Three Reasons why People Work

By: March 7, 2017

People are the most valuable asset of a company.

And yet, attrition in the tech community is around 28 percent.

Early in my career as I was starting out as a coder, a leader in my organization casually mentioned to me that there are three reasons why people work. She said it to me so offhandedly that I didn’t think about it at the time. But those three reasons kept me focused on how to manage, motivate and lead teams throughout the rest of my career.

I don’t know its origin, but I’ve used these these three reasons as a guardrail for leading teams. The three reasons, Money, People and Work, guided me through the motivations behind each factor. As a result, it allowed me to focus my energies toward leadership and the core reasons why people work.

It goes like this: People work for three reasons: Money, People and Work.

You can take away one of the three reasons and the person will stay at the company. But you can’t take away two of the reasons and expect the person to stay.

For example, suppose you’re a front-end software engineer. You’ve worked in your chosen career for about four years in the Philadelphia area. According to Glassdoor, your salary band for a Front End Engineer in Philadelphia is $74,282. Although the national median salary is $100,000, your company pays you a salary of $125,000 with potential bonuses. In any given year, you could make around $135,000.

But your job is demanding. You are developing on an old technology stack. The team is nonexistent. The rest of the team is backstabbing you when things go awry and love to swoop in to take credit regardless of team participation. It’s basically on you to deliver these projects. You work constantly, getting called all hours of the day, nights and weekends.

Your boss is a blowhard. He gives you edicts and unreasonable timelines. He agrees to delivery schedules without your input. He expects you to be available 24/7 and values deadlines over quality. And when things don't go according to his plan, he routinely calls you out publicly to the team. You dread all interactions with him.

You will leave.

You will leave because it’s just unpleasant. No amount of money can replace the amount of stress the job puts on you, both inside the office walls and outside on your own time.

Or how about this scenario.

You’re a UX designer working for a software company and have been working there for a few years. You’ve learned a bunch since joining the company. You’ve made some good friends, so much so that you look forward to impromptu Friday happy hours with your coworkers. But the company pays a little less than you can get elsewhere.

According to Glassdoor, you are making around $60,000 – which is less than the Philadelphia medium of around $69,000, and way less than the national average of $87,000. You’ve been getting calls from recruitment agencies, saying they can place you either locally or nationally at much higher salaries.

You will stay.

In the grand scheme of things, getting paid $9,000 less than the local average isn’t earth shattering. And since you’re enjoying the opportunities available at your current company and like the people you work and socialize with, you decide to stay.

Maintaining a Healthy Balance

As a leader in the technology space, we are all faced with many challenges. We have deadlines. We have pressure. We have to keep people motivated. And the tools in the arsenal at our disposal aren’t as deep as one may suspect.

Which is why I lead by understanding the basic, core needs of why people work.

Despite the fact that I cannot continually throw more money at people, allow them to have the latest and greatest technology platforms and assure that they’ll become friends with everyone they work with, my job is to provide some sort of combination of all three.

As a leader, it’s important to realize what you can control with regards to the development of your team members. Can you actually give them more money? Can you allow them to choose the hot new technology? Can you make them become friends with certain people?

The answer, of course, is usually no. But you can be aware of their needs. You can try to make sure that none of the three reasons are falling by the wayside.

Every leader has the ability to affect change in their respective teams. Knowing what drives people to work is like understanding Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and managing to them. Knowing what motivates your team not only slows attrition but creates a working environment that promotes productivity and not incentivizing rewards.

By maintaining a healthy balance between these three core reasons why people work, you can better engage your team and reduce attrition.