Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

In contemporary workplaces, the topic of motivation has become increasingly central to discussions surrounding employee engagement and satisfaction. Motivation can be broadly categorized into two primary forms: intrinsic and extrinsic. This essay explores these two distinct motivational approaches, their impact on employee behavior, and their implications for contemporary management practices.

Defining Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Amabile, Hill, Hennessey, and Tighe (1994) describe intrinsic motivation as "the motivation to engage in work primarily for its own sake, because the work itself is interesting, engaging, or in some way satisfying" (p.

950). On the other hand, Ryan and Deci (2000) define intrinsic motivation as "doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable" (p. 55). Furthermore, Pink (2009) offers a comprehensive perspective on intrinsic rewards, encompassing three key components: Autonomy (the need to direct one's own life), Mastery (desiring improvement in areas of passion), and Purpose (the aspiration to be part of something meaningful).

Extrinsic motivation, in contrast, is described as "doing something because it leads to a separable outcome" (Ryan & Deci, 2000) or "the motivation to work primarily in response to something apart from the work itself" (Amabile et al.

Get quality help now
Bella Hamilton
Bella Hamilton
checked Verified writer

Proficient in: Employee Engagement

star star star star 5 (234)

“ Very organized ,I enjoyed and Loved every bit of our professional interaction ”

avatar avatar avatar
+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

, 1994). Extrinsic rewards often include financial incentives such as bonuses, increased salaries, stock options, or benefits, which are contingent on an employee's performance.

The Role of Extrinsic Motivation in Traditional Management

Historically, extrinsic motivators played a significant role in managing employees. In simpler times, where jobs were characterized by routine tasks, extrinsic rewards were effective in driving performance. For instance, a bookkeeper's job involved recording financial transactions manually, creating profit and loss statements, and balancing books.

Get to Know The Price Estimate For Your Paper
Number of pages
Email Invalid email

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

"You must agree to out terms of services and privacy policy"
Write my paper

You won’t be charged yet!

Employees were assigned specific, repetitive tasks with clear outcomes, making it easier for extrinsic motivators like monetary bonuses to reinforce desired behaviors.

However, contemporary workplaces have evolved significantly. Advancements in technology have automated many routine tasks, freeing up employees to engage in more complex, intellectually stimulating work. The modern workforce seeks opportunities to use their creativity, problem-solving skills, and passion for meaningful contributions (Trunk, n.d.). This shift in job dynamics has rendered traditional extrinsic motivators less suitable for motivating and engaging employees.

Research further challenges the effectiveness of extrinsic rewards. Deci, Koestner, and Ryan (1999) summarize findings from 128 experiments, concluding that tangible rewards often have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation. While extrinsic rewards can control behavior, they undermine individuals' intrinsic motivation, reducing their sense of responsibility for self-motivation and regulation.

Moreover, extrinsic rewards can lead to a decline in interest in the activity itself. Deci (1971) found that when money serves as an external reward, individuals may lose their intrinsic interest in the activity. Amabile (1996) reinforces this by stating that primarily intrinsic motivation is more conducive to creativity compared to primarily extrinsic motivation (p. 7).

The Candle Problem: An Illustration of Motivation Dynamics

To illustrate the complex interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, consider the classic behavioral study known as the candle problem, initially developed by psychologist Karl Duncker (1945). Participants in this study were presented with a task: attach a candle to a wall in such a way that the melting wax does not drip onto a table. They were provided with a candle, matches, and a box of thumbtacks.

When the experiment was conducted without incentives, participants eventually discovered a creative solution: attaching the candle to the wall using the box of thumbtacks. However, when the same experiment was repeated with the promise of extrinsic rewards (varying sums of money for solving the problem quickly), the incentivized group took significantly longer to arrive at a solution (Sam Glucksberg, 1962). This counterintuitive outcome challenges the conventional wisdom that extrinsic motivators consistently enhance performance.

Interestingly, when Glucksberg restructured the experiment by placing the thumbtacks next to the box (making the problem simpler), the incentivized group outperformed the non-incentivized group. This suggests that extrinsic rewards may be more effective for tasks with a clear set of steps and a single correct answer. In contrast, modern work environments often involve complex, multifaceted challenges with multiple possible solutions, where intrinsic motivators tend to excel.

