Motivating Employees through Intrinsic Rewards - Principles of Management

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, industry experts and academics spent a lot of time figuring out how to increase employee performance by dividing work into narrower and narrower tasks to the point where employees completed an entire job cycle in less than one minute. To put this in context, assembly-line employees at Chrysler in the United States current have a job cycle of about 64.5 seconds, which means they repeat the same set of tasks about 58 times each hour and about 230 times before they take a meal break.

Why would companies divide work into such tiny bits? One reason is that employees spend less time changing activities because they have fewer tasks to juggle. They also require fewer physical and mental skills to accomplish the assigned work, so less time and resources are needed for training. A third reason is that employees practice their tasks more frequently with shorter work cycles, so jobs are mastered quickly. A fourth reason why work efficiency increases is that employees with specific aptitudes or skills can be matched more precisely to the jobs for which they are best suited.

Narrowing jobs down to short cycle times does have these advantages, to a degree. But this job design strategy can ultimately backfire because it ignores another important fact—namely that tedious jobs don’t motivate. Although specialization might improve employee ability, the MARS model described earlier in this points out that employees must also have sufficient motivation to perform their jobs effectively. Thus managers need to design jobs that provide more intrinsic rewards, which as we described earlier are positive emotions resulting directly and naturally from the individual’s behavior or results.


The job characteristics model is a useful template for understanding how to improve employee motivation through the job itself. According to the job characteristics model, all jobs have some degree of the five core job dimensions shown in Figure below:

  • Skill variety: Skill variety refers to the use of different skills and talents to complete a variety of work activities. For example, sales clerks who normally only serve customers might be assigned the additional duties of stocking inventory and changing storefront displays.
  • Task identity: Task identity is the degree to which a job requires completion of a whole or identifiable piece of work, such as assembling an entire computer modem rather than just soldering in the circuitry.

Job Characteristics Model

Job Characteristics Model

Task significance: Task significance is the degree to which the job affects the organization and society.

  • Autonomy: Jobs with high levels of autonomy provide freedom, independence, and discretion in scheduling work and determining the procedures to be used to complete the work. In autonomous jobs, employees make their own decisions rather than relying on detailed instructions from supervisors or procedure manuals
  • Job feedback: Job feedback is the degree to which employees can tell how well they are doing based on direct sensory information from the job itself. Airline pilots can feel how smoothly they land their aircraft; road crews can see how well they have prepared the roadbed and laid the asphalt.

The first three core job dimensions (skill variety, task identity, and task significance) have a combined effect on a psychological state called experienced meaningfulness —the belief that one’s work is worthwhile or important. Autonomy directly contributes to the feeling of experienced responsibility —feeling personally accountable for the outcomes of one’s efforts. The third critical psychological state, knowledge of results, is derived from job feedback.

The job characteristics model warns that motivation from redesigning jobs increases only when employees have the required skills and knowledge to master the more challenging work.

Otherwise job redesign tends to increase stress and reduce job performance. The model also suggests that employees who are unsatisfied with their work context (working conditions, job security) or who have a low growth need strength won’t become more motivated, either.

However, various studies suggest that employees might be motivated by job design no matter how they feel about their job context or how high or low they score on growth need strength.


The job characteristics model suggests many ways to improve employee motivation, such as by rotating employees through different jobs each day or adding more tasks to one job. But experts agree that the most effective strategy is job enrichment : giving employees responsibility for scheduling, coordinating, and planning their own work. One way to increase job enrichment is by combining highly interdependent tasks into one job.

By forming natural work units, jobholders have stronger feelings of responsibility for an identifiable body of work. They feel a sense of ownership and therefore tend to increase job quality. Forming natural work units increases task identity and task significance because employees perform a complete product or service and can more readily see how their work affects others.

A second job enrichment strategy, called establishing client relationships, involves putting employees in direct contact with their clients rather than using the supervisor as a go-between.

By being directly responsible for specific clients, employees have more information and can make decisions affecting those clients. Establishing client relationships also increases task significance because employees see a connection between their work and its consequences for customers.

Forming natural task groups and establishing client relationships are common ways to enrich jobs, but the heart of the job enrichment philosophy is to give employees more autonomy over their work. This basic idea is at the core of a popular concept known as empowerment .


The opening story describes the incredible transformation of Wisconsin insurance company ACUITY and the resulting surge in employee motivation. One reason for the increased motivation is that rigid control systems were removed and employees were invited to actively participate in making decisions that affect the company’s strategic and operational direction.

In particular, frontline employees and middle managers are rotated through committees that have top managers’ full support to actively set direction for technology, customer services, investments, employee relations, and most other issues. As one employee recently noted, “ACUITY treats their employees with respect and also empowers their employees.”

ACUITY has created a work environment that makes employees feel empowered. Empowerment is a psychological concept represented by four dimensions: self- determination, meaning, competence, and impact of the individual’s role in the organization:

  • Self-determination: Empowered employees feel that they have freedom, independence, and discretion over their work activities.
  • Meaning: Employees who feel empowered care about their work and believe that what they do is important.
  • Competence: Empowered people are confident about their ability to perform the work well and have a capacity to grow with new challenges.
  • Impact: Empowered employees view themselves as active participants in the organization; that is, their decisions and actions influence the company’s success.

Chances are that you have heard corporate leaders say they are “empowering” the workforce. What these executives really mean is that they are changing the work environment to support empowerment. To generate beliefs about self-determination, employees must work in jobs with a high degree of autonomy with minimal bureaucratic control. To maintain a sense of meaningfulness, jobs must have high levels of task identity and task significance. And to maintain a sense of self-confidence, jobs must provide sufficient feedback.

Employees also experience more empowerment in organizations where information and other resources are easily accessible, where employee learning is valued, and where reasonable mistakes are viewed as a natural part of the learning process. Furthermore, empowerment requires corporate leaders who trust employees and are willing to take the risks that empowerment creates.

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