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    Rewards Part 2: 4 Intrinsic Rewards That Drive Employee Engagement

    by Kristi Shoemaker / March 14, 2012

    This is part two of a three part series on sales incentive programs. In part one we defined the difference between Intrinsic Rewards versus Extrinsic Rewards.  In part twoincentive programs intrinsic reards we share  descriptions of the four intrinsic rewards and how workers view them. This information comes from a powerful article we found on Rewards and Recognition written by Kenneth Thomas, author of Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement.


    The Four Intrinsic Rewards

    Sense of meaningfulness

    This reward involves the meaningfulness or importance of the purpose you are trying to fulfill. You feel that you have an opportunity to accomplish something of real value—something that matters in the larger scheme of things. You feel that you are on a path that is worth your time and energy, giving you a strong sense of purpose or direction.

    Sense of choice

    You feel free to choose how to accomplish your work—to use your best judgment to select those work activities that make the most sense to you and to perform them in ways that seem appropriate. You feel ownership of your work, believe in the approach you are taking, and feel responsible for making it work.

    Sense of competence

    You feel that you are handling your work activities well—that your performance of these activities meets or exceeds your personal standards, and that you are doing good, high-quality work. You feel a sense of satisfaction, pride, or even artistry in how well you handle these activities.

    Sense of progress

    You are encouraged that your efforts are really accomplishing something. You feel that your work is on track and moving in the right direction. You see convincing signs that things are working out, giving you confidence in the choices you have made and confidence in the future.


    Levels of intrinsic rewards

    Professor Walter Tymon (Villanova University) developed and refined a measure of the four intrinsic rewards, now available as the Work Engagement Profile. Together with our colleagues, we have used it for research, training, and interventions in a number of organizations in the U.S., Canada, and India.

    We found it useful to break down each reward into three levels—high (the top 25% of our norm sample), middle-range (middle 50%), and low (bottom 25%).

    High-range scorers experience the four intrinsic rewards most intensely. These rewards are highly energizing and engaging.

    Middle-range scorers experience these same rewards to a more moderate degree—as somewhat positive but limited. For example, their work may seem reasonably meaningful when they stop to think of it; they may have a fair amount of choice but have to live with some decisions that don’t make sense to them; they may feel they do most things pretty well but not a few others; and they may feel they are making some progress but less than they would like. They experience these reward levels as moderately energizing and engaging—enough to put in a “fair day’s work,” but end up feeling less satisfied than they would like.

    Low-range scorers are dissatisfied with many aspects of their work. They may feel their work is relatively meaningless or pointless, that they are unable to make or influence decisions about how to do their work, are unable to perform work activities very well, and are making little or no headway. Experiencing these feelings drains the workers of energy and they are likely to become cynical and resentful about their job over time.


    Important benefits of the intrinsic rewards

    Research findings to date reveal the widespread benefits of the above intrinsic rewards for both organizations and employees.

    From the organization’s viewpoint, our data confirm the impact of the intrinsic rewards on employee self-management. For example, people with high reward levels show greater concentration and are rated as more effective by their bosses. But the benefits extend beyond self-management. The intrinsic rewards are strong predictors of retention. Note that this is the “right” kind of retention—keeping the people who are energized and self-managing rather than those who can’t afford to leave. We find that employees with high levels of intrinsic rewards also become informal recruiters and marketers for their organization. They recommend the organization to friends as a place to work and recommend its products and services to potential customers.

    The intrinsic rewards are also a relatively healthy and sustainable source of motivation for employees. There is little chance of burnout with this form of motivation. Workers with high reward levels experience more positive feelings and fewer negative ones on the job. Their job satisfaction is higher, they report fewer stress symptoms, and are more likely to feel that they are developing professionally.

    Overall, the intrinsic rewards seem to create a strong, win/win form of motivation for both an organization and its employees—and one which suits the times. This type of motivation is focused on the shared desire that employees’ work makes an effective contribution to meaningful purposes, so that it is performance-driven. It embodies the kind of self-management and professional development demanded by younger workers. It does not depend on large outlays of money to generate extra effort, so that it is feasible when funds are tight. Furthermore, intrinsic rewards do not require that a boss be present, as exemplified by the growth of the virtual work and telecommute environments.

    Despite these benefits, however, a number of managers underestimate the importance of intrinsic rewards, and continue to treat financial rewards as the key factor in motivating others. While some of this bias may simply come from their use and familiarity with older models, there is another explanation. Research shows that, although people are quick to recognize the role of intrinsic rewards in their own behavior, there is a general tendency to assume that other people are motivated mostly by money and self-interest.8 In our workshops, for example, managers are commonly surprised to learn that intrinsic rewards are valued as much by their employees as by themselves. So, it is important to educate the managers in your organization on this issue.


    Read Part One: Understand Intrinsic Rewards vs Extrinsic

    Learn more about the Compensation / Rewards / Recognition Pillar of Sales Productivity


    About The Author:

    Kenneth Thomas

    Kenneth W. Thomas is an emeritus professor, researcher, and developer of training materials. He is co-author of the best-selling Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI), and the author of Intrinsic Motivation at Work: What Really Drives Employee Engagement (Berrett-Koehler, 2009). This article is based on the book.

    previous post Rewards Part 1: Understand Intrinsic Rewards vs Extrinsic
    Next Post Rewards Part 3: 7 Guidelines to a High-Engagement Culture
    Kristi Shoemaker

    Kristi Shoemaker

    Kristi is a marketing communications and public relations expert with over 30+ years of experience in a variety of industries. She was an integral part of EcSell's go-to-market strategy and execution from 2008 - 2012. Kristi enjoys taking a holistic approach by integrating all the key marketing disciplines to create synergies that generate maximum results. She is currently the president of KLS Consulting in Lincoln, Nebraska.

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