What Motivates Employees to Learn?

How does motivation function in a business environment? And what is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? We believe understanding motivation is integral to achieving sustainable business success. There are plenty of theories about motivation, and exploring their reasoning will help us become better leaders and team members. Below we've highlighted how motivation works and how you can use specific types of inspiration to produce better results. 

What is motivation? 

Motivation is an energizing force that directs behavior toward a goal-oriented task or action. Work motivation is a hot topic within the social sciences. Several studies have been done to understand the psychological processes that cause arousal, direction, and desire to complete a work-based task.

There are generally thought to be two types of motivation: Intrinsic & Extrinsic.

Intrinsic Motivation 

Intrinsic motivation is about the experience rather than the results of that experience. It is about doing an activity for its inherent satisfaction. Are you deriving positivity and a feeling of accomplishment from merely undertaking your work tasks? If so, you may have a strong sense of intrinsic motivation. 

Intrinsic motivators include recognition, a sense of belonging, enjoying the challenge, problem-solving, and curiosity. This side of motivation is about internal satisfaction. 

There are several components to intrinsic motivation: 

  • A sense of meaningfulness. Does the purpose or objective of the task matter? Is the result worth your time and energy? 
  • A sense of progress. Are you moving towards your goals? Are you accomplishing something worthwhile? 
  • A sense of choice. Do you have a choice in the activities and tasks you complete? Are you free to use your judgment? 
  • A sense of competence. Do you feel skillful? Are you improving your skills? 

Extrinsic motivation 

In contrast, extrinsic motivation is about doing something for the results and being motivated by the external rewards or encouragement you'll receive by completing the tasks. Extrinsic motivators can include financial rewards, e.g., bonuses, promotions, benefits, salary bumps. However, it can also have non-financial factors such as the type of work, job security, opportunities for career development, or recognition by your organization.

Research shows intrinsic motivation produces better results.

In general, people want more from their jobs than extrinsic compensation. Temporarily the security and excitement that comes with extrinsic motivators like bonuses, competition, and praise may suffice. Still, ultimately intrinsic motivation has been proven to be the more sustainable and effective option.

According to McClelland's 'Need Theory,' intrinsic factors proved to be more influential than extrinsic ones like salary, rewards, and compensations. For example, people want a pleasant work environment, an atmosphere of mutual respect, and to feel like they belong to an organization that aligns with their values and goals. These intrinsic motivators play a vital role in building long-term work relationships and organizational commitment.

Further, according to Self-Determination Theory, individuals are more motivated to complete tasks when they fulfill the basic needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Independence is concerned with the amount of control they have over a job—the more freedom of choice, the higher motivation. Competence involves the feeling of mastery, where motivation is increased through high self-efficacy. Finally, relatedness concerns the sense of interconnectivity, where one is more driven to complete a task when they feel supported and when working toward a larger organizational goal.

Increased motivation leads to increased knowledge retention.

Research shows that when your employees have a high degree of intrinsic motivation, their learning will be more effective, and their knowledge retention will improve. Furthermore, it has been verified through several studies that the relationship observed between intrinsic motivation and knowledge transfer is significant and positive. In contrast, extrinsic motivation has shown little in similar results.

If an individual is intrinsically motivated by a sense of personal curiosity or a willingness to solve practical problems, studies have shown they will find it easier to enhance their skills and knowledge. Intrinsic motivation has been heavily tied to persistent self-directed workers and learners. Intrinsic motivation has also been shown to improve the way teams work together towards a common goal. Employees are more likely to share information, bounce off each other, and develop creative solutions if they have intrinsic solid motivations. 

How to promote intrinsic motivation:

So how can we promote intrinsic motivation? We believe there are four key areas where businesses can implement change:

  • Give employees some control over their learning. Employees want to feel they have a say in education and when/how they complete learning modules. This sense of responsibility and autonomy is essential when promoting intrinsic motivation. Therefore, encourage employees to take control of their learning, offer structured learning paths with suggested self-study options, include interactive elements designed to personalize the learning experience, and create opportunities for individuals to complete tasks and projects aligned with their newly acquired knowledge and skills.
  • Keep employees on their toes. Constantly challenge and provide employees with opportunities for professional growth. When goals being pursued are out of one's comfort zone, they become more meaningful and have a greater associated sense of accomplishment, thus motivating one to follow them more intensely. Challenging learning also promotes increased communication around novel ideas and tasks, leading to career development and increased employee engagement.
  • Offer collaborative and social opportunities. Let employees compete and collaborate in situations where they can learn from each other and help each other overcome challenges. Not only does increased discussion improve learning and help learners persist longer on complex subjects, but healthy competition among employees can push them to achieve their individual goals further.
  • Establish the relevance of training and learning. Show employees how their knowledge and experience can be used in real-world applications. Use simulations or decision-based scenarios to show employees how their knowledge and skills may be applied outside the virtual classroom. This helps to develop an internal sense of meaning and purpose.

