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Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic Motivation

Do you sometimes enjoy reading an exciting novel but not a ten-page business report? Are you often motivated to play soccer but not chess or basketball? Under such circumstances, you are unintentionally driven by something called 'intrinsic motivation.' Regarding business contexts, intrinsic motivation guides companies to drive the best out of their employees.

Intrinsic Motivation Definition

When was the last time you accomplished a task for the pure enjoyment of doing it? When was the last time you contacted a colleague just because you missed them, not for work-related purposes?

Intrinsic motivation is doing something because it is enjoyable and exciting rather than because of pressure or an extrinsic incentive.

Accordingly, when you do something for the pure enjoyment of it, you are intrinsically motivated. Thus, you are motivated from within rather than driven by extrinsic desires, such as rewards and prizes or extrinsic pressure.

Intrinsic motivation can persistently engage individuals with tasks and projects. Thus, individuals can find the continuous urge to explore various solutions to satisfy their internal wants and needs.

Real-life intrinsically motivated actions

For example, when you are reading this explanation simply because you are interested in psychology and curious about this concept, you are acting upon intrinsic motivation.

However, if your assignment deadline lands you on this explanation, you act on extrinsic motivation instead.

Likewise, whenever you write a blog, go out to the gym, learn how to cook, or share your stories with your colleagues, you act on intrinsic motivation that simply makes you happy.

Intrinsic Motivation vs. Extrinsic Motivation

As the direct opposite of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation helps companies learn and understand their employees' motivation and behaviors. Thus, a clear separation of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is vital.

Extrinsic motivation is the act of doing something to gain an external reward.1

Accordingly, while intrinsic motivation is derived from within, extrinsic motivation arises from one's external environment. Therefore, we can differentiate these two concepts based on two main facets:

  1. Motivation: in intrinsic motivation, you do something because it is internally rewarding. Conversely, you do something out of extrinsic motivation when an external reward exists.

  2. Goal: you act upon intrinsic motivation due to goals coming from within to satisfy your basic psychological needs. By contrast, you act upon extrinsic motivation because of goals focusing on an external outcome, such as money, power, fame, or prizes.

Intrinsic Motivation Factors

Indeed, multiple factors can determine whether an individual's motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic, among which the most prominent ones are as follows:

  1. Curiosity: individuals can be encouraged to explore new things to quench their curiosity.

  2. Challenge: sometimes, tough challenges drive people to work and optimize their performance.

  3. Control: employees can also act intrinsically or extrinsically because they want to control their work and make meaningful decisions that can influence business outcomes.

  4. Recognition: employees may work to satisfy their need to be appreciated at work or to get their efforts recognized and appreciated by others.

  5. Cooperation: employees also feel personally satisfied when they cooperate with others. Thus, they are motivated to help others and work together.

  6. Competition: employees may also work to compete against each other. Thus, competition emphasizes the importance employees place on performing well at work.

Intrinsic Motivation Theory

When it comes to the explanation of intrinsic motivation and its mechanism, there have been various theories proposed,

First, some psychologists believe that external rewards drive all behavior. For intrinsic motivation, the reward is the activity itself. 1

External reward that drives intrinsic motivation

For example, if you are reading this explanation due to your intrinsic motivation, it is still the explanation that motivates you to do so.

Second, other experts argue that intrinsic motivation is, foremost, based on one's needs and drives.1 Accordingly, basic human psychological and biological needs, such as hunger or thirst, are the motives behind our intrinsic motivation to do something.

At workplaces, intrinsic motivation is closely tied to intrinsic rewards programs, such as the employee recognition program. Alongside, there are also alternative ways for companies to encourage intrinsic motivation, which we will discuss further in this section.

Intrinsic Motivation: Employee Recognition Program

Perhaps today's modern employee recognition program is the most famous example of such a program.

An employee recognition program is a company's plan to show formal appreciation for specific employee behaviors and contributions.

Many companies use employee recognition programs, given that such intrinsic programs are inexpensive. In fact, they cost businesses nothing but appraises!

As everyone naturally loves to be recognized and appreciated, such non-financial intrinsic reward programs perfectly satisfy employees' psychological needs and wants. However, there remains a high risk of unfairness and bias in implementing employee recognition programs in the workplace.

When is an employee recognition program fair? And when is it not?

An employee recognition program is fair when its results are determined based on measurable figures or quantitative data. For example, the company can select the best salesperson of the month based on individual monthly generated revenue.

However, an employee program turns biased when no evident indicator exists. For example, the best employee in the office is selected based on the manager's subjective observation during the month can be unfair to other employees.

Intrinsic Motivation: Other Popular Ways

Businesses can also set the stage to ignite individuals' intrinsic values and motivation at the workplace.

Intrinsic Motivation: Working Environment Adjustment

Commonly, organizations can drive their employees' internal motivation by creating working environments that are comfortable, desirable, and loveable.2 Thus, employees are more likely to spend more time at work or feel more motivated to come to offices.

Examples of companies with innovative working environments

Giant names like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are pioneers in creating enjoyable and positive working environments to foster their employees' intrinsic motivation and creativity.

Besides, the color and design of the working environment, the layout of furniture and desks, or the add-on of free coffee and snacks can also positively influence employees' intrinsic motivation.2 The purpose of this is to create a comfortable workplace for employees to immerse in and focus on their work.

Intrinsic Motivation: Tracking Employee Results

Also, a constant performance evaluation feedback process can help push employees towards a better version of themselves at work.

