Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: How to Drive Employee Retention

How do we approach and complete new tasks? What keeps us motivated when the job is too repetitive or underwhelming? Researchers discovered that extrinsic and intrinsic motivation play a significant role in a person’s behavior and goal setting.

Learning how to differentiate intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation can help you understand which methodology is most efficient in your workplace.

Key Points

  • What Is Intrinsic Motivation?
  • What Is Extrinsic Motivation?
  • Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace
  • Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation
  • Benefits of Extrinsic Motivation
  • Disadvantages of Intrinsic Motivation
  • Disadvantages of Extrinsic Motivation
  • Our Takeaway

What Is Intrinsic Motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is driven by personal interest or a sense of enjoyment in the task at hand. To put it simply, people that are intrinsically motivated are more likely to persist in their efforts even when things get tough. Intrinsic motivation often leads to better performance and results, as it’s more focused and sustainable.

One of the best ways to increase intrinsic motivation is to allow people to have a sense of autonomy and control over their work.

What Is Extrinsic Motivation?

Contrary to intrinsic motivation, people that are extrinsically motivated are often driven by a desire to avoid punishment or receive a reward. While extrinsic motivation can be effective in the short term, it’s often not sustainable in the long run.

This is because people can quickly become demotivated if they don’t receive the expected rewards or if they feel like they are being punished.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

It’s not surprising that employee retention can be primarily obtained through motivation—but how can intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation be used in the workplace?

If you don’t want to lose valuable members of your team, you should pay special attention to how and when to use these two approaches.

Using Intrinsic Motivation at Work

For Managers

As a manager, giving your employees a sense of independence and control over their tasks can be the best way to boost their motivation at work.

Not only will you allow them to choose how they complete their assignments, but you can ask them for opinions, ideas, and feedback about the execution of a certain task.

For Employees

On the other hand, if you’re an employee, you might want to find ways to make a daunting task more interesting and enjoyable. Other intrinsic motivators may include taking on additional responsibilities you are passionate about.

Using Extrinsic Motivation at Work

For Managers

Giving extrinsic incentives, such as a salary raise or additional vacation days, can be the best way to motivate your most dedicated workers extrinsically.

For Employees

Setting specific goals, such as working towards a promotion, can be an excellent way to push yourself through tough assignments.

Benefits of Intrinsic Motivation


People who are intrinsically motivated are more likely to persist in their efforts, even when things get harder at work.

Improved Performance

Because intrinsic motivation tends to be more sustainable, it often leads to improved performance and productivity.


Being more independent and autonomous in organizing your tasks can be a great motivator, especially if you are dealing with daunting tasks. On top of that, you will learn which assignments need to be prioritized.

Benefits of Extrinsic Motivation


One of the most beneficial extrinsic factors is providing employees with valuable incentives and promotions when they meet the company’s standards.

Improved Results

Similar to intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation can lead to better results. This is because people are more focused on achieving a specific goal.

Disadvantages of Intrinsic Motivation

Can Be Difficult to Achieve

Not all people are the same. That’s why intrinsic motivation can be a bit challenging to achieve, as it requires a deep understanding of what motivates each individual.

May Not Be Enough

In some cases, intrinsic motivation may not be enough to sustain someone’s interest in a task. Unfortunately, you can’t grab someone’s attention to a specific topic or field if they are not fond of it.

Disadvantages of Extrinsic Motivation

Short-Term Effectiveness

Compared to intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation provides incentives to complete a task. However, this approach fails to motivate employees in the long run.

Can Be Unsustainable

If not given the expected rewards, employees end up losing motivation in the workplace. This might lead them to quit their current job and look for a more rewarding position.

May Not Be As Effective

In some cases, extrinsic motivation is thought to be an excellent choice to retain your employees. However, this is a bit far from the truth. Compared to the impact of intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation may lose a few points in terms of effectiveness.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation: Our Takeaway

Many researchers are still debating the effectiveness of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in the workplace.

Using these two approaches depends on a wide variety of factors. Still, intrinsic motivation is arguably the best solution if you’re planning to retain workers in the long term. On the other hand, if you want to achieve short-term results and get people to start an activity that they may not initially find interesting, extrinsic motivation is undoubtedly the way to go.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation?

The first key difference stands in their definition. In fact, intrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from within oneself, whereas extrinsic motivation refers to motivation that comes from external factors.

Intrinsic motivation is often regarded as more powerful than extrinsic motivation because it’s self-driven. When you’re intrinsically motivated to do something, you are more likely to see it through to completion and put forth your best effort. This is because you’re doing it for yourself, not for a reward or because someone else told you to do it.

However, this doesn’t mean that extrinsic motivation can’t be as effective. Sometimes external factors, such as a tight deadline or a competition, can provide the push you need to get started on a project or task.

What are extrinsic factors vs. intrinsic factors?

Extrinsic factors are usually outside of our control—company policies, the work environment, or our workload are a few examples. On the other hand, it’s possible to have more control over intrinsic factors. For example, we can regulate stress or our attitude towards our job.

That said, both types of factors can greatly impact our overall satisfaction with our work life. Knowing how to differentiate intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation is crucial. So, if you’re feeling unhappy at work, it’s worth looking at the things that you can change about your own behavior or outlook. You might be surprised at how much of a difference it can make.