Sustainability professionals are in the business of making change happen, and that typically means motivating people to do something differently than how they did it previously. Engaging and encouraging a population to change behavior required both incentives and motivation – and that’s complicated! Here are some examples many of our client see in the workplace:
- Turning off computer monitors when employees are away from their desks
- Using the recycling and compost bins appropriately
- Investing in energy-saving equipment and devices
- Benchmarking a facility’s energy and water usage
Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation
Psychologists talk about two kinds of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. As the name suggest, extrinsic motivators are external to a person and can be positive, “I’ll get a raise!” Extrinsic motivators can also be negative, “If I don’t do this, I’ll get fired.” In both of those cases, extrinsic motivators tend to feel like something I have to do. Whereas intrinsic motivators are internal and can include various kinds of pleasure, such as, “I have fun doing X” or “I find doing Y relaxing.” Intrinsic motivators are things that make us feel good about ourselves – these are the things I want to do.
It might come as no surprise that changes prompted by intrinsic motivations tend to be more lasting. Think of two children playing the piano: Billy loves learning new music, whereas Sara’s parents have to pay her to practice. In many cases, change that’s motivated by extrinsic rewards will last only as long as those rewards last.
Incentives and Motivation: The Complicated Part
Does this mean we should never use extrinsic rewards? Of course not. But it does mean we should be strategic about when and how we use extrinsic rewards—especially financial rewards.
There’s a good deal of research, perhaps best summarized by Daniel Pink in his book Drive, about how financial rewards can muck up our intrinsic motivations and even our performance. It turns out that the potential for big cash rewards can actually reduce performance!
At Cool Choices we use extrinsic rewards – like prizes – sparingly, and focus instead on recognition, which reinforces those intrinsic motivators. Showcasing how someone is doing a great job saving water makes that person feel really good about their efforts, and it also reinforces their commitment to sustainability. Ultimately we’re working with our partners to create cultures where everyone helps to identify and celebrate successes, so that the motivation to do more continues to expand.
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