Extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation (And why it's important)

Updated 10 March 2023

In the workplace, motivators are key to leading a productive team and having a successful career. A good leader must understand what drives their team in order to motivate them to achieve a set goal. In psychological terms, motivators fall into one of two major categories: intrinsic or extrinsic. It's important to know the differences and how they affect the workplace.

In this article, we explain the key differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and how to use your understanding to become a better leader in the workplace.

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What is extrinsic motivation?

Extrinsic motivation is a motivation that comes from outside factors. This motivation compels you towards a goal for something other than the sake of accomplishing that goal. You no longer pursue something purely because you enjoy it but because of what you can earn from it, like a reward.

Extrinsic motivations can be seen in the workplace when employees strive to meet targets or to accomplish tasks in order to fulfil their job role or to earn bonuses or promotions.

Here are some examples of extrinsic motivation in the workplace:

  • Keeping your desk tidy because it is company policy

  • Helping a colleague because they will help you on a different project

  • Learning a new skill in order to gain a qualification for a promotion

Related: How to Overcome No Motivation to Work With Causes and Steps

What is intrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is a type of motivation that comes from within. A person with intrinsic motivation does something because they enjoy doing it.

Intrinsic motivation can come in many different forms, such as:

  • Keeping your desk tidy because you like your desk to be well-organised

  • Making your colleagues coffee because you enjoy being generous

  • Learning a new skill because the subject matter interests you

Relate: How to Find the Best Jobs for You

Benefits of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation

While intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are both effective in a variety of situations, they can both produce very different results. Both motivators have their place, and in certain situations, one can be better suited to achieve a particular goal than the other. Learning how to combine both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in both the short and long term can help you in any role and throughout your entire career development.

Benefits of extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivators work very well for short-term goals – such as finishing a project – but can also be used to sustain long-term goals – such as staying in a specific role or at a certain company. Here are some advantages to using extrinsic motivation in the workplace:

  • Productivity: You may have an extrinsic motivator to compel you in completing a task, especially one that you normally find unpleasant. Extrinsic motivation is also present when you need to do something to survive, such as work a job to earn a living for you and/or your family. Your salary, benefits and potential raises or promotions are all extrinsic motivators that encourage you to go to work, do a great job and improve your career.

  • Increased efficiency: Extrinsic motivators provide the most efficiency when you need to accomplish something that you don't particularly enjoy or that might be especially challenging. You might reward yourself after completing a hard task, or your employer may pay you overtime or bonus pay if you work longer hours.

  • Motivation for large groups: Extrinsic motivators can be used to encourage a large group of people. For example, the majority of people are willing to work for money.

  • Promoting short-term success that relates to long-term goals: This type of motivation can help individuals or groups work set and reach short-term goals that lead to reaching long-term goals or upholding the company's mission.

Related: Motivated employees benefits and how to increase motivation

Benefits of intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation offers more long-term benefits in the workplace, but it may be a bit more challenging to find intrinsic motivators if the work is challenging or not enjoyable. Here are some ways you and your team can benefit from using intrinsic motivation in the workplace:

  • Long-term fulfilment: Finding ways to make a task more enjoyable can lead to you feeling more proud of your work, which can positively influence your mood at work and at home.

  • Increased satisfaction: This type of motivation can improve your satisfaction and promote productivity without the need for external motivation. When you feel more satisfied in the work you do, you're more likely to stay in your role, grow in your industry and develop your career. You may even find fulfilment through your company's values and mission, which may increase your loyalty to your company.

  • More innovation: Intrinsically motivated employees are often more creative and innovative because they are encouraged simply by the act of doing their work. When problems arise, these employees can brainstorm brand-new solutions. They may even address issues before they become more serious just because they want to keep improving work processes.

  • Boosted morale: When you and your team share in the enjoyment and purpose of your work, it can create a more positive, supportive and driven company culture.

How to use extrinsic motivation at work

You can use the following extrinsic motivators to encourage yourself or your teammates if you're a leader:

1. Choose effective financial rewards

Financial rewards are one of the biggest extrinsic motivators, so much so that many people often take a job or choose a career path based on how much the job pays. While a salary or hourly wage constitutes the most traditional form of extrinsic motivator in the workplace, other financial motivators can be employed, too. In target-driven jobs or goal-orientated work, bonuses provide a huge incentive to work harder towards those jobs or goals. Commission-based sales jobs, where you earn more for facilitating more sales, give a similar incentive.

Other financial rewards include gift cards or additional paid time off can be given after completing a challenging or important project or for a work anniversary

2. Provide perks

Bonuses in the workplace don't always have to be financial. You can offer an end-of-the-year bonus in the form of a team-building holiday or getaway, such as taking the staff on an all-expenses-paid trip if they all hit their targets. You can also offer nights out, hotel stays, catered meals or other prizes to give an incentive to work harder.

3. Recognise achievements

Recognising achievements and hard work go a long way to fostering a great work ethic. If you know that you can win recognition or even an award for your work, then you will likely be motivated to be successful in your job.

If you're a team leader, you can track growth in performance and publicly congratulate team members who exceed expectations. You can even establish a peer-recognition programme where everyone nominates an exceptional teammate. Add in a small gift card or another financial perk to really show how much someone's work is valued.

How to use intrinsic motivation at work

The following are important intrinsic motivators that can help to increase productivity in the workplace.

1. Find a motivating purpose

Providing a sense of meaning in the workplace is one of the strongest motivators you can give. If you and your teammates care about the job, then everyone is more likely to work towards a goal purely for the love of that job.

Determining the purpose and meaningfulness of your work is a powerful motivator and one that should be nurtured in the workplace. Managers can help promote meaningfulness by reminding team members how their work directly reflects the company's values, asking their thoughts on how to improve their day-to-day and by having a more democratic management style. When employees feel that they can make a difference and that they are important to the success of their team, their self-worth can turn into self-motivation within their workplace.

2. Provide autonomy

Autonomy is the freedom to work on your own terms and to do things the way you prefer, and this can encourage employees to find their own personal purpose and satisfaction in their work. When you have more autonomy, you may be able to personalise your work processes so that they are effective for you and, in some cases, choose your own hours, workdays and working location. In addition, autonomy also promotes the feeling of being trusted by your employer to do your work well and on time.

Related: Q&A: What Is Remote Work?

3. Provide opportunities to progress

The opportunity to develop skill sets and learn new subjects fosters great intrinsic motivation. Having the chance to further your education or knowledge of a subject, in order to do a better job or because you love that job, provides a reason to work harder. Progress varies among different employees, but examples include the chance to further a career or to become an expert in your field.

As a company leader, you can offer education stipends, access to skill-building courses and implement professional development material into your training and team-building events. As an employee, inquire with your manager or employer about potential career development opportunities, which can transform into pursuing skills and knowledge simply because you want to be better in your career.


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