What Leaders Should Know About Intrinsic Motivation & Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation are important engagement opportunities that have very different results.

Extrinsic motivation is what many of us are familiar with; it’s the primary way Boomers and Gen Xers have been rewarded throughout their working career. It’s how we most often motivate children as well. Extrinsic motivation is based on earning a reward (like money $$ or praise), or avoiding something undesirable. It’s motivation by carrot or stick. Extrinsic motivation is also often the most expensive and the least effective way to motivate employees over long periods of time. As a good friend and Chief Financial Offices (CFO) says, “Money is an external reward and a lousy motivator, it’s good for a week or two and then forgotten.” screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-10-16-16-am

Intrinsic motivation is when we find doing something personally satisfying. It’s the engagement that often leads us to choose our career in the first place. Intrinsic reward supports long-term motivation and professional development that is rooted in taking pride in our work – not making your boss happy so he/she will give you a raise. It’s why many of us volunteer, or paint, play a musical instrument or garden. It’s why we enjoyed curling up with a good book when we were a kid… and still do now.

The easiest way to ruin a persons satisfaction and pride in their work (intrinsic motivation) is to monetize it (give them money $$ for doing something they enjoy). Studies have shown that intrinsic motivation will decrease when external rewards (extrinsic rewards), are given.

Example 1: I know a lady who loved to bake cookies and cakes – she took great pride in them and they were delicious and beautiful. So she started a bakery business and soon had an employee and lots of clients. She felt stress in keeping clients happy, and managing the employee, and there were deliveries and… and… and. Worst of all she no longer baked to relax and enjoy herself. She closed her business.

Example 2: In an experiment to test motivation, psychologist and professor Edward L. Deci studied two groups of students who enjoyed playing puzzle games. The 1st group was paid whenever they solved a puzzle; the other group played for no monetary reward. Deci noticed that the 1st group stopped working on the puzzles when they stopped being paid. The 2nd group continued to solve puzzles because they continued to enjoy the game. By offering extrinsic motivation, the 1st group were trained to see puzzles as work.

All too often our parents, leaders, coworkers… and even ourselves focus only on…or mostly on extrinsic rewards. This begins to cause problems as we disconnect with what feeds our heart… our spirit… our humanity. Instead, we are trained to ignore our natural spirit and instead focus only on (mostly on), physical – short-term recognition / respect. So, what is the real benefit and what can we do?

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Pride

The impact of intrinsic rewards on an employee’s self-management is great. An intrinsically motivate employee will likely stay late to finish an important project – not because they have to… or want to please their boss/customer. Because of this pride, they will routinely go the extra mile because it makes them happy and… this pride makes them want to be loyal… a win/win.

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Employee Loyalty

Employees who are self-motivated, proud of their work and feel they are making a difference often also demonstrate greater employee loyalty. BMC have seen this in our Millennial At Work study.

If employees are intrinsically motivated they will not quit to go to a company that pays a bit more – they stay with a company that respects them and gives them greater autonomy. Their loyalty will be largely derived from work life balance and how much they enjoy their work – and the company. Pride makes a difference; they stay with the company that feeds their spirit.

Intrinsic rewards mean people feel good about feeling good about what they are doing / thinking.

Benefit: Intrinsic Motivation Increases Professional Development

Extrinsic motivation isn’t all-bad – it actually plays an important part in the learning / teaching process – especially helping learners overcome the frustration of acquiring new skills. Positive reinforcement and praise (extrinsic motivation), helps people keep trying – keep learning. Unfortunately, we all-too-often only reward professional development on extrinsic motivation. We don’t include motivation that helps people feel a sense of personal pride and accomplishment in their newly acquired skill. Ultimately this means that the learners will not fully invest in adopting new skills. Instead they feel pride in getting praise for their work… and will need it again and again. This is a problem I hear all the time from Baby Boomers when I give Generational Differences training.

What Can We Do? How Can We Use Intrinsic Rewards?

Intrinsic rewards help individuals find satisfaction in ‘doing’ of their work or task as much as the end result. The journey is as important as the destination. I’ve mentioned in other posts, there are 4 very effective ways to develop intrinsic motivation in others. From your children to your employees, help them see and ‘feel’:

  1. C – Competence / Mastery… learning new things – gaining  and/or using an expertise.
  2. A – Autonomy / Choice… what to work on, when and how
  3. R – Relevance / Purpose… why the work is meaningful – important
  4. P – Progress… what they are doing is adding to the greater good or perhaps they are gaining experience.

Conclusion

The last 50 or so years we got used to extrinsically rewards but we forget to help people feel good about feeling good about their work or what they are learning. As leaders we’ve underestimated the importance of intrinsic rewards and its low-cost… and instead have got used to thinking of financial rewards as the primary way to motivate.

Intrinsic rewards are a strong win/win for organizations that want to stay innovative and retain great, inspired, happy and proud employees. Research has shown that when people are proud, feel like they are making a difference and feel some ownership of how they structure their time at work they stick around… and they do great work.

Happy communicating… and mentoring… and training.

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About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

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