Dr. Vic, people expert and founder of TEP.Global, explains why intrinsic motivation creates the flow state of workplace performance and high employee engagement

Intrinsic Motivation in Workforce Management and Employee Engagement

Intrinsic Motivation in Workforce Management and Employee Engagement

By Dr. Vic | Dec 16th, 2023 | Employee engagement, HR consulting, Management consulting, Organizational development, People management, | 0 Comments

Intrinsic motivation for individuals to achieve high level performance at a workplace can be unleashed by organizational leadership with workplace autonomy, competence, and connectedness to others.

Workplace motivation is broken.  For decades, the focus has been almost exclusively on giving employees material rewards like bonuses, stock, company cars and the like. But research shows that such an approach can be, not just ineffective, but actually counterproductive. There is an informative TED Talk by Daniel Pink going into the details.

At best, material rewards provide half of the answer. The promise of reward, or the threat of punishment, provide “extrinsic motivation” for some desired behavior.  

But people are complex creatures. They have their own “intrinsic motivation” for behavior. To fully engage employees, leaders need to consider both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

For too long, intrinsic motivation has been ignored or undervalued.  We at TEP.Global are experts who can help you unlock the power of intrinsic motivation to energize your workforce.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation has been defined as “an incentive to engage in a specific activity that derives from pleasure in the activity itself.”  In short, we are intrinsically motivated to engage in activities when they align with our interests, values, and psychological needs.  

Intrinsic motivation has been studied as a part of Self-Determination Theory, which examines the external and internal forces driving human behavior.  According to SDT, there are three basic needs underpinning intrinsic motivation:

  • Autonomy: The need to have control over our lives and actions.
  • Competence: The need to feel capable of performing a task or achieving a goal.
  • Relatedness: The need to feel connected to others.

Intrinsic motivation is high when all three are present.  

By contrast, extrinsic motivation refers to behavior encouraged by outside rewards or consequences.  If we do a task because we’ve been promised a reward, or risk a punishment, we have experienced extrinsic motivation.  

Workplace incentives have mainly focused on extrinsic motivation. To fully motivate the workforce, it’s time to refocus.  The difference can be transformative.

Ways to increase intrinsic motivation in individuals

Let us first consider ways to increase individual motivation. Here are some ideas: 

(1) Prioritize Autonomy: People will realize the best results if they take on new tasks, or aim for new goals, in ways that suit them as individuals. Some people learn best by diving in with a “hands on” approach.  Others prefer to study and think through problems ahead of time.  Tailoring the approach to the individual is crucial.  

(2) Pick the Right Level of Challenge: When learning a new skill, the challenge should neither be too easy nor too hard.  The ideal challenge makes us stretch beyond our comfort zone but doesn’t overwhelm us.  If the task is daunting, look for ways to approach it in smaller steps.  

(3) Cultivate Connectedness: Learning with a group is another way to increase motivation through connection. The group also reinforces individual efforts, making progress both more likely and fulfilling.  

(4) Align With Personal Values: Motivation increases when challenges align with our sense of self and personal values. Consider how meeting a challenge can help the group or community, for example.

(5) Remove Obstacles: External challenges or problems can cause even the most motivated people to fall short.  Working to identify and minimize obstacles will maximize the chances of success.

How do leaders intrinsically motivate workforce

Let us next consider how to increase intrinsic motivation in the workplace. Here are a few suggestions:

(1) Be a Leader: The first way to intrinsically motivate a workplace is to cultivate and communicate a vision for the organization. Giving individuals a sense of purpose and value under shared vision, mission, and brand DNA can provide a solid base for intrinsic motivation.  Leaders themselves need to first develop emotional regulation skills in order to lead their people and organization with steadfast positivity.

(2) Build Trust: Building trust is crucial for intrinsic motivation.  Without it, people are unlikely to give their best efforts or to stretch beyond their comfort zones.  Acting with integrity, giving credit to others, and showing trust are just a few of the ways to develop trust in the workplace.

(3) Provide Challenges: Another good way to increase intrinsic motivation is to offer appropriate challenges or “stretch goals” that let team members expand their skills.  Such challenges can give team members a sense of purpose and a chance to develop new mastery.

(4) Empower the Team: People feel intrinsic motivation when they have control over their work and the way it is carried out.  Give the team as much freedom and latitude as possible in accomplishing their work.  

(5) Celebrate Good Work: A final way to build intrinsic motivation is to celebrate victories and good work along the way.  Recognition is better than gold when it comes to motivating a workforce.   

To energize your workforce, paying attention to the full range of people’s needs is key.  

The benefits to both individuals and organizations are long lasting, since intrinsic motivation can create the highest level of workforce engagement, the state of flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the creator of the flow theory describes it as “a state of concentration and engagement that one can achieve when completing a task that challenges one’s skills. To achieve flow, one should have clear goals for success: challenging, active, and engaging.”

TEP.Global brings a people centered approach and 100 years of combined experience to help your organization bring out the best in its team members.  We are uniquely qualified to find the “good buttons” that will let your people soar.

Please contact us for more information, or schedule an appointment for your specific needs.

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