At Radiant Digital, we can create personalized training content suited to your employee and company needs. Contact us today to learn more about our service and see how to take your employee learning to the next level.

The Reciprocal Relationship between Management and Learning

Employee learning opportunities can be crucial in retaining employees at your organization, but whose responsibility facilitates said learning? Of course, your whole organization must take some responsibility for ensuring adequate training. You may also find some employees are self-starters. However, the driving force behind learning development must be management, those on the frontline providing employees with real opportunities to progress and develop their careers. Managers are best situated to assess their employees’ learning needs, act upon their findings, and give each employee the tools they need to grow.

Research conducted by Degreed and Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning found that only 40% of workers agreed that their manager helps them understand what skills they need to advance. Just 17% said their managers help to set goals for developing skills. Employees want to grow through learning and enjoy their managers supporting them, but they have a disconnect. While managers may not be directly responsible for learning program development, evidence from S. Meyer’s research: Are managers important to workplace learning? states: “While managers may not deliver learning content, they can play a critical role in revisiting and reinforcing that content. A recent analysis of the available research found that, yes, managers are critical to the success of workplace training – specifically because they are in a unique position to coach their employees throughout the learning process”. Therefore, it is essential to understand how management is optimal for facilitating learning. It is also necessary to examine the underlying theories supporting the assertation that management’s involvement in employee learning produces actionable results.

Connecting Management Involvement to Learning Outcomes

Various studies support the theory that management involvement can directly lead to effective learning. The first to consider is the job-demand-control-support (JDCS) model. Do workers respond differently to learning from supervisors and colleagues? A study of job resources, discovering sources, and employee wellbeing in China published in The International Journal of Human Resource Management highlights our understanding of how employees benefit from learning from their supervisors. The study looks specifically at social support and training and finds that a high level of work-based social support means employees can depend on their supervisors and peers. This, in turn, means they can gain information and knowledge from them. Furthermore, the study found that social support was positively related to learning from supervisors and colleagues, while job training was more positively associated with learning from supervisors. 

The second critical underlying theory is the Pygmalion Effect (Livingston, 1969; Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). This well-known theory suggests that leader expectations can affect employee learning behaviors. The 2009 paper, Pygmalion and Employee Learning: The Role of Leader Behaviors, published in the Journal of Management, explained how managers could stimulate engagement in learning. In the same way, the early Pygmalion Effect study by Rosenthal and Jacobson found students would perform at superior levels if expectations were higher. Organizations can see the same in their employees. With managers demanding high work-based learning and a career development focus, employees are more driven to succeed.

Management’s Role in Facilitating Learning

Understanding why managers are integral to employee learning is a great starting point, but this theory must be put into action. Managers need to be proactive in their approach to employee learning. There are several practical ways to achieve this.

Adopt a Coaching Mindset

Adopting a coach’s mindset helps position management as supporting employees’ opportunities to learn. Ellinger & Bostrom’s research found learning within your organization can be enhanced through coaching behaviors in its leaders. Additional study in The Impact of Managerial Coaching on Learning Outcomes Within the Team Context: An Analysis from Hagen & Gavrilova further asserts that a significant improvement in learning occurs within teams with a “coaching” team leader. Positioning managers as coaches helps to promote learning and an organizational ethos. 

Assess Individual’s Learning Needs

Your employees have their strengths and weaknesses. Helping them build skills in relevant areas falls within management’s role. First, understand and identify what training and skill development employees may need to carry out their roles effectively. This means assessing areas where your employees excel and where training could help. This also allows managers to see the whole picture and recognize the direct benefits of training programs to suit each employee. 

Provide On-the-Job Learning Opportunities

Active learning has become crucial to many businesses’ training programs. For example, a 1997 study conducted by Sveilby found that learners only remember under 10% of what they have heard in a lecture after five days. However, when the activities involved seeing and hearing, this increased to 20%. Most crucially, 60-70% of what they practiced was remembered when learners learned by doing it themselves. On-the-job experience and the opportunity to practically employ new skills are essential for employee learning to succeed, which only managers can directly provide.

Focus on Feedback and Communication

To understand your employee’s training needs, you need to have a clear view of their work performance, skills gaps, and growth potential. Gallup research found employees who receive daily feedback from their manager are three times more likely to be engaged than those who receive feedback once a year. Open communication channels make the feedback process easier to manage and less formal. It helps your employees feel able to discuss things more efficiently. As mentioned in Harvard Business Review by executive coach Monique Valcour Ph.D., regular career conversations help your employees refine their career goals. Once they understand their goals more clearly, it is easier to discuss training opportunities. 

