Humans feel motivation in two unique ways, intrinsically and extrinsically. Contrary to popular belief, neither is particularly more effective than the other at encouraging certain types of behavior — but in business, one is certainly more expensive than the other for compelling employees to perform to their highest ability.
As businesses develop their management culture, they need to consider the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, the benefits of each motivation style and how to implement programs to encourage motivation throughout their organizations.
As defined by psychologists, intrinsic motivation is the drive to participate in behaviors and activities for one’s own sake, because they are in some way personally rewarding. Humans are not the only creatures to experience intrinsic motivation; other animals have been observed exploring and manipulating their environment as a means of playing, satisfying curiosity and growing their cognitive strength.
Individuals have their own reasons for engaging in certain behaviors; sometimes, these reasons are comprehensible to others, but often, these reasons are obscure and utterly unique. For example, most people understand a person’s intrinsic motivation to solve the Wordle of the day because they find the challenging puzzle fun and exciting. However, it might be less clear why an individual chooses to play an instrument like the bagpipes other than that for some abstruse reason they glean pleasure from the activity.
From a business perspective, the most important attribute of intrinsic motivation is that many employees have some intrinsic motivation to complete their duties, and business leaders do not have any control over fostering intrinsic motivation in their workforce. Thus, it is important for hiring managers to look for signs of intrinsic motivation in the candidates they consider for available roles. Because reasons driving intrinsic motivation can be diverse, intrinsic motivation is not always easy to identify in others, but some good indications that an employee has intrinsic motivation include:
- The ability to work autonomously and make decisions without constant supervision
- Excitement for new responsibilities and challenging projects
- Displaying a sense of purpose and commitment to one’s role
- Investment in social connections with one’s colleagues
Though employers have essentially no power to increase their workers’ intrinsic motivation, they can accidentally decrease it. Studies have found that excessive external rewards for certain behaviors can reduce one’s intrinsic motivation. For example, one study rated children’s interest in playing with a toy before and after rewarding them for playing with the toy. After the reward, the children were less likely to engage with the toy, likely because their play had transformed into a form of work.
Employees can come to rely on extrinsic motivators to maintain consistently high performance levels. The elimination of intrinsic motivation can be an expensive mistake for businesses — but there are benefits to knowing which extrinsic motivators are effective on one’s workforce.
Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within; extrinsic motivation, it follows, is the result of outside motivators. The most common extrinsic motivators include pay, awards and grades, but recognition and praise can also function as extrinsic motivators — and so too can punishments and criticism.
There is a common misconception amongst business leaders that extrinsic motivation is bad or does not work. In truth, extrinsic motivators are essential for keeping the workforce engaged. Staff need to be paid a livable wage and gain appropriate benefits, and workers need to know that their superiors see and appreciate the effort they are putting into the company. What’s more, business leaders can use external motivation to encourage behaviors that the workforce has little intrinsic motivation to complete.
However, extrinsic motivation comes with higher costs to a company than intrinsic motivation. Businesses need to pay for raises, perks, awards and other extrinsic motivators, whereas intrinsic motivation is free. To ensure that workers are earning just the external motivators they need, businesses can create a recognition program that suits their company culture.
Most employees need a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to maintain consistently high levels of performance. By recognizing when intrinsic motivation is driving performance and when employees need an extra boost with extrinsic motivation, leaders can keep business expenses low and productivity high.