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Aug 22 , 2022 • 8 min read

What is incentive motivation and how does it work?

Incentives. What are incentives? By definition, an incentive is anything that persuades someone to change their behavior to reach the desired outcome. But how can incentives work to our benefit and become the source of our motivations? How do we learn what motivates us to meet and accomplish our goals at work, school, or personal lives? We’re diving into all of that and more. 

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So what is the incentive motivation?

The incentive motivation theory suggests that we become more motivated when we believe that whatever it is we’re doing will result in a reward and will actively avoid actions that lead to punishment. When you apply the incentive motivation to work, or at school, you can start to see and understand how it plays out naturally in our day-to-day lives as well. 

For instance, an employee or student might work harder on a project in order to earn positive feedback or good grades, or, they might be motivated by simply not wanting to receive negative feedback or poor grades. Their motivation is connected to their desire to receive a reward or avoid punishment. 

You can probably think of situations you’ve experienced in your own personal life where your behavior was ultimately influenced by the promise of a reward or avoidance of punishment. Maybe you spent extra hours studying for finals to get that A+, or pushed yourself in the gym to hit a new personal record, or took on additional tasks at work to receive recognition from your manager. These actions are all technically influenced by an incentive to gain something positive in return for the efforts you put in. 

Think about your childhood even. Were you ever told to eat your vegetables so you could grow up big and strong? Did it work? Not the big and strong part but the eating of the vegetables for the promise of the desired outcome. 

More recently, in relation to COVID-19, we saw an example of incentive motivation playing out when companies and organizations rewarded those who received their Covid vaccine. Multiple organizations were offering prizes, meal vouchers, admission, and entry to certain places and restaurants to those that received their vaccine shot. And it worked as there are almost 5 billion people vaccinated. What’s important to call out here is the fact that these incentives were strictly social-driven. That’s why understanding what motivates us is crucial because it can look very different across any situation- professionally, socially, and educationally. 

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How to stay motivated at work using incentive motivation? 

Looking for additional ways to stay motivated at work doesn’t always mean you aren’t motivated to perform well. Sometimes you need to find different avenues of inspiration and create a refresh on your day-to-day. Utilizing the incentive motivation as a basis for understanding what motivates and drives you might help in accomplishing just that. 

In order to properly use incentive motivation as a driving force at your job, you need to identify your core values in the workplace. Once you have a better understanding of said values, you can use them as incentives to motivate yourself into meeting your professional goals.

In order to identify those values, you need to ask yourself a few questions. 

Questions like: 

  • What drives you to perform well at work? 
    • Is it monetary or non-monetary achievements? 
  • What’s your favorite part about your job?
  • What do you look forward to throughout your workday? 

Monetary incentives are straightforward- employees will work harder if they have an option to receive a bonus or a raise. It’s not only psychologically rewarding but provides a feeling of security as well. Non-monetary incentives can look like many things. Job security, promotions, team or manager recognition, or the desire for professional development and growth. These incentives are different in the way that they motivate, but they still motivate.  

When you recognize for instance what you look forward to throughout your workday, you can use it as an incentive to work through a task and reward yourself with what you answered. 

How to stay motivated at school using incentive motivations? 

Just like in the workplace, if you are a student, you need to understand and identify what your core values are in your educational career. You can start with questions like: 

  • What motivates you to perform well in your studies?
    • Is it recognition from your family? From your professors? From your peers? Is it the feeling of seeing your grades come back and feeling proud of yourself?
  • What’s your favorite part about being a student?
  • Which aspects of student life make you happy? 
  • What assignments do you look forward to?
  • Which classes make you excited and which ones don’t? 

There are a ton of different motivating incentives to explore when you are a student. And the earlier you do it, the earlier you can understand what will help you perform at your highest level, and lead you to a rewarding and successful educational experience. You might find yourself motivated to complete an assignment by the promise of being able to hangout with your friends afterward or the reward of getting a good grade. Maybe you get excited by sharing your achievements with your family and friends. Perhaps you reward yourself by going to a party after completing a difficult assignment. 

At the end of the day, we are all humans, and we will always have different types of motivators for different types of situations, throughout different periods of our lives. When you are working on something, whether a project, specific task, or new concept/idea, try to think if you are trying to gain an incentive (reward) when you finish or if you’re trying to avoid a negative outcome. Understanding the forces behind the way you work and deliver said work will help you understand the best way to motivate yourself, produce quality work, and reach your goals.