Why should Managers care about Employee Learning?

Employee learning is one of the most powerful tools you have to boost your business and develop its growth internally. Maximizing employee potential can only benefit your organization and create a loyal and committed workforce—managers who show commitment to employee learning foster more significant and more effective relationships with their staff. In addition, a learning culture shows it is a business priority, and it is much easier to get employees on board.

For your managers to create this culture of learning and push their employees to be their best, they need the skillset. Here at Radiant Digital, we specialize in the training of all kinds. We can help develop training focused on growing coaching mindsets within your management team. In addition, we can work with you to design, develop, and implement management learning programs to ensure your managers are perfectly positioned to encourage employee learning. Contact us today to learn more.

The Influence of Training and Development Opportunities on Employee Retention

In the continuously changing workspace, recruiting and retaining top employees is more crucial than ever. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), the overall voluntary turnover rate from December 2019 to December 2020 was 19.9%. This rate has steadily increased over the last decade. As the turnover rate increases, the cost of employee turnover also reaches new heights. The Work Institute's 2017 Retention Report states that turnover can cost employers an average of 33% of an employee's annual salary due to recruiting, interviewing, onboarding, and initial training costs (Sears, 2017).

How are companies supposed to recruit the right personnel, and then what do companies need to encourage recruits to be long-term employees? The clear answer is increasing training and development opportunities for employees to decrease turnover intentions. According to the EXECU Search Group report from 2019, 86% of professionals said they would change jobs if offered more professional development opportunities. Also, the top reported reason employees gave for leaving their position was lack of career development opportunities, as shown in the graphic below from the Work Institute's 2017 Retention Report. This reason is nearly double the second most reported reason, lack of work-life balance.

 Similar to turnover intentions, 43% of the variance in organization commitment can be explained by an organizational learning culture (Joo, 2010). When organizations offer growth and developmental opportunities, such as training and further education, employees feel their employment is valued, that their current and future abilities are trusted, and that the company wants to continue their development (Mustafa & Ali, 2019). This can be further explained through the basis of social exchange theory (Blau, 1964) which says when employees feel their organizations value them as essential resources and care about their professional and long-term development, they are more likely to be engaged and diligently work for the organization to fulfill the reciprocal relationship exchange (Raza, Ali, Naseem, Moeed, Ahmed, & Hamid, 2018).

Studies are ongoing concerning the availability of learning and development opportunities for employees and their influence on different workplace outcomes, including organizational commitment, well-being, employee engagement, job satisfaction, role performance, and turnover intentions. The following sections provide current research and statistics relating to the learning opportunities studies.

Employee Emotional Exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion is a chronic state of fatigue characterized by physical and mental depletion due to workplace demands and stressors. Related turnover intentions are the deliberate and conscious effort to leave an organization for other opportunities or personal/professional concerns (Raza et al., 2018). According to Proost, Ruysseveldt, and Dijke, learning opportunities positively affect knowledge and skill acquisition and provide opportunities for "skill utilization, job enhancement, and professional growth" (2012). In addition, these opportunities help employees realize their goals and "adequately manage the physiological and psychological demands they encounter in their jobs" (2012), which decreases emotional exhaustion and related turnover intentions.

Employee Expectations

Increasing learning opportunities also help reduce early-stage turnover due to unmet expectations about one's position. For example, the 2012 Proost, Ruysseveldt, and Dijke study report the relationship between unmet expectations and turnover intentions are stronger when learning opportunities are low (b = .21) (i.e., one standard deviation below the mean) and weaker when learning opportunities are high (b = .08) (i.e., one standard deviation above the norm). This clearly shows how increasing learning opportunities can decrease turnover intentions.

Employee Engagement

Learning opportunities can reduce negative workplace tendencies and increase employee performance/engagement and extra-role behaviors. Employee engagement is the state of mind held by positive and encouraged employees characterized by vigor, enthusiasm, dedication, and absorption (Eldor & Harpaz, 2016). Extra-role behaviors define exceptional employees—proactivity, knowledge sharing, creativity, and adaptivity (Eldor & Harpaz, 2016). In one study, 625 employees were surveyed on employee engagement, extra-role performance, job satisfaction, and perceived level of learning. The study found that the relationship between perceived learning climate and employee engagement was strong, positive, and significant (r = 0.52, p≤0.001), as were the relationships between employee engagement and all four performance variables: proactivity (r = 0.35, p≤0.001), knowledge sharing (r = 0.38, p≤0.001), creativity (r = 0.49, p≤0.001), and adaptivity (r = 0.44. p≤0.001) (Eldor & Harpaz, 2016). This data reveals that organizations promoting learning opportunities reduce turnover and increase employee engagement and performance—these benefit employee satisfaction with their position and the organization.

