Are you more likely to do something just to do it or to get some type of reward for it? Most people will agree that a reward definitely makes it easier to want to do something, especially if it’s not necessarily what you’d rather be doing. This is how extrinsic motivation works. It’s a reward-based type of motivation that can be used to help you condition yourself to accomplish your goals, including being more productive.
Understanding Extrinsic Motivation
There are two main types of motivation, extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic applies to external rewards, while intrinsic refers to internal rewards, such as an inner drive to succeed at something you love.
External rewards is kind of vague, as the reward can be almost anything that motivates you to do something. According to Healthline, one of the most common and well-recognized forms is getting paid to do a job. You’re more motivated to work because you’re getting a paycheck to pay your bills and do things you want to do.
But, it’s not always a physical reward that drives you with extrinsic motivation. For some, intangible rewards work better. For example, your boss taking a minute to tell you what a great job you did on that last project is your reward. It then motivates you to do your best on the next project.
Is Extrinsic Motivation Effective?
The answer to this one is, it depends. Researchers have argued the effectiveness of reward-based motivation in published research studies since the 1970s. In one from 2014 that analyzed a variety of studies, researchers found that extrinsic motivation is indeed effective but can backfire in some situations.
A common argument is too many rewards hurt intrinsic motivation, meaning you become too expectant upon rewards to want to work toward something simply because it’s something you enjoy or desire. Instead of working toward a goal that you’re excited about, you’d wait until there was an external reward.
To simplify, this type of motivation is effective. However, it needs to be used moderately.
Workplace Reward Programs
When it comes to work, there are numerous types of rewards, such as salaries, raises, bonuses, vacation time, insurance, and more. You may also get praise from managers and co-workers. With all these rewards, employees should feel motivated all the time, right?
Over 50 years ago, psychologist Victor Vroom broke down what it takes for extrinsic motivation to work on employees or in the workplace. He listed three main variables:
- Expectancy – Employees need to see how and why increasing their effort will boost performance and how that would benefit them.
- Instrumentality – Employees then need to know that their extra hard work will not only be noticed but appreciated or rewarded.
- Valence – Finally, employees need to want the reward being offered.
This is often why one-size-fits-all approaches to this motivation don’t work. First, when working as a team, your performance may be hindered by others. Plus, how often do employers really take the time to show appreciation? Usually, they just demand you work harder or more hours.
Then there’s valence. One reward doesn’t work for everyone. Some want prestige, others want money, and some just want a better work/life balance.
Using Extrinsic Motivation for You
This is where you can take charge and create your own external rewards. Your employer may not know what you need, but you do. Let’s face it, we don’t always love the work we do. And when we don’t want to do something, we procrastinate, which kills productivity and leaves us scrambling to hit those last minute deadlines.
To make this approach work for you, you need to create your own personal rewards. What is it you could give yourself that would make it worth staying focused versus finding any excuse not to work? Maybe you want more time in the evenings with your children or want to master a new skill to add to your resume to later apply for your dream job. This is often the best way to reach your goals, by focusing on the rewards versus the work itself.
It’s important to know that you will need to change your rewards from time to time. As you get too used to a reward, it’s not as motivating. If you find yourself slipping, try something new.
Make a list of external rewards that make you feel excited. It’s also ideal to mix in intrinsic motivation, which sometimes drives people even more effectively. For example, if you have a hobby that you love, you probably make time to do it, no matter how busy your schedule. One of your rewards could be additional time for your hobby. This combines both types of motivation, driving you better than just one reward.
You can also find something you’re truly passionate about in your job. Focusing on this helps trigger intrinsic motivation as well.
Make your rewards personal to you, and extrinsic motivation is more likely to work. As excitement builds for your reward, you’ll stay focused better, increase your productivity, and get to the reward faster. You may in real need for some motivation if you’re experiencing burnout. Read on to learn how to tell if you’re suffering from working-from-home burnout.