What drives our behavior to accomplish things? What makes us do something? Is it because of personal gain or because we fear punishment for not doing it? To answer shortly, yes. But our motivational drive goes beyond this simple answer. According to psychologists, two types of motivation drive our behavior to do the things we do. These are intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation vs extrinsic motivation, both can mean a lot to an employer. If you’re wondering which type of motivation is the best for your employees, read this article to find out.

In this article, we will focus on intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. Besides seeing their differences, you will also look at their examples and how they can be applied in the workplace. 

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Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is the type of motivation that arises from internal factors. It involves performing a task because it is fun or engaging. In intrinsic motivation, we do a task because of its inherent satisfaction regardless of what consequences it may have. 

When intrinsically motivated, a person does a task for fun, engagement, and the joy that comes from doing it. They don’t concern themselves with the external reward, pressure, or punishment that follows it. Intrinsic motivation is simply a gateway to learn, explore things based on interest in a task.

For example, if you’re reading this article to get a deep understanding of what intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation means in a workplace, you are intrinsically motivated.

Reading a book, watching a movie, gardening, writing, or singing a song are all examples of intrinsic motivation. That is because we do these activities merely for fun and not because of pressure or an external reward. 

In intrinsic motivation, a person competes for personal satisfaction and not external rewards such as money, a prize, or praise. Of course, intrinsic motivation has its reward in the form of having positive emotions within the person. 

Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Research has shown that being intrinsically motivated, doing something merely for interest or enjoyment energizes and nurtures us, is good for our wellbeing, and boosts our performance.  So how does that affect an employee and an employer in the workplace? According to the same source, there are three basic needs that when met, motivate our behavior:


The sense of being connected to others.


The feeling of having some control and being free to make decisions.


The sense of being capable in what we do.

When these three needs are met, a person is more likely to be intrinsically motivated to complete their tasks. To intrinsically motivate your employees, consider the following steps:

Recognize the Good Work

One good way to motivate your employees intrinsically is to acknowledge their work. When you appreciate their work it drives their motivation to achieve more. Recognizing the work makes them more productive, motivated, and engaged in their work. Recognition should be specific. You must call out a specific action that came from your employee worthy of praise and recognition. 

Also, consider the nature of an employee before you go about recognizing them. If an employee is an extrovert, give them a shout-out in front of people. This boosts their motivation and drives them to achieve more. However, if an employee shies away from socializing, consider recognizing their work personally.

Give Thanks 

Yes, salary is great motivation but have you tried thanking your employees? Practicing gratitude is one sure way to keep your employees motivated if not reward. When you thank your employees for all they do for you and your company, they are motivated to do more. This helps them get engaged in their work and they achieve goals because it gives them satisfaction. 

Practice Autonomy

As research says, autonomy matters a lot when it comes to retaining employees. When you give your employees autonomy over their dealings and the decisions they make, they feel valued. Autonomy is an ultimate boost to their motivation. With autonomy, employees begin to love their job, and hence they are motivated to do more to bring value to the organization. 

As Vincent Van Gogh once said, What is done with love is done well.

Introduce Challenges

Human beings love solving problems. This is why we spend day and night working on solutions for problems that seem hard to solve. The same is the case with challenges. When you provide your employees challenges, they are motivated to face them and overcome them. Stretch your employees with interesting challenges and make them deal with complex clients. You’ll see them get motivated to solve their problems. 

Intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation

Pros of Intrinsic Motivation

  • Employees who are intrinsically motivated are more passionate about their work. Even when they face challenges, they are highly motivated to overcome them.
  • Another benefit of having such employees is that they have a better understanding of what they do. They make sure everything they do brings value. To do that, they never stop learning. 
  • Intrinsically motivated employees use feedback as a chance to improve themselves. They aspire to better themselves with time and feedback.

Cons of Intrinsic Motivation

  • Intrinsic motivation is intangible and therefore you can’t quantify the amount of motivation an employee will require. 
  • Secondly, you can’t make an employee learn something if they’re not interested in learning it.
  • Sometimes an intrinsic reward isn’t enough for employees. They must be rewarded in some way that makes them feel cared for as well. 

Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Extrinsic motivation is purely derived from external factors. In this type of motivation, an employee concerns themselves with the reward that comes with completing a task or the punishment it may follow. In this case, the punishment refers to avoiding getting in trouble of some sort or avoiding criticism from a manager. 

For example in a job, the external motivational factor is money. To motivate an employee you can introduce a bonus. 

How to Use Extrinsic Motivation?

So how can you use extrinsic rewards for your employees? To extrinsically motivate your employees, it’s important that you consider specific situations. Before doing that, make sure your employees will be motivated by the reward or not. Below are some situations that make sense for you to extrinsically motivate your employees:

To Arise Interest 

Sometimes when your employees lack interest in a particular task, you may switch to extrinsic rewards to keep them motivated to learn. An incentive like a bonus is often helpful to make someone interested in a task.

To Increase their Skillset 

If you want your employees to develop a particular skill set, set a reward for doing so. Not only will they be motivated to learn but also reach their goals ultimately.

