Nurturing Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

April 1st, 2024 – SkillCycle

Imagine your team showing up to work ready to dig in, make a difference, and deliver on your company goals. Most leaders dream of the potential that could come from fostering intrinsic motivation in the workplace, but inspiring employees to this level doesn’t happen overnight. 

A disconnect between how organizations and employees view and experience purpose at work could be to blame. Over 40% of employees report a lack of communication about purpose, while 32% say there is a lack of support for living out individual purpose, and 28% say purpose is inadequately connected to the performance management process at work, according to McKinsey.

“There’s no silver bullet answer,” says Andrew Hibschman, VP of Customer Success with SkillCycle. “However, a critical first step is recognizing that the barrier between personal and professional growth doesn’t exist.”

In this article on fostering intrinsic motivation in the workplace, we’ll explore:

  • The connection between personal and professional growth 
  • How a purpose-driven team benefits your organization
  • Dismantling common beliefs about what motivates employees
  • How to increase intrinsic motivation in the workplace


Understanding the connection between personal and professional growth

How can leaders influence the motivation levels of their employees? By building a culture that recognizes their value as humans and as employees of the company and supports both. When employees feel company leadership is willing to invest in their personal and professional development, they can develop a sense of purpose that fuels performance in powerful ways.

“When there is alignment between personal and professional growth, employees get the sense that their company sees them as someone worth nurturing and that their personal growth and how they develop in their career trajectory benefit the company as well,” says Hibschman.

Employees contribute to the company by contributing to their own growth and development. Leaders must understand the overlapping nature of these two truths, then must weave support for both into how employees work, learn, and grow with the company. 


How a purpose-driven team benefits your organization

Once a company connects the personal development of its employees to positive outcomes across the organization, it becomes easier to make investments in employee growth. Aligning company and employee goals is a significant driver of performance. 

Retention is one major benefit of nurturing motivation within your teams. Improving the connection employees feel with the mission or purpose of their organization leads to an 8.1% decrease in turnover and a 4.4% increase in profitability, according to Gallup.

“Intrinsically motivated, purpose-aligned employees stay at a company, full stop,” says Hibschman.

Keeping people from leaving your company is a good thing. But consider for a moment the caliber of the people you’ll be keeping. Investing in people develops employees who will grow, innovate, and potentially lead your company someday. 

“Employees who are driven by intrinsic motivation need less hand-holding and guidance,” says Hibschman. “They have a clear sense of direction and are more willing to pursue independently led projects or to reach solutions on their own.”

Empowered employees are better equipped for higher performance. Let’s compare two examples of building a sense of purpose at work and the results they might inspire.

For example, imagine someone in sales receiving feedback that focuses simply on business outcomes. You tell them to increase their sales numbers by 10% by the end of the next quarter. What would that employee take away from the conversation to improve their performance? The message is vague: do better.

In contrast, imagine a conversation that includes a discussion of how an employee has improved relevant skills. Perhaps their sales manager has noticed that they’ve invested time in improving their communication skills, and that’s translating to better sales calls. The employee may have received workplace coaching around navigating difficult conversations, and their ability to overcome challenges with customers is improving. 

In the second example of building a sense of purpose at work, the messaging would focus on the employee’s growth, personally and professionally, and how it impacts results. It would be clear to both parties that investing time and effort into developing this employee is beneficial to everyone. 


Dismantling common beliefs about what motivates employees

Many organizations want easy solutions for inspiring employees to better performance, but it’s not quite that simple. Employees can be driven by intrinsic motivation in the workplace, but how do you get them to care about performance reviews or sales targets?

There often needs to be more understanding of why employees join organizations and why they stay. Promotions and raises might keep some team members in your company, but these incentives don’t tend to make them feel committed to an organization. 

“The assumption is made that people have bought into what you’re trying to accomplish in your organization, and that will be enough to retain them,” says Hibschman. “However, personal growth keeps people in their roles — and companies.” 

Examining and breaking down assumptions is an excellent place to start, as these will likely be significant obstacles to creating a more purpose-driven workplace. 

Leaders should ask themselves what they have done so far to support their employees’ growth and how they communicate the value of that growth. What systems are in place to learn what matters to your employees, and is your work environment a safe place to grow? 


How to increase intrinsic motivation in the workplace

Leaders can create a culture that encourages this type of internally driven employee by recognizing that growth isn’t just about business and professional outcomes. Equally valuable and measurable outcomes can be seen from both personal and professional development at work. 

“The best thing you can do is openly and explicitly acknowledge the interconnectivity and communicate to employees that you are developing them because their growth benefits them and the organization,” says Hibschman. “It doesn’t need to be hidden.”

Companies should be investing in employee growth and clearly messaging that they are doing so because they believe in the employee’s capacity to grow and positively impact both their own goals and those of the organization. 

The bottom line? Never undervalue personal growth because, on the surface, it may not appear to drive business results. But it might be fueling more of your company’s success than you realize — a win for all involved.

Connecting the dots between motivation, purpose, and performance in your organization is within your reach. Schedule a demo to learn more.


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