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

By Wiss Associate

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, who comes to mind? Employees who seek to continually learn new things? Drive innovation? Take on additional responsibilities? These are your most engaged workers. They drive the organization forward and build your bottom line. Most firms have only a handful of these, so how can you create an environment that fosters motivation and increases engagement?

A 2013 Gallup study revealed 29 percent of U.S. employees rate themselves as engaged; 54 percent rate themselves as disengaged – they show up but are not engaged. They are unhappy and don’t feel connected to the firm’s success. Eighteen percent rate themselves as actively disengaged – acting out through gossip, complaining and negativity, having 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? Create an environment that speaks to employees’ inner and outer motivators, satisfies their needs and inspires them to act and engage.

It’s essential to have an authentic desire to help employees succeed. Your goal is to help individuals find personal and professional success, which will build the right culture and environment of motivation and engagement. Individuals are motivated by intrinsic motivators, which are tied to emotion and include a sense of purpose, autonomy, learning, creativity and mastery of skills, and extrinsic motivators such as raises, bonuses and promotions.

Firms must, at minimum, offer industry standard extrinsic motivators such as salary, vacation/PTO and bonuses, or they will foster employee dissatisfaction. Most corporate cultures stop there, and this can lead to problems. To build a sustained, highly engaged culture, rewards need to be balanced between fulfilling individuals’ basic extrinsic needs for security, salary, etc., and their intrinsic, emotional needs.

To build a culture that supports a sense of fulfillment through opportunities, education, mentoring and feedback:

  • Give employees challenging assignments to push themselves to be their best.
  • Give employees leeway to decide how to approach assignments.
  • Match employees with areas of strength and personal preference.
  • Give employees input on decision-making and involvement in new projects.
  • Educate employees on how their work supports the success of the firm.
  • Give 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.

How do you measure success? Discuss the outcomes with employees. Responses (intrinsic motivators) should be used to determine bonuses and raises (extrinsic motivators).

Firms focused on extrinsic rewards pressure employees to bill extra hours by rewarding top hours producers. Firms focused on intrinsic rewards but that 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.


Reach out to a Wiss team member for more information or assistance.

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