Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: What’s the Difference?
Updated October 23, 2023
Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are important ways of driving behavior. When you understand the differences between the two types of motivation, you also gain a better understanding of how to encourage people.
Knowing how to motivate yourself and others is imperative to getting things done and reaching goals. Identifying your internal and external motivators can help you be more efficient, feel more satisfied and achieve growth in your career. In this article, we define intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, discuss their differences and explore how they can be used effectively in the workplace.
What is intrinsic motivation?
Intrinsic motivation is when you feel inspired or energized to complete a task because it’s personally rewarding. In other words, you're performing the activity because of some internal drive as opposed to an external force or reward. With intrinsic motivation, the behavior itself becomes the reward.
What is extrinsic motivation?
Extrinsic motivation is when you’re inspired to perform a task either to earn a reward or to avoid punishment. In the case of extrinsic motivation, you're not completing the task because you like it or find it satisfying. Instead, you're completing it because you think you'll avoid something unpleasant or you'll get something in return.
Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation
The main difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is that intrinsic motivation comes from within and extrinsic motivation comes from outside. However, the two types of motivation can also differ in their level of effectiveness.
Extrinsic motivation is beneficial in some cases. For example, working toward a reward of some kind can be helpful when you need to complete a task you might normally find unpleasant.
While extrinsic motivation is helpful in certain situations, it may eventually lead to burnout or lose its effectiveness over time. Intrinsic motivation is typically more effective long term for completing tasks and achieving goals in a way that makes you feel fulfilled.
Here is a comparison of the two types of motivation:
Cleaning your house because you like it tidy
Cleaning your house so your roommate doesn't reprimand you
Playing a game of soccer because you enjoy the sport
Playing a game of soccer because you want to win a trophy
Reading a book about a subject that interests you
Reading a book because you want to get a good grade in school
Putting together a puzzle because you like the challenge
Putting together a puzzle because you want to win a prize
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the workplace
While intrinsic motivation may generally be preferred, sometimes you can use both types of motivation in the workplace to complete a task. For example, if you're completing a project, you might be extrinsically motivated to finish it to earn recognition, and you might be intrinsically motivated to finish it because you enjoy the project and therefore want it done well.
You can apply intrinsic motivation in several ways at work. Providing and receiving positive feedback is often an effective way to increase motivation. If you're 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. Constructive criticism can help your team understand your standards and expectations while working together to achieve a goal or complete objectives effectively. Be sure you're not giving an abundance of praise for work that's not meaningful to your team.
For contributors: As a contributor, you should consistently tell managers when and how their feedback helps you to be motivated. Consider positive feedback when their guidance was particularly helpful, which can help intrinsically motivate them to continue managing you successfully because they feel satisfied about the positive effect of their efforts.
In some settings, extrinsic motivation is necessary for day-to-day work. Extrinsic rewards like bonuses, commissions or prizes may be the preferred way to promote interest in certain difficult or unfulfilling tasks. To successfully use extrinsic motivation, consider the following:
For managers: When you want to use extrinsic motivation as a manager, it's important to offer rewards strategically. While external rewards can effectively motivate your team to take on a new challenge, learn a new skill or hit a quarterly goal, you should also make sure you're giving them the resources necessary to take on projects and skills they're passionate about.
For contributors: Work for the rewards that please you, but be aware of your limits and take breaks when you need them. Reflect on what is motivating you and notify your manager about any lack of resources or misdirection that impedes the proper motivation, and therefore, reward.
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