Friday, 26 August 2016

Extrinsic or intrinsic motivation?

Having played a major role in any motivation strategy in the past 10 years, the use of extrinsic rewards suited the routine driven, inflexible work environments where rules and procedures were paramount. However, in today’s work environments where it is becoming the norm for employees to self-manage, where innovation is expected and where the focus is on goals rather than tasks, a larger focus needs to be placed on intrinsically motivating one’s employees.

How an individual feels everyday can be more important to them than the extra financial incentives that they can earn. So it’s important to understand the nature of the task or goal before embarking on a motivation strategy. This is not to say that extrinsic motivators should be eliminated altogether. Considering the diversity of the workforce and the fact that people are motivated differently, one should develop a motivation strategy that considers all.

What type should we use and when?

Extrinsic motivation still has its place and works well for both;

1) Small, quick tasks that are mundane and usually require nagging before they get done. These are tasks that are considered low-interest, but necessary, such as the completion of time sheets or other administrative duties. These tasks are made more attractive by dangling a carrot. When rewarding for these types of tasks, the reward should be instantly gratifying.

2) Larger tasks that are considered a substantial achievement and are quantitatively measured. Commission on meeting a sales target could be an example of this. The secret to extrinsic rewards lies in the objective nature of knowing the rules of the game; a clearly defined goal and a meaningful reward for achieving it.

Intrinsic motivation on the other hand is a little more difficult to conjure and is generally created by the nature of the work itself. An important contributing factor to employee engagement is whether the job role has a sense of meaning and purpose. The interest factor of a task is largely determined by the opinion of the individual and can sometimes come down to whether they’re in the right job or not.

By appealing to individuals' needs for relationships, belonging, appreciation and esteem, we can to a certain extent, provide additional intrinsic motivation and reward. Encourage a culture of peer recognition, let individuals know their input is valued, that they’ve made a difference, and ultimately give them a sense of control of their own environment. 

The approach to intrinsic motivation is longer-term, and the effect of the reward is energising and motivating in itself.

Our advice?

People require a balanced approach to work that combines a need for immediate gratification as well as long-term accomplishment. Your rewards and recognition strategy should appeal to the needs of the individual, whilest being aligned with driving the goals of the organisation. Take the opportunity to extrinsically reward individuals without hindering a creative process, and give public acknowledgement of achievements where you can.

Celebrate the individual. Encourage, support and recognise self development, further education and personal milestones. If an employee's motivation to perform lies within the realm of satisfying their intrinsic needs, and the employer has the opportunity to speak to their extrinsic needs too… well, now that may be appealing to everyone.

How are you encouraging your staff? Are your rewards appropriately aligned to the effort and involvement required?


Amanda Mohr (BCom Industrial Psychology, Honours)

Amanda is part of our Behavioural Specialist team here at Workpoints. She is our client advice giver, our multitasker and our personal shopper.

Workpoints is a fully featured reward, recognition and incentives platform that provides you with the tools to create a high performance organisation. Our easy-to-use application integrates simply into any organisation and instantly encourages staff to do the daily grind with excellence and energy. Visit for more info and a free trial!


Spring (2001); Behav Anal 24(1): 1–44.

George N. Root III. Intrinsic & Extrinsic Motivation Used by Managers. Small Business Chron

Kenneth Thomas. (2009) The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement. Ivy Business Journ

1 comment:

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