Stop Trying To Bribe Your Employees And Do This Instead

Getting people to do their best work requires instilling a little intrinsic motivation–here’s how.

Stop Trying To Bribe Your Employees And Do This Instead
[Photo: Flickr user westy]

A recent study by Gallup shows in 2014 only 13% of employees are considered highly engaged in their jobs, a record low since they started the annual survey in 2000. After 14 years of awareness around engagement rates with employees, we’ve essentially made zero progress in improving the engagement of our workforce.


And yet, it feels like everywhere I look (and granted, I’m in the HR and Recruiting Industry, so I should be seeing this), people are talking about ways to attract and retain their talent. So, why are companies failing so miserably at engaging their workforces?

Bribes Don’t Motivate

The short-sighted solution to improving worker engagement has been to focus on making employees happy. Companies started obsessing on the best ways to incentivize employees with perks and benefits to make them feel good at work. The thought was: offer them enough incentives and they’ll be happy.

Unfortunately, studies show extrinsic motivation, or giving rewards to drive behavior, is a terrible motivator. A book by Alfie Kohn, called Punished by Rewards: The Problem with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, outlines how this focus on extrinsic motivation has actually created the increased dissatisfaction and disengagement we are now seeing.

The more a company tries to bribe their employees into being happy, the less engaged they become. And becoming addicted to praise has been shown to hurting employees’s ability to be happy. So all those compliments and award programs you are pushing? They’re actually working against you!

The good news is, once a company sees the error in their ways, they can follow this process to start to fix their engagement issues:

1. Define Intrinsic Motivators Of Your Best Employees

Intrinsic motivation is what drives a person to do something without any expected reward or external motivation. They are guided and rewarded by their own incentive.


Companies that learn what drives their best employees will see that it has nothing to do with work and everything to do with their lives outside of work. According to workforce consultant Susan LaMotte, our work selves are only one part of our whole selves–the other parts are the internal self, the external self, and relationships–and it’s important for employers to adopt a holistic approach to understanding employees.

2. Define And Accurately Articulate Your Employment Brand

Once you know what drives employees to do great work, you can understand and create the kind of work environment needed to support them in the development and maintenance of their internal motivation for work. This is called your Employment Brand. It defines you as an employer.

It’s extremely important in the recruitment and retention of top talent. The stronger your company’s Employment Brand, the easier it is for talent to engage themselves in productive behavior. The better the fit between your Employment Brand and your workers, the more engaged and productive they are. Here are two simple examples:

  • Is your flextime highly coveted because it’s giving your employees the ability to attend to personal issues so they can come to work without worrying about how they will get everything done? Then, promoting the importance of your flextime policy will reinforce your desire to ensure your employees are able to maintain their motivation for work.

  • Is your coffee/smoothie bar saving employees a few dollars and a few minutes of their morning so they can get to work and still have their favorite morning beverage? Then, showcasing the value of the bar on the quality of life for your employees can also reinforce how much you care about their ability to live their lives well, both inside and outside of work.

3. Promote Your Employment Brand Via Storytelling

The best way to keep your employees engaged–not to mention, attract more of the same–is to actively promote your Employment Brand. Articles and videos showcasing your company should be created and distributed on more than just your company blog. Regular promotion on social media helps potential candidates evaluate their ability to be engaged and satisfied working at your company. It also gives your existing employees a reminder that your company is helping them stay engaged and successful in their lives.

Everyone has seen pictures and read articles about the incredible spaces for team meetings, independent work, and rest time at Google. That’s no accident. It’s a well-crafted Employment Branding campaign designed to reinforce their belief that employees need the right space to collaborate, create, and rejuvenate. It’s no surprise millions of people want to work for them. They’ve tapped into the power of intrinsic motivation for work.

Getting your Employment Brand acknowledged and featured on sites other than your company website is an excellent way to show talent you are a company worth working for. Studies show investing in a strategy to help showcase and promote your company’s Employment Brand can reduce turnover by 28% and reduce recruiting expenses as much as 50%.


And if you are struggling to articulate your Employment Brand, consider investing in services that can help you define it and promote it. Once you have your foundation stories, your internal team will find it easier to expand on the Employment Brand. They just may need a little help to get started.

Why shouldn’t you put it off? The longer you do, the further behind you’ll be. Trust me when I say your competitors are worried about the impending talent shortage. You could lose the best candidates if you don’t start addressing employee engagement with your Employment Brand.

I hope this article has inspired you to stop wasting time trying to motivate your employees and start focusing on how you can enable them to motivate themselves. Only then will you see the engagement rates you need to take your company to the next level.

About the author

J.T. O'Donnell is the CEO of Work It Daily, a site designed to help you be more confident, connected, branded, in-the-know, and most importantly, employable