When the Work is Hard

When your employees are engaged in strenuous projects, a lack of motivation is inevitable. You can use an extrinsic reward in this case. For example, praising your employees for their tireless efforts. 

As Short Term Motivation

Sometimes extrinsic rewards are effective to be used as a short-term motivation for your employees. In this case, the reward should be tied to the specific action. Once skills are established and some intrinsic motivation is produced, the extrinsic motivator can be removed.

Pros of Extrinsic Motivation

  • The biggest benefit of extrinsically motivating your employees is that it’s easily quantifiable. For instance, if you think a certain amount of bonus will motivate an employee enough, you’re good to go.
  • Extrinsic motivation can motivate employees even when they aren’t interested in a task. For example, if you ask your employees to do a particular task with a reward at the end, many will readily agree to work.
  • Sometimes. an extrinsic motivator is the real motivator that compels people to work. A doctor, for instance, may really love helping and treating their patients but if that doesn’t come with a reward i.e. money, they wouldn’t be able to feed their family. 

Cons of Extrinsic Motivation

  • Extrinsic motivation can be costly for you. Giving your employees an incentive for every time they do something, can cost you resources.
  • When employees know they will be rewarded at the end of the day for whatever they do, it becomes more of a habit than doing the work passionately. The best work is done by those employees who actually love doing it. Extrinsic motivation cannot buy that passion. 
  • Another con is that you may need to change the reward after some time. Most employees will not be motivated by the same incentive over and over again. Think of a child who gets bored of a toy after playing with it for some time and then demands a new one.
  • Lastly, extrinsic motivation kills creativity, passion, and engagement for a task. In this type of motivation, the main goal becomes to get the reward, which is bad for you and your organization as well. It creates a sense of pressure and working under pressure causes stress. Psychologically speaking, that lowers the levels of serotonin in the brain, ultimately making an employee unhappy.

What’s the Best for Your Organization?

Is intrinsic motivation better for your employee or extrinsic motivation? Turns out, a blend of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is considered the best option. If you motivate your employees using both types, you’ll see far better results. 

Just make sure you keep certain things in mind like your employees and the right time. For example, you might want to begin with hiring people who are passionate to work. Their passion for work will make them work in the best way and generate great results for you. Now, you need to think of a way to reward your employee for all the great work they’ve done for you. This is where extrinsic motivation helps. Help them see a payoff for their hard work by rewarding them with bonuses, praise, or any other type of compensation. 

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic motivation

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation have the following differences:

Source of Motivation

Intrinsic motivation arises from internal factors while extrinsic motivation arises from external factors.

Purpose of Doing a Task

In intrinsic motivation, we do something for personal gain, inherent interest, appeal, or joy. On the other hand, in extrinsic motivation, we complete a task to achieve an external reward or to avoid punishment such as being criticized.

Feelings While Doing a Task

When we are intrinsically motivated, we enjoy the task at hand and we feel satisfied upon achieving the goal. However, in extrinsic motivation, the purpose is to receive benefits that come with the participation of doing something.

Example of Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

For example, reading about something because it’s fun to learn is an example of intrinsic motivation. Reading about something to receive praise from an instructor is an example of extrinsic motivation. 

Intrinsic Motivation Examples

Some examples of intrinsic motivation are given below:

  • Taking part in athletics because you like staying active
  • Joining a gym because you like bodybuilding 
  • Gardening
  • Reading a book
  • Taking a new learning course to expand your knowledge 
  • Running or jogging to beat personal records
  • Watching a movie because you enjoy it
  • Painting a picture 

Extrinsic Motivation Examples

  • Partaking in sports because you want to win a prize 
  • Playing a card game because of the money that comes upon winning
  • Spending time with someone because they’re resourceful
  • Taking pictures for others to make money
  • Doing your homework to avoid scolding from an elder 
  • Learning a new language because it’s a requirement for a great job

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation Examples in the Workplace

Below are some ways to motivate your employees extrinsically:

  • Setting up an award of the employee of the month for your employees is an example of extrinsic motivation.
  • Offering awards for a job well done.
  • Praising the employees who’ve worked hard on a project.
  • Fixing a bonus for completing a task on time.
  • An incentive in the form of PTO leave. 

Below are some ways to motivate your employees intrinsically:

  • Find out the individual preferences of each employee and motivate them. For example, a computer geek is likely to be highly motivated by cutting-edge technology.
  • Help them learn more. For your employees who are keen on learning about new stuff, offer them courses, introduce them to ebooks and online programs. Encourage them to enroll in programs that enhance their skills. 
  • Provide your employees with opportunities to expand on their present skill set and learn things that will be necessary for their future endeavors.

Final Word on Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation 

Now that you know what intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation is, the question is how will you use them? The best practice is to use the best of both worlds. You can’t entirely rely on an intrinsically motivated employee and the similar for the extrinsically motivated employee. Therefore look for someone who loves their job and then reward them for doing their work so well. 

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