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This is a response to a blog post on Small Business Trends, written by Zane Saffrit, which speaks to employee motivation and retention.

Hi Zane,

As always, a very interesting and well-written post. I’ll certainly look forward to reading more about employee selection and retention issues in future. And certainly feel free to get in touch if I can help provide comments, strategies or resources that you think readers may find helpful.

Employee motivation, retention and engagement is something I’ve been studying in a fair amount of detail for the past couple of years, trying to find a way to integrate it into our employee selection practices – basically, helping employers uncover motivation issues at the hiring stage, so that they know the best way to keep top talent once selected (especially important to the SMB, considering the impact that employees have and the cost of repeating the hiring process!)

The key thing I’ve found after doing all of that reading is that employee motivation can be consider at three different levels, even though the vast majority of resources focus on one level in particular:


Most books and articles tend to speak about macro-level motivation, which is basically about how to motivate people in general, or as large groups. For example, articles that talk about "how to engage GenXers" and companies that institute flextime programs for all staff.

My impression is that this approach is best for casting a wide net in terms of its impact on employees, even though it may not be as effective as a more targeted strategy. What I mean is that, although you have an effect on most employees, the strength of that impact can vary across person. The young couple who recently had a baby may be highly motivated by flextime, for example, while the ambitious career-focused professional may not really care about variable work hours.

Two great resources for macro-level motivators are the "Best Employers to Work For" or "Top Employers" books and articles, which use a variety of criteria to rate companies on these factors, and Gallup’s research on the Q12, the 12 questions that their research has found to be excellent measures of employee engagement.

  • Do you know what is expected of you at work?
  • Do you have the materials and equipment you need to do your work right?
  • At work, do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day?
  • In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  • Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?
  • Is there someone at work who encourages your development?
  • At work, do your opinions seem to count?
  • Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?
  • Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?
  • Do you have a best friend at work?
  • In the last six months, has someone at work talked to you about your progress?
  • In the last year, have you had opportunities at work to learn and grow?


A more targeted approach is one that considers a particular type of employee, typically a group of people with a certain job title. For example, while many people are attracted by flexible working hours, web designers at your company may be specifically attracted by the chance to work with the latest technology. In that case, you may want to focus your engagement programs on providing these employees with opportunities to work with cutting-edge design software and high-performance computer systems.

The best way to uncover these motivators is to ask, to survey current employees in the role to find out what aspects of the work and company are most satisfying. You can use the Q12 and "Best Employers" factors as a guide, but be sure to dig deeper by asking about specific things that they find engaging. For example, ask them about what parts of the job they find most interesting, the types of projects they enjoyed and why, the managers they most enjoy working for, etc.

You can gather very insightful information by surveying all employees and exploring the different answers provided by top performers versus their less capable counterparts. For example, you may find that your best people were attracted to your excellent training programs, while less capable employees were more interested in compensation.


The most focused approach you can take to employee motivation is to understand what an individual employee finds most engaging and ensuring that managers use that information when working with that person on an on-going basis.

For example, although I am a GenXer HR professional, I’m certainly motivated by different things than my peers, people of the same age who work in the same profession. If my boss wants to make me happiest, most interested, and most likely to apply myself, he or she would need to understand those differences and know how to best to meet my particular needs.

We’ve found that this approach is the most potent and try to uncover this information through a combination of motivational assessment questionnaires and interviews. The questionnaires focus on 18 different motivators and tell us how much more or less motivated the person is on these factors, compared to thousands of their peers. The interview helps us verify these scores and gather more detailed information.

Sorry to get carried away here, but it’s a very interesting topic and so important to company success…and our happiness as people of course!

Hope that helps.

All the best,

Chad Hayward

Assessment Director
Hire Insight Group