Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Difference & Best Practices


In this article, we’ll explore the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, explaining the benefits of each in a work environment and how to harness them effectively within yours. 

Key Facts

  • Intrinsic motivation comes from an internal desire to accomplish a goal, while extrinsic motivation comes from external rewards and praise.

  • Neither type of motivation is better than the other. Their effectiveness depends on each employee and how employers prioritise each type of motivation in the workplace.

  • Using extrinsic rewards can build intrinsic motivation, but overusing those rewards can make intrinsic motivation disappear. 

Intrinsic Motivation: Meaning 

Intrinsic motivation is when someone is driven to do something for reasons that come from within. This can refer to when an employee is independently learning a new skill or when they derive enjoyment from a work task. 

Extrinsic Motivation: Meaning

Extrinsic motivation is when someone is driven to do something for external reasons, usually to earn a reward or avoid consequences. This can refer to when an employee learns a new skill to get a raise or go above and beyond doing their tasks to earn praise. 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Differences

Intrinsic motivation is when someone is motivated by personal desires, while extrinsic motivation is when they’re motivated by possible rewards or to avoid consequences. For example, in the workplace, an employee who learns new skills for personal development is intrinsically motivated, but someone who learns new skills to earn a promotion is extrinsically motivated.

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Examples of Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Below are more examples of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to help you better recognise and utilise them within your workplace. 

Intrinsic Motivations

Extrinsic Motivation

Studying a new topic for the sake of learning about a new topic

Studying to brush up on a topic to earn a certification

Coming to work every day out of enthusiasm for the job

Coming to work every day to avoid late penalties or getting fired

Talking to co-workers to develop friendships and deepen professional connections

Talking to co-workers to get help on a project

Taking on more leadership responsibilities as a way to grow professionally and personally

Taking on more leadership responsibilities to showcase abilities for the purpose of earning a raise

What Are the Benefits of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace?

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations can be helpful in a work setting if you understand how to leverage them for employee professional development. Many people think intrinsic motivation is the most desirable of the two, but both have their strengths if you know how to take advantage of them. 

Best Cases for Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation isn’t possible in every situation due to human nature. No two employees are precisely alike in what motivates them and what brings them satisfaction in the workplace. Not all intrinsically motivated individuals will apply those skills in their workplace, either. 

While it’s true that employees do benefit from a bit of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation comes in to offer something extra. These incentives — whether it’s a special perk, a bonus or something similar — can push your team forward. Offering the chance of rewards or praise can get them to complete tasks they weren’t initially interested in or level the playing field for all employees to participate and move your department or company towards the same goal.

Generally, managers should utilise extrinsic rewards when they need to motivate their team to take on new responsibilities or learn new tasks. Try not to rely on extrinsic motivation for everything, as that can create the unrealistic expectation that there will always be this kind of reward.

Best Cases for Intrinsic Motivation

It’s possible to influence intrinsic motivation, though it’s not as straightforward as offering an extra day off for the highest performer on the team. Personal preference means that some people will never grow interested in a topic or want to pursue continuing education, no matter how much it can benefit them in the workplace. 

But that’s not always the case. Some extrinsic motivation, such as recognition for a job well done or delivering positive feedback, can be utilised as tools to inspire intrinsic motivation. This also has a positive effect on employee motivation.  

Rewards used to inspire extrinsic motivation can encourage intrinsic enjoyment of the task over time. However, too many extrinsic rewards can have the opposite effect, leading employees to rely on them to stay motivated.

Frequently Asked Questions About Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is when someone is driven to accomplish a goal for personal fulfilment rather than to earn praise or rewards. 

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is when someone is motivated to accomplish goals by what they may receive for completing them.

What Is the Difference Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation?

While intrinsic motivations come from internal desires, extrinsic motivations come from external rewards. They both drive workers to complete their tasks or responsibilities, but extrinsic rewards can be leveraged to build intrinsic motivations. However, it typically doesn’t work the other way around. 

Which Is Better, Extrinsic or Intrinsic Motivation?

Neither type of motivation is better than the other. How well each one performs in the workplace depends on the context they're used in and how well leadership uses them. 

Keep Your Workforce Motivated with Personio

Trying to build either intrinsic or extrinsic motivation in your team can be difficult if you don’t know which employee needs reinforcement the most. But with Personio’s performance features, you can keep an eye on how each team member is performing and step in if one starts falling behind. From there, you can set up a meeting to determine any potential problems and find out how best to keep them motivated moving forward. 

Book your free demo to learn how Personio can help you manage your workplace.


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