Intrinsic Motivation: 3 Things that Motivate Employees More Than Money

Motivate employees

In 2009, Daniel Pink, a career analyst and former speechwriter for Al Gore, gave a 20-minute TED Talk on the puzzle of motivation. We hope you don’t mind us referencing something this old, but we think many business leaders would benefit from listening to his ideas when considering ways to motivate their team.

In it, Pink explains why financial incentives often don’t work in 21st century environments where problem-solving and cognitive thinking are more important than mechanical skill.

Numerous studies over the last 40 years have found that, for tasks that require mechanical skill, bonuses are as effective as you’d expect them to be – the higher the pay, the better the performance.

But once the task called for even rudimentary cognitive skill, a larger reward actually leads to poorer performance. Pink believes that financial incentives like bonuses and commissions may do more harm than good.

Motivate employees

Intrinsic motivation is more powerful than extrinsic motivation

Time and again, researchers have found that people with high intrinsic motivation (i.e., they are driven by internal rewards and satisfaction) perform much better than people offered high extrinsic motivation (i.e., external rewards).

Pink argues that if companies can help their employees find intrinsic motivation then they will have a more sustainable motivation to work hard and succeed, which means they will be more productive, add more value to the business, and be less likely to resign.

How can you use intrinsic rewards to drive employee motivation?

Pink highlights three keys to intrinsic motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

Motivate employees

Autonomy

People are happier when they are given the freedom to make their own decisions about how to live and work.

CIPHR explains that, “Employees who are free to make their own choices about how they go about their responsibilities are happier, committed, productive, and loyal. Autonomy may also be the most important factor when nurturing a culture of engagement within a company.”

Employees who have the freedom to make their own decisions at the office tend to be more motivated because they understand that they are responsible for their own success or failure – which drives them to work harder.

Other benefits of employee autonomy include:

  • Happier, more engaged, and more loyal team members
  • Greater productivity in individual performance and the overall team performance
  • A greater desire to try new things and to be proactive in learning 

All of the above leads to a better, more positive company culture, because people learn to take responsibility for their own actions and their own happiness.

How do you create a culture of autonomy?

It can be difficult to change current employee mindsets, but you can start to change your culture by making sure you recruit people who are intrinsically motivated to take responsibility for their own work, and who value autonomy. Then make sure your job descriptions, interviews, and employee integration processes are designed to attract the right people and equip them to work autonomously.

A manager may need to adapt their leadership styles – especially if they are used to micromanaging employees. To encourage autonomy and motivate their employees, a manager needs to give their workers the space to think creatively, try new ideas, and even fail without the fear of recrimination.

In order to truly trust your employees, you need to understand and accept the risk of failure. Start small by slowly increasing an employee’s responsibilities and autonomy.

Mastery

We already know that high performing employees are not primarily motivated by money.  They’re driven by an intrinsic desire to master new skills and do their best work. In fact, many are so driven to master their craft that they’ll leave a high paying job for one that offers more training and development opportunities.

If you want to attract and retain high performers, you need to create a culture of continuous learning.

How do you create a culture of continuous learning?

1. Give them access to a learning environment with a variety of opportunities

There are lots of ways you can facilitate learning. If you have the budget, you can implement your own courses using a software system to manage learning. If you have a smaller budget, you can buy books, or simply give your employees permission to spend an hour or two per week watching videos, joining webinars, or reading up on a subject.

By providing the resources and time, you’ll enable and encourage their learning. And the more people that start to take advantage of learning opportunities, the more the rest of the team will too. That sort of enthusiasm is contagious, and shared learning creates a great environment for team building and motivating. 

Learn more: Tips on how to create a culture of continuous learning

2. Connect them with high-performing and motivated mentors 

Mentorship programs are a great way to attract, retain, and grow your employees. A good mentor is someone your employee respects, trusts, and wants to learn from. The mentor can share their own experiences in the same office and advise the other employee on how to manage theirs. Having someone on the team guide and encourage them as they navigate their career and the world of office politics can be an effective motivation.

