A manager stands at the head of a table in front of a series of charts displayed on an easel, speaking to a group of employees in an office.

How to Motivate Employees: Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivators

There is a science to motivation that every employer needs to learn. Motivation is not just about encouraging employees to stay on track, meet deadlines, or keep in touch with fellow employees — it is something much larger than that. Motivation can be divided into two distinct categories: extrinsic and intrinsic. 

Extrinsic motivation arises from external factors, such as the possibility of being fired or receiving a raise. Intrinsic motivation comes from within; it is the pleasure you receive from an activity. While research has yet to decide which is better, it is clear that both play a role. 

Each of the techniques below explores a motivator — whether intrinsic or extrinsic — and how employers can use it. At the end of the day, the greatest motivator may be a combination of techniques that incentivize employees to do their jobs and do them well.

Praise Employee’s Achievements

Never forget to recognize a job well done. This is a simple act that can go a long way. A form of extrinsic motivation, praising an employee’s achievements can satisfy a need for acknowledgment. 

Employers can do more than just give a shoutout to a well-performing employee. They can offer rewards such as free lunch or even extra paid time off (PTO). This provides a great incentive for employees to put forward their best work. Rewards can be given for specific tasks achieved or may be gradually added up through a point system. Once an employee earns several points, they may redeem certain prizes, such as a lunch bought by the company.

Offer Constructive and Meaningful Feedback Regularly

Offer constructive and meaningful feedback regularly to get the best results out of your employees. This feedback not only gives employees a sense of motivation, but also helps streamline processes. If there’s a simple mistake being made repeatedly, simply hold a meeting with that employee to hash out how it can be addressed.

Remember that meaningful feedback must be carefully crafted. The purpose of it is not to discourage employees, but to build them up. Your feedback doesn’t always have to be positive, but it does need to have a purpose. Rather than criticize their work, create a conversation about how to better achieve goals — and show them methods to improve their work when necessary. 

This kind of feedback can also be applied to the company as a whole. Constructive criticism is key to overcoming team failure

Create Flexible Work Schedules

No company needs a half-asleep employee in the office early in the morning. Create a flexible work schedule to accommodate night owls, parents with children, or people in school. These employees may be just as productive as your regular 9-5’s, but only if you give them the chance to work the hours best for them. Flexible work schedules can be achieved with the right time tracking and employee scheduling app

Plus, work-life balance is a crucial concern among the U.S. workforce — 96% of Americans say they need flexibility in their jobs. A flexible work schedule may not only motivate current employees, but also encourage potential applicants and help with rates of retention.

Provide Adequate Pay

An intrinsic form of motivation, money is a vital part of employment and the means of ensuring a basic level of life. What an employee earns may directly impact their productivity, engagement, and satisfaction at work. An employer’s job is to make sure they adequately pay their employees so that they may afford rent, groceries, car bills, or life’s other major costs. 

Inadequately paid employees are unlikely to be motivated by their jobs, even if they are given praise for achievements or regular feedback. Employers must figure out adequate pay — whether that be salary or hourly — incorporating the cost of living in their area, the years of experience an employee has, and the type of position they hold. 

Give PTO: Sick Pay and Vacation Pay

You shouldn’t expect your employees to work every day of every year. They usually have obligations outside of work too. Life happens and employees may get sick, attend a wedding, or even become a parent. In those instances, you want to have a solid time-off management system in place. Whether you decide to give both sick pay and vacation pay, or a combination of the two, you must give your employees a chance to take a break. 

Plus, research shows that vacation is good for employees — in the short run at least. Since the effects of vacation wear off fast, it is vital to combine PTO with the other intrinsic and extrinsic motivation practices listed in this article. 

Show Employees the Bigger Picture

Employees won’t be motivated if they don’t know what the purpose of their work is. The purpose of a task may make perfect sense to the employer but may not be as apparent to the employees. It is always best to include employees in goal-setting and keep them involved throughout the process.

One way to help employees see the bigger picture is to conduct inter-departmental meetings. At these meetings, employees can ask other departments questions and receive a fuller understanding of what the company does and the purpose of their work. Once they know what the end goal of a project is, they may not only be more motivated to complete it, but also have a better idea of how to best meet it. 

Rethink the Office Space

The office space should be more than just four walls, desks, and chairs. Since employees are spending a big portion of their day at work, think about how the company can better fill the space. Comfortable seating, plants, soft lighting, or an updated break room are all good ideas for keeping employees happy and motivated. These changes may not only increase motivation, but also improve employee mental health

Give Employees a Voice

Lastly, you must give employees a voice within the company. Open up the floor for them to pitch their business ideas, office space revisions, or even employee motivation techniques. Incorporating employees into the decision-making process gives them a greater sense of value and investment in the success of the company. All of these driving factors may, in turn, increase motivation.