Monday, June 30, 2014

To motivate employees increase their sense of “causation”

Stress for Success

July 1, 2014 

Workplace stress takes on many forms. Moving further away from the Great Recession helps but there’s still plenty of other stress to take its place:
·         Still digging out of the financial consequences of the Great Recession;
·         Balancing home and work responsibilities;
·         Dealing with stressed out internal and external customers;
·         Deadlines, personality differences and the conflicts they produce;
·         Etc.

A casualty of this stress is employee motivation, which if suffered too long leads to burnout. And you don’t want your staff to get burned out since it usually requires drastic change to remedy, such as a getting a different job.

So what does and doesn’t work to increase employee motivation??

The research is in and it shows that rewards don’t really motivate, at least not for long. Rewards such as gifts, money, and benefits may be appreciated in the short run but according to much research these external motivators:
·         Can be perceived by the receiver as having strings attached - a controlling intention - which won’t motivate at all;
·         Refocus employees’ attention onto the reward to the point where the task suffers;
·         Rewards are difficult to end once started;
·         The most important reason: External attempts to motivate decrease a sense of causation on the part of the recipient, the true motivator that actually works;

Depending upon the intention of the person giving the reward (is it to recognize employees’ good efforts or to get them to work even harder?) will determine whether the reward motivates at all and if so for how long. Rewards tend to work better for recognizing people’s efforts if given with no strings or manipulative intentions attached.

The true motivators are intrinsic ones; specifically, conditions that increase a person’s sense of control – of causation.

Humans need to believe their own actions cause outcomes. That’s why bosses who include subordinates in decision-making and problem-solving in areas that affect their work become better managers with more productive employees. Bosses can also allow their employees to decide how work gets done as long as it meets the required outcome, rather than dictating how staff is to accomplish their work. This also explains why micromanaging is so demotivating.

Intrinsic motivators lead people to greater persistence, creativity and success. They’re so important that psychological researcher, Dr. Martin Seligman of the University of PA, says that developed nations’ workforces are moving from assuming that money is the primary motivator - you can only buy so many things, which are extrinsic (external) motivators that don’t work well - to understanding that being the authors of their own actions is what truly motivates. The challenge is for managers to help their employees be more in the driver’s seat of their own jobs.

To apply this to your workplace, you could hold regular quarterly or monthly meetings with your employees to seek their input about how you can give them more control over how they do their jobs. Also, ask their advice on identifying problems and their solutions. These employee involvements will lead to their “engagement,” another strong predictor of employee motivation.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at  Email her to request she speak to your organization at

Monday, June 02, 2014

Which is better, intrinsic or extrinsic motivation?

Stress for Success

June 3, 2014 

In my last article I shared self-motivation advice from Dr. Mary Ann Chapman whose suggestion seems counter-intuitive: daily keep in front of you the negative consequences of making no changes where you know you should change. So a person with painful arthritis who knows he should exercise but can’t quite make himself do it should keep reminders of sore joints in front of himself daily. Perhaps he could hang an advertisement for arthritis medicine that shows red, achy joints. Gross but possibly effective.

Another way to influence yourself is to search for intrinsic motivators, which can actually work, versus extrinsic ones that tend not to work as well or for very long.

Intrinsic comes from within yourself. Intrinsic motivation is driven by an interest or enjoyment in the task itself rather than needing external pressure or a reward. You want to take an action because it will help you achieve something you intrinsically value. So, losing ten pounds could be intrinsically motivating if you work at it to help you feel better physically.

Intrinsic motivation engages you in a behavior that is personally rewarding so you’re performing an activity for its own sake. Examples include:
  • ·         Participating in a sport you find enjoyable;
  • ·         Doing word puzzles because you find them challenging;
  • ·         Taking on work problems because they interest you;

Extrinsic motivation occurs when you do something to earn a reward or to avoid a punishment like:
  • ·         Studying because you want your parents to be proud of you;
  • ·         Cleaning your house to avoid others’ negative judgments of you;
  • ·         Earn lots of money to impress others;
  • ·         Lose ten pounds so others think you look good;

Which of these two motivators is more likely to be effective?

Studies have shown that offering excessive external rewards for an already internally rewarding behavior may actually lead to a reduction in its intrinsic worth, like kids rewarded for playing with a toy they already enjoyed. In a study, they became less interested in it after being externally rewarded.

Yet extrinsic motivation can help in situations to:
·         Spark your interest in something you have no initial curiosity about;
·         Learn new skills or knowledge, which once learned may become intrinsic motivators;
·         Be a source of feedback, allowing you to know when your performance has achieved a standard deserving reinforcement;

Something to learn from this information is to avoid extrinsic motivators where:
·         The person already finds an activity intrinsically rewarding;
·         Offering a reward may make a “play” activity seem more like “work;”

Even though intrinsic motivation is usually more effective, it’s not always possible. So use extrinsic rewards sparingly perhaps to get you to complete a task where you have no internal motivation.

Here are three important conclusions regarding extrinsic rewards’ influence on intrinsic motivation:
  1. 1.    Unexpected external rewards typically do not decrease intrinsic motivation. For example, you love working on a particular project and are intrinsically motivated to do so. Then your boss extrinsically rewards the team with dinner out. You’ll likely stay intrigued with or without a reward.
  2. 2.    Praise and positive feedback can help increase internal motivation, especially when what you’re being rewarded for is done better in comparison to others.
  3. 3.    A warning to contemporary parents: Intrinsic motivation decreases when external rewards are given for doing minimal work. Parents heaping lavish praise on their child every time she completes a simple task, sets her up to be less intrinsically motivated to perform that task in the future.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations have their uses. Make it a conscious choice which one you use to make it as effective as possible.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S. is an international speaker and a Stress and Wellness Coach.  Order her book, Let Your Body Win: Stress Management Plain & Simple, at  Email her to request she speak to your organization at