In-Depth Look at Organizational Motivators

In psychology, motivation is defined as, “a need or desire that energizes and directs behavior” (Myers & Dewall, 2016). Motivations are derived from a mixture of nature and nurture and they determine what we choose to do and how we choose to do them. Psychologists have presented many different factors that influence motivation and concepts of motivation. Motivation is a highly applicable concept to our daily lives.
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There is one area where motivation plays a particularly large role and that is in organizational settings, namely the workplace. Work motivation has been defined as “a set of energetic forces that originates within as well as beyond an individual’s being, to initiate work-related behavior, and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration” (Tremblay, Blanchard, Taylor, Pelletier, & Villeneuve, 2009). To determine work motivation, one can look at attention, effort, and persistence.
When considering types of motivation, the types that are most commonly assessed are intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is defined as the desire to perform a behavior effectively for its own sake. Extrinsic motivation is defined as the desire to perform a behavior to receive rewards or to avoid punishment (Myers & Dewall, 2016). These are motives that drive human behavior.
Intrinsic motivation explains why people want to engage in behaviors rather than why they have to engage in behaviors. Intrinsic motivation has also been defined as the innate human desire to apply and advance one’s skills through practice (Hannam & Narayan, 2015). Individuals that identify as intrinsically-motivated are usually more curious, more cognitively flexible, and more willing to accept new knowledge. They are often more likely to be creative and research to find answers. Intrinsic behavior promotes behavior because of satisfaction. Intrinsic motivation affects many workplace outcomes and functions of the workplace. Findings suggest that intrinsic factors were more influential in training retention than extrinsic factors (Lloyd, Bond, & Flaxman, 2017). Individuals that are intrinsically motivated genuinely care about the work they are doing and look for better ways to do the work. These people have a sense of fulfillment for the work they do. Intrinsic motivation is about pursing something worthwhile and directing activities toward a meaningful purpose (Thomas, 2000).
While the popular belief is that companies exist solely to make a profit, that may not be the case. The missions of successful organizations are centered around the quality of their products and services, value, and employee-friendly workplaces (Chalofsky, 2010). While many people say they go to work for the money, money is not what motivates us to work. It is needed to function but typically money comes after work-life balance, satisfaction, and learning when it comes to motivators. One study suggests that work-life balance is the first priority for 78 percent of workers and 70 percent of males reported being willing to give up pay for more time with families (Chalofsky, 2010).
One theory that goes hand-in-hand with intrinsic motivation is self-determination theory. Self-determination theory suggests that we are intrinsically motivated to engage in behaviors because they fulfill psychological needs such as: autonomy, competence, and relatedness (Beal & Ghandour, 2010). As humans, we must meet these psychological needs and the workplace is one of the most important settings to achieve these needs. Many Americans work 5 or more days a week and this is a huge part of our daily lives and routines, which makes it a perfect place to work towards meeting these needs. Self-determination theory also suggests that intrinsically-motivated behaviors lead to well-being. Jobs designed to meet these psychological needs lead to overall effectiveness and greater well-being (Beal & Ghandour, 2010). SDT looks at the nature of the motivation and assumes that humans are active and growth-oriented. This theory applies to activities individuals find interesting, challenging, or pleasing and will distinguish between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation (Tremblay et al., 2009).
Another theory that supports the intrinsic motivation and well-being connection is called Affective Events Theory. Affective Events Theory suggests that engaging in enjoyable work behaviors daily leads to positive affect, which then can lead to well-being. Level of intrinsic motivation is task specific and can influence affect and cognitions while performing a task which suggests that positive affect associated with intrinsic motivation leads these individuals to view their environment as more favorable (Hannam & Narayan, 2015). Overall, outlook differs with intrinsically motivated individuals which means they may be more likely to do something they enjoy.
Two aspects of organizational behavior that Maslow, Hersberg, and Aldefer advocated for are more critical in today’s world than ever. These aspects are intrinsic motivation and growth (Chalofsky, 2010). Since the 1970’s theories have evolved regarding intrinsic processes. Csikszentmihalyi, an author, conducted research about intrinsic motivation while studying people’s work behavior and looked at many different types of occupations. He found what he called a flow, which consists of fun, sense of mastery, and potential for growth (Chalofsky, 2010). Albert Bandura takes these studies a step further and his social cognitive theory looks at what motivates us towards goals and behaviors, based on our level of competence. Bandura suggests that performance-goal orientation comes from extrinsic motivational interest and people who see themselves as having greater abilities pursue learning goals that meet the need of self-enhancement (Chalofsky, 2010).
