What’s the Difference Between Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation?

Motivation serves as the fuel that propels us toward our goals, influencing our behaviors and driving us to take action. You need your employees to be motivated and engaged for higher production, better quality work, and happier and healthier employees. But what motivates us as individuals and as employees? And where does this motivation come from? 

Understanding the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is the first step to answering these questions. We discuss the balance between the two types of motivation and what could trigger de-motivation in the workplace.

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What is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is the inner drive that pushes us to engage in activities purely for the joy and satisfaction they bring. It's the spark that ignites when we pursue tasks because we inherently enjoy them rather than for any external rewards or pressures. 

Research in psychology suggests that intrinsic motivation leads to higher levels of creativity, persistence, and overall well-being. For example, allowing employees to have autonomy over their tasks and projects can foster a sense of ownership and purpose. This autonomy can empower individuals to pursue tasks that align with their interests and passions, leading to greater engagement and satisfaction. Here’s a great example of this practice put into action:

Google actively practices an initiative they call the "20% time" policy”, which encourages employees to spend a portion of their workweek on projects of their choosing, outside of their regular job duties. This gives employees the space, time, and freedom they need to be innovative! Is it effective? Gmail, Google News, and Google Maps (apps most of us use every single day) all originated during the 20% time policy. While that fact speaks for itself, the policy also encourages employee engagement, collaboration, and improves recruiting efforts and retention. 

The reason this policy is so successful is because it drives intrinsic motivation by providing employees with the trust, freedom, and autonomy to work on projects that they are passionate about. Think about ways your company could drive that same passion.

What is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is driven by external factors such as rewards or punishments. It's the type of motivation that propels us to act in pursuit of a specific outcome or to avoid consequences imposed from outside ourselves. While extrinsic motivation can be effective in achieving short-term goals and compliance, it may not necessarily foster intrinsic satisfaction or long-term engagement among employees. However, extrinsic rewards do have a place in the workplace! Let’s talk about why:

Extrinsic motivators often include monetary incentives, promotions, or recognition programs. For instance, offering performance-based bonuses or employee-of-the-month awards can motivate individuals to achieve specific targets or milestones. Most employees work so they can pay bills and that’s okay! Extrinsic motivation can be a great tool to help show employees they are valued and appreciated.

However, relying solely on extrinsic rewards alone, inadvertently undermines intrinsic motivation, leading employees to focus exclusively on external incentives rather than the inherent enjoyment or satisfaction derived from their work. This de-motivates employees, leading to feelings of frustration and disconnection, ultimately impacting mental health and overall job satisfaction.

Imagine this: A worker often shares with their manager their desire for projects that match their values, passions, or skills. Yet, the manager repeatedly overlooks these requests and opts to give them a raise instead. This will make the employee feel unheard, achieving the opposite of what was intended, de-motivating them and leading them to search for jobs elsewhere.

Why Motivating Your Employees Matters

Motivating your employees isn't just about keeping them happy; it's about driving tangible benefits for your organization. Motivated employees are more productive, healthier, more likely to stay with their employers. In fact, highly engaged teams are 21% more profitable than unengaged teams. Motivated employees also tend to exhibit lower levels of absenteeism and higher levels of job satisfaction, contributing to a positive work environment and overall organizational success.

Just as Google demonstrated, when employees feel valued, they are more likely to contribute their ideas and expertise, leading to innovation and growth within the organization. 

Is Intrinsic or Extrinsic Motivation More Effective For My Employees?

Both forms of motivation, intrinsic and extrinsic, have their place in the workplace. While intrinsic motivation fosters a sense of personal fulfillment and passion for the work itself, extrinsic motivation can provide additional incentives and rewards that complement intrinsic motivation. By understanding the unique needs and preferences of your employees, you can create a balanced approach that leverages both types of motivation to drive engagement, satisfaction, and performance.

Even though both forms of motivation are necessary, intrinsic is more impactful. Individuals who find their motivation from within often show an impressive dedication to long-term tasks. This internal drive fosters a deeper sense of satisfaction and a genuine passion for the process, leading to more fulfilling emotional experiences marked by enjoyment, freedom, and relaxation. So, focus your initiatives on what will drive intrinsic motivation in your employees. 

How Wellvation Can Help You Create a Culture of Health

With Wellvation, you can create a workplace where employees feel valued, empowered, and motivated to excel. True wellness is a journey that builds whole-self health improvements. By developing intrinsic motivations, Wellvation cultivates an innate sense of ownership that leaves no one in your organization behind.