How to harness the power of intrinsic motivation

Hannah Sims · 04 Apr

The corporate topic of motivation may well serve as one of the most blogged about, debated and researched realms of all.

The question as to just how you motivate employees to achieve optimal productivity is, it seems, a timeless one, without concrete answer nor guaranteed method.

As humans, we are naturally driven to achieve more and, unconsciously, we continually set rewards for achieving goals. From focusing upon that glass of wine after a hectic end to the week, to the lure of a slice of pizza following a week of gym-going.

So it seems sensible for any motivational programme to provide rewards for employees. And gift cards, cash and other prizes have been seen within cooperate wellness programmes since they began.

Seems straight forward logic, right?

Yet these rewards serve only as external motivators – even the most tempting of cash rewards or gift cards can only maintain engagement for so long.

At the opposite end of the scale are intrinsic motivators. The defining difference between the two? Quite simply, enjoyment. And in turn, enjoyment is the motivator itself. That is to say, while extrinsic motivation is that driven by tangible rewards or pressures, intrinsic is driven by a real desire to do something for the pure fun of doing it.

Let’s make something clear: for steadfast productivity and habits that stick, motivation must emerge from within. It must be intrinsic.

Such a notion comes with plenty of credibility, too, as extensive studies have found that the intrinsically motivated consistently outperformed the extrinsically motivated. (You can read our enlightening thoughts on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation in our gamification white paper – to come!).

What’s more, it seems that the power of intrinsic motivation is worth its weight in gold, as employees have been found to be three times more engaged compared to those motivated by cold hard cash alone.

Simple steps towards intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation presents two challenges: enabling the employee to understand their own motivation and to go on and form a consistent habit. No small feat, it would seem. However, you can make leaps of progress just by taking into consideration three simple steps…

1. The importance of choice


Freedom is an absolute must when it comes to intrinsic motivation. Think about it, if it wasn’t then external motivators would suffice perfectly.

So, whatever you’re motivating your employees towards, ensure that they have a choice – from workforce health programmes where there are options between activities and hitting the gym; to sales drives where targets are determined by the people promoting the products.

2. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat – it created motivation


When you establish curiosity your employees will go to great efforts to discover things on their own. This information seeking, and the time that they commit to it, means that the employee invests within the scheme. They are more engaged – and engagement is key to the creation of habits that are formed and behaviours that last.

3. Team work does indeed make the dream work


Anyone who has ever attempted to commit to regular gym going likely knows all too well how easily one day off leads to the remainder of the year paying a pointless direct debit. Equally, those who make gym dates to attend with a friend also know of the motivation that a fellow gym-goer can provide. This seamlessly translates to the realm of employee motivation, where team work and partnerships can lead to a healthy culture of effort and reward, and of celebration and encouragement.

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