Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Hot coffee, warm muffins or the tantalizing aroma of a big, sizzling breakfast motivates many of us to get out of bed. But then what? Employees spend much of their waking hours earning a living, but without extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in the workplace, their jobs often leave them feeling unfulfilled and eager to punch out, benefiting, well, no one.

Intrinsic motivation sparks from within – basically, it's about how employees feel about their jobs and what drives them to do their best or simply bide their time. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from external sources related to work, namely the effort put forth by management to inspire the team.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

At home, extrinsic motivation can come from your favorite first cup of warm, caffeine-forward goodness. As it lifts you from a groggy state, intrinsic motivation takes over, and you begin to plan the day – at least, the first hour or two.

At work, staff expect extrinsic motivation from supervisors and managers. As for intrinsic motivation, some workers come by it naturally and easily. For others, motivating themselves intrinsically – to want to do their best work for the company – can be a bit difficult. In some cases, external motivation inspires internal motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation Examples in the Workplace

A paycheck is the most obvious extrinsic motivator, but other sources of employee incentive include:

  • Recognition for a job well done; regular pats on the back and words of appreciation are great but think Employee of the Month awards, pay raises and promotions.
  • Annual appreciation days.
  • Year-end bonuses.

Disadvantages of Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

Could there be downsides to extrinsic motivation at work? Possibly. Consider how motivated you'd be about rewarding yourself with a monthly trip to the movie theater if they played the same show all year long. Changing up motivational rewards can keep staff inspired. Maybe you'll hold an annual appreciation day each summer after reaching a particular target, letting, say, the team with the highest numbers choose the year's activity, such as a barbecue, baseball game or beach-side outing.

Another disadvantage is the sustainability of extrinsic motivation in the workplace. What if employees become accustomed to a bonus system and then it's taken away due to cutbacks, for example? They might develop a what's-the-point attitude and apply less effort than they did when prompted or motivated by the reward.

Intrinsic Motivation Examples in the Workplace

Intrinsic motivators are a bit tricky: The type of inner motivation that drives one staff member may do nothing for her coworker. Think of the numerous intrinsic motivation examples in sports, such as competitiveness, strength, energy and the health benefits – mental, emotional and physical – we gain from being active, being part of a team and doing something we enjoy. All good stuff, right? Alas, not everyone enjoys working up a sweat on a field, court or track.

A few examples of what sparks intrinsic motivation or personal internal rewards in the workplace include:

  • The need or desire to complete a heavy assignment in order to learn and develop skills.
  • The incentive to prove to yourself, peers and management that you have what it takes to handle challenging projects.
  • Various stimuli to get ahead, such as to feel important and needed or with a promotion in mind.
  • The motivation from doing your best simply because you enjoy your job or want to help the company forge ahead.

Motivation In Short

Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, setting motivational examples is key in many instances. Although you can't force your team to feel inspired, the way you lead workers plays a sizable role. As Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, explains, "...once you know what your own motivations and aspirations are, you should encourage your employees and colleagues to discover theirs."

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About the Author

Lorna Hordos is a home-improvement business owner and freelance writer. She has written hundreds of conversational business articles for WordPress.com, Bizfluent, AZ Central and Global Post.