The biggest myths in motivating employees

Written by Lucie Spacilova  

“You have probably heard and read a lot about motivation. And where a lot is written about a subject there are often many myths as well.
Let’s have a look at the most common myths about motivation and how they might influence your attitude to motivating your staff or yourself.”


The word motivation has its origin in the word MOTIVE, which means ‘the reason someone does something or wants something’. Motivation is an ‘inner setting’. Money and personal benefits belong to the lowest level of motivation, but we shouldn’t condemn or ignore these. We would not expect an employee to refuse payment for work done, or benefits. The problem arises when this is the ONLY motivation. At such a low level of motivation, we know that the degree of loyalty to the company and the willingness to work is also low.
On the other hand, people whose levels of motivation are not limited to money and benefits, but include enjoying what they do, and finding meaning and fulfilment in their work, are more loyal and more cooperative overall. When the employees are wholly committed to their job, they are highly motivated. You can find more information about different levels of motivation under the section “Trends (not only) in HR”. Now let’s look more closely at the biggest myths around motivation.

1. “The lower the position, the lower the motivation.”

This implies that every employee in a junior position works only for money/benefits, the lowest form of motivation. That also implies that there is no difference between candidates, so when it comes to motivation it does not matter who you hire. But this is not true. A person whose income is deficient cannot afford the luxury of not being motivated by money.
However, this does not apply to everyone, and I would like to sweep this myth off the table. Although employees in lower positions might not have their dream jobs, they usually have a choice, and you can tell which ones are more motivated. They are proud of their employer, they appreciate management, and they won’t allow one bad word said about the services or the goods they produce. Such employees demonstrate high levels of motivation through their interest and loyalty, which is commonly lacking in people who are motivated only by money/benefits.


Did you believe this myth? No matter – here is a tip. Work on your company’s internal PR and communication and be interested in staff motivation, without prejudice. Direct your communication at those who are highly motivated, as this will raise the motivation of others.

2. “If I want my salespeople to bring in income, naturally they need to be money-motivated.”

Let’s look at this statement from a different point of view. You have probably seen many successful salespeople in your life. Not only because you bought something from them, but because they helped you and, in so doing, they added value to you and you bought from them again.
Having someone excited about your product or service is not incompatible with the desire to get paid well. And if you have a smart and fair rewards system you have an ideal scene. In this case your salespeople are more highly motivated not just by money, but by how much they can actually help their clients. And good money for the salesman is more or less automatic.


Here is our next tip: Customers have many options and choices – they can choose from whom they wish to purchase goods/services. So, even though you might have very effective marketing strategies, the impression that your salesman makes on customers is vitally important. And that is why salespeople must be motivated by more than benefits or rewards.

3. “It is the manager’s job to motivate employees”

This is another giant myth. Tools for motivation, bonus systems, team-building sessions, and loyalty rewards, are all efforts to replace internal motivation with external motivation.
At first glance, external motivation works. But the success is short-lived, and soon new and more interesting strategies have to be found. In the end, all these strategies will not change the lack of internal motivation, which will remain insufficient or non-existent.
It is therefore quite evident that the solution is not the ability of managers to use motivational tools, but rather their ability to hire employees with existing internal motivation and then to support them (but not solely) with external motivational tools.


Do you want a more motivated team? Spend less time and energy on embellishing your motivational strategies, and instead invest in identifying and recruiting candidates who are internally motivated. That is the optimum game that all parties would like to play – managers, employees, and ultimately also your customers.

4. “External motivation is, to some degree, manipulation”

This is probably true, as all of us know from school. As soon as I, as a student, have as the only reason for learning something like: “good grades, because only then will my parents and my teacher leave me alone and not penalize me for my performance score,” then this is more or less manipulation. How much would a student enjoy an A grade? How much would such a student desire to know something more about the subject? Yes, this is more manipulative than motivational.
A student who is interested and knows why he wants to learn something is different, isn’t he? He is internally motivated. The fact that he succeeds is not due to grades or the praise he gets from others – which is also nice. For such a student, or let’s say an employee, grades and praise are not the main reasons why he studies or does something. He does it because he is interested in his subject or his job and enjoys being productive.
And who doesn’t want more such employees, and even students?


Our tip to demolish this myth is: Be interested in and support natural (internal) motivation in your employees. This is so much more powerful than attempting to manipulate them.

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