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Intrinsic Motivation at Work: Building Energy and Commitment
by Kenneth W. Thomas
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 160 pages, $13.57

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Figuring out what really makes workers tick is challenging enough. Knowing how to keep them motivated, committed, and fulfilled is the "Holy Grail" for managers. Motivating rationally may seem like the orderly approach, but as Intrinsic Motivation at Work argues, it often strips passion from the equation. And true motivation begins with passion. Citing tendencies to allow workers more "choice and voice," author Kenneth Thomas extols the virtues of self management. Supervisors looking for "quick fix" ways to inspire won't find them here. Those seeking to cultivate long-term, renewable motivation will find plenty of good advice in these pages.

As any current supervisor knows, the old model for managing all employees in the same way is obsolete. General Electric CEO Jack Welch observed that "Any company has got to find a way to engage the mind of every single employee...if you're not thinking all the time about making every person more valuable, you don't stand a chance." In Chapter 2, "Extrinsic Rewards Are No Longer Enough," Thomas explores how rewards like salaries, perks, bonuses, and benefits lose their luster and ability to truly motivate employees over time. He proposes a motivational system that addresses intrinsic needs and values. According to the author, the four rewards that make work energizing and fulfilling for today's workers are:

  • A sense of purpose or meaningfulness
  • The ability to choose how the tasks are performed
  • A sense of competence from performing work activities well
  • A sense of progress

Intrinsic Motivation at Work provides a diagnostic framework for motivating and includes psychological studies, benchmarks and measurements, and real life examples. Thomas also offers valuable insights about what de-motivates workers. For example, making procedures too complicated and difficult can dampen enthusiasm and motivation. He reinforces the need for simplicity and stresses that employees must be allowed to constantly offer feedback.

The concepts here are especially relevant for managers in bureaucratic systems that often diminish individual independence and don't encourage their employees to exercise decision-making authority. Supervisors interested in increasing their workforce's independence and initiative will find practical, inventive ways to motivate their workers in lasting ways.

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