Extrinsic motivation in the workplace refers to things such as money and gift cards. Many companies look to implement incentive programs when performance is not up to par. It is suggested that often employees can view this as a manipulation tactic (McKenna, 2011). Pay compensates employees for their time, effort, and skills but does it really affect how well employees perform or use these skills? Economic Agency Theory supports the use of compensation to further performance and motivation. This theory suggests that if employees are given more pay they will be more motivated to behave in ways that benefit the organization. Extrinsic motivation is related to rewards received (Olafsen, Halvari, Forest, & Deci, 2015). When a workplace activity is not intriguing, it may require extrinsic motivation to elicit a desired behavior. Self-determination theory looks at four types of extrinsic motivation including: external regulation, introjected regulation, identified regulation, and integrated regulation (Olafsen et al., 2015). External regulation is very similar to operant theory as it looks at motivation to receive rewards and avoid punishment.
Equity theory can also explain the issue with using extrinsic motivators. Equity theory is when employees are motivated to maintain consistency between their outcomes and their counterpart’s outcomes to determine salary (Carr, McLoughlin, Hodgson, & MacLachlan,1996). The higher paid employee would view changing workplace behaviors as impractical and any changed behavior would likely be short-lived. There are many instances of extrinsic rewards systems in workplaces that have not produced desire results. Research suggests that in relation to extrinsically-motivated individuals, intrinsically-motivated individuals produce greater results and are more beneficial to organizations.
Being able to understand motivation is key to being able to use motivation to your advantage. In an organization, understanding what motivates your employees is key to success. When a company knows what motivates their employees, they are able to provide opportunities or activities to meet these motivational needs. Fortune’s 100 Best Places to Work is a list of best organizations to work for in existence. These organizations are great to work for because of their organizational cultures and policies that promote meaningful work and a supportive workplace instead of benefits and financial perks (Chalofsky, 2010). Organizations are continuously hearing requests from employees about what they want in their work environments. The most common request is more control over work and more work-life balance, as well as personal growth in their work. Recognition for need of organizations to meet new workplace demands of this century are increasing (Chalofsky, 2010). Alignment of purpose, relationships, values and activities create meaningful work for employees and provide them with intrinsic motivation.
Motivation is useful for the simple fact that it has been shown to predict behavior in the workplace. Intrinsic motivation is a predictor of creativity and creativity is important to an organization because it is associated with enjoyment and interest in tasks being performed. Employees that are individually motivated also view their organization as more favorable and positive (Hannam & Narayan, 2015). Their level of motivation will influence their thoughts and affect while performing tasks. When employees view their environment as favorable, they have less environmental stressors. Intrinsically-motivated employees are also more likely to view a work task as an opportunity rather than a chore. This will result in better outcomes for the organization. Intrinsic motivation is also related to positive outcomes, like goal attainment (Olafsen et al., 2015). Baby boomers have been questioning meaning and purpose in their work and studies found that executives that lost their jobs but were still financially comfortable still valued meaningful work independence over everything else (Chalofsky, 2010). Overall, motivation creates better environments. Not only is performance better and more productive but environmental stressors are reduced and creativity is promoted.
Tremblay and his fellow researchers (2009) used the Work Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation Scale (WEIMS) to discover the applicability of motivation in different work environments. The WEIMS consisted of 18 items to assess intrinsic motivation, integrated, identified, and external regulations. Results from this study found that there is applicability of motivation in different work environments. This shows the importance of assessing motivation to improve work environments.
Research suggests that extrinsic motivation is not as powerful of a predictor of performance and job satisfaction as many would believe. One study examines outcomes associated with extrinsic motivators such as pay. Results supported that monetary rewards did not enhance intrinsic motivation and, in fact, as profound implications for organizations attempting to better motivate their employees (Olafsen et al., 2015). Researchers did find a strong positive relationship between need satisfaction and intrinsic work motivation and found that extrinsic motivators were not related to need satisfaction (Olafsen et al., 2015).
Research is also pointed towards intrinsic motivation as a powerful predictor of performance and job satisfaction. Job satisfaction in the past generally increased as people aged form their twenties to their thirties and in 1973, almost half of workers between the ages of 30 and 40 reported being very satisfied with their jobs. Now job satisfaction between these ages is no higher than among the 18 to 29 age group. Generations X and Y are questioning meaning and purpose of work more than those before (Chafolsky, 2010). This is the reason many organizations are trying to provide a more work-life balance, an intrinsic motivator. One study looked at salespeople from different firms. They were given questionnaires to determine their engagement in learning orientation and performance orientation. Results of this study indicated that those with a learning orientation worked smart and hard while those who had performance orientation just worked hard. Because salespeople are generally motivated with extrinsic means to meet targets and goals, not achieving those targets result in no incentives. The study suggests that the negative implication associated with not reaching the goal is worse than not receiving the incentive because it demotivates the salespeople (Chafolsky, 2010).
