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How to Use Intrinsic Motivation to Improve Employee Performance

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Most people think that the key to employee motivation is giving performance-based raises. People will work harder for an uptick in their monthly paycheck. 

But this common motivation tactic doesn't actually do much, according to a Harvard Business Review article that detailed the findings of an analysis of 120 years of previous research. They found little correlation between pay and job satisfaction. One analysis cited found that incentives targeting extrinsic motivations actually had a negative impact on employees' intrinsic motivation -- and this was particularly true where job tasks are interesting rather than boring.

More money does not equal more motivation. Instead, intrinsic motivators are the keys to success and improved engagement in the workplace. 

So here are a few simple ways to motivate your employees when raises and rewards fail:

1) Create a Culture of Respect

Emily Post, who wrote the definitive guide on etiquette, once said, "Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use."

Studies have quantified the positive impact an atmosphere of consideration and respect has on stimulating creative output. Nothing saps energy or creativity like dreading having to work with someone who's dismissive, short-tempered, or just plain mean.

It's easy to get caught up in fast-approaching deadlines or in the breadth of details of a major campaign for a key client. Even so, your agency's leadership team is responsible for maintaining a culture of personal respect.

We're all adults, and sometimes difficult conversations must be held. But that's not license to treat people badly. Think of all the mental health days you'll save because none of your employees have those days where they just can't bear going into the office and having to deal with so-and-so.

2) Give People Their Time Away

Having said that, your employees don't exist solely in the agency environment. They're people with lives outside of work. An important way to treat them with kindness and respect is to show them that their work-life balance matters to you. 

Keep an eye out for employees who never take their vacation time. Insist that they do so. Carrying our work on our phones has its advantages, but it keeps us tethered to the office as well. Enforce stricter boundaries between work and personal time. Do your employees really need to reply to emails sent at 10 p.m.? What's the underlying lapse that resulted in a 10 p.m. email anyway? Address that instead of expecting employees to be on call 24/7.

When one agency owner re-interviewed his employees to learn more about them and what motivated them, he was struck how many of them are active in efforts meaningful to them outside of work, whether it was with some cause or helping their own families. And many articles on inspiring the intrinsic motivation of employees talk about finding a higher mission of the company as a motivator. But let's be real. Very few companies are looking to cure disease and end social injustices. Even if you're doing campaigns for the organizations that are, don't make your agency shoulder the burden of helping your employees find meaning in their life. Just give them space and time to find and express their own personal vision of an examined life.

3) Mentor Them

Two years from now, few employees will want to keep doing the exact same work they're doing now. Motivate employees by providing them unambiguous paths to grow professionally. Theoretical potential won't do.

This means constructive feedback on current work, as well as consistent opportunities to take on new tasks and projects. In addition, set aside budget to pay for employees to attend formal training and conferences, both online and in-person.

Always promote from within wherever possible. If it's not possible, that's a big red flag that your staff isn't getting the mentoring and growth opportunities they need. You need them to grow so your agency can continue to service ever higher quality clients, instead of having to react to high employee churn because they leave to find their opportunities elsewhere.

Leadership Matters

Implementing these motivation strategies requires a compatible agency culture. And culture starts with the agency leadership.

According to a recent Gallup study measuring the engagement of 27 million employees all over the world, managers account for 70% of the variation of employee engagement. Clearly, no single factor determines the level of employees' motivation more than their managers. Everyone reports to someone. Don't expect your leadership team to be the employee-motivating managers you need them to be if you're not providing the same.

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