Panera Founder Says Making Money for Shareholders Isn’t What Motivates Employees

By: Georgia | Published: Dec 12, 2023

In the realm of business, a key question arises about what truly motivates employees. In an interview with Business Insider, Ron Shaich, the founder of Panera Bread, presents a thought-provoking perspective, challenging the traditional notion that employees are primarily driven by the goal of increasing shareholder profits.

His insights offer a fresh lens through which to view employee engagement and motivation in the modern corporate landscape.

Satire Reflects Workplace Realities on Social Media

The disconnect between employee motivation and shareholder profit has become a subject of satire on platforms like TikTok.

A three-panel image of a young man in a black cap and red hoodie. In the first panel, he looks down with a caption saying, 'I really wasn't feeling like going into work today.' In the second panel, he looks straight ahead, contemplative, with the caption 'but then I remembered.' In the third panel, his gaze shifts upward, and the caption reads 'the shareholders' with sparkles around the text, indicating a sarcastic epiphany about the motivation to work

Source: jerms.24/TikTok

Users like @jerms.24 are using humor to illustrate the lack of personal connection most workers feel towards shareholder profits. These videos, while comedic, demonstrate a significant shift in how employees view their role in corporate structures.

Changing Attitudes Among Younger Workers

The sentiment that making money for shareholders isn’t a key motivator for workers is gaining traction, especially among younger employees.

Three men sit around a wooden table in an office setting, engaged in a business meeting. The man in the foreground has his back to the camera, working on a laptop that displays a web page

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They are more vocal about wanting changes in work culture, such as a better balance between their professional and personal lives. This marks a shift in priorities compared to previous generations.

The Role of Empathy in Corporate Leadership

Ron Shaich emphasizes the importance of empathy in corporate leadership. He suggests that understanding employees’ motivations and needs is essential for effective management.

A close-up, monochrome image showing a section of a banner with the text 'WE HEAR YOU.' in bold, black capital letters

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This approach goes beyond financial incentives, focusing instead on creating a more humane and understanding work environment, which can potentially lead to greater employee engagement and loyalty.

Seeking Meaning Beyond Monetary Gains

Shaich argues that employees are not primarily driven by incremental financial gains for shareholders. Instead, they seek meaningful engagement and purpose in their work.

Three people are seated around a wooden table in a casual office environment, two of whom are facing the camera, sharing a laugh

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This perspective challenges the traditional view that financial incentives are the foremost way to motivate employees, suggesting a need for a more nuanced understanding of what drives workforce productivity.

Therapeutic Approaches in Management

In an unconventional approach to management, Shaich advocates for the use of therapeutic techniques to better understand and resolve workplace issues.

Two women are engaged in a conversation across a table in a well-lit office space with large windows showcasing a cityscape

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He believes that therapy can provide insights into the complexities of human behavior, which can be invaluable for managers in creating a more effective and empathetic workplace.


Fostering Human Connections in Business

Shaich highlights the significance of fostering human connections within the corporate sector. He proposes that grasping what drives individuals is equally vital as any fiscal plan.

In a brightly lit office with brick walls and large windows, a man and woman are seated at a wooden desk, smiling and giving each other a high-five

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Advocating for a business strategy that is more empathetic and centered around people, Shaich stresses the need to take into account the personal motivations and well-being of employees.


Self-Discovery for Effective Leadership

Shaich places high value on self-discovery and introspection for business leaders.

A group of professionals gathered around a conference table attentively listening to a presenter. The presenter, standing in front of a large screen displaying a slide, addresses the seated attendees who are equipped with open laptops

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He suggests that by understanding their own motivations and behaviors, leaders can better connect with their employees and create a more cohesive and motivated team.


Empathy as a Leadership Tool

According to Shaich, empathy is a key tool for effective management. By understanding and relating to employees, leaders can build stronger teams and foster a more positive work environment.

Two women are engaged in a professional meeting in an office with exposed brick walls. The woman on the left, wearing a bright blue blouse and glasses, is smiling and writing on a notepad, while the woman on the right, in a dark blazer, is working on a laptop

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Suggesting that emotional intelligence is a fundamental aspect of successful leadership, his perspective highlights the significance of tuning into employees’ emotional needs and responses.


Redefining Workplace Success

Shaich’s viewpoint encourages a rethinking of what defines success in the workplace. He contends that an appreciation and understanding of employees fosters a more engaged and productive workforce.

A cropped image of a man from the chest up, standing with confidence in a corporate environment. He's wearing a dark navy suit, a crisp white shirt, and a blue striped tie. His hands are casually adjusting his suit jacket, and he sports a silver wristwatch on his left wrist

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This, he suggests, can yield greater long-term benefits than a singular focus on financial metrics alone. His philosophy promotes a more equitable consideration of success factors in business, blending human elements with financial achievements.


The Evolving Role of Business Leaders

In Shaich’s view, corporate success is not solely measured by financial achievements but also by the wellbeing and motivation of its employees.

Close-up of two hands in a firm handshake against an office backdrop. The person on the left is wearing a light blue shirt with sleeves rolled up to the forearm, while the person on the right is in a white shirt with a sleeve cuff visible

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This redefinition of success calls for a balanced approach, where financial goals are pursued alongside the development of a positive and supportive work culture.


A New Paradigm in Business

Ron Shaich’s perspective offers a unique insight into the relationship between business goals and employee motivation.

Four women are seated around a conference table in an office setting, engaged in a discussion. They are all focused on their laptops and notes, with various tech devices and personal items on the table. The woman on the right is laughing

Source:Christina @ /Unsplash

His approach suggests that understanding and valuing employees’ needs and motivations could be key to a successful and humane business practice.