Understanding when to apply extrinsic or intrinsic motivation—or a combination of both—can be a game-changer for any organization. By matching the right type of motivation to the tasks at hand, you can optimize performance, enhance job satisfaction, and achieve your goals more effectively.
This article breaks down extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, offering real-world examples and practical tips. Read on to unlock the full potential of motivation in the workplace and beyond.
What is extrinsic motivation?
Simply put, extrinsic motivation comes from outside forces. It’s driven by the desire to achieve external rewards or avoid negative consequences. In marketing and sales, extrinsic motivation is often the driving force behind many actions. For instance, sales teams frequently work on commission. The higher the sales, the bigger the paycheck. This external reward—money, in this case—pushes them to perform at their best.
While extrinsic motivation can be highly effective for short-term tasks requiring quick results, it often fails to inspire long-term commitment. The reason is simple: external rewards can lose their charm. Once you’ve received that bonus or won that trophy, the motivation will likely decrease if there’s no new reward on the horizon.
Extrinsic motivation examples
- Salesperson on commission. If you’re a sales representative, your income heavily relies on commission. The more products you sell, the bigger your paycheck. The thrill of a higher bank balance at the end of the month pushes you to make one more call, even after a long day. In this case, the external reward is financial gain that works as a powerful motivator.
- Employee of the month. Many companies have an “employee of the month” program — this is a classic example of extrinsic motivation at play. Employees might work extra hours, volunteer for projects, or strive to exceed their KPIs to win this title. The recognition and possible rewards are external factors that encourage higher performance.
- Social media influencers. Social media influencers are a prime example of people often motivated extrinsicly. The more likes, shares, and follows they get, the more they can charge for sponsored posts. In this case, the external rewards are both social approval and monetary gains, which motivate the influencer to post content consistently.
Types of extrinsic motivation
1. Financial rewards.
When people think about extrinsic motivation, financial rewards often come to mind first. This type of motivation is prevalent in jobs that have performance metrics that are easy to measure. It includes salaries, bonuses, commissions, and even tips. Financial rewards are highly effective in driving short-term behavior because they offer a direct and tangible benefit, but the motivational impact of financial rewards can diminish over time.
2. Social recognition.
Being publicly acknowledged can be a powerful motivator for many people — it taps into the human need for affirmation and status. Social recognition is often used in workplace environments to boost morale and encourage a competitive yet cooperative atmosphere. Yet, it’s important to understand that not everyone is motivated by public praise, and for some, it might even be a source of stress or discomfort.
3. Fear of negative consequences.
Although we prefer to focus on the positive, fear can also motivate us. The risk of losing your job or receiving a poor performance review can push people to act a certain way. While fear is indeed an effective motivator, it’s generally not recommended as a long-term strategy as it can lead to stress and anxiety, which in turn can decrease overall productivity and well-being. Plus, fear-based motivation can harm workplace culture and employee relationships, creating an environment of distrust and competition rather than collaboration.
4. Peer pressure
Sometimes, the behavior of people around us can serve as an extrinsic motivator. If everyone in the office stays late to meet a deadline, you might feel motivated to do the same, even if you’re not receiving something in return directly. Peer pressure can create a collective sense of responsibility, but it can also lead to burnout if not managed correctly.
5. Job benefits.
Some extrinsic motivators are built into the job itself. Beyond the paycheck, many companies offer a lot of job benefits to keep their employees motivated. These could include health insurance, retirement plans, gym memberships, or free snacks in the office. While these may not be direct day-to-day performance drivers, they can significantly impact overall job satisfaction and employee retention.
When to use extrinsic motivation?
- Short-term goals and deadlines. If you need immediate results or have a tight deadline, extrinsic motivators can be highly effective.
- Routine or monotonous tasks. For jobs that lack inherent excitement but need to be done—think data entry or routine administrative tasks—extrinsic motivation can provide the necessary push.
- New hires or onboarding. When employees are new and still getting to understand the company culture and their role, extrinsic rewards can be useful to guide their initial performance.
- Team competitions. Extrinsic motivators can be particularly effective in a competitive setting, like sales teams competing for quarterly bonuses, because they add excitement.
