Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: What You Need to Know

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Motivation

We’re all best motivated in different ways. Depending on the situation, you might be more inclined to complete a task because it makes you feel good than because of a reward, while in other situations, it’s the reward that pushes you to complete your job. Understanding intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation and how it impacts you and your colleagues’ actions can have a huge impact on your work productivity and performance. We’ll explain what intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation is, highlight the benefits of each, and offer examples of each.

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is performing a task or duty for its own personal rewards and benefits. With intrinsic motivation, you complete the necessary action because it's the right thing to do and gives you a personal sense of reward. In an ideal workplace, everyone would be intrinsically motivated and want to do their best all the time because it makes them feel good. The behavior itself is the reward.

What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is performing a task or duty for a reward or to avoid punishment provided by an external source. With extrinsic motivation, you complete your obligation because you're going to get something you want — or avoid receiving something you don't want. While extrinsic motivation is often considered less desirable than intrinsic motivation, it plays an important role in workplaces and helps keep employee's productivity up.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are important for your professional life. Whether you realize it or not, probably most of the tasks you complete at work are due to extrinsic motivation. When you finish a project by a deadline, you're doing so because you don't want to get in trouble with your boss. When you answer emails, you're doing so because you want the recipient to think well of you and answer whatever questions they asked.

However, when you help a colleague who's struggling with an assignment, that's intrinsic motivation. When you read up on an industry update because you want more knowledge, that's intrinsic motivation. Both types of motivation are valuable. Understanding when they apply and how to use them to you or your team's benefit can help increase productivity all around.

Benefits of intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation offers a number of advantages you can use to leverage your work performance.

  • Persistence: Intrinsic motivation tends to result in higher levels of persistence. Since you're undertaking the task or activity for a personal sense of accomplishment and reward rather than a prize, you're more likely to keep working at it until you succeed than you would if you had little to no personal buy-in.
  • Engagement: When you're enjoying the work you do and get a sense of pleasure from that intrinsic motivation, you're more likely to stay engaged with the work.
  • Learning efficacy: When learning something new, studies show that intrinsic motivation is far more effective for retention than extrinsic motivation. Therefore, if you're sent to training or need to learn a new skill for work, find a way to intrinsically motivate yourself to increase your learning potential.
  • Better performance: Intrinsically motivated people tend to have excellent work performances. If you find a sense of personal accomplishment in your work product, you're more likely to take extra care that it's of superior quality before submitting it.
  • Loyalty: Employees who feel intrinsically motivated are more likely to stay with their company long term. Since you enjoy the work you do and earn personal fulfillment from it, it follows that you'd be less likely to leave that job for something else.

Benefits of extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation also offers a number of benefits for the workplace.

  • Productivity: Extrinsic motivators are excellent for increasing productivity in the short-term. This can be super useful if you're working towards a deadline and need a boost of motivation to get the work done.
  • Tangible or intangible: While most people think of extrinsic motivators as tangible things like money or trophies, they can be intangible as well. Praise and recognition are often just as effective as motivators as physical things.
  • Biology: Humans are biologically programmed to seek extrinsic motivation. Gardening is a great example. It may offer some intrinsic benefits, but it also provides the extrinsic benefit of fresh, free food. Using extrinsic motivators in the workplace speaks to your biology.
  • Healthy competition: Offering a prize or reward to a team can bolster healthy competition within a department or company and increase overall production and performance.
  • Pique interest: You can use an extrinsic motivator to complete a new task or project that ends up bringing you great personal joy, which you continue to do with the help of intrinsic motivation.

Examples of intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation in the workplace can take many forms. Consider a few examples to see how intrinsic motivation works.

  • Keeping a journal of ideas you don't intend to publish is intrinsic motivation. You keep the journal in order to inspire superior work for your own personal reward.
  • Assisting a colleague on a project because you sincerely want to help them is intrinsic motivation. You're helping them because you feel good about supporting a peer, not for any recognition.
  • Completing extra assignments beyond the expectations of your managers is intrinsically motivated. You're doing it because you enjoy it, not for a reward.

Examples of extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation in the workplace is easy to identify. Here are a few examples of common extrinsic motivators.

  • Increasing your productivity to win an incentive is an example of extrinsic motivation. You're working beyond expectations because you're interested in receiving a prize from your supervisors.
  • Completing a project by the deadline is a type of extrinsic motivation. You do not want your manager to chastise you for missing the deadline, so you complete the assignment on time.
  • Attending a mandatory professional development session is an example of extrinsic motivation. You want to earn the necessary credits to perform your work.

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