Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

My previous post was about motivation. Motivation is what keeps us going, learning, achieving, and creating. I have talked about incentives and how they motivate our behaviours. Incentive fall under the extrinsic type of motivators. This blog will focus on the intrinsic motivators and the Cognitive Evaluation Theory.

Have you ever felt that after you were given a project or goal that in your mind was unachievable? Were you jumping on it with excitement and readiness? Or were you taking your time and felt demotivated by it?

I work in sales and my performance at work is measured by sales goals I achieve. I have noticed a pattern, after I am given a sales goal that falls above my comfort level and seems absolutely unachievable, feeling of discouragement and the need of more time to get started comes in. When you are given an unreachable goal, you do not try as hard as you can. I give up before I start trying.

On the other hand, when my goal is pushing the limit however in my mind is within reach, I push the hardest I can, put in a lot of overtime, and often exceed the goal. The end result is better when the goal is reachable.

I have noticed that with children as well. I have a little brother who is 8 years old; watching him grow was an amazing experience, and as a much older sister I have tried teaching him things of course. My brother loves to read, he is one of those kids that have a flash light under the pillow, and instead of going to bed, he reads. However I noticed that when I ask him to read to me, he refuses.

There is a theory behind this behaviour. Its called the Cognitive Evaluation Theory. This theory argues that extrinsic rewards decrease the intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic rewards in this case could be a variety of things like monetary reward, tokens, prizes, awards, avoidance of punishment, however other extrinsic factors could have the same effect; competition, evaluation, deadlines, goal imposition are other extrinsic factors that would influence the same effect on intrinsic motivation. (Ryan, 739) If you already love what you are doing and get a lot of enjoyment out of it, and someone starts paying you for doing the same activity, then takes that incentive away, your intrinsic motivation decreases from doing the same activity.

Do not get me wrong, making a lot of money is very satisfying and enjoyable, however it does not make an activity intrinsically enjoyable, it just makes it extrinsically gratifying.

But how exactly would a company be able to increase intrinsic motivators? Kenneth Thomas analyzes how modern workplaces could increase intrinsic motivators.

A lot of tech companies like Google offer their employees time to work on their own projects. Google realized that people prefer to work on challenging activities when they are free to do so, not when they are told or asked for it.

Creative jobs are based on intrinsic motivation. External factors like time, money and pressure to get the job done only interfere with the creative minds. Performing a creative job, employees should be free to take risk. If an employee feels a great deal of pressure, the risk taking and creativity in the workplace would decrease. According to Fast CompanyTime pressure stifles creativity because people can’t deeply engage with the problem. Creativity requires an incubation period; people need time to soak in a problem and let the ideas bubble up.” 

Managers should recognize and evaluate the reward structures is order to keep employees motivated and driven. In some jobs, the existence of extrinsic rewards could decrease productivity and creativity of employees.

Therefore, employers should focus on promoting the intrinsic motivators by giving employees flexibility, challenging projects, and team building.

To conclude my research, the intrinsic rewards create a win-win form of motivation for both the business and the employees. This type of motivation is facilitates the desire to offer an effective contribution to the business. Because these rewards are performance driven, they embody the self-management and professional development demanded by younger workers in today’s economy. Intrinsic rewards are feasible when money is an issue, since they do not depend on money to generate extra effort. Moreover, intrinsic rewards do not need micromanagement, virtual work and telecommuting flourish under this type of motivation.


Breen, B. (2004). The 6 Myths of Creativity. Fast Company.

Gagné, M., Deci, E. (2005). Self-Determination Theory and Work Motivation. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, Vol. 26, No. 4, pp. 331-362

Ryan, R. M., Mims, V., & Koestner, R. (1983). Relation of reward contingency and interpersonal context to intrinsic motivation: A review and test using cognitive evaluation theory. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology

Thoms, K. (2009). The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement. Ivey Business Journal.

12 thoughts on “Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

  1. Great blog! I especially liked how you make your blog personal it makes your point come across better.
    I agree with your outlook on the damage that extrinsic benefits do in the workplace. Once an employee stops receiving their bonuses or rewards their morale really suffers. Furthermore, individuals will tend to speed through tasks and spend less time looking for errors and morale will as they do not care about the quality of their output. (Cameron, 2004)
    I personally understand how the presence of extrinsic rewards in the workplace effects productivity. The place I used to work at had an employee of the month set up and one month, when I worked to my fullest extent, it really hit me that I did not receive the award. As a result, I felt unappreciated and did not have the motivation to work at the same level again. I felt as if it would be a waste of my energy.

