What motivates us?

Autonomy Mastery Purpose Progress

What motivates us?

Fig 1 What Drives Your Energy Poll 10
A poll held during a training session on intrinsic motivation revealed that autonomy drives NDR managers most of all.

Career advice often pushes platitudes like “follow your dreams” and “pursue your passion.” If being passionate about the subject of your work is the only way to find satisfaction through it, then many of us are out of luck.

Enter the concept of intrinsic motivation. Intrinsically motivated people have an internal drive to learn, grow, and succeed. They are happier at work and more creative. A bonus for managers is that intrinsically motivated employees are also more engaged in the workplace leading to less attrition and higher-performing teams.

"While many employers think their goal at work is to make people happy, the reality is that most of us work for a reason: we want to spend our time contributing to others and creating something bigger than ourselves (Purpose). This is the core concept behind meaningful work. When the work itself is empowering (Autonomy); when we feel we are in the right jobs; when we feel close to our team (Relationships); and when we have enough time and resources to succeed (Mastery), we can be happy." – Josh Bersin, Industry Analyst and Founder of Bersin Academy

What can managers do to increase intrinsic motivation among their staff? They can structure their workplaces to enhance their employees’ feelings of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. According to Pink’s analysis of decade’s worth of research on motivation, carrots and sticks (i.e., rewards and punishments) negatively impact workers’ productivity and satisfaction, whereas allowing employees to develop autonomy, mastery, and purpose energizes them and unlocks their internal drive.

Increasing intrinsic motivation fosters employee engagement, which means employees are more satisfied in their work, more secure in their roles and responsibilities, and feel more supported by their managers and teams. Employee engagement is essential, yet may feel harder to achieve as remote work becomes more common. Add to these building blocks, an intangible motivator well understood here at Notre Dame: Relationships. We know that the relationships that people form at work can increase morale and shape the meaning employees find in their day-to-day tasks. Using the building blocks of intrinsic motivation will create a workplace where everyone may thrive.

Resources to learn more about intrinsic motivation


If you have questions or ideas for additional resources in this playbook, please contact the Director of Finance and Administration