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  • Colin Christensen

What Employees Want

It's not about the money


When I speak with clients about how to improve employee retention or attract better candidates to their roles, this is how it usually goes:


  • client "I'd like to bring on better employees - the ones I have seem to leave for 50¢/hr more."

  • me "Have you considered the other areas they might be interested in like a better work environment?"

  • client "they will still leave, it's all about the money with my people"

Of course this is fabricated but if you have ever felt yourself playing this conversation out in your own head, this article is for you.


After years as a top-tier recruiter, I can confidently say that the remuneration is only a small part of the equation. In fact, out of the thousands of candidates I have interviewed, the ones who are all about the money are the ones no one wants. I used to call them harlots. They would work for anyone for a buck.


I had a candidate once - a very senior ERP developer - with clearly excellent skills. He would call me regularly until I told him to stop. I remember the first time he called me.


  • candidate "I'm looking for a new role"

  • me "Why are you looking for a new role?"

  • candidate "my friends all make more than me doing the same role"

  • me "what about the role? the company? the team? - your skills?"

  • candidate "They're fine. Just looking for more money. I want to make xxx/hr."

  • me "Why would I put you in a role where you will leave the moment your friends make more money again and you leave?"

  • candidate "I'm really good. I'm worth the money. The company will be happy for my work."

  • me "no"


This, unfortunately, is not fabricated. There are candidates out there like this. It's just that you don't want them. They're arrogant and petty.


If you are stuck with people like this, you are hiring using the wrong qualifications.


There is a principle that states: Hire for Attitude, train for skills.

If this is a principle, it should always work. Are we following it? I find not often enough.


Let me ask you this: If you could paint your ideal picture for a role - think of it for a second - something you love to do and get paid for it, would you work for less money than what you make now? (I know as an entrepreneur that might be a funny statement). I think we have all - as entrepreneurs - fantasized about a nice role where we get paid a reasonable rate for doing something core to our talents and rewarding. The obvious point to this is: the money is only an entrance qualification.


People will often take less money to do the work they love. As stated, the money is just to ensure we're playing in the right field. This makes it easy to think that it's all about the money.


Sure, some guy won't necessarily take a role paying $50K when he's currently making $120K. However, as much as this seems true, I have seen it play out. Less stress, better environment, better country, skills to be learned, etc. etc. There are many motivations for candidates aside from money.


Money is a factor but only a "permission to play" factor.


So, what does the employee want?


This is different for each candidate and each employee. You need to ask. You will be surprised what people will tell you if you ask. Establish trust so they know you're not just looking for "other motivating factors" in order to pay them less. Have a frank conversation and be open to different suggestions on how you can win them.


Some want more autonomy, some a super team around them, some an opportunity to learn, some better benefits for their family, some more time in vacation. The motivations can be as numerous as the candidates themselves.


As we move more into a different economy, there will be more of this coming up. The light has been shed on needed flexibility with the rise of the millennial work force. However, it's not just them looking for this creativity. Baby boomers are looking for something different as they wind down their careers and us Gen Xers won't put up with the same crap we used to as we age either.


I confirmed this idea when I was building a large franchise and had to put an emergency stop to my hiring. I was surprised to find after I told the team I couldn't hire them, that they still wanted to work - for free. In fact, a few offered to put in their own money and join forces pushing the ball down the court. Others just put in sweat equity. The difference was they were attached to the company on values and mission rather than by a paycheque. They just loved what we were doing and wanted to be a part of it... regardless of being paid. Interesting, right?


There is no difference with your team. You can get them - and you do want to get them - attached to your company. You want them to be sold out for the vision you have and be eager to help you achieve it. Once they are excited about where you are going, they will do all they can - including reduce their income needs - to be a part of it.


Like I said, this is not a strategy to get employees for less money. Doing it with this in mind will backfire. Getting the vision, mission, values and goals right will just naturally have this effect.


Leading a team doesn't have to be as hard as most of us can make out. Building intrinsic motivation into a team will rocket you to where you want to be.


There are a whole set of tools available for free to get you started. Please use them and make yourself and your team better. The world needs you.