Your Full-Service Accounting + Business Growth Advisory Partner

How to Foster Employee Motivation and Engagement

Intrinsic and extrinsic drivers of employee motivation and how they shape employee engagement

By Kimberly Bustamante

Highly engaged employees make the customer experience. Disengaged employees break it.” -Timothy R. Clark

When you think about the most passionate people you work with, the ones who are the most energetic and enthusiastic about what they do, who comes to mind? Which employees seek to continually learn new things? Drive innovation? Take on additional responsibilities?

Employees who fit these descriptions are your most engaged workers. They help drive the organization forward and build your bottom line. Unfortunately, most firms have only a handful of these highly engaged and motivated workers, and while you cannot motivate someone directly (a person must motivate themselves), the good news is that you can create an environment that fosters motivation and increases engagement.

A 2013 Gallup study revealed that only 29% of US employees rate themselves as “engaged” at work. What about the rest?

54% rate themselves as “disengaged” – meaning they show up every day but are not engaged in their work. They lack enthusiasm, are less likely to show initiative, step up for new assignments, or to help others. Whether or not they admit it, they are unhappy at work. They don’t feel connected to the success of the firm.

18% rate themselves as “actively disengaged” meaning they are not just unhappy at work – they act out on that unhappiness through behaviors such as gossip, complaining, negativity and mocking firm culture. This can have a direct negative effect on your bottom line.

How can you create a work environment that helps foster and sustain a high level of employee motivation and engagement?

Motivation is personal to each individual. You can’t “motivate” someone from the outside (at least not in a sustainable way), it needs to come from within and is based on their needs and values. You can create an environment that speaks to their inner and outer motivators, satisfies their needs and inspires them to act and engage.

It’s essential to approach this task from the right viewpoint – an authentic desire to help employees succeed. Your goal is to help individuals find personal and professional success.  Through this you will automatically build the right culture and environment of motivation and engagement.

Individuals are motivated by a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic drivers. Intrinsic motivators are tied to emotion and include things such as a sense of purpose, autonomy, learning, enjoyment of overcoming challenges, creativity, freedom and mastery of skills. Extrinsic motivators are rewards earned from external sources such as raises, bonuses, promotions, offices and preferred parking spaces.

Extrinsic motivators are a necessary component in job satisfaction – firms must at minimum offer industry standard for rewards such as salary, vacation/PTO and bonuses, or they will foster resentment and employee dissatisfaction. Most corporate cultures stop there and this can lead to problems. External rewards show initial spikes in motivation (such as when employees are more productive after a bonus) but these gains are not sustained and greater, more frequent external rewards are needed in order to continue to motivate the employee. In addition, external motivators can have a negative impact on performance because employees become disappointed when their reward expectations are not met or exceeded. In order to build a sustained, highly engaged culture, rewards need to be balanced between fulfilling the individual’s basic extrinsic needs for security, salary, etc. and their intrinsic, emotional needs.

How do you develop rewards around intrinsic motivators when they are unique to each individual? How do you create a sense of fairness when working with rewards based on emotions and values? Build a culture that supports a sense of fulfillment through opportunities, education, mentoring and feedback. Some examples:

  • Allow opportunities for employees to experience challenging assignments. This motivates individuals to push themselves to be their best.
  • Give leeway to employees to make decisions on how to approach assignments. This creates a sense of autonomy and ownership.
  • Match employees with areas of strength and personal preference. This helps activate internal drivers as impetus for performing work.
  • Allow opportunities for input on decision-making and involvement in new projects. This promotes a sense of value and respect and employees feel vested in the outcome.
  • Educate employees on how their work supports the success of the firm. Employees who feel valued produce higher-quality work.
  • Give regular, ongoing feedback and communicate a clear path for advancement and employees will feel vested in the firm and be motivated to contribute to its success.
  • Look for ways to help create a sense of connection with peers (shared experiences, teaching, group assignments, promote shared credit).

How do you measure success? Discuss the outcomes of these activities with employees. Who benefitted? What did the employee learn? How have they grown professionally and personally? Has the quality of their work improved? What leadership qualities have they exhibited? Are they meeting expectations/deadlines without oversight? What types of activities have they volunteered to participate in, and what was the result? How has their work impacted the firm/client? The responses to these types of questions (intrinsic motivators) should be included as one piece of information used to determine bonuses and raises (extrinsic motivators).

It’s important to note that motivators carry over to the clients. Firms focused on extrinsic rewards inadvertently exert pressure on employees to bill extra hours to clients by rewarding top hours producers with attractive year-end bonuses. Firms focused solely on intrinsic rewards such as opportunity and autonomy but who do not offer industry standard benefits have high employee dissatisfaction and turnover. A firm that implements a mix of extrinsically and intrinsically driven rewards is most effective at motivating employees and creating a sustained cultural environment of highly motivated and engaged employees that supports business growth.

As Director of Operations for Wiss & Company LLP, Kim Bustamante is responsible for internal processes and procedures, day-to-day firm activities, resource management and culture-keeping at the firm. Reach her at or 973.994.9400.

Copyright 2019, Wiss & Company, LLP Accountants & Consultants. All rights reserved.