- Customer loyalty programs. Offering customers extrinsic rewards like discounts or freebies can incentivize purchases and promote loyalty, at least in the short term.
What is intrinsic motivation?
Intrinsic motivation is fueled by personal interest or enjoyment in the task itself. It’s the inner drive that makes you do something without the need for external rewards or pressures. This type of motivation comes from within you, and it’s often linked to personal satisfaction, growth, and fulfillment.
For example, if a graphic designer finds immense joy in creating beautiful visuals, he or she doesn’t need a deadline or a bonus to perform well — creating is rewarding enough. Or think about a marketer who is passionate about building brand stories — their internal drive to craft compelling narratives is motivation enough to excel at their job. Unlike extrinsic motivation, where external factors like money or recognition are the motivators, intrinsic motivation is fueled by your own curiosity or desire for self-improvement.
Intrinsic motivation examples
- Analytical marketers. Some marketers get thrilled by analyzing metrics and drawing insights from data. For them, dissecting a campaign’s performance and strategizing how to optimize for better results is intrinsically satisfying. They’re motivated by the intellectual challenge and the continual learning that comes from being deeply engaged with analytics.
- Employees who value company culture. Some employees find intrinsic motivation in contributing to a positive company culture. They engage in team-building activities, mentor junior staff, or take the lead in corporate social responsibility initiatives. These actions often don’t come with immediate tangible rewards but provide personal fulfillment and purpose.
- Customer-centric business owners. For some entrepreneurs, the primary motivator isn’t profit but customer satisfaction. They derive immense joy and satisfaction from seeing how their products positively impact their customers’ lives. This intrinsic motivation can drive them to go above and beyond in delivering exceptional customer experiences.
Types of intrinsic motivation
This type of intrinsic motivation is about getting better at something that matters to you. Employees driven by mastery get ahead in overcoming challenges, learning new skills, and improving their work. For instance, a marketer can go out of their way to learn the latest digital tools not because they have to but because they want to excel in their field.
People motivated by autonomy value the ability to make choices and decisions independently. They enjoy tasks where they have control over their actions and can execute their vision. In a marketing context, an autonomous person might enjoy the flexibility to strategize and choose which strategies to focus on, thriving on the freedom to make decisions without excessive oversight.
Purpose-driven individuals find motivation in contributing to a cause greater than themselves. They need to see how their role fits into the larger mission of the organization. Businesses that effectively communicate their vision and how each team member contributes to that goal are more likely to engage these employees.
Curiosity-driven individuals are intrinsically motivated to explore, learn, and understand the world around them. They love questioning the status quo and digging deep into problems to find innovative solutions. They are often behind the most creative marketing campaigns or product improvements.
5. Social Interaction
For some people, the social aspect of work is a significant source of intrinsic motivation. They find satisfaction in collaboration and enjoy the interpersonal communication of the workplace. In a sales or marketing team, these individuals can be excellent at building client relationships and fostering a cohesive team environment.
When to use intrinsic motivation?
- Long-term projects and goals. Intrinsic motivation is excellent for projects that require sustained engagement over a long period. The internal drive to succeed can keep the team motivated even without immediate rewards.
- Creative and strategic roles. Roles that require innovative thinking and problem-solving often benefit from intrinsic motivation, as the internal desire to conquer challenges can lead to more creative solutions.
- Skill development. For tasks aimed at personal or professional growth, such as training programs or mentorship initiatives, intrinsic motivation is generally more effective.
- Employee retention. In the long term, intrinsically motivated employees are often more satisfied and more likely to stay with the company.
- Brand advocation. Deeply satisfied and engaged customers often become brand advocates out of love for the product.
Extrinsic motivation vs. intrinsic motivation: which is best?
Pros of extrinsic motivation
- Immediate results. Extrinsic motivators like financial rewards or bonuses often yield immediate results. These incentives can quickly boost productivity and focus, especially in roles where performance metrics are straightforward.
- Easy to implement. Extrinsic rewards are often easier to set up and manage. The link between the task and the reward is usually clear, making it easy for both employers and employees to understand.
- Broad appeal. Financial rewards and other material incentives are universally appreciated, making them effective across diverse groups of employees.
