Employers should consider that their staff want to be paid fairly, not necessarily more, for their work, said Adrian Furnham, a professor in pyschology.
The University College London professor said when creating a rewards programme, it was important to bear in mind that people do not always respond to cash as a motivational force.
But he told delegates at Employee Benefits Live: “If people don’t feel fairly and equitably rewarded then other factors won’t make much of a difference.”
A class divide shows that blue-collar workers, such as traffic wardens and factory workers respond well to cash incentives.
He argued that for staff in these kind of jobs the opportunity to find deep satisfaction in the work itself is limited and money is a motivational force.
But whereas cash bonuses can be used to motivate bus drivers to arrive at their destination in good time, they may not be the answer for white-collar workers.
Furnham said targets are important, but people become adapted to money quickly and white-collar workers were far more inclined to find intrinsic rewards in their employment.
Desire to learn and do a good job, career advancement, and support from colleagues and peers were motivational forces for people in advanced roles.
Although a good salary will always be important, white-collar workers place more emphasis on job satisfaction.
He said: “Money can actually be a demotivational factor. People will do anything for money, the question is will they enjoy doing it.”
White-collar workers are more likely to accept a lower salary in order to do a job they feel would be more rewarding in other ways.
However, although money might not be key in recruiting staff, it was essential to apply it equitably in retaining existing talent.
He said problems arise where people feel they are being paid unfairly compared to their workplace peers.
“You want to know what you give and get relative to what your colleagues give and get. Keep it secret. If people think it is unfair, they will leave or become less productive.”