When it comes to employee productivity, not all motivation is the same. Some employees are more driven to succeed through personal accomplishments, while others seek external factors, such as recognition and money. Knowing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation means finding ways to keep all of your employees satisfied and productive so that you have less turnover and a happier workplace.


Intrinsic motivation means people are self-motivated, while extrinsic motivation requires them to receive something in return for their work, such as money or a promotion.

Intrinsic Motivation Definition

While it may not always be obvious, there is a difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The intrinsic motivation definition is based on a person’s natural inclinations of what’s important or enjoyable to her. This is an internal drive that takes little effort or coaxing. If a person is intrinsically motivated, she is motivated to perform a certain task simply because she enjoys doing it, such as a hobby.

Intrinsic motivation also exists in cases where an external reward is present, like when a person enjoys her line of work and also receives a paycheck. Internal motivators may also be connected to a person’s sense of purpose when it taps into her sense of who she is. Examples of intrinsic motivation include:

  • Inherent satisfaction
  • Engagement in work
  • Autonomy

The intrinsic motivation definition varies from person to person since the reasons one person enjoys doing a job are often different from those of another person.

Extrinsic Motivation Definition

Extrinsic motivation is based on receiving a certain reward from an external source, like a person or place. External rewards can come in the form of money, a promotion at work or approval from others.

Here is where the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is more obvious. With extrinsic motivation, a person’s actions are controlled by an external outcome, whereas intrinsic motivations are self-driven. Once the source of the motivation is removed, an employee may feel there’s no reason to follow through on the task.

For instance, if you decide to stop giving quarterly bonuses, employees who were extrinsically motivated by the extra money may stop working so hard to achieve their quarterly goals.

Examples of Extrinsic Motivation 

Examples of extrinsic motivation include:

  • Salary
  • Bonuses
  • Promotions
  • Job security
  • Benefits
  • Flexible hours

Keeping an extrinsically motivated employee happy may be difficult if you don’t offer him what he needs to feel successful. For instance, an employee who is motivated by promotions and salary increases can lose his drive if he knows there is no room for growth at the company.

Distinguishing Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

It may not always be obvious if your employees are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. The best way to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is to talk with employees to see what motivates them in their job. You may have to do a little digging to find the answer you want.

To distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in your employees, you can ask them directly if you feel comfortable doing so. Otherwise, you can get a sense by asking questions like:

  • With which parts of your job are you most satisfied?
  • Which parts of your job would you like to change?
  • What makes you feel most accomplished at work?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how important is it for you to enjoy the work you do?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how important is [insert extrinsic motivator here] to you?

You could also make an employee survey that includes a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators and ask employees to circle or check those things that most motivate them. By getting each employee to distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, you can get a sense of how you can keep each one engaged, productive and feeling like a valued member of your team for years to come.