Money in the workplace

At the very first class of my exchange to Singapore, the professor made us do a simple exercise: ask our neighbor what inspired them in life. Mine was to discover new cultures, to meet new people and to uncover the marvelous things that populate this world. Obviously, I was expecting approximately the same from the other people. At my greatest surprise, half of the Singaporean male students said money inspired them in life. I dare say that was the first cultural shock I experienced since my arrival to Singapore. Therefore, I’d like to cogitate about the cultural approach to money along with its use at work.


Coming from a place where money isn’t that much highly admired (Quebec, Canada), I was astonished to see people openly talking about their desire of money. I knew the Singaporean approach of growth at all cost, without consideration of other aspects of life, but I didn’t know to what extent. Hearing one colleague say “I don’t care how much I’ll work, as long as I get paid well” was a big shock. No wonder, why Singapore was classified as one of the unhappiest countries in a Gallup report a year ago.[1] However, Singapore was ranked top in Asia a recent UN World Happiness Report.[2] Maybe the difference in the indicators brought a big variability in the data, maybe things changed within a year, but one thing is sure: one of the top regret people have on their deathbed is that they’ve worked too hard, generally at the expense of their family and relationships.[3] Maybe on this aspect of work, my Singaporean colleagues can inspire themselves a little bit from the Canadian work style, where more and more focus is placed on work flexibility and the ability to balance personal and professional life.


In the second part of my blog, I’d like to tackle the money matter from an employer’s point of view, rather than an employee’s as in the first part. In Judge and al.’s meta-analysis that synthesized over 120 years of research, the results showed that the link between salary and job satisfaction was very weak.[4] In fact, there was only an overlap of 2% between these two indicators. From this, we can see that paying people more doesn’t make them happier, which ultimately doesn’t improve their commitment at work and their performance. Another research by Booz & Co. looked into the military work to dig more on the sources of motivation. Here are their findings:

–Money encourages self-serving short-term behaviors better than it motivates lasting institutional achievement.

–An overreliance on monetary rewards invariably erodes emotional commitment.

–Pride in one’s work itself is what brings on lasting improvement in behavior.

–The informal elements of motivation are at least as important as the formal ones.[5]


The question now is: if money doesn’t motivate people, then what will? That’s where I found this McKinsey study about alternative ways to motivate people. Titled “Motivating people: Getting beyond money”, this article was published shortly after the last recession, when employers had to find ways to cut costs while maintaining motivation at work. The top three nonfinancial motivators are the following: “praise from immediate managers, leadership attention (for example, one-on-one conversations), and a chance to lead projects or task forces”.[6] Surprisingly, these motivators were as effective, if not more than the financial motivators (cash bonuses, increased base pay and stock options). Another thing I learned is that Singaporeans are foodies, so here’s some food for thought!







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