And if the mentor is someone who understands and is driven by an intrinsic desire to master their craft, they can make a huge impact on keeping younger employees motivated. Seeing this person they admire in the workplace be so driven about their performance can inspire them to feel the same dedication and motivation. 

3. Be intentional about career planning, goals, and performance reviews

High performers want career growth. And when they don’t get it, they leave. So, if you’re managing a department and don’t have a career development plan for everyone in it – you’re playing with fire.

This can be as simple including career planning in your annual review cycle. Ideally you’ll be in tune with the overall ambitions of each employee, but meeting in person for an annual career planning session will give you the chance to touch base and help them set smaller goals for each year.

Once they break down their career ideas into clear short-term goals, you and your employee can identify the project, task, or learning opportunity they need to complete in order to reach each goal within the next year. You can then use these steps to set quarterly action plans.

Read more: How to conduct an effective career planning meeting

Performance reviews are just as crucial. Annual reviews that are only linked to bonus payouts can be extremely demoralizing to high performers who thrive on regular check-ins and value their manager’s input. Consider a real-time feedback system so each person can get constructive feedback on their performance and goals before the end of the year. 

4. Allow them to broaden their experience with ‘gigs’ in different departments

Giving high performers the opportunity to take on a stimulating internal work gig or project in other departments is a great way to help them master new skills. The added benefit of course, is that internal gigs also help your company become more innovative, agile, and productive.

Our work allocation software is an easy way to establish a gig marketplace in your workplace, allowing people to pick up a project or assignment and work with another team or department.

Read more: Five ways to create a successful internal gigs program

5. Celebrate new skills and encourage team recognition 

If you don’t recognize new skills and the hard work that goes into gaining them, you’ll soon find that high performers become discouraged. Show your employees that you respect and appreciate their desire to master new skills by giving them recognition and positive feedback on a regular basis, and encouraging them to put their new skills to work.

By demonstrating your appreciation, you also encourage recognition among each team. A team member receiving praise from their peers or a manager will feel intrinsically motivated to keep at it, and other members of the team will see that employee being rewarded and feel the same desire to achieve skill goals and be celebrated. 

Purpose

“Having a personal sense of meaning in one’s work was even more important than compensation, which ranked as the third most important reason for staying,” says Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce, a talent engagement software provider, that ran a survey to find out what makes employees stay at their companies.

Employees want to be involved, they want to make a difference, they want to improve their skills, and they want to balance their work and private lives.

After that, everyone has their view of what makes their work meaningful. Help your employees find meaning in the workplace, and their intrinsic motivation will soar.

How do you help employees find purpose?

People care about what they do. And they care about why they do it. In his 2009 TED talk, Simon Sinek, author of the book, “Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” explains that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

1. Share your company vision

Transformational leadership communicates a vision (i.e. your organization’s ‘why’) that inspires and motivates a team to achieve something extraordinary. By aligning your employees and systems to achieve this vision with integrity, you motivate them to incorporate higher values and ethics – ensuring that they will follow you for their own benefit.

2. Recognize and encourage them regularly

Once employees have bought into your vision, show them how their jobs contribute to that big picture. Give them praise and feedback when their work exemplifies the values and quality that you’re looking for. When employees feel like they have been recognized, they are more likely to find meaning and purpose in their work.

3. Create a strong sense of community and inclusion

People find meaning when they feel included, connected, and valued. An environment that embraces and celebrates diversity can be highly motivating for high performers.

You can create a sense of community by motivating employees to connect with each other through affinity groups, community service programs, and social clubs.

One of the effective ways to motivate employees is a CSR program. Benevity is a technology company that specializes in CSR software. They found that employee-centric CSR programs can reduce turnover by 57%.

Use technology to manage and measure employee motivation

Our integration software is designed to help companies retain their employees by offering tailored integration, retention, diversity, and performance pathways for employees. It’s a great way to track motivation and ensure your people are having a satisfying experience in your company. 

Check out this video to see how it works:

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