Understanding Intrinsic and Extrinsic Employee Motivation

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If you’re an employer, it’s important to understand the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic employee motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within an employee, while extrinsic motivation comes from external factors, such as rewards or punishments. ideally, you want to create an environment that fosters intrinsic motivation, as intrinsically motivated employees are more likely to be productive and happy with their work. However, extrinsic motivators can also be useful in certain situations. By understanding both types of motivation, you can create a workplace best suited to your employees’ needs.

To truly engage our workforce, we must determine exactly what makes our employees tick. This is where the subjects of intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation come into play.

Understanding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is key to performance management. Suppose you spend all your time trying to incentivize great performance through external motivators when an employee’s motivation lies within. In that case, you’ll not only waste time and money but also lose the interest of your top performers.

Finding out what motivates employees is no easy feat. It can be a huge hurdle. However, you can seriously boost productivity levels and improve your bottom line once you figure it out. According to one source, unhappy employees cost the US $550 billion in lost productivity yearly. Addressing this issue by deploying the right motivators can really turn things around for your organization. In fact, happy employees are 12 percent more productive.

This brings us back to intrinsic and extrinsic motivators: Keeping employees happy, motivated, and productive requires first understanding the effects different types of motivators can have on staff members.

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is easy to understand. In fact, companies have been trying to motivate their employees extrinsically for a long time.

Extrinsic motivation is the motivation that comes from the external world. Extrinsic motivators tend to be financial or tangible. They generally come in the form of an increased salary, a bonus, a company car, or a promotion. As you can tell, these rewards are external to the work itself. It is also worth noting that the form of an extrinsic reward is usually determined by someone else, such as the employee’s manager.

Essentially, extrinsically motivated people do things primarily to receive a reward. According to this logic, employees don’t perform well because they enjoy a certain sense of satisfaction or want to help the business thrive. Rather, they perform well to earn material compensation for their efforts.

Recently, it has been shown that extrinsic rewards are not as motivational as we once believed them to be. In fact, extrinsic motivators can even be counterproductive regarding employee creativity!

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivators come from within; they are more psychological in nature than extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic motivations are typically tied to some deep sense of personal satisfaction, which can be tremendously beneficial for employees to tap into. In fact, some experts go so far as to say that intrinsic motivation is the only type of motivation that leads to serious success. These experts argue that employees are more likely to perform well and get promoted when they are intrinsically motivated.

Intrinsic motivation can come from a number of sources, including the desire to please a manager, to improve a particular skill, or to further the company’s mission. Intrinsic motivation is the reason why personal development objectives are so important to successful performance management.

Examples of Intrinsic Rewards

To fully motivate your employees, you need to lean on intrinsic motivators. The following are examples of intrinsic motivators that should be incorporated into every organization’s performance management system.

1. The Pursuit of Knowledge

Human beings have a general thirst for knowledge. We’re always seeking to learn more. This is particularly true of successful people. Top performers and leaders tend to have strong desires for knowledge and self-improvement. These appetites should be supported in the world of work if we really want to keep high flyers engaged.

Companies can encourage the pursuit of knowledge by providing ongoing training opportunities and helping employees create and follow personal development plans.

2. A Sense of Meaningfulness

Employees want jobs they actually care about, and they want to know their efforts make a real difference to their teams, managers, and companies. The best way for companies to give employees a sense of their own importance is to keep the lines of communication open. Managers should take time to explain thoroughly to employees both the company’s mission and how each individual’s efforts contribute to the company’s overall success. This will help employees feel like valued parts of a team, significantly contributing to their sense of accomplishment.

3. Autonomy

It has become increasingly clear that employee autonomy is paramount to engagement. In fact, extrinsic motivators like increased pay often pale in comparison to intrinsic motivators like improved flexibility and autonomy.

Employees who are incentivized by autonomy seek more responsibility, increased trust, and freedom to perform work their own way. Companies and managers can accommodate this by simply releasing the reins and cutting back on micromanaging. This doesn’t mean letting go of control altogether. In fact, regular one-on-one meetings are always required to check in on employee performance. However, giving employees the freedom to pick their own hours or approach work from a different angle could pay off in the long run.

Stuart Hearn is CEO of Clear Review.

Although intrinsic motivation is ideal, extrinsic motivation can be a powerful tool in an employer’s arsenal. When used correctly, it can help keep employees on track and productive. What strategies do you use to motivate your employees? Have you found that one type of motivation works better than the other?


Further Reading on Motivation

Balancing Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

While intrinsic motivation is powerful and can result in high levels of satisfaction and productivity, it’s important to remember that a balance of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators often creates the most effective workplace environment. Not all employees are the same, and while some may thrive on intrinsic motivation, others may respond better to extrinsic rewards. A blend of both types of motivation allows you to cater to a diverse workforce with different personal drives and goals.

Individualizing Motivational Strategies

A key to effectively motivating your employees is recognizing that everyone is different. What motivates one person might not motivate another. Understanding your employees on an individual level will allow you to customize motivational strategies to their unique needs and preferences. Regular one-on-one meetings, employee surveys, and open lines of communication can help you better understand what drives your individual employees.

Creating a Motivational Work Culture

Another crucial element is creating a culture that promotes both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. This includes fostering a positive work environment where employees feel valued and appreciated. Recognize and celebrate employee achievements, encourage creativity and innovation, and provide opportunities for employees to grow and develop their skills. This will create an environment that naturally fosters motivation.

Incorporating Technology for Motivation

The use of technology can be an effective way to motivate employees. Gamification, for example, introduces elements of competition and achievement into work tasks, which can increase intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Employee recognition platforms can also provide intrinsic (through social recognition) and extrinsic (through rewards) motivation.

Motivation and Employee Wellness

Lastly, consider how motivation ties into overall employee wellness. Stress or burnt-out employees are likely less motivated, regardless of the rewards offered. Therefore, promoting a healthy work-life balance, offering wellness programs, and providing resources for mental and physical health can all contribute to maintaining high motivation levels within your team.

The bottom line is, understanding and implementing both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is crucial in today’s work environment. By fostering a workplace culture encouraging both, businesses can achieve higher employee satisfaction, productivity, and overall success.

By Stuart Hearn