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What Motivates Your Employees?
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Rewards
By Rosanne D'Ausilio, Ph.D., President of Human Technologies Global, Inc.

I’ve been asked many times about how to, as well as, what motivates employees.

According to a Gallop Poll, the top 10 motivators are:

As you can see, the #1 motivator is public praise and recognition. However, in most organizations employee recognition is limited. Why? Because we all are very busy and don’t take the time. Or, I’m sorry to say, there still lingers the attitude, “Why should I recognize or thank him? That’s his job!”

Gallup says actively disengaged workers cost employers $292 billion to $355 billion a year. Furthermore, Gallup concluded that disengaged workers miss more days of work and are less loyal to employers.

So how do you motivate? Let’s distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation is when you want to do something. Extrinsic motivation is when somebody else tries to make you do something.

There are positives and negatives to both theories.

Some people believe employees will be their most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself, and not by external pressures or inducements.

Further, extrinsic motivation has drawbacks:

  1. It’s not sustainable - If you withdraw the reward, the motivation disappears.
  2. You get diminishing returns - If the reward stays at the same level, motivation slowly drops off. To get the same motivation next time thus requires a bigger reward.
  3. It hurts intrinsic motivation - Rewarding people for doing something removes their innate desire to do it on their own.

However, Incentive’s 2008 Gift Card IQ Survey reported that 80.2% of companies use gift certificates/gift cards in their incentive, recognition, and reward programs. The top three types of cards are Dining/restaurant, Retail Store, and Enterainment. And the participants used these gift cards to Recognize Performance (over 70%), as a Sales Incentive (60%), and as Spot Rewards for 32%. This survey found that these cards were more effective than merchandise (60.2%), equally as effective 31.8%. And 73.1% of those surveyed thought these cards were effective. Do you fall into these categories?

Factors that create and sustain intrinsic motivation include:

  1. Being able to challenge yourself and accomplish new tasks.
  2. Having choices over what you do.
  3. Work with and help others.
  4. Happy at work, liking your job.

In the best scenario, the two should be combined into a complimentary fashion to promote motivation.

It would be remiss of me if I neglected to add that if you truly want to know what motivates a particular employee, ask them! Most people know and if they don’t, you can brainstorm with them using the above list as a guideline.

I also call your attention to #5 which is retraining and personal development. We are strong believers in investing in employees—the better care you take of your employees the better care they take of your customers. It is actually a win win for you, your employees, your company, your customers, and your shareholders. Customer service skills training reduces turnover, absenteeism, job tension, and increases communication skills, empathetic responsiveness, customer satisfaction and ultimately the bottom line.

About the Author
Rosanne D'Ausilio, Ph.D., industrial psychologist, President of Human Technologies Global, Inc., specializes in human performance management for contact centers, providing needs analyses, instructional design, and customized, live, world class customer service skills trainings.

Known as 'the practical champion of the human, she authors the best-sellers, Wake Up Your Call Center: Humanize Your Interaction Hub, 4th edition, Customer Service and The Human Experience and Lay Your Cards on the Table: 52 Ways to Stack You Personal Deck, and hot off the press How to Kick Your Customer Service Up A Notch: 101 Insider Tips as well as her popular ‘tips’ newsletter on How To Kick Your Customer Service Up A Notch! available at Reach her at