Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: How to Drive People to Do Amazing Work

It’s becoming better understood that the experience employees have working for your company directly influences the experience your customers receive. Happy employees are more likely to provide outstanding service, resulting in happy customers. So what motivates people to do their best work?

There are external motivators, or extrinsic motivation, where a person is motivated to perform an activity to receive a reward or avoid punishment. Organizations typically focus on extrinsic motivators, like salary, benefits, promotions, raises, commissions, and bonuses. Those are effective for a lot of people and in a lot of situations. And you’ve likely heard about unbelievable perks offered by some companies — cooked-to-order meals from on-site restaurants, free dry cleaning, game rooms, nap rooms — in an effort to compete for and keep employees.

But surveys show it isn’t all about the Benjamins. Google, for example, has a legendary benefits package, but employees only work there an average of 1.1 years. There must be more to the puzzle of motivation.

There are also internal motivators, or intrinsic motivation, where a person is motivated to perform an activity for its own sake and the behavior or activity itself is the reward. Some intrinsic motivators are:

  • A high level of interest in what you’re doing
  • A feeling of being appreciated
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • The enjoyment of being challenged

Yet intrinsic motivation isn’t typically weighted as much as extrinsic motivation when it comes to employee motivation practices. Why? 

Science vs. business

In his TED Talk on “The Puzzle of Motivation,” Daniel Pink makes the case that there’s a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. As he describes it, “the carrot and the stick worked well for routine tasks, like assembly line work, that was performed in the 20th century. 21st-century work is less routine, with few clear rules or easy solutions. It requires more creative thinking.” 

Science tells us that creativity thrives on intrinsic motivation. How can organizations motivate people for whom money, status, and external rewards aren’t their ultimate goal? The challenge is to find the right combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators to keep your team humming along. And collaborative work management software can help. 

Motivate intrinsically

“Forget praise. Forget punishment. Forget cash. You need to make their jobs more interesting.”

So said Frederick Herzberg, an American psychologist who became one of the most influential people in business management. His work, published in the 1960s and still used today, found that people are motivated by interesting work, challenge, and increasing responsibility. These intrinsic factors meet people’s deep-seated need for growth and achievement.

Many employees today are required to self-manage, especially remote workers. People are expected to use their intelligence and experience to direct their work activities and accomplish important organizational purposes — that’s why they were hired, right? There are five key areas that help intrinsically motivate employees. Focus on empowering employees to:

1. Commit to a meaningful purpose

Help employees feel that they have an opportunity to accomplish something of real value — something that matters in the larger scheme of things. Disney employees are asked to imagine what it would feel like for a family to see Pluto smoking on his lunch break. No doubt that would ruin the entire experience (and probably devastate the kids). When employees see how their work impacts others, they’re more likely to give it their all. Collaborative work management tools offer visibility for people to see how their job fits into the bigger picture.

2. Choose the best way to fulfill that purpose 

Provide autonomy and choices. Allow employees to choose how to accomplish their work and use their best judgment to select and complete the work that makes the most sense to them – within reason, of course. But there’s no need to force people to sit at a desk for 8 straight hours anymore. Some people are more productive outside the office environment, and some need different ways to organize their work. 

Wrike, for instance, offers multiple choices on how to view your work dashboard. Choose a Kanban-inspired Board view, a Gantt chart, a spreadsheet-like table view, a list view, and more. However people find success visualizing and prioritizing work — there’s a view for that

3. Make sure that one is performing work competently

Give employees a sense of mastery at their job. Praise and recognition help with reinforcing self-esteem and encouraging employees to continue mastering skills. When someone feels that they’re handling work activities well, that their performance meets or exceeds personal standards, and that they’re doing solid, high-quality work, they’re happier and more satisfied with their work. That translates to a better experience for your customers, whether the employee is customer-facing or not.

4. Make progress to achieve that meaningful purpose

Collaborative work management software shows progress in real-time as updates are made. Employees not only feel that their work is on track and moving in the right direction, but they can also see it. View individual progress, team progress, department progress, and the entire organization’s progress. Employees become confident that things are moving forward, giving them confidence in the choices they’ve made and trust in the future. 

5. Work as a team

Humans are naturally social creatures, and we want to connect, interact, and share. We want to be recognized, and we want to be understood. Collaborative work management software helps teams work effectively across distances and time zones. It’s especially useful to help remote employees feel like they are part of the “home team,” even when they don’t sit in the same office.

Some other ways to motivate...

Of course, there are many other ways to motivate employees, too. Help employees focus on meaningful, big-picture work by making it easier to communicate and collaborate with a collaborative work management tool like Wrike. You can automate routine tasks to eliminate tedious, time-consuming work. That frees people up to focus on work that’s challenging, impactful, and rewarding. And when everyone can see the progress of tasks through their personal and team dashboards, it saves time on update and status meetings, too. Communication in context puts everyone on the same page and helps ensure competent task completion.

Allow flexible work arrangements. Engagement is about who you work with, not where you work. According to the Global Study on Engagement by the ADP Research Institute, team members who worked from home most of the time were more engaged than co-located workers (27% fully engaged with work versus 15.8%). Place focus on helping remote workers get to know team members and feel supported by their teams. Wrike makes remote work easier. It streamlines accountability, improves visibility, enhances opportunities for collaboration, and aligns communication across time zones and locations.

Consider 20% time, where employees are encouraged to work on whatever they want one day a week. Did you know that about half of new Google projects in any given year – including some you interact with daily, like Gmail, Google Maps, and Google News – come from the 20% time engineers are allowed to spend on projects outside their job description? It’s true. What amazing innovations could your team develop?

Bring it all together now

Intrinsic rewards create a strong, win/win form of motivation for both the organization and its employees. It’s performance-driven, empowers employees, and meets the needs of both employers and employees for work that makes an effective contribution to meaningful purposes. Intrinsic motivators don’t require a huge budget to implement either, so any organization can add them to their motivation toolbox. 

Plus, extrinsic rewards, when tied into intrinsic motivators, are more effective. Combining the extrinsic, rewards-based motivational approach with an internal philosophy focused on goal setting and personal achievement will motivate on a variety of levels. It comes down to a simple equation: When people are appropriately motivated, they’re happier. Happy people perform better and are more successful at work. High-performing, successful employees equal happy customers. And that makes for a successful organization. 

Wrike conducted a survey on workplace happiness with some interesting findings. Download From Positivity to Productivity: Exposing the Truth Behind Workplace Happiness to learn more.

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