Conslt Article

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Rewards for Increased Motivation

  • Motivation
Conslt Coaching - 24 Oct 2017

Do you sometimes struggle to motivate yourself to tackle the challenges you face in your day-to-day life? Do you feel that the people you manage or employ could be more enthused about what they are working on? The good news is that, for both individuals and businesses, there are opportunities to improve motivation through alternate reward systems. The expected answer to questions like ‘how can I incentivise my staff to work harder?’ seems obvious: pay them more. Those doing the paying and those receiving it are likely to both think that an increase in salary as a reward for services provided will make the receiver happy, and compel them to repeat their behaviour in the future. They would be correct in this thinking, but only to a certain point. A survey of 1000 Americans verifies this; showing that happiness increased in line with salary up to around $75,000, roughly £55,000. Backing this up, analysis of data from the Cabinet Office’s Wellbeing and Policy Report shows that there are many jobs which provide disproportionately high happiness levels relative to their salary. Examples of these professions are fitness instructors and school secretaries, with the happiest profession being the clergy, with an average income of around £20,000. Not only can different reward systems have an impact on happiness and motivation, but they can also influence creative thinking and innovation. In 1962, gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker’s candle problem was adapted by the Canadian professor Sam Glucksberg, with the results confirming the above hypothesis. The candle problem measures a participant’s problem solving capabilities by requiring them to fix and light a candle on a wall using only a book of matches and a box of thumbtacks. The solution, in short, is to remove the tacks from the box and use them to pin it to the wall, and then put the lit candle inside the box. Glucksberg manipulated the task in a few ways; starting the task with the tacks either inside or outside of the box, and offering a cash prize to some of the participants. The task clearly requires more creative thinking when the tacks are inside the box, however those offered the cash prize actually did worse on this version than those offered nothing. Why was this the case? It seems that rewards result in a narrowed focus, and therefore can stifle creative thinking and innovation. So, if extrinsic rewards have limited efficacy, how can we further motivate ourselves and/or our employees? In his TED talk on motivation, Daniel Pink gives three examples of intrinsic reward areas which can be fairly easily addressed; autonomy, mastery and purpose. Autonomy is giving the freedom to make choices. Arguably, as an individual outside of the ‘workplace’ you should already have given yourself the freedom to work on what you please. However, clarification of the reasons behind the work you are doing can help you to realise that the perhaps tiresome task you may currently be (un)focused on is actually part of an autonomous lifestyle choice. Inside the workplace, one of the main ways to promote autonomy is through correct management of your employees. Moving towards a more permissive management style and taking input from the group in order to make decisions could be a good start. Giving employees a set time period to work on their own creative tasks has also resulted in great successes, like Gmail from Google’s 20% time. Mastery involves giving employees the space and tools to allow them to master their crafts. In his book ‘Mastery’, Robert Greene advises seekers of mastery to work efficienctly, get out of their comfort zones, make mistakes, and take responsibility, repeating this process for about 10,000 hours. As an individual, do you take this approach to learning? As an employer, do your employees have an environment in which they can take such an approach? Purpose requires individuals to clarify the meaning behind their work and how it aligns with their life goals. Those who have not thought about this should begin by taking difficult first step of defining their purpose and intermediary goals, and can then work on only tasks which are going to move them closer to their desired destination. Employers can give their employees the opportunity to realise their purposes and to learn skills and gain experience aligned to them. In conclusion, we should realise that extrinsic rewards can only go so far in rewarding and motivating ourselves and our employees, and that we can use some clever management and introspection to give ourselves a boost. Recommended further reading: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us - Daniel H. Pink, Mastery - Robert Greene, Flow - Mihaly Csizksentmihalyi.

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