Cons of extrinsic motivation
- Short-term focus. The downside is that the effects of extrinsic motivation can be short-lived. Once the reward is achieved, the motivation may weaken.
- Risk of entitlement. Over time, what was once an “extra” or a “bonus” can become expected, diminishing its effectiveness as a motivator.
- Undermining of intrinsic motivation. Sometimes, extrinsic rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation, especially if people focus solely on the reward rather than the enjoyment or satisfaction derived from the task itself.
Pros of intrinsic motivation
- Sustainable engagement. Intrinsic motivators, like the joy of doing a good job or the enjoyment of personal growth, tend to produce more long-term engagement.
- Personal fulfillment. Intrinsic motivation often leads to greater job satisfaction and well-being. Employees aren’t just working for a paycheck; they’re working because they find the work itself rewarding.
- Self-directed. Intrinsic motivation is self-sustaining. Individuals control their own actions and objectives, reducing the need for external management and oversight.
Cons of intrinsic motivation
- Harder to instill. It’s difficult to create intrinsic motivation if it doesn’t already exist, as it’s often linked to personal interests and values.
- Not universal. What intrinsically motivates one person might not motivate another, making it challenging to apply a one-size-fits-all strategy.
- May lack urgency. While intrinsically motivated individuals are often deeply engaged in their tasks, they may lack the urgency that can come with extrinsic motivators like tight deadlines or performance bonuses.
How to utilize extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for maximum productivity
1. Start with assessment and recognition.
Each team member may be motivated differently. You can utilize different methods to understand their motivations, ranging from simple surveys to more personal one-on-one conversations. Even reviewing performance metrics can provide insights into what drives individuals. Once you’ve got a clearer picture, make sure to openly acknowledge your team’s hard work and dedication. This recognition is a motivator, whether your team members are extrinsically or intrinsically driven.
2. Implement a multi-level reward system.
We all love rewards, but not all rewards are created equal for everyone. To appeal to varying motivations, design a reward system with multiple layers. On the one hand, for immediate and short-term results, offer tangible rewards. Think of a small cash bonus for meeting a weekly target or maybe a gift card for a job well done on a project. On the other hand, don’t forget the power of intrinsic motivators. Encourage your team to improve and grow by offering ways for career progression or skills training, such as mentorship programs or specialized courses.
3. Build a motivational culture.
Don’t underestimate the power of a well-articulated company vision. Make it clear how each role contributes to the big picture. People are more likely to be intrinsically motivated when they can see the value of their work in a broader context.
To tap into intrinsic motivation, you must create an empowering work environment. This involves giving your team more autonomy, enabling them to make decisions and manage tasks on their own.
4. Fine-tune incentives.
Money is not the only language of motivation. While financial incentives are effective extrinsic motivators, you can intertwine them with intrinsic elements. For instance, bonuses could be structured not just around sales performance but also around personal and team growth achievements. Also, consider rewards that aren’t necessarily monetary, like granting additional vacation days. This aligns well with intrinsic values like work-life balance and personal time.
5. Use deadlines and competitions wisely.
Competition and deadlines can add more excitement to the workplace. However, it’s crucial to use them wisely. You can utilize extrinsic rewards to spice up competitive situations. At the same time, try stimulating intrinsic motivation through internal challenges aimed at self-improvement or skill mastery. Activities like hackathons, brainstorming meet-ups, or even themed innovation days can help here.
6. Chech feedback and adapt.
Performance reviews can be powerful motivational tools. An extrinsic framework can be set through measurable performance indicators, driving your team to meet certain benchmarks. Pair this with intrinsic feedback that focuses on personal development. But remember, the key to long-term success is adaptation. As you gather more insights into what’s effective and what’s not, don’t hesitate to adapt your motivational strategies to better align with your team’s needs.
To wrap up
In summary, neither type of motivation is inherently superior; the choice depends on various factors, including the task at hand, the individuals involved, and the overall organizational culture and goals. The best approach to motivation often lies in a balanced mix of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivators tailored to the specific needs and goals of your business or team. For example, you might offer financial incentives for hitting short-term objectives, along with opportunities for personal and professional development. The key is to balance extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in a way that aligns with the employee’s drive.
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