Intrinsic Motivation: The Secret Weapon You Need to Stand Out at Work
Skip to content
10 min read

Intrinsic Motivation: The Secret Weapon You Need to Stand Out at Work

Logan Derrick Logan Derrick Last Updated:

Finding proper ways to motivate people can be one of the most difficult responsibilities as a manager or team leader. For children, it is often an easy offering of candy or another treat that will arouse their desire to help with household chores or other small tasks. But unfortunately, most adults require a bit more motivation than a handful of Skittles to get them excited or encouraged to do a job well.

One of the sweet spots for motivating members of your group comes with the use of a crucial technique known as intrinsic motivation. If you can master this art, you’ll be shocked at how much harder your employees work and strive to reach their daily or weekly goals.

Are you struggling to keep your team energized and interested in their work? Let’s take a look at how this unique type of motivation can help both you and your crew be more productive.

Intrinsic motivation means you're motivated by self-reflective rewards.

How Intrinsic Motivation Works

Intrinsic motivation is the process of promoting behavior driven by self-reflective rewards. To achieve this tactic, a person must be motivated to do something solely because the end result satisfies their conscious, ego, or self-esteem in a positive way.

On the opposite hand, extrinsic motivation involves behavior which either avoids a punishment or brings some kind of external reward, but we’ll touch on that more in a bit.

The concept of motivation is commonly studied by psychologists, and intrinsic motivators tend to get a lot of extra attention in this research. Managers understand they don’t have to motivate someone as much if the motivation is intrinsic because the employee simply enjoys doing it. They are inspired by their desire to learn, have fun, or explore their potential.

You see this kind of motivation all of the time in your day-to-day life. Whenever you watch a favorite movie, play a game with friends, or read a book, your motivation is intrinsic. You aren’t getting paid or materially rewarded to do these activities because you are satisfied and happy when doing them.

You are intrinsically motivated when you do an activity at work for the enjoyment and pleasure it brings you. These activities may bring rewards like positive emotions, but you don’t do them because of rewards like money or a promotion.

An intrinsic reward is often more effective than an extrinsic reward because the motivation comes from within the person. Psychologists have even found that giving an external reward for something which was already intrinsically rewarding can backfire. After getting the external reward, the individual often feels like the activity was less intrinsically rewarding and can lead to less engagement the next time around.

In the workplace, intrinsic motivation helps people be more creative and produce higher quality work. When someone enjoys the work, they put all their effort into it strictly because the project is challenging and rewarding. As a result, they create more innovative, unique ideas.

Some qualities which are connected to having intrinsic motivation include challenge, control, recognition, curiosity, cooperation, collaboration, recognition, and competition. If you can give someone a challenge, it can naturally motivate people and boost their self-esteem. On the same level, if a person is intrigued by something, they’ll be more engaged in finding a solution.

Other ways to boost motivation is by giving people control over their environment or the ability to cooperate and work together. Meanwhile, other people are motivated by competing against others and becoming the best at what they do.

And there will always be those who enjoy doing activities when they are recognized by other people for their efforts.

Each of these motivating factors varies from person to person. As a manager, it will be up to you to determine who is powered by intrinsic desires and who needs a bit more incentive.

Intrinsic Vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are both effective tools to help your employees achieve more in their day-to-day operations. If you want to accomplish your projects on time and urge your employees to reach new goals, you may need to use one or both motivation styles.

The main difference is the source of motivation: intrinsic which is powered by internal forces or extrinsic, which comes from something external.

Extrinsic motivations include things like reading a book to obtain a better score in school or cleaning the kitchen because you don’t want your roommate to be upset. You may go to the gym because you want bigger muscles or cook dinner for yourself because you really want lasagna. If the motivation is extrinsic, the activity is always done because you want to earn a reward that can be seen or touched.

Intrinsic motivations happen when someone feels internally motivated to accomplish a goal. This is often because they find it rewarding or because they enjoy the feeling of a completed project. Often managers won’t even have to motivate an employee at all if they already have this type of internal drive.

Positive, internal motivation is almost always more effective and long-lasting, but it can be difficult to create an internal reason for your employees to work harder. This is one of the biggest reasons why employers tend to use external rewards when something is achieved. And while external motivations might be less effective, they can still work.

If you can find internal motivation, it will generally be more efficient over the long run. These types of motivations are less likely to cause burn out and more likely to remain effective. The most experienced managers are able to effectively use both types of motivations at the same time.

Keep in mind, motivation isn’t always used in a positive way. When you offer a reward to employees such as a raise or a promotion, you are giving them a beneficial form of external, or extrinsic, motivation. But if you threaten to punish them for not finishing a project before the deadline, you are giving your workers a negative type of extrinsic motivation.

