“…Employees who are intrinsically motivated are three times more engaged than employees who are extrinsically motivated (such as by money).”
The second article is a recent study by Yoon Jik Cho and James Perry. The authors analyzed real-world data from a representative sample of over 200,000 U.S. public sector employees. The results showed that employee engagement levels were three times more strongly related to intrinsic than extrinsic motives, but that both motives tend to cancel each other out. In other words, when employees have little interest in external rewards, their intrinsic motivation has a substantial positive effect on their engagement levels. However, when employees are focused on external rewards, the effects of intrinsic motives on engagement are significantly diminished.
This means that employees who are intrinsically motivated are three times more engaged than employees who are extrinsically motivated (such as by money). Quite simply, you’re more likely to like your job if you focus on the work itself, and less likely to enjoy it if you’re focused on money. This finding was true even at low salary levels (remember, as per Gallup and Judge et al, there’s no correlation between engagement and salary levels). Now, a skeptic might ask if this is just a correlation showing that people who don’t like their jobs have nothing to think about other than the money. This is hard to test. Yes, that could be one reason; another could be that people who focus too much on money are preventing themselves from enjoying their jobs.
This research also begs the question: Is this a money-focused, engagement-eroding mindset one that employees can change? Or is does it reflect an innate mindset — some people happen to be more focused on extrinsic rewards, while others are more focused on the task itself? We don’t know. But my guess is that which you’re focused on depends mostly on the match between your interests and skills and the tasks you’ve been given. And in theory, your mindset should be malleable — the brain is remarkably plastic. We can try to teach people that if they focus on the task itself and try to identify positive aspects of the process, they will enjoy it more than if they are just focused on the consequences (rewards) of performing the task. The analogy here is that it’s much more motivating to go for a run because it’s fun than because I must get fit or lose some weight.