Job Satisfaction

Finally, learning opportunities show one of the most potent effects on overall employee job satisfaction. Job satisfaction is one of the critical determinants of turnover intentions. It can be described as the perception of one's job expectancies and job reality and whether those expectancies are being met. Research shows that employees who feel more satisfied within their position and organization are more likely to become engaged employees and display lower turnover intentions (Lin & Huang, 2020). In addition, organizations that prioritize learning and development found increased employee job satisfaction, productivity, and profitability (Egan, Yang, & Barlett, 2004). Several studies on this topic show conclusive results. One study tested different forms of learning against employee satisfaction and employee turnover intentions and found that all types of learning (individual learning (γ=0.41, p<0.001), collective learning (γ=0.42, p<0.05), organization-level understanding (γ=0.40, p<0.01), inter-organizational learning (γ=0.45, p<0.01), and exploration learning (γ=0.44, p<0.01)) correlated positively and significantly to employee satisfaction and correlated negatively and significantly to turnover intentions. This shows that learning opportunities, in any form, are highly valued by employees regarding job satisfaction and can reduce an employee's turnover intentions.

Desired Learning Opportunities

These studies show that learning and development opportunities should not be underestimated in the scope of organizational success, both in reducing turnover and the increase of positive employee behaviors. Beyond understanding that employees desire training and learning opportunities from their organizations, it is imperative to understand what topics they want. PayScale's 2019 Compensation Best Practices Report surveyed 38,000 respondents who were asked to indicate which professional development opportunities they enjoyed the most from their organization. Shown in the graphic below are the top seven categories of training and development from the survey. The principal learning opportunity wanted to be selected by 32% of respondents in management/leadership training. A close second, chosen by 30% of respondents, is professional certification. Additional training included in the top seven are technical skills (17%), teamwork and interpersonal skills (8%), employer-subsidized degree (7%), communications/public speaking (4%), and diversity and inclusion (2%).


Radiant Digital specializes in custom content creation to suit your unique organizational needs and to learn objectives if you're looking to increase your organization's learning and development opportunities. It can be hard to know exactly where to start when creating a learning-focused culture. Radiant can assist you in the design, development, and implementation of learning programs so you can achieve your highest organizational goals. Reach out to us today to see how we can help.


2019 Compensation Best Practices Report. PayScale. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/data/professional-development-employees-want.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor (2020). 2020 Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. Received from https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2021/article/as-the-covid-19-pandemic-affects-the-nation-hires-and-turnover-reach-record-highs-in-2020.htm

Egan, T., Yang, B., & Bartlett, K. (2004). The effects of organizational learning culture and job satisfaction on motivation to transfer learning and turnover intention. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 15, 279-301.

Joo, B. (2010). Organizational commitment for knowledge workers: The roles of perceived organizational learning culture, leader-member exchange quality, and turnover intention. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 21. 69 - 85. 10.1002/hrdq.20031.

Lin, C. Y., & Huang, C. K. (2020). Employee turnover intentions and job performance from a planned change: The effects of an organizational learning culture and job satisfaction. International Journal of Manpower, 42. 409-423. 10.1108/IJM-08-2018-0281.

Mustafa, G., & Ali, N. (2019) Rewards, autonomous motivation, and turnover intention: Results from a non-Western cultural context, Cogent Business & Management, 6:1, 1676090, DOI: 10.1080/23311975.2019.1676090.

Proost, K., Ruysseveldt, J.,& Dijke, M. (2012) Coping with unmet expectations: Learning opportunities as a buffer against emotional exhaustion and turnover intentions, European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 21:1, 7-27, DOI: 10.1080/1359432X.2010.526304.

Raza, B., Ali, M., Naseem, K., Moeed, A., Ahmed J., & Hamid M. (2018) Impact of trait mindfulness on job satisfaction and turnover intentions: Mediating role of work–family balance and moderating role of work–family conflict, Cogent Business & Management, 5:1, DOI: 10.1080/23311975.2018.1542943.

Sears, L. (2017) 2017 Retention Report. Received from https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/478187/2017%20Retention%20Report%20Campaign/Work%20Institute%202017%20-Retention%20Report.pdf

The employee experience will be critical to business success in 2019, according to New Hiring Outlook report by the EXECU: Search group. PR Newswire. (2019). Received from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-employee-experience-will-be-critical-to-business-success-in-2019-according-to-new-hiring-outlook-report-by-the-execusearch-group-300773946.html.

Yu, H., Fang, L., & Ling, W. (2009) An empirical study on the construct and effective mechanism of organizational learning. Frontiers of Business Research in China, 3, 242–270. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11782-009-0013-3