You may have heard others speaking of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. But what do those terms mean? And how do they relate to motivation in the workplace? This article provides the answers.

Do you have what it takes to be a motivational leader?

It seems like a simple question. Most managers would say that they do. Yet many don’t achieve the results that they’re looking for. They use all sorts of staff motivation tools in an effort to boost team performance.

But their staff remain unmotivated, which affects their productivity.

These leaders don’t understand Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation.

The staff motivation tools that you use may not be the problem. Instead, you may not fully understand where each tool falls on the motivational spectrum.

To know how to use your tools, you need to understand the difference between Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation.

Moreover, you need to know how to use Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation to your organisation’s benefit.

What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Let’s look at Intrinsic motivation first. This behaviour involves engaging in an activity because you find the activity itself rewarding. People do what they do because they love doing it. Any rewards that they receive come second to the joy of completing the activity.

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There are all sorts of examples of this in everyday life. You may play a sport because you enjoy playing, rather than because you want to win. Or, you may complete a crossword puzzle because the challenge of completing the puzzle motivates you.

The key is that you’re not looking for an external reward for completing a task.

So, how does this apply to the workplace?

It comes down to that all-important word – passion.

An Intrinsically-motivated person does their job for the joy of doing it.

An architect finds motivation in the designing of a structure. A programmer finds motivation in solving coding issues.

As a manager, you must find motivation in your projects and in the idea of nurturing a team.

The task itself is the reward for an Intrinsically-motivated person.

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation focuses on the reward that you receive for completing an activity.

Your salary is an Extrinsic motivator. You earn money for doing your job. You may even earn commissions or bonuses for excelling in your job. These are all Extrinsic motivators that have nothing to do with your passion for the work.

Extrinsic motivators also cover the opposite side of the coin. You may engage in a behaviour to avoid receiving a punishment. For example, a child may avoid using a naughty word because they’ll get a scolding if they do.

There are all sorts of rewards that fall under the Extrinsic model. An athlete may participate in a race to win first place. Students may study more intensely in an effort to get a better grade.

Simply put, it’s the end result of your hard work.

intrinsic and extrinsic motivationAn Extrinsic motivator is an external reward that comes as a result of you completing a task.

You’re motivated because you stand to gain. As a result, you may use an Extrinsic motivator to get somebody to do a task that they don’t have a passion for.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation – Which Works Best?

It’s true that Intrinsic motivation is the key to getting great results. Extrinsic rewards only take you so far.

If your people don’t care about the work that they’re doing, they can only push themselves so much.

But that doesn’t mean that you can discount Extrinsic motivation entirely. In fact, Extrinsic motivation plays just as big a role in the workplace as Intrinsic.

After all, you won’t get anybody to work for free. Everybody expects payment for their efforts, even if they love what they’re doing.

Each method has pros and cons. Using only one means that you’re taking away several staff motivation tools from your arsenal.

Here’s the good and bad of each method.

intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic Motivation – The Pros

Intrinsic motivation has several obvious pros that you can use to your advantage.

  • The individual has a passion for the work that they’re doing. This means that they actually enjoy the tasks that you set for them. A person who enjoys their work feels motivated to keep pushing, even when facing larger tasks.
  • Intrinsically motivated people have a greater understanding of the task’s purpose. They understand where their work fits into the grand scheme of the project. As a result, they get a reward just by knowing that they’re contributing.
  • With Intrinsic motivation, people have a desire to improve their knowledge. They’re more likely to accept feedback because they want to be better at what they do.

Intrinsic Motivation – The Cons

There are some downsides to Intrinsic motivation that aren’t immediately apparent. These include the following:

  • You can’t always use Intrinsic motivation to get somebody to learn about a new topic. If they have no immediate passion for it, they may not want to start it.
  • The joy of doing something isn’t a result in and of itself. Intrinsic motivation may help somebody to achieve a result. But it doesn’t help them to define what that result should be. An end goal is usually an Extrinsic reward of some kind. Allowing somebody to work on a task that motivates them Intrinsically may backfire if there’s no Extrinsic motivator in place.

intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic Motivation – The Pros

There’s plenty of good that comes from Extrinsic motivation. This includes the following:

  • You can use Extrinsic motivation to help somebody get through a task that they’re not passionate about. For example, let’s say that you need somebody to sub in on a task because another employee is ill. An Extrinsic motivator, such as a bonus, can help that person to reach your expectations.
  • Every defined goal that you set is an Extrinsic motivator. Specific goals aren’t something that comes from the Intrinsic side of things. That goal could be almost anything. Completing a project is a goal, which makes it an Extrinsic motivator.
  • It’s Extrinsic motivators that compel people to come into work. After all, an architect may love to design buildings. But if they’re not getting paid for it, they can’t put food on the table. You need to offer Extrinsic motivators to keep your people focused and willing.

Extrinsic Motivation – The Cons

Of course, you can’t rely on Extrinsic motivators alone either. Doing so comes with several drawbacks, including:

  • Extrinsic motivation doesn’t create passion. Somebody who doesn’t love what they do will only do the bare minimum to get their reward. Without passion, Extrinsic motivators aren’t sustainable. The boredom of the work eventually leads to the Extrinsic motivator not offering enough. That’s how you lose talented people to other organisations.
  • You have to keep scaling Extrinsic rewards up. Offering the same reward time and again produces poorer results each time. If you’re relying on Extrinsic rewards to motivate somebody, the reward has to grow over time.
  • Relying on Extrinsic motivation sets a dangerous precedent. People expect a reward for everything that they do. Otherwise, why should they do it? This can lead to people actively avoiding tasks that may help them to develop professionally because they can’t see an immediate reward.

Use Both Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

So, we come back to the key question. Which is best between Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation?

The truth is that they’re both important. You don’t have to make a choice between Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation.

Using both at the same time often yields far great results.

Finding people who have a passion for what they do is the first step.

Their Intrinsic motivation will drive them to work hard because they love the work.

But they can’t survive on Intrinsic rewards alone. They need Extrinsic motivation to put food on the table. Moreover, Extrinsic rewards show progress, which is a motivator in itself.

Don’t look at these concepts as two philosophies to set against one another. Instead, look at them as two sides of the same motivational coin.

You want people that find Intrinsic motivation in what they do. But you must also offer Extrinsic motivation that allows them to see a payoff for their work.

Tips for Using Extrinsic Rewards

Extrinsic rewards are a useful staff motivation tool. But as previously mentioned, overusing them can lead to issues.

Here are some tips for using Extrinsic motivators to boost performance, rather than damage it:extrinsic motivation

  • Unexpected Extrinsic rewards don’t affect Intrinsic motivation. A small bonus for doing exceptional work will come as a pleasant surprise to an Intrinsically-motivated employee. But they also know it’s not a regular thing. Their Intrinsic motivation doesn’t lower because they receive an unexpected Extrinsic reward. But don’t make such rewards a regular thing. Otherwise, they’re expected rather than added bonuses.
  • Use praise as an Extrinsic motivator. Offering praise when somebody exceeds expectations can boost Intrinsic motivation.
  • Offer feedback with your Extrinsic motivator. This may be the praise mentioned above. But you can also use your feedback to tell somebody how they may improve further. When combined with Intrinsic motivation, this method creates a target for the employee to aim for.

The Final Word

Relying solely on Extrinsic motivators won’t help you to create a high-performing team. Your people will come to expect Extrinsic rewards. If they don’t receive them, they may lose all motivation. Moreover, you can’t use Extrinsic motivation to create passion for somebody’s work.

But relying only on a person’s Intrinsic motivation is also not enough. An employee may love what they do. But that doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t put food on the table. Furthermore, a lack of Extrinsic motivators means that they don’t set goals. This can lead to unfocused work that doesn’t achieve the results you’re looking for.

Instead, you’re looking for a combination of the two. Search for Intrinsically-motivated people and make sure they work on tasks that they care about. Offer Extrinsic motivation as a reward for completing tasks and exceeding expectations. But don’t allow it to become the only reason for why somebody shows up to work.

It’s a difficult balancing act. But it’s one that you must master. Thankfully, the Great Managers Academy can help you to achieve the balance.

A Great Manager can DOUBLE the capability of their people.

Register for our next free webinar to learn how great managers use motivation to create high-performing teams.