Motivational dynamics in a modern workplace have changed drastically with new working requirements, labor laws, and different worker expectations. Recent research explains the most important change has been the rise in the importance and weight of emotional (or intrinsic) rewards with the decline of of material (or extrinsic) rewards. Where did the popularity of intrinsic rewards come from, and how can these rewards be used with your employees to build a welcoming, high-engagement working environment?
In the last thirty years, outsourcing overseas and the automation of a lot of the highly repetitive jobs, and that coupled with a more competitive global market that requires employees to use discretion and work with autonomy to a much larger extent than ever before. Over the same 30 years, the amount of U.S. employees who say that their work is meaningful, requires their judgement, and makes use of their strengths in the workplace has more than doubled. In short, there are far fewer worker bees and that makes the workers feel much more empowered and significant.
In addition, youth coming into the workforce now have very different preconceptions of the work force than the previous generation before them. Raised in an era of phenomenal technological growth, and instantaneous results, they work best within the confines of meaningful work that utilizes their cutting-edge skills and lets them find new ways of accomplishing tasks and streamlining processes, which again makes them feel more meaningful to the operation.
Most of the motivational models still in place today are leftover from earlier years, when both employees and the work they did was different. The level of importance toward intrinsic rewards cannot be overlooked and should become more prevalent in the workforce as we discover that our workers are responding best to this.
Extrinsic rewards are most often financial. They are the tangible rewards given to employees by managers and business owners. These can include benefits, pay raises, and bonuses. They are external to the work itself, and other people are the ones in control of the amount of reward, the type of reward, and whether or not they are handed out at all. These came into being when the majority of a workforce was routine, manual, and repetitive labor.
This doesn’t mean that good pay and bonuses are no longer relevant, in fact many employees will still consider pay the the main factor in whether or not they accept a job. And feeling underpaid for your performance is one of the strongest workforce de-motivators. However, if the pay is fair, the strongest day to day motivation is found in intrinsic rewards.
Intrinsic rewards are the psychological rewards that employees get from doing meaningful work and completing it well. More and more of the workforce nowadays is expected to self-manage to a much more significant degree. This is beneficial to you, the employer, in that your employees can add great value by innovation, problem solving, and adjusting strategy on their own to meet the need of customer or business. This is also beneficial to the employees, because this imparts and sense of meaningfulness, something that really matters in the larger scheme of the company. It gives workers a strong sense of purpose and direction. It also gives them a sense of choice, of ownership of the work that they are doing. They are responsible for the approach you are taking, and for making that approach work. They achieve within the standards of good work that they set for themselves, which lends a sense of pride and accomplishment. It also allows them to feel a sense of progress. That their work is on the right track and building toward something.
If employees do not feel the intrinsic rewards, they are dissatisfied. They are not empowered in their work. They start to feel like it is pointless, and this makes the job and employee both feel replaceable. These feelings are like to grow resentment over time, and drains the energy from a workforce.
Because intrinsically rewarding jobs lead to high retention of the empowered, high-energy, motivated workers, and make workers feel valued and excited about the impact they are making on the company they feel partially responsible for, it really is a win-win situation.
If you are not already, take a look at your management practices and your employee engagement. If you do not see a level of fostering intrinsic rewards, start building it into your training, your executive coaching, and your business core values. Engage the middle of your workforce, not just the top or the bottom. The company culture that you can build by focusing on engendering your workforce roles with the intrinsic rewards, the healthier your workforce -and your business- can be.