What Truly Motivates Us as an Employee?
Humans are motivated by both extrinsic and intrinsic factors. In a workplace environment such as creative, non-routine jobs that are more standard than routine jobs, it’s important for work to be built around more intrinsic motivation factors than extrinsic rewards. Extrinsic rewards are exact examples of the traditional carrot and stick management system of rewards like money, status and punishment of poor or inadequate performance. Before, with more routine and uncreative work, extrinsic rewards were more valuable for motivating people on the job. Intrinsic motivation is not about the external rewards an activity brings or that is provided by management. Intrinsic motivation is the inherent satisfaction one derives from doing the activity itself and the three key factors that foster intrinsic motivation is autonomy, mastery and purpose.
Autonomy is the need to direct your own life and work. In order to be fully motivated, you must be able to control what you do, when you do it, and who you do it with. It motivates us to think creatively without needing to conform to strict rules. To motivate employees who work beyond basic tasks need autonomy to increase performance, satisfaction and the desire to be self-directed. Money isn’t the most powerful or effective motivator. A psychologist Edward Deci who ran an experiment back in 1970’s that showed how incentive such as money that was given to students to solve a puzzle, who didn’t show as much interest on working on it, let alone continue on the puzzle after they’ve been paid. However, the other group of students that have not been offered money ended up working on the puzzle longer and with interest. The experiment uncovered a significant and powerful difference between extrinsic motivation, which comes from an outside source, and intrinsic motivation, the kind that comes from within oneself.
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Pink describes mastery as the desire to continually improve on something that matters. If you are motivated by mastery, you’ll likely see your potential as being unlimited, and you’ll constantly seek to improve your skills through learning and practice. Pink argues that humans love to “get better at stuff”- they get the satisfaction from personal achievement and progress. Simply allowing employees to enjoy a sense of progress at work that contributes to their inner drive. By contrast, a lack of opportunity at work for ones self-improvement or development is liable to make employees bored and demotivated. The key is to set tasks for employees that are not too easy or extremely challenging. Pink calls this task “Goldilocks tasks)- tasks that are not “too hot or too cold”. This task helps employees get out of their comfort zone and develop their skills and experience further. An athlete who is motivated by mastery wants to run as fast as they possibly can. Rewards and medals that they receive have less importance than the process of continuous improvement, challenging oneself and finding ways to reach new heights.
People who find purpose in their work unlock the highest level of the motivation.
Pink says that it’s connecting to a cause larger than yourself that drives the deepest motivation. Purpose is what gets you out of bed in the morning and into work without groaning and grumbling — something that you just can’t fake. People who have purpose are motivated to pursue the most difficult problems. Pink describes it as a desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves. At work, this is the desire to make a difference or leave a legacy and help employees connect to something larger than themselves. Get them out of basic measurement by numbers and figures, and connect work to people and values. With that being said; providing patient photos to radiologists, who have little direct contact with patients, can improve their performance. It may be described as wanting to contribute in a way that not only maximizes profits and achieves goals, but also benefits others, the environment in general.
So why is the motivation trifecta especially relevant? In his TED talk Pink sets out to make a case that what we (as humans) have discovered about motivation through science, and the model on which our businesses operate i.e. protocols, benefits, resourcing, are on two different sides of the spectrum. He explains that higher pay; bonuses and other extrinsic motivators (carrots and sticks) can result in better performance only if the task consists of basic, mechanical skills. In other words, problems with a defined set of steps and a single answer, which he also refers to as ‘twentieth century tasks’. But if the tasks we do involve cognitive creative thinking and skills, higher pay results in lower performance and extrinsic motivators often do not work.
It’s to no surprise that through years of research, psychologists such as Deci and influencers such as Daniel Pink have discovered that people perform better when they are motivated, however, there’s still a widespread debate about whether traditional motivational strategies, such as the ‘carrot and stick’ method, really work. When most or all young entrepreneurs building successful businesses and tech start-ups operate under this idea of the ‘growth mindset’, it seems that working for a greater cause and having the ability to effect change has more value these days than a high salary and a promotion. According to Pink, the old-school model of carrots and sticks is becoming increasingly outdated, and according to lots of research, just plain wrong. It makes sense that old-school organizational and personal frameworks of productivity just don’t cut it in this age when knowledge, creativity and problem solving are required to stand out and succeed.
As human beings, we’re so used to receiving instructions starting from a young age with our parents and teachers all the way into the corporate world, from our managers and leaders, that when someone gives us the space to make and implement a decision (especially if it’s an area we’re not too familiar with), we tend to draw a blank and don’t know how to respond. We start to panic, stress levels go through the roof, because god forbid we make a bad or wrong decision, we get a slap on the wrist – or worst in some cases! What a horrible feeling, right? Who wants to feel that way? What if you weren’t told what to do by your manager, instead coached and enabled? What if you could make a decision (individually or as a team) and discover new ideas? What if you were given the space to learn from those decisions, especially if they sometimes led to mistakes?
Many organizations seem to have this unrealistic perception about what empowerment really is. The truth is, empowerment is a two-way stream between the organization and the employee, which requires a great deal of trust and a lot of leading by example. I believe that actions speak way louder than words. If managers and leaders of organizations are genuinely empowered to do their job, this will naturally filter down. When you’re at ’the top’ everyone is always watching. Here’s to building more autonomy, mastery, and purpose to produce not just a more productive and effective workforce, but also a happier one!