The Differences Between Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Motivation is the driving force behind a person’s actions to achieve a certain goal. In the workplace, employees have different driving forces that determine why they are undertaking a particular task. The workers can have either extrinsic or intrinsic motivation driving them to complete said task.

The motivation to carry out any kind of task is heavily linked to one’s psychological makeup. A person expects a certain kind of return when they complete a given feat. This return could be within them – a feeling inside them that indicates that the task was worth it. This is known as intrinsic motivation.

On the other hand, the expected return from accomplishing the task could be some kind of material external reward. For example, an employee could hit all their weekly milestones so that they can be in the frame for an increase in salary or a promotion. This situation is an example of extrinsic motivation.

Both these kinds of motivation have their place in society as a whole and the workplace in particular. Let’s delve deeper into the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

What is extrinsic motivation?

This kind of motivation is present in individuals who want to carry out or are carrying out tasks solely for the external rewards or avoidance of punishment. These rewards can be money, promotion or public recognition like Employee of the Month whereas the punishment could be demotion or cancellation of their contract.

Extrinsic motivation, therefore, originates from outside the individual and not from within them.

One might be inclined to think that the external rewards in this kind of motivation are all physical or materialistic. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Though it is true that many of the rewards are physical in nature, they can also be psychological.

In the example of the rewards above, we mentioned public recognition and praise. Even if an individual is working for the bonuses that come with being Employee of the Month, the prestige of the title also plays a significant role in motivating the worker to achieve the accolade.

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The worker doesn’t particularly enjoy implementing the tasks that are assigned to him but he carries them out with considerable zeal because he wants the psychological reward that comes with being publicly lauded for his work at the end of the month.

What is intrinsic motivation?

In contrast to the extrinsic kind of motivation, this form is where the individual partakes in a task because they actually find it interesting in and of itself. This means that the zeal to complete the task comes from within the person because it gratifies them.

Although this internal satisfaction is often the goal of doing activities when intrinsically motivated, there are some rewards as well. These rewards are mainly psychological in nature. The activity creates positive emotions within the individual.

For example, some people carry out philanthropy because it makes them feel good when they believe that they’re making a difference in the community.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation: Which is better?

To determine which kind of motivation, it’s vital to remember that extrinsic motivation requires an external reward that drives the employee. On the other hand, intrinsic motivation originates from within.

This sort of situation means that an employer might find it easier to motivate employees by offering external rewards because he can easily access them. It’s difficult to know what might satisfy someone from the inside.

However, it should be noted that when an employee is intrinsically driven to complete a task, they can lose their motivation when an external reward is introduced into the equation. The introduction of this physical reward might wrongly tug at their moral fibre. They can then question the whole point of carrying out the task and stop doing it as perfectly as they can.

This phenomenon, where the introduction of extrinsic motivation has an adverse effect on the intrinsic motivation, is known as the over-justification effect.

A study to prove this effect was carried out. Children were rewarded for playing with toys they already have fun with. When given these toys gain, their enjoyment of these toys had markedly reduced.

With all this, however, extrinsic motivation shouldn’t be painted as the worse kind. It comes in handy in sparking interest in an activity that the employee isn’t particularly keen on. It can also be used to acquire new skills and knowledge.

extrinsic intrinsic motivation

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Are the two types of motivation mutually exclusive?

When analysing extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, it might seem that the two don’t go hand in hand based on their overall definitions. However, there are instances when the two operate efficiently and in tandem.

For example, there is an excellent software engineer at the company. He enjoys writing code and solving problems in software. This means he is intrinsically motivated to provide the company’s software solutions.

If at the end of the year, the management gives him a bonus, it’s just the cherry on top. The main motivation for carrying out his duties as a software engineer is the enjoyment of coding and not the end of the year bonus.

This shows that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are not mutually exclusive and can actually work together to ensure that employers get the best out of their employees.

In Summary

Extrinsic motivation is all about working to complete a task because there is an external reward at the end. In some instances, one wants to avoid punishment and that’s the motivation behind undertaking the activity.

Conversely, intrinsic motivation is where one undertakes a task because they get genuine joy and satisfaction out of it. They don’t need much pushing or cajoling to get the task done because they actually like doing it.

From that concise summation, one is right to think that it is better to want someone to actually like what they do so that they can produce the best results. Nevertheless, both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation is important when it comes to lighting a fire under employees.

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald Ainomugisha

Gerald is a freelance writer with a pen that is keen for entrepreneurship, business and technology. When he isn't writing insightful articles on employee engagement and corporate culture, Gerald can be found writing for a number of media outlets.