Are you trying hard enough to motivate your employees? Do you take the time to understand what gets them excited about their jobs?

If you do, you're in the minority according to two new studies, one in the Harvard Business Review's January issue and the other from the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives Foundation, both of which show a wide disconnect between management's perceptions of what motivates their employees and what really does.

First there's the question of whether companies are doing enough to keep people excited about their jobs (even though they think they are): 59 percent of respondents to the SITE Foundation study said their companies don't do enough to motivate them; 75 percent said their companies would benefit from having a formal, structured motivation program.

But the greatest disconnect can be found when you ask management about the types of incentives people want. New research conducted by Stanford University associate professor Chip Heath and published in Harvard Business Review found that management consistently overestimated how important extrinsic rewards (such as pay and incentives) were to their employees. Meanwhile, what mattered most to the employees were things such as feeling good about themselves, being praised when they did good work, and having the opportunity to grow their skills. The SITE study also found respondents were most motivated by intangibles such as “doing work they liked” and “making a difference.” Knowing that management cares about employees and being treated with respect by their boss also ranked high on the list.

“Most people are going to be motivated more by having interesting, meaningful work than by adjusting their pay, benefits, and incentives,” says Heath. “Unfortunately, most managers often miss out on this insight.”

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