What Motivates Us Really?

The Surprising Truth About Personal Motivation

For years as an EMS supervisor I sat in operations meetings discussing the timeless business question, “How do we motivate people to be high performers?” Since most everyone in the room was a current or former field paramedic, you’d think we’d have an edge in answering the question. We didn’t.

It’s worth considering while your sitting around with your partner, hashing out the latest management blunders and explaining how you’d fix everything. If it was you sitting in the agonizingly long staff meeting throwing around ideas, chances are, you wouldn’t do much better.

I do know that the one opportunity I had to work on a true high-performance EMS team, these were the basic ingredients.

  • We were a relatively small group
  • We weren’t highly paid
  • We were on a mission
  • We respected our leader
  • We had a lot of freedom
  • We all felt accountable to the team
  • We all felt like our role was important

It was fun while it lasted. And then we were successful. And we got big and corporate. And the team got bigger and the rule book got thicker and the memos got longer (I wrote many of them.) and the motivation dropped.

One interesting dynamic I noticed. When I was being paid the highest by the organization, my motivation was the lowest. No amount of money could make up for the sense of loss I felt. The loss of freedom, autonomy and contribution. Getting paid well to be a cog just sucked the life out of me and every other high performer in the group. So I left.

Based on that experience, this video made a lot of sense. I wish I had seen it 10 years ago. I don’t know if it would have helped, but at least I would have understood what was happening better.

Now it’s your turn: Do you still feel like more money would help motivate you to be better at what you do? Leave a comment and let me know.


  1. Absolutely brilliant. I have thought, personally, that money is never a good motivator. I was interested to learn that monetary motivators worked for mechanical tasks. Money has never really been a motivator for me, in my professional life.

    I work for one of the cooperate behemoth ambulance companies. The managers here are more concerned with protecting their money stream, than patient care. I have not been in management, but I believe that cooperate offers monetary incentives for performance for managers.

    I have always said there are two types of people in “Management”, there are managers and there are leaders. The leaders will let you try new ideas and let their people think freely. Managers just want to meet the predicted volume goals with no regard for the line workers.

    You want people to be motivated? Encourage them to bring new ideas to you, encourage open communication. I am not a pack mule, carrots on strings will never motivate me to be creative. Make me feel like the job i do is valuable to the company.

  2. Scott Cook (un_ojo) says:

    Great post! Money is not a good motivator.

    I’m fortunate to work with some very well paid people in my full time job. Several of them are very highly respected industry-wide in their field, and very poorly motivated, and will work harder and spend more time avoiding work than just doing their work would take.

    I heard the great philosopher Mike Row say the other day “don’t follow your passion, take it with you.”

  3. Let’s face it in EMS if money is what motivates you, you wont be happy or last very long. It was one of the first things I was told back when I sarted. “if your in this for the money leave now” I used to tell newbies the only two people you needed to like you or satisfy were your boss and your patient. (Your partner would be nice to but unfortunately along the way I found it not to be neccessary).
    Recvently I found out that the hospital that subcontracts us out really doesn’t care or even wnat to know about us and the “bosses” here think of us as overpaid janitors who occassionaly get to save a life. So you can take the boss part out of the equation as well.

    So… that leaves the patient. They are my inspiration, my motivation. In the best case scenario they inspire me to test my skills to the limit. On the other end to rise above anger and frustration. It may sound corny but like the old sterotypical answer to the question why did you get into EMS, My motivation is to help people. No matter what form that help takes. At the end of a call I need to be able to say my patient is better off because I was there.

  4. Excellent Post!! I can understand the money NOT being a motivator. In my daily job I am a highly paid trained monkey. Yes its nice but everyday I get out of bed and agonize that I HAVE to go to work. Zero motivation other than fill a chair with a body and meet production goals.

    Then I get to leave… and my motivation begins…..

    I am a Volunteer. After my day job I go home, eat a meal and turn my pager on, call dispatch and check in available. Then a smile fills my face. Be it a slow night with no calls or the night that never seems to end with so many calls you wonder what the hell is going on. Yet the smile remains firmly affixed to my face.

    Its because of the fact I know that at a moments notice, at someone’s worst possible moment, I will be there to lend assistance. Be it the new mother that doesnt know alot about children and called because baby was caughing alot to the frantic wife that found her husband unresponsive on the floor. I am the one there to help. Sometimes it doesn’t turn out well other times its the happiest day in everyone’s life. But yet I have a smile. I know it is because someone somewhere instilled in me a sense of purpose for the greater good.

    My motivation is just to help. Im not in it for the glory or the headlines, hell most times I don’t even hear thank you. Sometimes I get cursed at, spit on, or yelled at. Yet the smile remains. It is because I know that once the person has a chance to reflect on what happened or why, they will know I did them a service that few else would do. With passion and without judgment I did what was required to help. Even though a situation may make me an emotional wreck inside I smile to reasure the patient. My smile is my medicine.

    The motivation should always be the patient, not the money or the glory or the pats on the back and the atta boys. The patient IS the motivation. To make him or her or even their families know that the best possible treatment will be and is being given, their rights will be and are respected, and sometimes unfortunatly it doesn’t work out but I will be a shoulder to cry or wail on.

    I haven’t been in EMS very long but I know that as long as I feel this way I will stay motivated, my patients will be better off for it, and that my smile will still be on my face =)

  5. 5?

    I only see 4?

  6. I loved the video! I am going to school in order to become an EMT due to the fact that I want to have a job that can really make a difference in someones life. From what I have heard there is not much money that can be made in EMS but I am not driven by profit and I know for a fact that I will make more money while providing a valuable service for those around me than slaving away for a major corporate music instrument store.


  1. […] over at The EMT Spot asks us “what motivates us really?” using an innovative youtube video to provoke thought. Go read his post, watch the 10 minute video […]

  2. […] consider what will happen on the day that your career clock strikes midnight. Then we talked about what really motivates us and wrapped up with ten reasons why I work in […]

  3. […] on to do their job. That’s OK. In fact, once peoples basic life needs are met, more money doesn’t really motivate them anyway. But people do need to be paid fairly. Great EMS organizations strive to compensate their […]

  4. […] What Motivates Us Really? […]