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What leaders need to know about employee motivation

Young woman sitting at workplace, exhausted and tired. Mindletic blog

What is work motivation?

Work motivation – is a set of energetic forces that appear both in a person’s inner world and outside of it and initiate work-related behavior and determine its direction, form, intensity, and duration. Using cognitive evaluation theory, authors Ryan and Deci distinguish two types of motivation – internal and external. Extrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it leads to observable, desired outside results. While intrinsic or innate motivation refers to doing something because it is intrinsically interesting and enjoyable.

“From birth, if healthy, children are active, curious and playful, even without receiving any specific reward”, say Ryan and Deci. That is why the most innovative organizational motivation systems seek to gamify work, adapting game elements to the working environment. The dimensions of gamification encourage employees’ freedom of self-expression at work and support their internal motivation. The environment can be beneficial and dangerous for internal motivation, so support is needed to maintain and strengthen it, as various unsupportive conditions can disrupt it.

Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards affect motivation

Extrinsic, acquired rewards, like the form of pay-for-performance, are said to be a high-risk but high-feedback strategy. Researchers explored what can go wrong with a pay-for-performance approach, e. g. too much competition within the company or too little attention to tasks not included in the plan. However, private sector organizations regularly use this payment strategy that focuses on employee performance, especially when an individual moves to another position. Until now, a considerable number of studies indicate that pay, in particular performance-determined pay, is seen as an ambiguous (or even negative) influence on intrinsic motivation and creativity. And yet, it doesn’t mean that the outcome is determined.

How to boost employees' motivation then?

According to Gagne & Deci, the authors of self-determination theory, extrinsic rewards (e. g. pay for performance) are not always harmful to motivation: when rewards are presented in an autonomy-promoting, supportive context, extrinsic rewards are less likely to undermine intrinsic motivation, the opposite, it can enhance it.

Another critical aspect of work performance and motivation is creativity which brings new, potentially fruitful ideas. Innovation occurs when these ideas are successfully implemented at the organizational or departmental level. The primary source of motivation for creative behavior is intrinsic interest and pleasure. It is found that intrinsic motivation increases creativity.

The performance-related external rewards can be beneficial for internal motivation and creativity if it:
  • confirms and strengthens the perceived competence of an employee,

  • provides beneficial information (positive feedback about the employee’s contribution to work and its value),

  • motivates people to do what they were intrinsically motivated to do.

Important note: If your organization is implementing motivation tactics or employee reward programs – don’t overlook emotions at work and employee wellbeing. We already know that rewards, presented in an autonomy-promoting, supportive context, are one aspect. However, if employees are overloaded and exhausted, they will not do their best work – no matter how hard they try. Addressing mental health at work and the emotional wellness of staff is fundamental.

Want to hear more about how to support mental health in the workplace and motivate your employees? Reach out to our team and get a free consultation now.