Impacts of performance evaluation on employees' intrinsic motivation

For example, salespeople often have a monthly sales target to reach in a sales department. To encourage each individual to work harder towards the end of the month, a sales manager can provide them with a weekly progress report tracking sales targets. Thus, this can keep them close to the goal while igniting their intrinsic motivation to finish first in line.

However, managers must set reasonable goals and benchmarks for their employees. Sometimes, high expectations and unreachable goals can knock down individuals' mentality, thus increasing the chances of work burnout.

Intrinsic Motivation: A Hierarchy of Responsibilities

Having a responsibility paradigm can benefit companies in leveraging employees' intrinsic motivation. Thus, if individuals are placed in team-oriented environments, the attached responsibility of belonging to a group can intrinsically motivate them.2

The logic behind this is that because people are naturally inclined to help others, they can feel more internally driven to work for outcomes that can affect others in their groups.2

Example of a responsibility paradigm

For example, three talented marketing members are united in a new project team to start a new marketing project. Thus, tasks are divided in a project group setting, requiring all members' task completion. As a result, this method can motivate a united working spirit in which each individual is urged to work diligently to keep their promises as accountable team members.

Intrinsic Motivation: Limitations

However, intrinsic motivation is not 100 percent perfect. It still entails certain limitations. Specifically, a typical limit of intrinsic motivation is known as the over-justification effect.

The over-justification effect occurs when extrinsic incentives decrease an individual's intrinsic motivation to do something.1

Wondering how this over-justification effect can be translated into a real-life context? Let's read the following example to grasp this concept better.

When does the over-justification effect take place?

For example, employees initially apply to a company because they love the company and its culture. This action is intrinsic. However, since they joined the company, such intrinsic motivation would diminish due to the appearance of various extrinsic variables. For instance, the company's incentives and rewards may intervene with the employees' initial motivation to encourage them to work for money or prizes. Gradually, instead of working for the company for the pure enjoyment of its culture, employees have started to work for extrinsic factors that have undermined their original intrinsic motivation. At this point, the over-justification effect has taken place.

Intrinsic Motivation - Key takeaways

  • Intrinsic motivation is doing something because it is enjoyable and exciting rather than because of pressure or an extrinsic incentive.
  • Extrinsic motivation is the act of doing something to gain an external reward.
  • Six common factors can determine whether an individual's motivation is intrinsic or extrinsic: curiosity, challenge, control, recognition, cooperation, and competition.
  • An employee recognition program is a company's plan to show formal appreciation for specific employee behaviors and contributions.
  • The over-justification effect occurs when extrinsic incentives decrease an individual's intrinsic motivation to do something.


References

  1. Jennifer Herrity. What Is Intrinsic Motivation? Definition and Examples. 2021. https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/intrinsic-motivation.
  2. Zach Lazzari. Examples of Intrinsic Workplace Motivation. 2019. https://smallbusiness.chron.com/examples-intrinsic-workplace-motivation-11382.html

Frequently Asked Questions about Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is doing something because it is enjoyable and exciting rather than because of pressure or an extrinsic incentive.  

While intrinsic motivation is derived from one's within, extrinsic motivation arises from one's outside environment

At workplaces, intrinsic motivation is closely tied to the development of intrinsic rewards programs, such as the employee recognition program. Perhaps today's modern employee recognition program is the most famous example of such a program. 

For example, after your bachelor's graduation, you decide to apply for certain companies because you love the companies and their cultures. You come to your office at 7.00 in the morning, although your working hour starts at 8.00. The reason for this is because you feel more energetic to start working early. 

For individuals, intrinsic motivation is critical in engaging them with tasks and projects in a persistent manner, thus ensuring the continuous exploration of solutions to satisfy their internal wants and needs.

Final Intrinsic Motivation Quiz

Question

Intrinsic motivation is the act of doing something because it is enjoyable and interesting rather than because of pressure or an ____ incentive.

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Answer

Outside

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Question

When you do something for the pure enjoyment of it, you are ____ motivated.

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Answer

Intrinsically

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Question

What are examples of extrinsic desires?

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Answer

Rewards

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Question

When you are reading this article simply because you are interested in psychology and curious about this concept, you are acting upon ____ motivation.

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Answer

Intrinsic

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Question

If it is your assignment deadline that lands you on this explanation, you are then acting upon ____ motivation. 

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Answer

Extrinsic

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Question

An ____ is the act of doing something to gain an external reward.

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Answer

Intrinsic motivation

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Question

What are the two categories that differentiate extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation?

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Answer

Goals and motivation

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Question

Some psychologists believe that all behaviors are driven by external rewards. For intrinsic motivation, such reward is the ____ itself. 

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Answer

Activity

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Question

Basic human ____ needs, such as hunger or thirst, are the motives behind our intrinsic motivation to do something. 

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Answer

Psychological and biological

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Question

Some prominent psychological needs that can encourage people to act intrinsically include competence, autonomy, relatedness, or self-satisfaction. In this sense, all the needs arise from ____ and push individuals to thrive forward. 

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Answer

Within

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Question

An employee recognition program is a company's plan to show ____ appreciation for specific employee behaviors and contributions.

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Answer

Formal

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Question

Can intrinsic rewards be biased and unfair?

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Answer

Yes

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Question

An employee recognition program is fair when its results are determined based on measurable figures or ____ data.

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Answer

Quantitative

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Question

The over-justification effect takes place when ____ incentives decrease an individual's ____ motivation to do something.

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Answer

Extrinsic, intrinsic

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Question

In intrinsic motivation, you do something because it is ____ rewarding.

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Answer

Internally

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