/ Von Hedi Buchner

I’m sure you’ve heard about intrinsic motivation. But what is it? And how can I facilitate it at work?

Pierluigi talks in his blog about motivational coaching (not recommended) and trying to get intrinsic motivation instead. I will present some theories on motivation and how to apply them to facilitate motivation at work in the following blog entries.

Have you read ‘Drive: The surprising thruth about what motivates us’ by Daniel Pink? He writes about the self-determination theory by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan. It explains how to stimulate intrinsic motivation and how it is related to extrinsic motivation.

Intrinsic motivation means that somebody performs an activity because he enjoys it and it is interesting without getting any external reward.

Extrinsic motivation on the other hand means that the motivation to do some activity comes from receiving tangible rewards, like money or status, or verbal rewards.

Whoever wants to stimulate intrinsic motivation, foster human development and maintain psychological health needs to fulfill the human basic needs for Autonomy, Competence and Social Relatedness/ Purpose.

intrinsic motivation

(c) From a short animated summary of ‚Drive‘ (by Daniel Pink)

It has also been shown that tangible extrinsic rewards like money or bonuses, deadlines, threats and competition pressure for an activity undermine intrinsic motivation. We seem to experience this kind of external influences as controllers. They naturally reduce our perceived degree of autonomy.

Yet positive feedback, also an extrinsic reward, enhances intrinsic motivation as it increases both how we perceive our degree of mastery and competence and gives us positive input for our feeling of social relatedness (1).

In the world of work, as we all know, it is unrealistic to expect everybody to be intrinsically motivated all the time. So Leci and Ryan and a couple of other researcher further investigated on how to use extrinsic motivation and make it more autonomous and self-directed. The idea is that motivation goes along a spectrum of relative autonomy (2).


So the interesting question now is, how do we get to the right end of the spectrum? Not all work related task are per se intrinsically motivating for people. So what can we do, to facilitate internalization?

First, it seems to help if we feel connected to the persons, groups and cultures in which we perform some activity. This relates to the basic need of relatedness.

Do you know that feeling? Although you are not very fond of a task, as long as you do it with your favorite colleague it turns out to be fun?

Second, we are more likely to adopt, or introject, an extrinsic goal if we feel competent enough to achieve it. This relates to the basic need of competence.

Trainings are not my favorite work to do. Yet, if I get enough support from my colleagues and time to prepare them properly, it turns out to be a challenge that I know I can win.

Third, and most important, only if we feel autonomy and self-determination we will integrate the goal. In order to reach that state we must inwardly grasp the meaning and worth of the task at hand.  

Writing blogs – definitely nothing I intrinsically enjoy 😉 I usually postpone it as long as possible. But from the moment I have chosen a topic I have been thinking about for a while I really enjoy it: I do my research (which I love doing), learn stuff and finally manage to condense it down to a single blog entry. All in my own pace, for the topic I am currently most interested in.

Think about it: what can you do to increase relatedness, competence and autonomy for your co-workers? It might be an unrealistic goal to achieve that everybody is intrinsically motivated but there are means to make work more intrinsically rewarding for them.

(1) Edward L. Deci (1971), Effects of Externally Mediated Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 18, No. 1, 105 – 115

(2) Richard M. Ryan and Edward L. Deci (2000),Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New Directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology 25, 54–67

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