Most people would like to excel at their jobs but businesses are not doing enough to harness their employees desire to make a difference. That’s because they lack the understanding of the intrinsic and extrinsic motivators that drive their people. In this article we explore the two types and help you find the right balance.

Creating a workforce filled with employees who are productive and excited and will help push the organisation to new heights may be the Holy Grail of corporate success today for three key reasons. First, fast-changing business environments require that companies move quickly. Amid change, employees at all levels are likely to be faced more frequently with ambiguous situations. Leaders need to rely on them to act independently but remain true to the organisation’s culture, values, and mission.

The second reason involves resource allocation. These days, even workers in the biggest companies must do more with less. You can count on the extra discretionary efforts of  engaged workers in these lean environments.

Third, engaged workers contribute to a stronger work environment. This makes it possible to attract and retain the best talent, because people look for work environments in which they can grow and contribute. High levels of engagement result in better organisational performance, which opens the door to other engaged employees—and the virtuous cycle continues.

But few organisations seem to have found that grail. Worldwide, only about one third of employees say they feel highly engaged. The problem, experts say, is that firms aren’t doing a particularly good job engaging workers who aren’t already intrinsically—or self—motivated.

As we highlight in our new report, not all motivation is created equal. Motivation experts have split motivation into two measurable elements: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. In short, intrinsic motivation – or the joy of the task- is a drive that comes from within; it’s the adrenaline rush you get from a challenge, or the personal satisfaction you get from preparing and nailing a presentation.

Extrinsic motivation on the other hand is a drive that comes from external rewards or punishments; it’s what propels you to put in the extra hours so you can be eligible for a bonus, or so that you don’t have to get an angry 2am email from your boss.

Organisations rely too heavily on the innate motivation employees bring to work with them each day. That’s because, intrinsic motivation is a consistently more powerful force than extrinsic motivation. Our employee opinion normative benchmarks show that it’s a phenomenon that spans across countries, industries, genders and ages. Indeed, the report details how self-motivated workers are far more likely to want to exceed work expectations than workers who feel motivated by something their employer does. As the report shows, these intrinsically motivated workers also tend to be more creative, solve problems more efficiently and effectively, and demonstrate better conceptual thinking.

Instead of simply relying on their people’s self-motivation, organisations can push levers to support and create environments for workers intrinsic motivations to take root. Some of these actions are direct, such as giving employees challenging, interesting work that fully uses their skills and abilities. Other actions, such as removing institutional barriers or redesigning workflow, can also have a positive impact on creating or enhancing a worker’s intrinsic motivation. Employees are coming to work ready to satisfy internally focused needs and goals, but organisations are not keeping up their end of the bargain by providing the additional inducements needed to harness this energy.

All that said, we know that people do work for money and they expect to be paid fairly for the contribution they make and energy they bring to their jobs. That’s were extrinsic motivation plays an important part in the form of pay raises or bonuses, enhanced benefits, improved work environments, or opportunities to assume new roles. Extrinsic motivation are critical for directing efforts toward the right organisational goals and providing employees with the inducements needed to perform at high levels. If employees are unsuccessful at improving their extrinsic state, intrinsic motivation could suffer, as they may choose not to appreciate the satisfaction they get from their work. So, the key is to provide the right balance and create consistency across intrinsic and extrinsic motivators sources.

Here are some suggestions to help you support both types of motivation in your workplace:

To support intrinsic motivation:

  • Create opportunities for employees do to challenging and interesting work that fully leverages their skills and abilities.
  • Remove bureaucracy, poorly designed processes, and other institutional barriers that stand in the way.
  • Empower employees to devise new ways of working based on their unique differences and perspectives.
  • Encourage managers to recognize employees who go above and beyond.

To support extrinsic motivation:

  • Establish a strong value proposition to attract key talent and remind employees why they work for a winning team.
  • Help employees to connect learning and development opportunities with future roles and career paths.
  • Ensure financial rewards are fair and competitive without overstating the importance of rewards as a motivator
  • Publicly recognize exceptional performance.

The bottom line: When intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are more aligned, the result will be higher engagement and more inspired performance.

Learn what you can do to support both types of motivations in your organisation and how to find the right balance. Read the report Strengthening performance through greater employee engagement.

Speak to our experts

About Contributor

Dewi Tobing is a Client Director at Korn Ferry Advisory, Indonesia. She specialises in designing and facilitating behavioral competency modelling and assessment, performance management, leadership and employee survey. Working closely with the senior management and HR teams to align their corporate HR strategy and values, Dewi guides organisations in defining and implementing HR strategy, organisation structure, roles, accountabilities and performance targets to complement business strategies and improve the organisation performance.

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