5 Ways to Foster Intrinsic Motivation at Work

At work, as well as in life, knowing what drives people can help determine where they’re heading. No wonder that HR departments focus so much on why people made certain decisions. After all, intrinsic motivation is the most descriptive element of why people do what they do. This is becoming the utmost determinant of professional success, for several good reasons.

Motivation is more than a way to determine what a person is like. Understanding motivation can help you better cultivate passion and dedication. It can enable you to develop personal and professional meaningfulness. Moreover, it offers contextualization in understanding actors and strategies, pivoting, and repositioning. It provides an exceptional way to develop yourself and others.

In the end, knowing what drives people is one step away from knowing how to lead people. Developing a culture of self-motivated teams is more than great leadership. Here are 5 ways to understand and develop intrinsic motivation in the workplace.

Understand intrinsic motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic rewards

Motivational models are structures built around a dynamic exchange between motivation and rewards. Modern motivational models are shifting towards intrinsic motivation and intrinsic rewards. In fact, people care less about extrinsic rewards and seek intrinsic motivation. No doubt, this is particularly true for millennials.

Intrinsic motivation is a process that plans, initiates, guides, and sustains goal-oriented behaviors. Intrinsic motivation does all this without a determined or determinable extrinsic reward. In fact, what fuels this process is the orientation towards intrinsic rewards.

Extrinsic and intrinsic might sound like big words. They are not, so let’s simplify. Extrinsic happens on the exterior, intrinsic happens on the interior. Extrinsic rewards may be anything from a paycheck or candy, to negative reinforcement. They are exterior, someone else gives you candy (positive reinforcement). Accordingly, someone else gratifies your “good behavior” by not punishing you (negative reinforcement).

Intrinsic motivation is what people do because of the “thing in itself”. The sheer pleasure or passion or interest in the very process or behavior. The aesthetics of the result, the satisfaction with achieving. This is why and how intrinsic motivation and intrinsic rewards link so well.

Envision purposefulness and meaning

Any person you will ever meet is either trying to find meaning or claims to have found it. Ignoring the philosophical debate, we should focus on doing something meaningful. It is a lot easier to identify than “having a meaning”. And it’s a great way to motivate yourself and others.

Doing something meaningful implies realizing that there is an over-arching mission. A greater purpose that includes you and all your actions and inactions. A feeling that you are contributing to more than what your work is. A sense of pride in how your work contributes to the world or making the world better.

Meaningfulness is being privy to a vision of greatness that scopes beyond your work desk. No wonder job-related meaningfulness contributes to employee engagement, task orientation, and dedication.

Cultivating purposefulness and meaningfulness is tricky. You have to help yourself and others feel that work is an opportunity to create greater value.

One proven way to develop cross-departmental purposefulness is to engage people in causes. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a context where you can achieve this, just make sure you do it with real soul.

Solution: Leaders that inspire towards a greater vision.

Develop orientated planning

People enjoy deciding how and when they offer input. They like it even better at work. After all, long gone are the days in which jobs were tediously repetitive.

Employees enjoy having a choice in how they organize their work. People love deciding which activities they want to engage with first and last. In fact, most people thrive on independence. In return, independence generates a sense of accountability. This creates an organizational context that favors reliable, responsible people. People that can regulate and delegate themselves.

Offering anyone a sense of self-determination may result in incredible achievements. It’s common place that such achievements face a harsh limit. Office politics, power struggles, and power hierarchies always limit creativity and create overhead. You can take charge and teach your team how to function in a flattened hierarchy.

As an intrinsic reward, having a say in how you do your job is something most people desire. Deciding when, how, and why to do a specific task adds to this sensation of independence and freedom of choice.

Solution: Flattened hierarchies, increased personal accountability, and self-delegation.

Foster preparedness and capabilities

A tailored suit is a cut above. This is also true for the sort of work you do. Competence is purposefulness applied to a proper strategy, aided by talent and supported by skill.

People create personal images of adequacy and competency, to which they compare their performance in all sorts of activities. These images are a lot like personal standards. People respond to personal standards in an emotional way.

After all, being adequate is in itself a sense of relief and fitness for having survived a context. Moreover, doing something with competence, not just adequacy, creates a sensation of wellness. This frees “mental energy” that can flow anywhere. Innovation happens in moments such as these, and so does happiness.

Feeling ready and capable are two amazing feelings. This is particularly true while being under evaluation. Diminished stress and decreased performance anxiety boost productivity, fostering trust and bonding. Teams thrive on trust and bonding.

This sense of self-satisfaction and work-wellness are key rewards. They enable a person to invest greater efforts in self-development.

Solution: Develop trust-recruiting, increase teambuilding activities, praise in public, criticize in private.

Develop a culture of growth that adds value

Intrinsic motivation always aims at developing something of value. This is because people work with a deep, underlying need for existential affirmation. Adding personal value to a communal value is existential affirmation. It’s a blend of personal and public value.

Developing personal and public value are two ways for anyone to find motivation. Think about it this way: personal value is something that you value. Public value is something other people value. Let’s clarify.

An experienced meditator may appear to contribute little to the world. This, despite having a strong sense of self-determination, of purpose and even accomplishment. It may well be due to a fundamental human need: socializing, sharing, contributing.

Sometimes, developing personal and public value are not that easy to tell apart. After all, any great scientist has a drive to know and grow, alongside a drive to contribute. Still, it is clear: the work in itself is what preoccupies the scientist. The scientific advances are valuable additions to society. Both the meditator and the scientist act in intrinsic rewards. Both achieve through intrinsic motivation. Yet, the greatest effect is teamwork. The effects of a knowledge-sharing culture are incremental. Any work that blends personal and public value will be motivating. Apply this to teams, and you have a culture of knowledge sharing, of mutual teaching, and learning.

Solution: Try mixing team members into ad-hoc teams that fight “microbattles”.

Teams that neglect to develop their members fail at teamwork. This holds true for intrinsic motivation. That’s because people believe one should only follow intrinsic motivation. That meaningful work can only happen when you follow intrinsic motivation. This leads to issues with talent acquisition and retention, with performance and productivity. Developing a context in which teams follow intrinsic rewards is the key to success.

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