Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation:
What's the difference?

Both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be used to inspire people to do their work.

Motivation is your understanding of what you need to do to complete a task, plus your drive to do it. It’s a combination of choosing a goal and doing whatever it takes to reach it.

Doing whatever it takes is influenced by an almost unlimited number of sources from both within yourself, intrinsic motivation, and outside yourself, extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to personal satisfaction. It is the enjoyment or pleasure you get from the activity itself. It is what drives you to go into one profession rather than into another one because of the satisfaction you get from it.

You into nursing or teaching primarily because you enjoy working with people and have the required skills for those professions.

Solving math problems or crossword puzzles are other examples of intrinsic motivation.

So are hobbies, like gardening or jogging. You engage in these activities because you enjoy the challenge they present or the physical or emotional satisfaction you get from them.

Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation is the drive within you to do something in order to get something else, such as money, recognition, or power. The activity itself may even be something you dislike intensely, but the reward, benefit, or purpose for doing it makes it worthwhile.

For example, many politicians say they dislike having to ask for campaign donations, but they do it because that is what it takes to get elected. The recognition and power that goes with holding elected office is what drives them to beg for money.

Both intrinsic and extrinsic can operate can be at work at the same time. In the workplace, almost all intrinsically motivated tasks are a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. You may enjoy nursing or teaching, but you would not do it for free. You need the income derived from it to support your family or to pay your bills.

On the other hand, you would gladly look after a family member or a close friend without payment, for as long as your help is needed, because they are people who are important to you. Your love and concern for them motivates you to use your skill and experience to nurse them back to health.

Combining personal and extrinsic motivation

The combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in the workplace is best for both you and your employer. It’s good for you because you get paid for doing something you enjoy or find interesting or challenging.

It’s good for your employer because he or she knows you will put in more than the minimum effort required to complete the task. Employees who work just to get the job done won’t do that.

That is the downside of extrinsic motivation. If extrinsic motivators are extremely strong, they can weaken intrinsic motivation so that workers spend little or no time looking for solutions to workplace problems or for ways to reduce costs or to increase production.

In the home or in the classroom, as well as in the workplace, the best way to motivate people is to combine intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. You do that by showing how the work they are doing is connected to something they personally care about, as well as to the reward they will receive for carrying out the work.

Children and students, like employees, need to see how their responsibilities and assignments serve their personal concerns, such as their desire to develop their talents or character, as well as the concerns of their parents or teachers.

As long as they can see that connection, parents, teachers, and managers do not have to spend time coming up with ways to motivate people to do their work.


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