Another study looks at job attitude and motivation differences between volunteers and employees from similar organizations. The expectation was that volunteers would report greater intrinsic motivation, job satisfaction, and less intent to leave the organization. Researchers also expected them to report their activities as more “praiseworthy” than employees. Research findings confirmed this expectation (Pearce, 1983). They also found that professors that were uncommitted to their jobs showed a positive relationship between salary and job satisfaction (Pearce, 1983). This finding suggests that employees that are uncommitted to their organization will be motivated more extrinsically.
Not only is commitment higher with intrinsic motivation, there is also a retention of information in the training process of individuals with intrinsic motivations. Trainees that perceived more intrinsic value in attending training showed more motivation to attend and learned more from the training (Lloyed et al., 2017). Sense of recognition, an intrinsic motivator, also has been demonstrated to predict training retention more so than extrinsic factors (Lloyd et al., 2017).
Beal and Ghadnour (2011) conducted research to examine intrinsic task motivation as a positive affective event. The study looked at how processes of affect can be altered by routine work conditions. This includes work tasks that are intrinsically rewarding. The expectation as that intrinsically motivating tasks viewed as enjoyable would result in positive affect. Findings indicate that yesterday’s intrinsically motivating tasks has a continued positive effort on the next day’s positive affect (Beal & Ghadnour, 2011).
Research discussed heavily supports the idea that intrinsic motivation predicts job satisfaction, affect, performance, and training retention. The next question is: How can organizations implement this knowledge into their systems? The first key is to assess motivation in the workplace. The assessments of motivation must be practical, flexible, and accessible through many different means (Tremblay et al., 2009). Objective measures are typically preferred because they minimize human judgment. Self-report measure can be used to measure employee motivation, as well as peer ratings (Tremblay, 2009).
Organizations can start directing their activities towards a meaningful purpose. Keeping in mind that it is not so much about the tasks as the purpose of the task that creates meaningfulness is important to accomplish this. Managers can raise the intrinsic motivation of their employees through means of education, measurement, and creative action (Thomas, 2000). Managers can make sure employees are learning lessons of intrinsic motivation and recognizing types of intrinsic rewards. They can also take regular note of their employees’ sense of meaningfulness. Managers may then help employees focus energy on factors that improve intrinsic motivation (Thomas, 2000). Organizations can redesign jobs and job activities to implement more intrinsically-motivating activities as well.
Increasing motivation in current employees will definitely benefit the organization in the long run but it is also necessary to look at incoming employees. Hiring individuals that exhibit behaviors related to intrinsic motivation will help the organization further it’s mission. An organization that values its mission and values will especially benefit from employing intrinsically-motivated individuals. Public sector organizations usually have missions with broader scopes and more profound impacts (Wright, 2007). These organizations will typically attract individuals that want to perform in a more altruistic manner. These organizations will typically place less value on financial rewards than on helping others and the people they serve. When employees feel like they are contributing to the public service mission of their organization, an intrinsic reward is provided by the organization (Wright, 2007).
Another way an organization can motivate employees from an intrinsic perspective is by increasing performance-goal commitment. Goal commitment determines the extent to which the employee is determined to reach a performance goal. Employees with high goal commitment are more likely to confront obstacles and reach the goals quicker and more effectively. These goals must also be viewed by the employee as meaningful (Wright, 2007). When organizational managers meet with their subordinates to determine a goal, they will feel more involved. This goal will be more meaningful if the employee has a say in the goals they set. They will feel more intrinsically motivated.
Research suggests that motivation is crucial in determining how to improve the organization, as well as the performance of employees within the organization. When employees are motivated by something other than pay, an extrinsic reward, they feel like their work is more meaningful. When employees find meaning in their work, they retain information, feel more satisfied, and have a positive mood. There is a long history of organizations providing extrinsic rewards to improve their employees’ performance and to meet company-wide goals. The research suggests that intrinsic motivation is the key to performance and satisfaction. Employees now are becoming more concerned with these intrinsic motivators than ever before. It is time the concept of motivation is applied in all organizations for the betterment of their employees’ well-being and the success of the organization.

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