On the same level, if a team member makes a mistake and is berated for their incompetence or criticized for the issue, this becomes a negative form of intrinsic motivation because the employee won’t want to be verbally reprimanded in the future.

When leading a team, you will always find greater success as you find ways to use positive reinforcement and motivation techniques as rewards. As opposed to verbal attacks or punishments for errors.

What Is an Intrinsic Reward?

Technically, an intrinsic reward is any benefit or feeling which comes from within the employee that represents their satisfaction of a job well done. Similarly, the individual could simply do a task because they love to do it and still reap an intrinsic reward from the joy they get out of it.

Whatever the case, these kinds of rewards are some of the best, but also most elusive, for employers. When the sense of a reward comes from within the employee, you don’t have to spend nearly as much money on bonuses, gifts, promotions, or employee recognition. Instead, more effective rewards come from within the employee’s mind.

To start creating an intrinsically motivating workplace, start by building a comfortable, trusting environment where people want to be. This may involve arranging a cozy office layout with vibrant colors and decor, as well as snacks and open spaces. Ultimately, you want to make an office your employees can enjoy and want to be in.

No matter what techniques you use, you should always remember to track your results. Find objective, concrete measures for employees to look at and work toward. This information helps them improve and shows you if your motivation techniques have been successful.

When you have intrinsically motivated employees, your team is productive whether there is a bonus on the line or not. They don’t need a new job title or a raise to achieve their best work. Because of this, intrinsic motivators are one of the best ways to get your team to achieve top results at work.

How to Use Intrinsic Rewards and Motivation at Work

Discovering a way to use intrinsic rewards and motivations at work isn’t always easy, but it is possible. Some managers succeed at using teamwork while other managers use goal setting to motivate their employees. The best option depends on what works for you and the unique personalities on your team.

Many people are motivated by collaborating as part of a team. Putting people into a group for a project and encouraging them can give each member a sense of meaning in their work as well as a chance to feel needed by others. Over time, it can increase their sense of responsibility and belonging.

Set achievable milestones or benchmarks for your employees. While each individual still has to internalize these benchmarks, they can serve as a motivator for employees who are pushed by competition.

Another technique is to use positive communication with your employees and to encourage them to do the same with each other. This helps to create an environment where everyone is supporting one another, making it more enjoyable around the office. They may still have to create their own additional intrinsic reward, but at least you are preventing poor communication from hindering your employees’ enjoyment of their work.

Goal-oriented employees are especially easy to motivate through goal setting, but this technique can work with many kinds of people. Encourage your entire team to create achievable, but challenging goals and design milestones for reaching them. These goals should involve things like education, social improvements, and life objectives, as well as workplace aspirations.

Another one of the best intrinsic motivation examples is to promote friendly competition between teams or individuals in your group. Some people are motivated by collaborating and working together as a team, but other people enjoy the thrill of a contest. When you make two teams face off against each other, you manage to use both motivating factors at once.

It is also difficult for your employees to feel motivated if they aren’t engaged by the task they are doing. While it might not be possible to make every task feel meaningful, you can add meaning by connecting it to the broader picture of the project.

When people feel like their work has meaning, it is easier for them to stay motivated. Even if the job is occasionally boring and routine, you can give it added meaning by showing how that particular job connects to a larger, more important whole.

In the end, businesses should focus on using a well-rounded, multi-faceted approach to motivating everyone. This type of strategy is generally more effective than extrinsic rewards and inspires a higher level of creativity. As an added benefit to your bottom line, intrinsic rewards don’t require a cash investment in bonuses, raises or other external rewards.

Increasing Your Company’s Success

As a manager, the right motivational strategies can determine the entirety of your team’s success or failure. If you can’t find intrinsic motivation, you can always resort to external rewards. But in general, you should always do your best to use intrinsic rewards whenever possible.

It may take time to figure out which reward systems work best for your workplace and individual employees. Spend time testing out different tactics. Then, look at your performance metrics to figure out which techniques are working the best and stick to them.
To get more tips and tactics on improving your role as a leader, be sure to check out our blog.

Logan Derrick

Logan Derrick is a full-time business writer and content marketing strategist. For years, he has worked closely with several project management professionals, learning from them and increasing his own knowledge of the industry. Having held multiple management positions in fields ranging from customer service to marketing, Logan has found a passion for helping others learn about project management, marketing, and the powerful tools available to professionals today.

Join 30,000+ subscribers getting the best tips on productivity, work management, hiring and more!

We promise we won't spam you and you can unsubscribe anytime.