m also looking for some non-monetary motivational tools for my Organization. we have a team of 60 ppl. I’ve been organizing lot of games & interactive sessions, but still think that their is much more to do.
    I would appreciate if you could help in out and share some information on the same.

    Looking forward to hear from you..

    Thanks & Regards
    Shilpa Somani

  • RK Prasad

    Thanks, Shipla.

    It was nice of you to share your experiences.

    Freedom, they say, comes with responsibility. But the question is, which
    comes first? Do we wait till employees become responsible and then give them
    freedom or vice versa? Would you, as a leader, like to stretch out your hand
    first and risk a rejection? I will leave that with you…Again freedom and
    trust go hand in hand. If employees trust you, they will not betray your
    trust. But then you will have to earn it. HR is not HR managers job alone.
    It is every managers job. I am sure you ‘ll agree.

    As far as motivational tools are concerned, maybe you should try some kind
    of recognition schemes which do not cost money and do not require top level
    approval. Or else they will never see the light of the day.

    Please free to connect with me on LinkedIn. We can exchange views.



  • Ari Cohn

    Intuitively, it seems to me that when you give a group of people a privilege that comes with a concurrent responsibility, it would be prudent to prepare them with some training on how to take advantage of the new privilege without abusing it. Clear, written HR policy guidelines, along with some e-learning, showing positive and negative examples of appropriate leave-taking would help ensure that all employees have the same understanding of the policy, its proper use, and might help avoid the appearance that some employees are favored over others.

  • Thanks Ari. It is a different angle – to formalize and communicate such initiatives.

  • I always enjoy reading spot on articles by an author who is definately knowledgeable on their chosen subject. I’ll be following this post with great interest. Keep up the great work, I will be back