    Work Cited
    Cameron, Judy. Rewards, task difficulty, and intrinsic motivation: a test of learned industriousness theory (Fall 2004): 317-320.

    • Thank you for your comment! I think businesses to really motivate their employees should recognize what kind of rewards would motivate all the staff. Sometimes the “employee of the month” contest does not motivate all the staff to perform at their best performance; as sometimes a small group of employees would take the reward each month and leave others unhappy. However the feeling that you got about being unappreciated relates to the Equity theory, you felt that your effort was worth much more than you got in return. Clarissa wrote a blog about the Equity theory this week and you can find it here!


  2. Great blog Anastasia! I thought including your personal experiences was a great touch as it helped me understand where you were coming from and what motivated you to write this blog. I however do not agree with the theory that intrinsic motivation decreases if you get paid for doing something that you already love. I love to play poker and the fact that I win (not often) some cash after I’m done playing does not lower my intrinsic motivation to keep playing poker, it only makes it stronger. In fact, even if I lose money (most of the time) I still enjoy playing poker because I don’t play for the money, I just love the challenge of out thinking/guessing my opponents. Any winnings are just a nice bonus which go towards my B2Y2** budget.

    ** If u dont kno about B2Y2

    • Thank you Vickrum for your comment. I can see that you are intrinsically motivated to play poker and you claim that extrinsic rewards would not challenge your intrinsic motivation. When explaining extrinsic influences and rewards in my blog I had mentioned several different kinds, money and financial rewards are just a small part of extrinsic rewards. I would argue, that if you were a professional poker player and had to achieve an X amounts of winnings per season to continue playing (extrinsic motivator-goal setting), you will get demotivated by the feeling of being controlled extrinsically.
      Right now you have the control over achieving your own goals and intrinsically motivated to play the game.

      Hope that clears up any confusion on the theory.

  3. Interesting reflection on motivation Anastasia! I agree that goals/activities for individuals in an organization should be within an individual’s capacity to achieve but should also be challenging especially in a sales environment. Goals structured in this way provide motivation because they challenge a person to push themself to work hard to fulfill his/her sales targets because a financial reward is the ultimate extrinsic benefit. Once those goals are achieved the goal can steadily increase as an employee becomes more experienced and continually achieves their targets. Employer involvement in goal setting is also important. Discussing personal sales goals and performance with employees can be of benefit because it provides an opportunity for employees to help structure goals and activities based on what they feel they can personally achieve. As you mentioned, if an individual believes they can achieve a certain goal they will feel motivated to accomplish it.
    Here is an interesting article on motivation in a sales environment:

  4. I really like this topic choice because it’s always so contentious;) Everyone has an opinion on this topic and most are passionate about it. I think most views either for it or against it are going to reflect the type of individual who is commenting.

    With that being said, I have to disagree with you that “extrinsic rewards decrease the intrinsic motivation.” Coming from personal experience, I have had some great positions within great organizations and I was deeply intrinsically motivated just from the type of people I got to deal with everyday, but it was the inability of company to meet my extrinsic needs that ultimately led to me to only be motivated to leave the company and pursue other options.

    I firmly believe Intrinsic motivation works well ONLY after key extrinsic factors are met. If Google didn’t pay it’s employees really well, all the intrinsic motivators in the world wouldn’t keep the top creative minds there. In order to fully motivate an individual I believe it takes a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivators. This article, by Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer, talks about how intrinsic motivators are excellent for breeding creativity, but need to be supported with the right type and amount of extrinsic motivation in order to be fully successful to the individual and organization.

    • Hey Alex,

      I appreciate your comment. The theory I was explaining in my blog talks about true intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is when you do something just because you enjoy it, and not looking to get money and rewards. In your case I agree that the company might have not paid you well and you left. However, you were not intrinsically motivated to do your job to begin with. And if the company paid you more at that time, after a while you would have needed more and more money to keep you motivated. Now you see how that is costing companies a lot to keep employees motivated extrinsically.

      Companies should know their employees well to find out what really motivates them.

      To address your Google example, I would have to say that top creative minds go to work for Google to do something meaningful and apply their creative brains in the most creative way; and Google ensures that employees it hires have the same values as the company they will work for. However, if a creative employee feels that it does not have the freedom to make decisions and is controlled by the rewards, the intrinsic motivation that originally brought him to work for such company would surely decrease.

