Career Analyst and TED speaker, Daniel Pink, revealed that the secret to high performance is not rewards or punishments, but an intangible intrinsic drive. The word “intrinsic” suggests that one is motivated not by external factors, but from an immeasurable force that is innate. This immeasurable force includes: a sense of accomplishment, competitiveness, and responsibility or even the keen interest and love for something.
To test the afore-mentioned hypothesis, psychologists Mark R. Lepper and David Greene from Stanford and the University of Michigan recruited fifty-one preschoolers aged between 3 and 4. It is crucial to note that all the selected preschoolers had a common interest in drawing.
The preschoolers were then randomly divided into three conditions:
Condition A: Expected Reward
In this condition, preschoolers were told beforehand that they were going to receive a certificate with a gold star upon completing the drawing activity.
Condition B: Surprise Reward
In this condition, preschoolers were going to receive the same certificate as those in Condition A, but were not told about it until the drawing activity finished.
Condition C: No Reward
In this condition, preschoolers were not expecting any reward and did not receive one.
All the preschoolers were then given 6 minutes to draw and at the end of it, they were rewarded based on their assigned conditions. Over the next few days, the same fifty-one preschoolers were being observed through one-way mirrors while they were left to go about doing their own activities. The observers were looking out to see how much time each of the preschoolers spent drawing on their own accord. Even though all the preschoolers were chosen in the first instance for their interest in drawing, it was found that preschoolers belonging to Condition A now only spent half as much time drawing than preschoolers in Condition B and C. In addition, judges also rated the drawings by preschoolers with Condition A to be less aesthetically pleasing.
This observation is known as the Over-Justification Effect. The Over-Justification Effect occurs when an external incentive like money or a prize, decreases a person’s intrinsic motivation to perform a task, as displayed by the preschoolers in Condition A. On the other hand, preschoolers with Condition B and C were intrinsically motivated to draw. They did not draw because they were going to receive a prize for it, but for the pleasure they got from drawing.
This experiment suggests that when rewards and incentives are imposed on individuals, the long-term effect of it will be a loss in intrinsic motivation followed by a decline in performance. This is because our mind subconsciously associates rewards with a task that is dull and unpleasant, hence eliminating our interest for it. Employers will also find that in order to reinforce or maintain an employee’s motivation, the carrot has to continually increase in size or the motivation will wane off. Therefore, igniting an employee’s intrinsic motivation to do work is more sustainable and effective.
Here are three key ways to motivate your employees intrinsically:
- Challenge your employees
Giving your employees more challenging work is subtlety saying, “I am giving you this task because I know you can do it”. Your employees will then feel motivated to prove themselves. Nobody likes being stuck doing the same things over and over again. If you assign similar, no-brainer tasks to your employees, it is only a matter of time before they become unmotivated to work. It is understandable that every function tends to have routine or clerical work that needs to be done – and that could be what your employee was initially hired for. However, as a manager, your responsibility includes growing people, and you are not growing your employees if you do not push them to step out of their boundaries. It is therefore important to continuously think of new ways to challenge your employees and make them feel highly regarded.
- Allow autonomy
Do not micro-manage! Doing so indicates to your employees that you do not trust them. When you give your employees some control, they will feel a sense of responsibility and consequently take more pride in their work.
- Give meaningful and positive recognition
This is the most fundamental way of motivating your employees without any rewards or incentives. Simply by recognising the hard work put in by your employees and articulating it to them, it will make your employees feel valued and motivated to do even better.
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