What Motivates Your Employees? Hint: It’s Not The Money

A poll by Gallup, the American research-based, global performance-management consulting company, found that only 13% of employees wordwide were engaged in their jobs. Researchers defined engaged workers as those who were “involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace.”

This staggering number is leaving managers and human resource departments at many companies scratching their chins, wondering how to best satisfy our future workforce and increase productivity. After all, another Gallup poll states that:

Concentrating on employee engagement can help companies withstand, and possibly even thrive, in tough economic times.

How then, do we foster a culture of engaged, motivated team members within our companies? Read on to learn about two different types of motivation that are used in businesses, which one works, and how to use this knowledge to inject your workforce with the lifeblood of engagement.

What Moves Us to Act? Intrinsic Vs. Extrinsic Motivation

As human beings, our behavior is influenced by two distinct types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic.

Intrinsic, or internal motivation, is based on personal rewards such as experiencing a sense of accomplishment, having pride in one’s work, or feeling creatively fulfilled. In short, when we are intrinsically motivated, it feels good to be doing what we are doing and we want to do it well.

Extrinsic, or external motivation, in contrast, is based on rewards outside of us such as money, status, or fear of punishment or failure. When we are extrinsically motivated, we exhibit a behavior or engage in an activity in order to gain a reward or to avoid a negative outcome.

For example, if we swim because we enjoy it and it makes us feel good, we are intrinsically motivated, whereas we are extrinsically motivated if we swim to lose weight and look more attractive to others.

Why Doesn’t Extrinsic Motivation Really Work?

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There are at least three considerations that carry the implication that it does not:

1) Short Term

When one is moved to action based on external rewards such as money or praise, motivation disappears as quickly as the reward does. Extrinsic motivation is not sustainable.

2) “Levelling”

If the level of reward or punishment stays the same, the effect on motivation wanes. Therefore, the punishment will have to continue to grow harsher or the reward more enticing to maintain motivating powers.

3) Motivational Clash

When extrinsic motivations are in play with an activity that is already internally rewarding, intrinsic motivation is weakened. For instance, if earning a bonus or garnering power is at stake, the focus is taken away from that personal fulfillment that is provided by engaging in the activity.

The Value of Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

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Intrinsic motivation is not only sustainable, it’s free. Tangible rewards such as bonuses, benefits, and pay raises cost a company a lot of money while research reveals little evidence that money motivates us and a wealth of evidence that money may actually weaken motivation.

Of course we all need to work and earn in order to pay our bills and support our families, but once the bills are paid, more money is not necessarily psychologically beneficial. Research shows that the positive correlation between salary and emotional well-being plateaus at $75,000.

In addition to the money saving benefits of utilizing intrinsic motivation, a large body of scientific research shows us that intrinsically motivated people at work are more productive, perform better, are more determined, and are more inclined to help others.

Nurturing a Intrinsically Motivated Employee Environment

Daniel Pink outlines a “motivation trifecta” in his breakthrough book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us stating that at the core of motivation lies 3 key areas.

elements of intrinsic motivation

1) Autonomy.

Choice helps an employee to feel challenged, valued, and empowered.

Facebook, a company with preeminently happy workers, is a great example of an organization that offers choice. Employees are offered myriad freedoms over their work spaces, personal lives, and time management. Individuals have the ability to tailor their personal desks to the height, shape, and layout of preference and teams can move desks around to work together or choose from a number of available meeting rooms.

Workers express satisfaction around the ability to move projects forward by organizing their time as they see fit and having the option to switch teams when they are ready for new challenges.

When do your employees have choice at work?

2) Mastery.

Human beings love learning and growing. We like to not only grow in our jobs, but also in our own capabilities. Pink asserts that employers should get to know their employees talents and capabilities and assign them projects that are neither too easy or too difficult. When we are given work that is challenging, but doesn’t feel impossible, we stretch and feel a sense of growth and accomplishment. When given work that is too easy, we may grow bored and complacent.

Are you customizing projects and encouraging growth in your employees or taking a one-size-fits-all approach?

3) Purpose.

Pink is in good company with leading experts in the field of positive psychology who have found that having a connection to something larger than ourselves is a top motivating factor in life and work. When employees know how their work directly touches people, the job is surged with meaning and value.

Southwest Airlines and their CEO, Ryan Kelly are recognized by Forbes as an organization that unites its employees around the following mission statement:

We exist to connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.

Ryan Kelly Southwest Airlines CEORyan Kelly, CEO Southwest Airlines

Gary uses storytelling to educate Southwest employees of the company’s mission with internal corporate videos.

Do your employees know the mission of your organization?

If your company was polled for employee engagement, what do you predict the results would be? Consider the questions above to motivate workers and maximize engagement. Intrinsically motivated employees make for healthy bottom lines.