Motivation Defined: The Differences Between Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation

Motivational theories have existed for decades, including in the workplace. While some companies place more emphasis on one type of motivation over the other, they typically both are utilized in one way or another.

The Differences Between Intrinsic And Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to performing an action or behavior in order to receive an external reward or outcome. When individuals are extrinsically motivated to do something, they aren’t concerned with whether or not the action is enjoyable or fulfilling. Instead, they are most concerned with the outcomes, whether performing an action to get rewarded or avoiding a certain behaviors or actions to avoid punitive outcomes.

Intrinsic motivation is defined as performing an action or behavior because you enjoy the activity itself. This is motivation that comes from inside the performer (inherent behavior). Inspiration for acting on intrinsic motivation can be found in the action itself and not some form of external rewards.

Can these two motivation types exist together?

Yes, but with special care.

Take, for example, a top-performing sales executive. They may be passionate and naturally driven to perform at their job because of the ability to work autonomously and the flexibility and control they have over their workday. They genuinely enjoy the work because of various elements of the job and the environment within which they work.

In this case, the individual is intrinsically motivated to perform. An extrinsic reward, such as an end-of-year bonus, may not be the driver causing them to reach a goal, but a signal that they’re appreciated and recognized for their work.

That’s an important distinction.

Which motivation type is better?

Studies have shown that if an employee is naturally driven to perform within the job, extrinsic rewards may actually do more harm than good. And often times, extrinsic rewards devalue an individual’s innate motivation to perform an activity or task.

When this happens, managers often resort to more extrinsic rewards in an effort to increase immediate motivation and engagement, when, in actuality, it’s causing the opposite.

As Alfie Kohn states in the book, Punishment By Rewards, “the use of powerful systematic reward procedures to promote increased engagement in target activities may also produce simultaneous decreases in task engagement.”