The 4 Key Motivators of Every Worker – Which is Yours?

Most of us have good motivations at work.  We want to do a good job, we want to help others around us, and we want to be positive contributors. Having said that, everyone also has underlying motivations for why they show up to work. So what are the main motivators of workers?

I’ve narrowed this list to four.  Here they are:

  1. Money
  2. Power
  3. Status
  4. Popularity

Each of these motivations has a good side, and also a shadow side.  It’s not necessarily bad to be motivated by any of them, but when it’s taken too far, it can get ugly.

Remember that everyone who works for and with you is motivated differently.  Don’t treat them all the same way.

Read through the list and choose which one belongs to you!


Say what you like, money is a big motivator.  In fact, it’s a big enough motivator that it can paper over differences in values or beliefs or long term direction.  For a while.  Once a person’s desire for money is reached, then all the values and beliefs and direction issues come back up again.

However, imagine if someone offered you twenty times what you’re currently making for the next three months.  Would you care much if you didn’t like the person you report to or if the working conditions weren’t great or if the culture was toxic?

Most people wouldn’t, at least for the short term.

There are lots of people who wouldn’t even care much if it were legal!

Bear in mind that money is a big motivator for people.  Of course it’s bigger for some than for others, but it matters to everyone.  It’s not all about core values!


There are people who are strongly motivated to have power over others and over their own circumstances.  Not everyone values this, but those who do, value it a lot!

There are very few elected (or unelected) leaders who achieve high office who give it up voluntarily.  Power is like a drug to them, and they hang on to it, and increase it at every opportunity.

Think of the people who are eager for promotion.  Recall people you’ve worked with who want to make all the decisions and order everyone else around.  They value power.

Power isn’t necessarily an evil motivation.  We desperately need people who want power and desire to use it to make everyone’s life better.  These people become ‘statesmen’ and are honored, sometimes for centuries after.

They are also that person you think back on as a wonderful boss.  They were motivated by using power effectively.  It’s a big motivator.


When you consider status as a motivator, think of things like this:

  • Office size and location
  • Parking spot
  • Clothes chosen
  • Car driven
  • House lived in
  • Neighborhood of house lived in
  • Watch/jewelry worn
  • Title on business card
  • Airline perks
  • Important ‘friends’ to name drop
  • Access to the inner circle

All of these are status-based motivators.  Often I run into people who want the status, but don’t want the actual duties of the job.

They want the title of ‘Team Lead’ or whatever higher status title is available, but they don’t want to have tough conversations or fire people or always be on the hunt for new talent.

In any case, status is a big motivator for many, and not at all for others.


People who value popularity care a lot about being liked.  They want to know that there are warm feelings circulating about them everywhere in the business.

They want to be liked by customers, vendors, and team members.

Like all of the motivations, there are really good sides to this.  People who value popularity are careful to make themselves palatable to others.  They remember birthdays and are polite and sociable.

The downside of this motivation is that these people can avoid difficult conversations, and ‘pass the buck’ when there’s a decision that has to be made that is going to make some people upset.


In summary:

All of us have a variety of motivations that drive us in our work.  None of them are evil in themselves, but each has a shadow side.

Choose which motivation is yours, and remember to treat each of your team members differently, because each one is motivated differently.  Here are the four motivations:

  1. Money
  2. Power
  3. Status
  4. Popularity


Additional resources

Thanks for reading this article on ‘The 4 key motivators of every worker.  Which one is yours?’  Below are additional resources from Professional Leadership Institute, the global provider of online human resources and leadership tools:

Trevor Throness is a speaker, consultant, and author of “The Power of People Skills.”  He is also co-founder and senior instructor at

Find more about “The Power of People Skills” here:

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