Use Intrinsic Motivation to Increase Workplace Engagement

Use Intrinsic Motivation to Increase Engagement in the WorkplaceSome teams fire on all cylinders — they function with boundless energy, intense focus, and passionate drive — but how can you get there? The answer is simple: intrinsic motivation!

Motivation is everywhere in your life. Whether you’re at work, relaxing on the couch, or raiding the fridge, some kind of motivation has caused you to be doing whatever you’re doing. We can be motivated by love, fear, greed or something else. But not all motivation is created equal– sometimes the motivation isn’t strong to begin with, or it wanes over time, eventually resulting in a total lack of productivity.

Intrinsic motivation, according to Dr. Richard M. Ryan of the University of Rochester, is the kind of motivation that drives action because you feel the action is inherently interesting or enjoyable in and of itself. This is compared to extrinsic motivation, which drives action only because the action may lead to a separate outcome.

Think about your favorite subject in high school or college– not just the easiest class, but one that you truly, thoroughly enjoyed. When you needed to do homework for this subject, the homework feels easier and gets done more quickly and at a higher level– all because it doesn’t even feel like work because you like doing It. This is an example of intrinsic motivation.

Now think about that subject you absolutely hated– getting it done was harder than pulling teeth. Sure, you did it, but only because you had to. You were motivated good grades, your parents, etc. This is extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation results in high-quality focus and creativity, increasing your aptitude for the task at hand. While extrinsic motivation certainly can produce results, it can also cause the action to be done with resentment, resistance or disinterest, yielding a lower-quality product.

Intrinsic Motivation and Today’s Workplace

The modern worker relies on a lot more on intrinsic motivation to get things done than our parents’ generation. Extrinsic motivation can work for simple, straightforward jobs– “the more products I produce, the more I get paid.” It can also help compliance– “the better my team’s safety rating, the bigger our bonuses will be.” However, the number of jobs where this is applicable is fading fast.

Today’s worker is valuable for their creativity, innovation, and deep critical thinking. Goal-oriented workplaces require employees to self-manage their focus and innovate, problem solve and improvise in the face of constantly changing conditions. Simply put, intrinsic motivation is much better at eliciting this kind of response from a workforce.

The modern worker also craves intrinsic motivation. According to Forbes, millennials are more focused on the meaningfulness of their careers than previous generations. Young prospective employees and recent college graduates want to accomplish something tangible– they will work for a company that contributes to society, not one that leeches off of it for profit.

This sounds like the motivation of non-profit and civil service positions, but it’s not– the same Forbes article cites that 86% of millennials they surveyed believe business has at least as much potential as government to meet society’s challenges. Don’t get me wrong, though– intrinsic motivation is an overwhelming value in non-profit organizations, according to recent studies.

Cultivating Intrinsic Motivation

There’s no single roadmap or easy-to-follow manual, but if you focus on ways to improve certain areas, you can improve intrinsic motivation for either yourself or your team.

Dr. Kenneth Thomas, author of Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement, lays out four key feelings that contribute to the cultivation of intrinsic motivation:

Meaningfulness: A sense of purpose is the foundation for establishing intrinsic motivation. Make sure your team knows why they’re there, and why they’re making a difference. Make the principles expressed in your organization’s mission statement a central focus around the workplace.

Choice: Allow team members, not just managers, the right to make decisions. Trust in each individual’s ability to self-manage– if someone chooses what they see as the best course of action, there won’t be any barriers to motivation. If you force them to use a method they think is inferior, this will lessen enjoyment and increase doubt, decreasing intrinsic motivation.

Competence: Make sure to recognize successful actions and acknowledge competent employees. This doesn’t mean you need to turn everything into a positivity-fest– simple recognition that something was done well is all you need to do. When employees get positive feedback and recognize their skills are working, this helps cultivate intrinsic motivation.

Progress: Developing and sticking to roadmaps and benchmarks can also help the intrinsic motivation of your team. A sense of progress helps team members feel they’re actually accomplishing something. Signs showing that the project is on track and moving towards the ultimate goal instills confidence in the whole operation.

Upping your team’s intrinsic motivation can be a game-changer no matter what sector you’re in, or how big your organization is. Develop the feelings that cultivate intrinsic motivation and you’ll see the productivity, creativity, and energy skyrocket.

AAI Staff
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