Intrinsic Motivation in Today's Workplace

Contemporary organizations are increasingly recognizing the value of intrinsic motivators in fostering employee engagement and innovation. Google Inc., for instance, is renowned for its commitment to providing a work environment that nurtures intrinsic motivation. Google offers an array of benefits, including sleep pods, reading areas, swimming pools, free food, and on-site childcare facilities. One notable example is the company's 80/20 rule, which encourages employees to allocate 20% of their time to "passion projects" that can benefit the company. This approach has resulted in the creation of significant products like Gmail, Chrome, and Google News (Mediratta, 2007).

Furthermore, Google's organizational structure minimizes hierarchy, emphasizing small work groups where ideas flow freely among team members. Employees are encouraged to collaborate with other teams without seeking formal permissions (Mills, 2007). Google's approach reflects a strong emphasis on intrinsic motivators, such as autonomy, mastery, and purpose, to drive employee engagement.

Another example of intrinsic motivation at work is Atlassian, an Australian software company that introduced "ShipIt Days," allowing employees to dedicate 20% of their time to working on personal projects. This initiative led to the development of numerous internal projects, contributing over $2 million in sales (Smith, n.d.).

Not-for-profit (NFP) organizations also provide compelling evidence of the power of intrinsic motivators. Research by Tippet & Kluvers (2009) indicates that despite often receiving lower salaries than their private sector counterparts, employees in NFP organizations report satisfaction with their pay. This suggests that once an employee's financial needs are met, intrinsic rewards become more significant (Frey, 1997). Pink (2009) emphasizes that effective organizations compensate employees sufficiently, allowing them to focus on the work itself (p. 170).

Leadership Approaches to Enhance Intrinsic Motivation

Leadership plays a pivotal role in nurturing intrinsic motivation within organizations. Thomas (2009) suggests that organizations should de-emphasize monetary rewards, paying employees fairly but shifting the focus toward intrinsic rewards. However, leaders should recognize that not all employees are motivated by the same intrinsic rewards, as people have diverse passions and goals (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Google's approach to employee happiness includes conducting an annual global survey to gauge employee satisfaction and identify areas for improvement. Stacey Sullivan, Google's "Chief Culture Czar," emphasizes the importance of career development over monetary incentives (Mills, 2007).

Thomas (2009) further suggests that leaders should identify shared passions within their organizations. When employees' passions align with organizational goals, teamwork becomes more effective, fostering a sense of partnership and shared purpose (Thomas, 2009).

Ultimately, leaders can enhance their ability to build employee engagement by understanding their own intrinsic rewards and recognizing that employees may be motivated by different factors. This skill not only increases leaders' credibility but also helps them stay engaged and energized (Thomas, 2009).

Employee Engagement and Its Impact

Employee engagement is a critical concept in contemporary organizations, encompassing motivation, involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focused effort, and energy (Macey & Schneider, 2008). It signifies an employee's active self-management, driven by intrinsic rewards such as meaningfulness, choice, competence, and progress (Thomas, 2009).

Employee engagement holds immense value for organizations, as engaged employees are more likely to be loyal, contributing to the company's success (Lockwood, 2007). A highly engaged workforce is associated with higher levels of commitment, effort, and positive contributions.


In conclusion, the debate over the effects of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards on employee motivation continues to evolve. While extrinsic rewards remain relevant in certain contexts, there is a growing recognition of the benefits of intrinsic motivators in modern workplaces. Organizations like Google and Atlassian have demonstrated the positive impact of autonomy, mastery, and purpose on employee engagement and innovation.

Leaders are advised to shift their focus from monetary incentives to identifying and nurturing intrinsic motivators that align with employees' passions. Employee engagement, driven by intrinsic rewards, can lead to increased loyalty and organizational success. As we navigate the complexities of contemporary work environments, the evidence increasingly supports the adoption of intrinsic motivation practices in tandem with fair compensation to unlock the full potential of the workforce.

Updated: Nov 08, 2023
Cite this page

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace. (2022, Apr 08). Retrieved from

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace essay
Live chat  with support 24/7

👋 Hi! I’m your smart assistant Amy!

Don’t know where to start? Type your requirements and I’ll connect you to an academic expert within 3 minutes.

get help with your assignment