      • Well as I had previously stated, “I was deeply intrinsically motivated just from the type of people I got to deal with everyday” and I was being honest about that. If the extrinsic rewards were greater, I could have happily made the hospitality industry a career. I met interesting people from all over the world and in so many different professions. I felt like I was being employed to do what I enjoy; meeting interesting people and helping them out. I very much enjoyed my job but when I wasn’t able to go to school and pay my bills, I needed to make a change.

        Following Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, intrinsic values falls under the self actualizing level. This can only be achieved when the lower levels are met such as security and esteem needs, which falls under the extrinsic motivator level. “As each of these needs becomes substantially satisfied, the next need becomes more dominant,” (Langston, Robbins, and Judge, OB: 5th Cdn Ed, 2010).

        A large reason why the Cognitive Evaluation Theory is highly contested is because “of the methodology used in their studies and in the interpretation of the finding. Extrinsic motivators that are verbal increase intrinsic motivation.” (Langston et al). When extrinsic motivators, such as money, are used as a carrot stick for jobs that were once done for the love of it, is when they can diminish intrinsic value. The theory proves valid in certain cases such as in sports when an athlete isn’t playing for the love of the game anymore and just for the money. He has no intrinsic motivation and never achieves greatness. But to take a black and white position that all extrinsic motivators decrease intrinsic motivation might not work for all people. Both types of motivation are essential. Even a professional athlete who truly loves the sport he plays would not play for free and most likely play for the team that can offer him the best contract.

        I agree that intrinsic motivators are essential, but we all need to eat, and some people may want their kids to go to school. A big reason why Google employees are able to continue to be so creative and focus on how to improve their intrinsic motivators is because they don’t have to worry about where there next meal is coming from. Here’s a breakdown of the average Google salaries based on their position provided by

        Its common knowledge that Google is one of the best paying companies around and that affords them the luxury of having many applicants and they can hand pick like minded individuals. If u paid me an average of over $100,000/ year to be a project manager, I’d agree with all your company values and I’d love all the colours in the building too;) I’m sure a lot of people feel pretty intrinsically motivated knowing their kids are getting a good education.

        I totally respect your position and partly agree with it, but I do feel like both types of motivation are essential and need to be used together strategically.

  5. awesome post, anastasia! I definitely learned a lot about the cognitive evaluation theory. I also have to agree with both you and antony on how companies should focus on intrinsically motivating their employees in a tough economy. This will help in allowing employees to really enjoy what they do as opposed to their jobs being so “routine.” Having experience in retail, I am on the same page with you when it comes to performing at work; the third paragraph sums it up really well! I found an awesome video that is very visual and educational:


  6. Many companies forget about motivating employees intrinsically and focus more on the monetary value and performance side of things. I agree with your blog that companies need to have programs that challenges workers to fulfill their own needs that propels them further than just following daily routines. As for myself if i were to get a huge payday for the work that I loved to do would greatly satisfy my needs with that being said even if i don’t receive a big reward I am usually motivated with the need to greatly exceed certain tasks that I know will help in the long run.

    Here’s an article that speaks about creativity.

  7. Excellent writing Anastasia. I completely agree. When I first started my current job as a teller in a credit union we had a lot of sales goals as well. Coming from a restaurant background I always did very well in respect to the sales portion of the job, however was never satisfied because although I would get the sale I felt as though I never really got engaged with the customer. I guess my need for this relationship building stemmed from spending 1-2 hour periods of time conversing with repeat restaurant customers and actually developing a relationship with them. As a teller you’re almost like a cashier at a grocery store: “Hi, how are you, what can I help you with today? Have a good day” – “Next”. When I moved up to my current position as a Account Representative where I open accounts and do loans, which requires me to spend extended periods of time with the member and actually need to ask more in depth questions. Through this process I am able to get back to what gives me satisfaction and actually motivates more to succeed at my job than just getting the sale. Obviously I am evaluated on sales and it is still an important part of the job, my employer thankfully also puts a great deal of emphasis on customer satisfaction and developing relationships within our community. Because this is a major motivating factor for myself I have always been commended on this aspect of the job. Mainly through member feedback, but because my bosses value this greatly they always pass the positive feedback along and this continues to be a major motivating factor in my career success. Hopefully it will in time lead to a promotion or raise so I can get my hands on some of that extrinsic motivating factor as well. #$$$

  8. Pingback: sukhvirbains

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s