Once upon a time, there were clear career paths. Show up, learn the job, take courses, start managing, take on more complex projects and continue to earn increasing responsibility, with pay raises each step of the way.

Yes, sometimes the other guy would get the promotion, but it was clear there was a promotion to get and it was clear what could be done for the next opportunity.

Work has changed. Staying at a job for two years is no longer considered job hopping, and staying for more than five years can look like you are stagnating.

Raises and performance reviews do not go hand-in-hand, and increases are more likely tied to companywide success than the calendar. Leaders and employees that are driven can only go so long without meaningful incentives.

Here are a few ways to find motivation without leaving and without a raise.

Go long

Consider factors that have nothing to do with work directly, but that work can make possible.

The easiest and most obvious being paid time off; but specifically, how to best use that paid time away. While working with a large city government client, I was impressed to find that the happiest, most productive, and longest tenured employees tended to take three-week vacations.

All of them noted the same thing: when you do the same job for such a long time, taking a real break is the best way to stay fresh. It is both something to look forward and easy to return from.

The employees and their teams know it is going to happen and by taking such a long time away, regularly, it is easier for everyone to plan for the absence. There is time to ensure work is covered and it removes the dread of coming back to a mess.

Their teams were able to function without them and they were able to take a break without worrying: everyone wins.


Similarly, the team at a small not for profit client was able to stay motivated even though the organization’s mission was emotionally challenging and the pay was slightly below average because they maxed out their benefits.

The HR administrator was aggressive about explaining every detail of the benefits to the team. As such, the employees were able to take full advantage of medical, dental, vision and the employee assistance programs for themselves and their families.

In addition to the healthcare benefits, the employees truly believed the organization cared for them: another win-win.

Go deep

Another great placed to look for motivation is inside: What is it about this work that first drew you in? Have you lost that loving feeling? Was there something intrinsic about the work that you used to find rewarding?

I asked this of a controller at one of my clients. It took her a week to figure out what drove her to accounting in the first place.

She remembered the clarity and stability working with numbers provided. She enjoyed the order and as she gained more responsibility in her career, really thrived on the problem-solving aspects of difficult budgets and the challenges of putting order where there was none.

Unfortunately, as she progressed, she had more responsibility for people than the numbers; in turn her passion had slipped away.

To rekindle her love for her work, she worked with the CFO to carve out time to take on more challenging projects while also grooming her accounting manager to take on more of the people management, which was ultimately a win for the entire team.

The bottom line is, there are great motivators around us. It just may take an extra-long vacation, a great HR manager or a trip down memory lane to find them.

Take the time to invest in alternate solutions and it becomes possible to create a sustainable incentive plan that does not rely on money.