What Is Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation? (With Examples)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 13 September 2022 | Published 3 January 2022

Updated 13 September 2022

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

In the workplace and your professional life, there are factors that can motivate or encourage you to complete tasks. These factors can be intrinsic or extrinsic. Understanding how internal and external aspects of motivation work can help you become a better employee and leader. In this article, we discuss intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, compare their examples, explore why they're important and find out how employers can use them in the workplace to improve productivity.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

To find out the differences between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, looking at their definition and origin can be helpful. Intrinsic motivation is when you do something for reasons that originate within yourself. For instance, you may volunteer to rescue animals without asking for any compensation because you find it enjoyable and care deeply about animals. There's no requirement for any external rewards for your actions in such a situation.

In contrast, extrinsic motivation is when you do something to earn an external reward or avoid punishment. For example, if you work only to earn a salary, money is the extrinsic factor that motivates you to work. Extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation sometimes work together, which may explain some human actions and behaviours. For instance, you may go to work because you enjoy your work and the salary you earn helps you take care of your family.

Related: What Is Compensation: Types and Examples of Benefits

Examples of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

Here are some examples of behaviours driven by intrinsic motivation:

  • volunteering for causes and projects that make you feel altruistic

  • taking on projects at work because you like to feel accomplished

  • playing a sport because it is enjoyable

  • learning a new skill because you want to achieve personal growth

These same behaviours can also have extrinsic reasons:

  • volunteering because it offers you networking opportunities

  • taking on projects at work because it may lead to a promotion or pay raise

  • playing a sport because you want to win a competition

  • learning a new skill because your employer had made it mandatory

Read more: Extrinsic Motivation Examples (Definition and Importance)

What causes intrinsic motivation?

While tangible and abstract rewards primarily drive extrinsic motivation, different factors may promote intrinsic motivation, such as satisfaction, enjoyment, personal growth and happiness. People may pursue the same tasks for different reasons as unique intrinsic factors may motivate them.

Factors that may promote intrinsic motivation at the workplace include:

  • Challenge: You may like the feeling of overcoming challenges because it makes you feel accomplished.

  • Curiosity: You may learn a new skill or language because you enjoy the pleasure of learning something new.

  • Recognition: People who recognise and appreciate your work efforts may intrinsically motivate you to do better.

  • Sense of belonging: If you're a part of a team that works well together, the sense of belonging may motivate you to work harder.

  • Control: The desire to control work situations or make decisions that influence work outcomes may motivate you to work towards your goals.

Read more: What Are Intrinsic Rewards and Why Are They Important?

Why are intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors important?

Understanding intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors is critical because they impact productivity in the workplace. Employers and managers can use this knowledge to understand how to motivate their team members. They can also design workplace rewards and benefits to achieve higher productivity outcomes.

What works better between intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation depends on the individual and the situation. Both these motivational factors usually co-exist while working and influence each other. Too much or too little of either factor may negatively impact productivity.

Related: Tips on How to Be Motivated at Work

Using intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to improve productivity

Managers and leaders can use a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to affect workplace behaviour. For instance, if managers want to foster a stronger team spirit, they may consider activities such as team-building. They can also tweak salaries and benefits to provide more or fewer incentives for extrinsic motivation. If you're a manager, here's how you may use these different types of motivation:

Intrinsic motivation in the workplace

Here are some ways leaders may cultivate intrinsic motivation at the workplace:

Design satisfying job roles

If employees find their job brings a sense of accomplishment, it may lead to higher job satisfaction and a more positive work environment. Employers can seek employee feedback while designing job roles to increase job satisfaction. By letting employees exercise their creativity, curiosity and innovation, organisations can increase engagement and productivity levels.

Related: How to Apply the Job Characteristics Model to Your Workplace

Involve employees in decision-making

When managers involve employees in decision-making, it's a signal that employers want to listen to employees' voices. This can make them feel valued and create a sense of responsibility. If employees participate in the decision-making process, they may feel intrinsically motivated because they can directly influence work outcomes. It may also mean employees can direct how to achieve work goals without a top-down approach from management.

Related: 10 Leadership Role Examples (With Functions of Leadership)

Promote a sense of belonging

Promoting teamwork and a sense of belonging caters to employees' desire to be part of a group or community. Employers can foster team spirit among their employees through initiatives such as team-building exercises and workshops. When employees feel a sense of belonging, they may work better together as a team. They may also feel more satisfied by helping other team members.

Related: How to Enhance Collaboration and Teamwork (Plus Benefits)

Extrinsic motivation in the workplace

Here are some ways for managers to use extrinsic motivation in the workplace:

Offer competitive salaries and benefits

Money is often one of the key factors behind extrinsic motivation, and employees expect to be compensated fairly for their work. Offering remuneration above industry average standards is one way to ensure that employees remain motivated. Benefits are also another aspect of the compensation package, which may motivate employees. By offering valuable benefits to employees, organisations can build a sense of security.

Related: What Are Employee Benefits and 17 Types of Employee Benefits

Reward success and innovation

Some workplaces use rewards such as long-service awards, commendation awards or paid scholarships to attract and retain employees. These are part of extrinsic motivation and also include monetary rewards or gifts. Non-tangible rewards, such as praise or positive feedback from supervisors, may also extrinsically motivate employees. Giving positive feedback to employees is a way to recognise their outstanding work performance and can also increase work productivity.

Related: 8 Positive Feedback Examples for Employee Performance

Set clear workplace rules

Most workplaces have clear rules about acceptable professional behaviour and penalties for breaking the rules. For instance, companies may have an employee code of conduct that lists employee values and behaviour expectations. A code of conduct guides how employees interact with colleagues, clients and supervisors. Avoiding punishment can be an extrinsic factor that motivates employees to comply with rules and uphold the expected standards of conduct.

Related: Code of Conduct in the Workplace: Importance and Examples

When is extrinsic motivation effective?

Some workplace situations may require organisations to use extrinsic factors as a primary source of motivation. Here are some benefits of using this type of motivation:

Encourages employees to learn new skills

Employees sometimes lack the skills to adjust to a new job or may require reskilling to update their skills. But, learning and training might not be easy for all employees. When employers want to motivate employees to gain new skills, they may consider encouraging extrinsic rewards. After employees gain new skills or complete a training module, intrinsic factors, such as work satisfaction, may then become the prime motivator.

Related: How to Set Personal Development Goals (Plus Benefits and Tips)

Encourages interest in workplace activities

Some employees may lack interest in certain workplace activities, such as attending training or participating in off-site team-building exercises. Extrinsic rewards or the avoidance of punishment may sometimes encourage participation in these activities. For instance, completing training may be a prerequisite to promotions or salary increases. The prospect of a promotion or pay raise may extrinsically motivate employees to attend training.

Recognises employees for their good work regularly

Many workplaces appraise employees and give promotions and bonuses once a year. If employers want to recognise employees immediately after achieving work goals, they may consider handing out extrinsic rewards at different times throughout the year. For example, the senior leadership team can host a meal to show their appreciation for high-performing employees every month. Rewarding successful employees shortly after their achievements may encourage better work performance.

Related: How To Write a Promotion Announcement (With Template)

Motivates employees on long-term projects

Some employees work on long-term client projects where it may take several years to achieve the end goal. It is natural for team members to lose motivation or interest with time. To manage this, organisations can provide small incentives to keep motivation levels high and help employees stay focused. For instance, regular paid leaves, breaks and on-site visits can help sustain interest and commitment.

Read more: How to Motivate Employees: 12 Effective Ways to Boost Morale

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