Career Development

Understanding Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

August 25, 2020

Identifying your internal and external motivators can help you be more efficient, feel more satisfied and achieve growth in your career. When it comes to what motivates individuals, it usually falls into one of two categories: intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when you are motivated to complete a task because of personal goals, and extrinsic motivation is when you complete a task to either avoid punishment or earn a reward.

In this article, we discuss the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the workplace with examples of each.

Comparing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

At work, it is normal to set goals and complete certain tasks to achieve them. Your motivations are typically a result of either intrinsic or extrinsic factors. Intrinsic motivators relate to you and your aspirations, while extrinsic motivators relate to outside causes. While both types of motivation are important, they have different effects on how you work. To understand how intrinsic and extrinsic motivations influence our actions, it helps to know how they work.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is when you feel inspired or energised to complete a task because it is personally rewarding. In other words, you are performing the activity because of some internal drive as opposed to an external reward of some kind. With intrinsic motivation, the behaviour itself becomes the reward. Examples of intrinsic motivation include:

  • Learning an instrument because it makes you feel calmer
  • Going for a run because it lowers your stress levels
  • Cleaning your home because it gives you a sense of being organised
  • Playing a sport because you enjoy it
  • Reading a book because you love a good story
  • Volunteering because you like to help others

What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is when you are inspired to perform a task to either earn a reward or avoid punishment. In the case of extrinsic motivation, you are not completing the task because you like it or find it satisfying. Instead, you are completing it because you think you can avoid something unpleasant or because you will receive something in return. Examples of extrinsic motivation include:

  • Learning an instrument to please somebody else
  • Going for a run because you want to be lean and improve your body
  • Cleaning your room to avoid punishment
  • Playing a sport to win a medal
  • Reading a book because you have to write an assignment
  • Volunteering because it looks good on your resume

Is intrinsic or extrinsic motivation more effective?

The main difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that intrinsic motivation comes from within, and extrinsic motivation comes from an outside force. The two types of motivation differ in their level of effectiveness.

Extrinsic motivation is beneficial in some cases. For example, working toward earning a reward of some kind can be helpful when you need to complete a task you might normally find unpleasant.

Intrinsic motivation, however, is typically a more effective long-term method for achieving goals and completing tasks in a way that makes you feel fulfilled. While extrinsic motivation is helpful in certain situations, it may eventually lose effectiveness over time or lead to burnout.

Sometimes intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can work together. If you are working on completing a project, you might be extrinsically motivated to earn a bonus and intrinsically motivated because you enjoy the project.

Using intrinsic motivation at work

There are many ways you can apply intrinsic motivation at work. For example, providing and receiving positive feedback is one of the best ways to increase motivation. If you are interested in fostering intrinsic motivation among your team, consider the following:

For managers

To support intrinsic motivation among your team, be intentional with your feedback. Positive criticism that is specific and empowering helps employees understand your standards and expectations. Also, be sure you are not giving an abundance of praise for work that is not meaningful to your team. Learn to target your praise so that it encourages the right kind of results.

For contributors

As a contributor, you should consistently tell managers when and how their feedback helps motivate you. Also, give them positive feedback when their guidance was particularly helpful. When you provide positive feedback to your managers about what motivates you, you are motivating them to continue managing you successfully.

Benefits of using intrinsic motivation in the workplace

Using intrinsic motivation in the workplace has the following benefits:

  • It has a long-lasting effect
  • It reduces labour costs
  • It empowers employees
  • It fosters creativity

It has a long-lasting effect

There is a strong personal connection to this form of motivation. Intrinsic motivation lasts a long time compared to extrinsic motivation. With extrinsic motivation, people could be motivated to win a reward of some kind, but once they have the reward, the motivation subsides. In comparison, the effects of positive feedback can last for a longer period of time.

It reduces labour costs

When the workforce is personally invested in a project because they believe in it, they push to complete their task. They often find solutions to challenges themselves and can break larger tasks into manageable chunks. When employees are able to self-manage their work, the organisation requires fewer managers and supervisors, which can help reduce labour costs.

It empowers employees

Employees tend to solve problems on their own and do not require as much managerial assistance for issues that arise at work. They can also take on new projects independently and enjoy the additional freedom that the company rewards them with.

It fosters creativity

Because the employees require less supervision, they are encouraged to use their creativity. Employees are more likely to make innovative contributions and solutions for their organisation when they are intrinsically motivated.

Using extrinsic motivation at work

To use extrinsic motivation at work, you must consider a range of rewards that you can offer employees. For example, providing work-at-home days or a company day out are ways to provide external motivation. If you are interested in using extrinsic motivation with your team, consider the following:

For managers

If you want to motivate your team, use extrinsic rewards carefully and purposefully. While external motivation is an efficient way to reward your team, make sure you are giving your team members the resources they need to take on projects they are already passionate about. Consider the different types of extrinsic motivation you can use and offer a variety of different forms. Time away from work, team games and gifts or bonuses for good performance are good options.

For contributors

While you are working toward an extrinsic goal, it is essential that you still enjoy your work for other reasons. Try to remain balanced by making time for yourself and pursuing activities that you want to do.

Benefits of using extrinsic motivation in the workplace

Using extrinsic motivation in the workplace has the following benefits:

  • It increases workforce productivity levels
  • It creates interest
  • It drives employees to acquire new skills
  • It inspires employees to pursue their goals

It increases workforce productivity levels

In the workplace, extrinsic incentives include raises, promotions and bonuses. These incentives can motivate employees to complete their work more efficiently, which increases their productivity. When there are rewards in place for specific performances, it gives the employees a quantifiable benefit to complete their objectives.

It creates interest

Extrinsic rewards encourage more participation in areas where the employees have less interest. If there is no natural intrinsic motivation for employees to complete a project, extrinsic motivation is a good option to create enthusiasm.

It drives employees to acquire new skills

You can use external rewards to inspire people to acquire new skills or knowledge. Once acquainted with a new skill, people are more likely to be motivated internally to pursue it.

It inspires employees to pursue their goals

If an employee has a goal to work toward, some form of external reward can encourage them to reach the goal.

What affects intrinsic motivation?

The main factors that influence intrinsic motivation are:

  • Challenge: Someone working toward a goal is more likely to feel motivated if the task involves activities that have increasing difficulties.
  • Curiosity: Curiosity drives you to explore and learn more.
  • Control: People enjoy having some degree of control over a situation as well as being able to make independent decisions that affect the result.
  • Competition: Competition poses a challenge that involves comparing your performance to others, which can motivate individuals to work harder.
  • Cooperation: Cooperating with others leads to a sense of satisfaction because it allows you to work toward achieving a common goal.
  • Recognition: Many people get a sense of satisfaction when others recognise and appreciate their achievements.

What affects extrinsic motivation?

There are also many ways to promote extrinsic motivation, including:

  • Financial rewards: You can use compensatory rewards like raises, bonuses, incentives, commissions and stock options to motivate employees.
  • Compliments: Delivering earnest and genuine compliments is a strong extrinsic motivational method.
  • Spot awards: You can use awards like gift vouchers, coupons or redeemable points as a way to recognise special contributions and increase motivation.
  • Fame: A classic motivator is the expectation of fame or increased exposure to the people you look up to.
  • Peer pressure: The pressure to feel accepted and valued is another strong motivator that can affect how you work and interact with the people around you.


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