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How to use Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Lana Cindric ·

How to use Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels

While it's a common practice to use competition to motivate employees to engage more with their work, intrinsic factors are equally important.

Commonly defined as a type of motivation that stems from the desire to achieve one's full potential, intrinsic motivation has plenty of benefits for HR departments and the company.

In this blog, we'll discuss how using intrinsic motivation techniques in the workplace can help you increase productivity.

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Technology is not the only thing that has advanced in the past few years. The field of occupational psychology has improved by leaps and bounds. Companies are increasingly paying attention to their company culture, both because of their employees and their clients. In fact, over 50% of executives have stated that positive corporate culture influences productivity, profitability, and growth rates.

A major aspect of this changing workplace paradigm is based on psychology. From determining that employees feel a conflict between their work and family roles, to understanding what can be done to change it, company cultures have started from psychology and continue to be influenced by it.

We've seen how competition and other external rewards or punishments can drive results, but the long-lasting job satisfaction can only come from satisfying the intrinsic motivation factors.

The intrinsic motivation theory says that people have innate needs they need to satisfy; from physiological (e.g. hunger and shelter) to psychological (autonomy, competence and relatedness) needs. What makes these intrinsic factors different from extrinsic is that there are no obvious external awards.

We perform this behavior because we feel good about it and consequently, about ourselves.

For example, if we were offered a monetary prize for performing better than a work colleague, our consequent behavior would be driven by extrinsic factors. However, if we were given a task that offered no special monetary reward and we still finished it because it was interesting to us, it would be the prime example of intrinsic motivation.

So while some companies use bonuses and special perks to drive employee engagement, others use interesting approaches that stimulate performance and job satisfaction in the long run.

Intrinsic Rewards in Today's Workplace

While we live in a profit-oriented world, there is still room for intrinsic rewards in today's workplace.

According to the research conducted by Kenneth Thomas of the Ivey Business Journal, we commonly see the following four steps of successful intrinsic motivation in the workplace:

  1. Committing to a meaningful purpose
  2. Choosing the best way of achieving that purpose
  3. Performing work activities well
  4. Making progress towards achieving that purpose

These four steps are rewarding enough for employees to feel content when performing their jobs, which automatically improves their engagement. While we may say that people looking for a sense of purpose are idealists, a degree of idealism has to be present if we want our employees to feel they're achieving their full potential through their careers.

They give them a sense of meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress — all vital factors for long-term retention and satisfaction. Meaningfulness offers purpose, choice offers autonomy, competence offers the feeling that you own your work and are capable of performing it, and progress offers hope for the future, as well as confidence.

When a high degree of intrinsic rewards is present, employees are balanced and satisfied as they feel they are professional developing and not suffering from harmful effects of stress.

In addition to employee satisfaction, using intrinsic motivation to improve engagement also comes with an important advantage: it doesn't require the manager's presence.

When employees are intrinsically motivated, they perform desirable behavior because it feels good. Not because they want a reward or fear punishment.

Using Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Commonly, companies start encouraging intrinsic motivation by giving their employees a sense of purpose. This is frequently demonstrated through the mission and vision statements, and reinforced through the company culture.

While profits may be a priority, it's important to focus on other aspects that a company helps their customers with. For example, numerous businesses today focus on social issues such as sustainability and equality.

In return, this allows their employees to feel the change they are making with their work.

The second step is training the management. While the HR departments can do plenty, managers are the ones responsible for observing the day to day progress, and should be trained on techniques stimulating intrinsic motivation.

Trainings often start by helping managers identify their own intrinsic motivations and rewards, and shaping them into a plan that outlines key performance indicators, much like any other business plan.

The company culture should also be shaped in a way that encourages discussion about purpose and celebrates achievements with positive psychology. Managers should reinforce positive behaviors and explain how it contributes to not only the company, but the world at large through questions such as:

  • What are we doing that is meaningful to us, our families, and our community?
  • How can we accomplish this through creative solutions?
  • How can we make sure we're performing to the best of our abilities?
  • How do we know that we're making progress?

When employees are engaged in the process, they can shift their perspective to view their tasks not as items on a checklist, but as steps towards a larger goal. A purpose.

Finally, companies should identify barriers to intrinsic motivation.

Sometimes they stem from toxic work environments that encourage cynicism and discourage teamwork. Other times, employees don't feel autonomous. It's important to identify these barriers in order to propose solutions in collaboration with employees.

However, it's often enough to help the employees shift their perspective. Someone from the back office should have the experience of working with customers to observe the impact, and in traditionally hierarchical environments employees may benefit from a more laissez-faire approach.

Conclusion

No two companies are alike, but positive psychology can be used in any.

Like numerous other successful approaches to occupational satisfaction, the intrinsic motivation theory can bring employees, customers management and companies together, creating an eco-system in which the purpose is clear.

And because the purpose is clear, the work can be done well.

Sources

  1. Corporate Culture Matters A Lot, Says New Study. From Forbes
  2. Work-Life Balance: A Psychological Perspective. N. P. Rothbard et T. Dumas. From Psychology Press
  3. Intrinsic Motivation: How to Pick Up Healthy Motivation Techniques. From Health Line
  4. The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement. K. Thomas. From Ivey Business Journal
  5. Work Engagement Profile Interpretive Report. K. Thomas et W. G. Tymon. From The Myers Briggs
  6. Positive Psychology in the Workplace. L. Froman. From Semantic Scholar

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