Rewards especially in their linkage to motivation are definitely critical topics and defy an all-encompassing or easy answer.
What ultimately motivates people can be as individual as people and totally defy classification. Period.
Let us start with motivation. Being in danger of repeating an old adage, that people join organizations and leave superiors, we must stress that it doesn’t appear to be too far from the truth. When people enter a new job in a new organization they are ‘all fired up’ – fully motivated – and then everybody conspires to get this level of motivation down, despite – or maybe even because – the window washing of the current ‘engagement’ craze.
Most articles on motivation ignore or underestimate the impact culture and values have on motivation. To really discuss remedies would exceed the frame of a blog but allow us to postulate a general frame of reference.
To keep people motivated in an organizational context, the first realization will have to be that an organization’s impact on motivation is by necessity limited, there are factors outside of organizational influence that have impact on motivation.
We postulate, that, if the values of an organization resonate with the values of the individual, if the pay is objectively and perceived fair, if the job is meaningful, if there are opportunities for advancement, if there is a feeling of competence and being valued, and the reputation of the organization resonates with the individual and peers, then the person stays as motivated, as it’s possible for the organization to provide in its own rights.
Are women and men differently motivated? Academia as well as empirical research is too contradicted to make that distinction a valid or useable one.
As for rewards and in particular their linkage to motivation, here we are really in trouble. Passions often run high in the discussion of the topic. Well, Maslow? Elegant, but, to our knowledge, there is only one serious empirical study done on its application (Davis-Sharts J, An empirical test of Maslow’s theory of need hierarchy using hologeistic comparison by statistical sampling. ANS Adv Nurs Sci. 1986 Oct; 9(1):58-72.) But we would not discard the theory as background, especially using updated versions and under the realization that the levels are not exclusive – people have needs present to different degrees but in all, say 8, categories at different times in their life cycle.
Now, if we look at the reward’s linkage to motivation, we have to be careful not to equal motivation to performance – two completely different things.
Whatever the kind of reward, be it monetary or otherwise, there is a growing body of empirical research that says, rewards can de-motivate (if perceived as unjust, or unjustified) but can per se not motivate. So, using the typical organizational reward-schemes like ‘employee of the months’, ‘vacation trips’, ‘xxx$’, ‘president’s pet’, etc. this turns out to be a dangerous game indeed, as it pits employees against each other and definitely destroys cooperation and even endangers teamwork, besides adding nothing to motivation for the general workforce.
Rewards find their most dangerous form in the folly of incentive pay, or pay-for-performance which is currently so popular.
There is no empirical evidence whatsoever that this form of reward is beneficial in improving motivation, retention or performance.
On the contrary, empirical evidence for over thirty years shows incentive pay to be directly detrimental to motivation.
So, all in all we postulate that rewards and reward schemes are dangerous to motivation.
The organization’s core values, vision (culture in short), reputation, empowerment, fair wages and treatment does more to maintain motivation then any mistakenly thought up reward schemes.