Does Incentive Theory Motivate Employees in High-Stress Work Environment?

People’s behaviour and actions are motivated by intrinsic or extrinsic forces. Intrinsic motivation refers to internal forces or desires that compel a person to manifest a specific behaviour or perform because they feel it is good for them or enjoys it. On the contrary, extrinsic motivation refer to the desire for external reinforcement or extrinsic rewards. Incentive theory is built on extrinsic motivation because it assumes that human behaviours are motivated by the desire to receive external rewards. Therefore, incentive theory can really motivate employees in a high-stress work environment due to the strong desire for external rewards.

Notably, employees are motivated by incentives, even in the high-stress workplace because they are aware that their efforts will be rewarded. Organizations have invested heavily in performance-based compensation programs because employees are motivated to perform better when they are promised financial incentives (Parker, Jimmieson, and Techakesari, 2017. p.172). Also, incentives such as recognition, money or promotions can motivate an employee to persevere and perform better even in a stressful work environment because they are guaranteed to get monetary or non-monetary incentive (Cherry, 2020). Thus, incentives can raise efficiency, boost employee enthusiasm, increase labour productivity, and offer psychological fulfilment even in the most stressing work environments.

Besides, extrinsic motivation dominates intrinsic motivation in the workplace since most employees work to get monetary and non-monetary rewards. For instance, pay-for-performance and other financial incentives could make employees work hard to get rewards such as bonuses, commissions, and salary hikes regardless of the work environment’s stressful nature. On the other hand, critics argue that incentive-driven motivation is short-lived because employees get demotivated once the incentives are removed since the job, or the work environment is not inherently satisfying (Kuvaas et al. 2017, p. 246). However, this assertion does not justify why many employees would prefer working in adverse or dangerous work environments provided that they would be given hardship or risk allowance. It is sufficient evidence that, although intrinsic motivation is considered influential due to its long-term impact, extrinsic motivation is more influential.

            All in all, incentives can motivate employees, even in the most stressful work environment. Many employees perform even some tasks or jobs that they hate but cannot complain since they want money. Money, recognition and prestige are the core extrinsic motivators among many employees. As far as someone is guaranteed some good financial or non-financial incentives, they can work in whatever work environment. Although incentive-based motivation is short-lived, it is highly motivating even in a stressful work environment.


Cherry, K., 2020. The Incentive Theory of Motivation Explains How Rewards Drive Actions.

[online] Verywell Mind. Available at: <> [Accessed 14 February 2021].

Kuvaas, B., Buch, R., Weibel, A., Dysvik, A. and Nerstad, C.G., 2017. Do intrinsic and extrinsic

motivation relate differently to employee outcomes?. Journal of Economic Psychology61, pp.244-258.

Parker, S.L., Jimmieson, N.L. and Techakesari, P., 2017. Using stress and resource theories to

examine the incentive effects of a performance-based extrinsic reward. Human Performance30(4), pp.169-192.