Career Development

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

October 5, 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 us, it usually falls into one of two categories: intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is when you're motivated to complete a task because of personal goals or rewards, and extrinsic motivation is when you complete a task to either avoid punishment or earn a reward.

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

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

In our jobs, we constantly set goals and complete certain tasks to achieve them. Our 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 motivation influence our actions, it helps to know how they work.

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What is intrinsic motivation?

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

  • Cleaning your house because you like it tidy
  • Playing a game of soccer because you enjoy the sport
  • Reading a book about a subject that interests you
  • Putting together a puzzle because you like the challenge

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'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. Examples of extrinsic motivation include:

  • Cleaning your house so your roommate doesn't reprimand you
  • Playing a game of soccer because you want to win a trophy
  • Reading a book because you want to get a good grade in school
  • Putting together a puzzle because you want to win a prize

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: Which is best?

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

Extrinsic motivation is beneficial in some cases. For example, working towards gaining 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 lead to burn out or lose effectiveness over time.

Sometimes intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can work together to help you complete a task. As an example, if you have a job and you're working to complete a project, you might be extrinsically motivated to finish it to earn a raise, and you might be intrinsically motivated to finish it because you enjoy the project and want to do a good job.

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'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. Positive criticism that's specific and empowering will help people understand your standards and expectations. Also, 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. Also, give them positive feedback when their guidance was particularly helpful. When you provide positive feedback to your managers about what motivates you, you're extrinsically motivating them to continue managing you successfully.

Using extrinsic motivation at work

In some settings, extrinsic motivation is necessary for day-to-day work. Additionally, extrinsic rewards, such as bonuses, commissions, awards or prizes, are the only things that can promote interest in certain 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 it. Make sure you also set aside time to explore new skills and activities you are interested in for the sake of enjoyment or simply to learn something new.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are important ways of driving behavior. When you understand the differences between the two types of motivation, you can also gain a better understanding of how to encourage people.