Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 13, 2020
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Motivation is the driving force behind every action we take, from brushing our teeth to spending extra hours working on a project. People vary individually in what motivates them. As a whole, though, their stimuli often fall into the category of either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation.

What Are Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

Think of “intrinsic and extrinsic” as “inside and outside” motivation. All people are motivated to do something by the result it incurs or avoids.

Being intrinsically motivated means to accomplish something because it feels rewarding without any external bonus. It’s finishing a task or meeting a goal for the personal satisfaction of doing it. You aren’t expecting to get anything from it.

Examples of intrinsic motivation include:

  • Spending time with your family because it makes you happy

  • Working out at the gym because you like to stay healthy

  • Playing on a baseball team because it’s fun

  • Cleaning your apartment because you feel comfortable in a neat space

  • Reading a book because the subject matter is interesting to you

Extrinsic motivation is different in that you are led to accomplish goals because you want to reap a reward or avoid a consequence. You don’t do it because it’s something you innately want to do. You do it because you want to satisfy external factors.

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Examples of extrinsic motivation include:

  • Finishing a school assignment out of fear of getting a bad grade in the class

  • Accomplishing work on a project because you want to impress your boss

  • Submitting your artwork to a competition because you want to win a cash prize

  • Attending an introduction lecture because your company requires it

  • Tidying up your home in preparation for your parents coming to visit

What Is The Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations differ in that they’re different sources of fuel for completing a goal. There’s a driving force behind every action you take, and it’s either extrinsic or intrinsic.

Most people fall into a pattern of comorbidity with intrinsic and extrinsic motivations.

We need extrinsic motivations to keep us on the right course. For example, receiving grades in a class maintains a student’s learning track with milestones. Or, you may be enticed to work extra diligently to secure a holiday bonus.

Extrinsic motivation can be necessary for professional and social life because it provides constraints for how to behave. You want to feel good and meet the expectations of people you respect.

However, this can’t be your only motivating factor. Being intrinsically motivated is also essential in maintaining balance.

Intrinsic motivations are governed to reach a point of internal fulfillment. While that sounds time-consuming, you can accomplish personal fulfillment through simple things. Something as simple as raising plants from seedlings and watching them grow because it brings you joy. Intrinsically motivated actions are done in this pursuit of personal satisfaction without a tangible reward or need to do so.

Pursuing courses of action through both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation creates a diligent, reliable, and happy person. Being motivated by both external and internal factors can also make for a strong employee.

How to Leverage Extrinsic Motivation

Leveraging extrinsic motivation in employees is vital because it sets precedents for what they can expect when they perform well, and vice versa. Extrinsically motivating your staff can be done in a few ways.

Consider the following tips on how to establish extrinsic motivation in the workplace.

  1. Setting expectations. One of the best ways to extrinsically motivate your employees from the moment you hire them is to set your expectations for their role. For some positions, this may be done formally through terms of a contract. Others may just inform their staff of what their expectations are through an onboarding meeting.

    Setting expectations is an integral part of extrinsically motivating an employee because it provides them with guidelines for how they should proceed with their work. This includes letting them know what will happen if they don’t meet these expectations.

    When they choose to step outside the boundaries that you’ve set, they’ll know that it could result in potential disappointment or reprimand from the employer.

  2. Provide compensation incentives. Money is a powerful extrinsic motivational approach for employees. If your organization can offer financial incentives for strong work, it could inspire your staff to perform better than they have in the past. Many people may respond better to positive reinforcement than the threat of consequence.

    You can implement a compensation incentive through a few different avenues. One way is by creating a reward system. The specifics of what you offer is up to your organization’s limitations, and there’s a lot of room for flexibility.

    Many companies that choose to use a compensation reward system will evaluate their employees on a set schedule and offer a specific bonus or raise amount for meeting standards during this period. This can be helpful in continually driving employees to do their best work by looking forward to these monetary bonuses.

  3. Establish authority. A work environment should be a comfortable and collaborative place where everyone’s voices can be heard. However, as a manager in charge of motivating your team, you need to establish authority.

    This doesn’t mean that you have to be mean or instill fear in your employees’ hearts. You don’t want people walking on eggshells. Instead, adopt a no-nonsense demeanor that people will not want to disappoint, while still being easy to talk to.

    Achieving this balance of authority can have a positive impact on an employee’s extrinsic motivation.

  4. Give positive feedback when earned. Offering your staff constructive feedback is a crucial part of being an effective leader, but it’s also vital for instilling extrinsic motivation. People want to hear from their employers when they’ve done a good job. It validates the efforts that led them to receive this feedback and motivate their actions in the future.

    Taking the time to let an employee know that you’re happy with the work they’ve done can be very useful in leveraging extrinsic motivation. It’ll make employees more likely to work harder because they want to keep receiving this positive feedback.

How to Leverage Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsically motivating staff can be a trickier task than extrinsic motivations. If you’re an employer looking for ways to boost your staff’s lack of intrinsic motivation in the workplace, you can implement a few tactics.

Consider the tips below for how to boost your employee’s intrinsic motivation.

  1. Establish clear goals. Goals are an excellent route for leveraging intrinsic motivation in your employees. People respond well to understanding where they need to go and figuring out how to get there. You should set short and long-term objectives with each employee individually and as a group to stimulate teamwork and target personalized goals.

    Setting goals creates intrinsic motivation in your staff because they naturally will want to rise to the occasion. There may not be a bonus or cash value attached to meeting this goal, but it makes them feel accomplished, and they want to do it because you established it beforehand.

  2. Foster professional competition. Utilizing the aspect of competition in the workplace can be another way to establish intrinsic motivation. Creating a healthy competitive spirit among employees doesn’t have to be a grandiose plan.

    Competition can be as simple as recognizing an employee every month who performed especially well by putting their picture on the wall. It can also be something more elaborate, like hosting a yearly event in honor of the associate with the highest sales.

    If you can tap into an employee’s competitive nature, you’ll have them working tediously to come out successfully. This will spark intrinsic motivation within them because it makes them feel fulfilled without a specific external gain.

  3. Get your staff invested in your company’s vision. The success of your organization depends on the work of your staff. In order to get them to work to the best of their abilities and drive your company to success, you need to get them invested in your vision.

    People just aren’t going to work as diligently if they have no reason to care about the work they’re doing. You need to show them why your company and their position is crucial to success. Make them feel important.

    One method of getting your staff to invest in your vision is by explaining the company’s story. It’s unique to your business and can illustrate experiences that resonate with your employees.

    Consider your own organization’s unique journey. If you own a pasta sauce company inspired by your grandmother’s original recipe, tell your staff more about that. Everyone has a grandma with great recipes, and it’ll make them feel like they’re part of the family.

  4. Present your employees with interesting challenges. People tend to be strongly motivated to overcome challenges. While the word may initially hit the ear with some negativity, offering challenges can help intrinsically motivate employees.

    It can be personally fulfilling to grapple with a complex task and come out victorious. Offer these opportunities to your staff when they arise. Try to consider assignments that would be particularly suited to an individual employee and explain why you think they’re the best person for the job.

    While they won’t be receiving any tangible benefits from completing this task, they’ll receive a learning experience and a sense of accomplishment once they’ve seen it through to the end. Achievement can be a great way of leveraging intrinsic motivation in your employees.

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Chris Kolmar

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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