Motivating & engaging staff – extrinsic or external motivators


‘Engagement’ has materialised as a key way to enhance successful learning and improve work related concepts. Engagement is associated with everyday jobs in accordance with one’s capabilities and involves continuous learning and persistence because of the importance they attach to the job. Engagement cannot be taught or managed or coerced into happening, irrespective of whether one is an employee or a student, and is normally understood as an intrinsic feature that no one can control or direct. Engagement is much akin to IM or intrinsic motivation, the essentials of which are choice, competence, meaningfulness and progress.

Staff motivation is a perennial challenge for managers and supervisors, especially in company cultures that have not given sufficient emphasis to the matter of employee satisfaction in their basic business strategy. Managers have a twofold problem on their hands. They have to extract the maximum mileage from their employees and at the same time ensure that they retain their services without their being poached.

Motivation Explains Behaviour

In this highly competitive business scenario, employee satisfaction and retention are vital to the success of an organisation, because every competitor is continuously sizing up your employee as a potential recruit. One can reasonably conclude that improving the work environment alone cannot sustain as a motivation for the employees. You are constrained to retain your employees by all means, including intrinsic and extrinsic or external motivation. In other words, motivation purports to support a theory that explains behaviour, and is a logical word that symbolises the rationale for our needs, desires and actions, and explains why we act in a particular manner or develop a penchant for it.

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

External or Extrinsic motivation refers to behaviour powered by extraneous incentives in the shape of praise, grades, fame or money. Sometimes even visuals and highly prominent ads about one’s company motivates an employee to be a part of the organisation. External motivation therefore comes from outside, while intrinsic motivation comes from within the individual. An example of external motivation is that of an employee taking additional exams to further his career.

Motivation can also come from outside in the form of financial rewards, medals, media attention and the like. However, we caution that one must dole out external rewards in moderation, as too much of it might have an adverse effect on intrinsic motivation, by an occurrence called the “Over Justification Effect,” that cautions us to be watchful in the application of Operant Conditioning (a system of learning through punishments and rewards) that can weaken our intrinsic motivation.

One must always remember that every individual always analyses his or her own motivations before involving themselves in an activity. If they are already recipients of external rewards, they will continue to give precedence to these which reinforces their external reward based behaviour. Some employees also fear that external rewards can usher in obligations at a later stage.

Extrinsic Motivation:

  1. External motivation – Where environmental reward or punishment sustains the behaviour (Doing work for payment)
  2. Introjected motivation – Motivated by the wish to avoid accusations and guilt that are imposed internally (Doing work to sustain family and self)
  3. Identified Type of motivation – Referring to express self-identification (Do work for the sake of it)
  4. Integrated Regulation – Very close to intrinsic motivation where a person has already assimilated all rules/ regulations. However, this originates from an external source (the regulation).

Most industry managers use extrinsic motivation to motivate their staff and employees to complete critical tasks in time. Extrinsic motivation is often quick and easy to implement and becomes a default technique for managers to use.

You can find the use of external motivation in all lines of business. For example, supermarkets issue discount coupons and loyalty cards, while airlines offer air miles and companies reward their employees with commissions and bonuses.

From a gamification point of view extrinsic motivators can be a good start, and are useful for onboarding staff into your strategy quickly. In another article we will look at using intrinsic motivators for long term engagement.

About the author 

Pete Baikins

Pete Baikins is an international authority on gamification, a lifelong gamer, successful entrepreneur and a lecturer. As CEO of Gamification+ Ltd he mentors and trains companies world-wide on the use of gamification to solve business challenges. Gamification+ won the Board of Trade Award from the UK's Department of International Trade in January 2019.

Pete is co-host of the health gamification podcast Health Points and is also Chair of Gamification Europe, the annual conference for Gamification practitioners.

Pete is an Honorary Ambassador for GamFed (International Gamification Confederation), having previously been the Chair from 2014 to February 2019, whose aim is to spread best practices within and support the gamification industry.

After 15 years as a Lecturer on gamification and entrepreneurship at the University of Brighton he now guest lectures on Gamification at King’s College London and at ESCP Europe at post-graduate and under-graduate levels.

Over the past 20 years Pete has built and sold two businesses. One was in security software and the more recent one was a telecoms and internet connectivity business. He is also an Ambassador for Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce in the UK.

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