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Table of Contents

Take care of your people and protect your business

Are you concerned with motivating your employees? Here are a few tips to help you and your organization discover what truly matters to your employees and utilize intrinsic motivation to improve employee engagement.

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

People make decisions for a variety of reasons, but no motivations for making decisions are more personal or stable as intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is a manifestation of an individual’s beliefs, values, personal goals, desire to improve, and personal definition of fulfillment. When individuals make decisions based on intrinsic motivation, they do so by evaluating their internal commitments and desires.

Intrinsic Motivation vs Extrinsic Motivation

There are two types of motivation in the workplace: intrinsic and extrinsic. While intrinsic motivation is defined by internal factors, such as an individual’s personal goals or values, extrinsic motivation refers to external stimuli and incentives that influence decisions.

For example, if you are walking with your boss and see some litter on the ground and pick it up because you want to, that’s intrinsic motivation. If you pick it up out of a desire to impress your boss, that’s extrinsic motivation.

Why Is Intrinsic Motivation Important for Companies?

Intrinsically motivated employees work more because they feel fulfillment, enthusiasm, or satisfaction rather than because they want external rewards. (Most people want both; we’re focusing on increasing the first.) This type of motivation is important for companies for a number of reasons.

  • Engagement. Intrinsic motivation directly correlates to employee engagement. If employees are intrinsically motivated to be engaged at work, their productivity increases. By recognizing employees’ intrinsic motivation, employers can better understand how to increase employee engagement.
  • Long-lasting motivation. Because intrinsic motivation stems from within individuals, it typically is long-lasting. For example, employees who are intrinsically motivated by being challenged in their work now will likely be motivated by being challenged five years from now.
  • Nearly impossible to change. People rarely change their fundamental beliefs, values, personal desires and needs, so intrinsic motivation is nearly impossible for employers to change. It is critical for employers to understand how their employees are motivated in order to best tailor motivational efforts.
  • Opportunity. If you can discover your employees’ intrinsic motivation, either on an individual or group basis, you have the opportunity to tap into a strong source of productivity and satisfaction at work. Additionally, intrinsic motivation is not fueled by money, so intrinsic motivators are rarely costly for an organization. If employees are intrinsically motivated to do the work, they may be more likely to overlook some extrinsic motivators that can be costly to the organization (such as lower pay or other incentives).

Tips for Promoting Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Promoting intrinsic motivation in the workplace can be challenging, but have no fear. These tips can help you get started.

Tip 1: Discover Motivations

Intrinsic motivation is directly related to employee engagement. When employees are internally motivated in their work, they are typically engaged, happier, and more productive.

Intrinsic motivation isn’t something you can measure, but it can be discovered in one-on-one conversations and through surveys.

  • In one-on-one conversations, managers can learn about their employees’ values and personal goals to better ascertain their internal motivation.
  • Survey questions like, “Which of the following are most important to you? A) Being challenged at work B) Making long-lasting relationships C) Achieving personal goals” can help employers discover intrinsic motivations in their employees.

Tip 2: Create Opportunities for Challenges and Valuable Experiences

Two of the most common intrinsic motivations revolve around individuals being challenged and feeling that they add value to the world around them. Employers can create opportunities for their employees to feel challenged at work and feed their internal motivation to achieve goals. Employers can also create opportunities for employees to feel that they add value through the work they are doing. When employees feel a sense of personal accomplishment and see the value in what they do, they are more likely to remain motivated.

Additionally, employers can work to connect employees’ work to the larger mission of the organization. This revitalizes employees’ sense that they are a part of something important. For example, employers can share with employees how their work matters not only to the organization, but also to society or people outside of the company. Human resource professionals should consider how employees feel about the work they do and where there are opportunities to align the company mission with employees’ day-to-day roles.

Tip 3: Train Leaders

In many cases, employees feel that their intrinsic motivations suffer at work because of poor management. We’ve all had the experience of a boss who has made us feel that we are unimportant, undervalued, or unappreciated. When employees feel this way, their intrinsic motivation to work suffers.

Employers can train leaders to provide opportunities for employees to feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment in a number of ways. For example, managers can be trained to listen to what employees really want out of their work and help them see how their personal goals can be accomplished at work. Additionally, managers can be taught to discover their own intrinsic motivations and share them with employees in hopes of finding common ground between leaders and followers. When managers and employees discover similar intrinsic motivations for going to work every day, team environments can thrive as a unit.

Tip 4: Align Culture

Employers can also align their culture to employees’ internal motivations.  If many employees find joy in giving back to the community, employers can develop a system where the organization gives back. For example, the organization could donate $10 to a charity of an employee’s choice for every hour of volunteer work the employee spends at the said charity, provide paid time off for volunteering, or host a community event. These activities appeal to employees who are intrinsically motivated to do good in their community. Employers can also foster a culture of pride in their work by encouraging employees (especially leadership) to share what aspect of their job they are most proud of. This appeals to employees who are intrinsically motivated by pride in their accomplishments.

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Questions You’ve Asked Us About Intrinsic Motivation

There are very few disadvantages to promoting intrinsic motivation in the workplace, although perhaps a company could focus on one that only appeals to a small number of employees. For example, an employer could focus on giving back to the community while most employees would prefer to be challenged more in their work.
Each employee has their own intrinsic motivation whether or not the company has identified them. It is human nature for individuals to be intrinsically motivated. It is not necessary for employers to discover intrinsic motivations, but it can be useful.

Rae has acquired HR experience in team leadership, research, training, recruiting, project management, and mentoring upcoming HR professionals. She is fascinated by workplace culture and the many implications it has on the world of business, especially HR. When possible, she seeks out opportunities to expand her knowledge and give back to her community.

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