William A Kahn, who coined the term engagement, posited that engagement happens when an employee immerses their entire selves into their work. Kahn suggested that an engaged employee is emotionally and intellectually committed to the organization’s mission, vision, and purpose, has a positive attitude in response to and about the organization, is aware of goals, and contributes and exhibits behaviors that lead to organizational effectiveness and success. Thus, engagement is an employee’s voluntary action because of intrinsic motives. The problem is employee engagement can be challenging to achieve. In 2020, Gallup reported that 36% of people in the workplace are highly engaged, and 14% are disengaged. Because employee engagement is critical to the success of any organization, leaders are trying to understand how to maximize engagement by leveraging motivation.
As a leader, have you ever sat through countless meetings trying to figure out how to motivate your staff? You tried different programs, consultants, and coaching to increase motivation but were discouraged because participation was not at the level you desired? Well, you are not alone. Most leaders have been in the same predicament.
To maximize engagement by leveraging motivation, we must first understand motivation and why it is essential. Motivation is the level of commitment or enthusiasm an employee brings to the workplace to get the job done. Leaders can use motivation to drive employees to action and encourage behaviors that match the organization’s culture. In addition, motivation is essential because it brings value to the organization. Thus, motivation is a driving force to increase engagement, job satisfaction, and organizational performance.
Intrinsic and extrinsic are two categories of motivation. Intrinsic motivation refers to an individual’s drive to improve knowledge and complete a task for the satisfaction of completing the task. Intrinsically motivated employees find the task enjoyable because the work contributed to the organization is significant and meaningful. These employees can learn and grow from their experiences to maximize their potential in the workplace, and no external reward is needed. Second, intrinsically motivated employees are self-driven and creative. They are innovative in their thinking which helps them find creative ways to complete a task. Finally, an engaged employee is often intrinsically motivated because they love what they do.
On the other hand, extrinsically motivated employees are not motivated because of the enjoyment or satisfaction from doing the job. Instead, their motivation is based on external rewards or consequences, whether positive or negative and tangible or intangible. Extrinsic motivation is about the reward, such as recognition, incentive, trophies, or consequence such as a bad performance review or termination. These employees act when the results benefit them the most.
There is value in intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, but leaders must follow somewhat different paths to leverage intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to maximize engagement.
Leveraging Intrinsic Motivation
Because someone is either already intrinsically motivated to complete a task or not, unlocking an employee’s intrinsic motivation may be trickier than extrinsically motivating them, but it is not impossible. Leaders should consider the following to leverage intrinsic motivation.
- Vision/Purpose. When the vision is clear, employees are motivated because they understand the goals of the organization. Employees should understand the vision, and they must feel like what they do daily makes a positive impact and is helping the organization achieve its overall goals. Employees should feel the same way even in an entry-level position.
- Job crafting. Monotonous tasks can cause some employees to become disengaged. Job crafting allows employees to change the meaning of their work experiences by redesigning their job according to ability, skills, and preferences. The new experiences, autonomy, increased knowledge, completion of new tasks, and positive feedback and reinforcement would be fulfilling to the employee, unlocking intrinsic motivation.
- Recognition. When an employee’s contributions to a project add value and that employee is recognized for their hard work, job satisfaction and intrinsic motivation increase, which increases engagement.
Leveraging Extrinsic Motivation
Most would think that leveraging extrinsic motivation would be easier, but not always. Some employees are drawn to incentives, challenges, or other tangible rewards, but others are not. Leaders should consider the following to leverage extrinsic motivation.
- Expectations. While extrinsic motivation plays a significant role in employee engagement, this is not meant to be a long-term solution. Setting expectations and accountability ahead of time gives the employee clear direction of what is expected for a specific task. Establishing expectations helps leaders define the goals and expectations of performance and ties rewards to performance. Setting expectations reduce the excessive use of extrinsic rewards, which can cause employees to become dependent on the rewards. An expectancy factor comes into play, which means an employee will only complete a task if a reward is attached or not complete a task if a particular reward is not attached. Setting expectations and accountability should help avoid excessive use.
- Ask Questions. One size fits all incentive programs may not work all the time. Leaders should ask employees what is important to them and what they value to ensure the leader’s motivations are not being imposed on employees. Asking questions is essential but mindfully listening is crucial. Although monetary incentives are appreciated, some employees want more, e.g., recognition, feedback, praise, etc., which helps to vary the extrinsic reward but also helps to boost intrinsic motivation.
- Choose the proper reward. As we know, extrinsic motivation is not meant for the long haul but is a great way to increase productivity and boost employee’s drive, so once leaders ask questions, they should choose the proper reward to reinforce the goal. If the wrong reward is chosen, there may be less participation and excitement to reach goals.
Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, leveraging motivation can benefit the workplace, but relying on one or the other is not enough. The goal is for leaders to find a balance between the two. Motivation, if applied correctly, is a powerful strategy to maximize engagement.