Increasing Workplace Motivation Through Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

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When I’m developing new training programs I typically try to think about the motivations of learners that will be taking the content I create. Intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are what usually come to my mind first, but according to career analyst Dan Pink, higher incentives actually tend to lead to lower performance. Pink (2009) argued that we should instead focus on three factors shown to increase motivation: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. I started thinking about how these ideas might correlate to my role within my organization and put together this compendium of resources that I found useful to my own career. I then created my own graphic in Adobe Illustrator to visualize how these could also be used to improve my eLearning design.


Autonomy in the workplace refers to how much freedom employees have while working (Robertson, 2012). Workplaces can support autonomy by giving people control over various aspects of their work such as allowing time for employees to work on anything they want.

Leadership and Motivation: Motivating by Autonomy
This was a short video from Dan Pink focusing on motivation through autonomy. It provided a quick overview, as this was the only one of his ideas I wasn’t sure about before researching.

Not A Happy Accident: How Google Deliberately Designs Workplace Satisfaction
Google employees have freedom and control over their time. Hours are flexible, as long as projects are getting done. I think companies can sometimes be afraid of change, but this article provides a real-world example of how autonomy can increase engagement. When creating eLearning, it’s crucial to be cognizant of the learners’ time as well.

ShipIt Days
Atlassian has what they call “ShipIt” days where employees have 24 hours to work on anything they want. It has led to them squashing old software bugs, coming up with new solutions, and improving their services. One of Atlassian’s products is actually in use at my workplace. This is an interesting concept to increase autonomy, as I’ve encountered countless bugs in some of our own software at work, which remain because our software engineers are never allowed time to go back and fix them. I think if we had short software sprints many of these could easily be fixed.

Why Work Sucks and How to Fix It: The Results-Only Revolution
I’ve been listening to the audiobook recently; the author discusses why the notion of working 8-5 is outdated. This book focuses on the idea of a results-only workplace where employees can do whatever they want whenever they want. As someone who’s work is all project based, I agree with the idea that sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day doesn’t make me work harder. As long as my projects are getting done, it should not matter how I complete them.


Reorienting education from knowledge acquisition to skill mastery makes education more relevant and increases learners’ motivation (Robertson, 2012). Learners want the chance at developing something they’re experts in and actually care about.

7 Steps to Motivations through Mastery
Provided straightforward tips for using mastery to motivate teams and people. Somewhat geared for managers, but also had useful tips for leaders.

Infographic: The High 5 of Change Mastery
This graphic illustrates five skills for change leaders to keep in mind in order to stay relevant. Organizational changes can be difficult, but these are skills I can start implementing in my practice on my own right now.

Mastery: The Keys Success and Long-Term Fulfillment
An older book, but it discussed how the process of mastery can lead to a sense of more satisfaction and fulfillment in our daily lives. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve found it useful on a personal level because these are changes I can make without waiting for organizational changes to take place.

The role of goal orientation in leadership development
I was able to access this article through Auraria Library. The study talked about how goal orientation theory, or an individual disposition toward developing and validating one’s abilities, can help influence the development of leadership skills. I haven’t heard of goal orientation before reading this and found that it provided some additional insight into leadership development.


The power of purpose is underestimated in the workplace as a driver of motivation. Purpose allows individuals to establish their own sense of meaning and connection, deepening their desire to contribute to the group success (“The power of having purpose at work,” 2015).

APA Survey Finds Feeling Valued at Work Linked to Well-Being and Performance
Survey showed that 93% of employees who reported feeling valued are more motivated to do their best work.

Creating A Sense of Purpose in The Workplace
From a podcast called The Future of Work, main message was that the sense of purpose should not only come from the organization, but also the employee. I still think it’s more important for organizations to show how the work that we’re doing supports the business, as it can be difficult to find purpose when it’s not in the company culture.

The Power of Purpose: How Organizations are Making Work More Meaningful
This study indicated that employees who worked at an organization showing purpose created more meaningful work. It provided lots of data as well as implications for business leaders and employees. Well organizations should be intentional about developing their purpose through company culture, employees should also be aware of how to identify a purpose-driven organization.


Motivation Self-Assessment
Great tool for rating yourself and determining your personal autonomy, mastery, and purpose at work.


Pink, D. (2009, July). Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation [Video file]. Retrieved from

Robertson, T. (2012, December 10). The effects of autonomy on job satisfaction. Retrieved from

The power of having purpose at work. (2015, March 4). European Official News. Retrieved from

Toikkanen, T. (2016, July 7). Focus on skill mastery, not knowledge acquisition. Retrieved from


One thought on “Increasing Workplace Motivation Through Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

  1. Great capture and expansion on these ideas from Daniel Pink – who of course got them from the research you’re citing in the first place! I especially liked the self-assessment and the original graphic. Both are great resources for L&D professionals.

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