Intrinsic Rewards

Intrinsic Rewards

Intrinsic Rewards

Keeping staff motivated is a vital part of ensuring the continued success of any enterprise.

The reasons behind the level of effort employees put into their work can vary as much as their individual career goals and personalities.

For many workers, the promise of some form of reward will play a vital role in motivating them to work harder, perform better or modify their behavior.

What Is an Intrinsic Reward?

Intrinsic rewards and intrinsic motivation exist within people. The intrinsic reward a person achieves from completing a task or behavior is compelled by their intrinsic motivation.

Whilst it is important to acknowledge the inextricable link between reward and motivation, the two are not interchangeable.

  • Motivation usually occurs before and during a task. It is a force that compels an individual to complete the task.
  • A reward is often experienced after the task is completed, as a result of it.

Behavior is motivated by the reward, which will be a consequence of certain behavior.

This could be an internal feeling (intrinsic) or something external (extrinsic).

Intrinsic rewards can be quite subjective to the individual who is experiencing the reward. They will reflect the values and experiences of that person.

An intrinsic reward is a feeling or sense that a person gets from completing a certain task or set of tasks.

At work, intrinsic rewards might manifest themselves as the feeling of satisfaction from completing a difficult project successfully, or an employee mastering a new skill that they have been learning for a long time.

They are often bound up with the idea of personal growth and achievement.

Intrinsic rewards can be used to enhance motivation. The promise of an intrinsic reward that will leave workers with a sense of satisfaction can actively increase their output and have a positive effect on the revenue of the business they work for.

It can also help to change a worker’s behavior, encourage them to break bad habits or improve their attitude.

Intrinsic rewards can also be beneficial on a wider scale, not just at an individual level. They can give a team a sense of cohesion and meaning.

Differences Between Intrinsic and Extrinsic Rewards

An intrinsic reward is psychological and internal. It is something that promotes feelings of positivity and satisfaction to the person experiencing it.

An extrinsic reward is usually something more tangible, often financial, such as a quarterly bonus.

Extrinsic and intrinsic rewards are not mutually exclusive, but they are not necessarily interlinked. Experiencing an extrinsic reward can induce the feelings associated with intrinsic rewards; you can also experience one without the other.

Extrinsic rewards are not always linked to something positive. At work, if an employee behaves in a certain way to avoid punishment, this too could be seen as them working towards an extrinsic reward.

The threat of an external, negative consequence has motivated them to adapt their behavior. Their reward is that they are not being punished.

Both can be great motivators for those with clear career goals and plans for the future.

Individuals who are motivated by intrinsic rewards are not less ambitious, their ambition simply manifests itself differently.

Defining the way an individual worker is motivated is not always simple.

Intrinsic Rewards

Intrinsic rewards are psychological. They act as a positive, psychological or emotional stimulus to the person experiencing them.

Examples of intrinsic rewards in the workplace:

  • Proving oneself
  • Increasing one’s sense of self-worth
  • Taking pride in one’s work
  • Working as part of a team
  • Doing an enjoyable job
  • Furthering education or learning new skills
  • Finding meaningful work, either to the individual or wider society
  • Feeling valued

Intrinsic rewards may appeal strongly to individuals who do not seek money as their main motivation. They might demonstrate personality traits that show they are more ‘feeling’ than ‘thinking’.

To harness the power of intrinsic rewards, employers should make use of performance reviews, annual check-ins and even the initial interview before making a job offer, to ask questions that will help them further understand their employee’s mindset and learn how best to motivate them.

Extrinsic Rewards

Extrinsic rewards are something external that is received (or avoided) as a result of certain behaviour.

Examples of extrinsic rewards in the workplace:

  • Performance-based bonuses
  • Promotion or pay raise
  • Praise from colleagues or management
  • Rewards such as vouchers, discounts or extra time off work
  • Individual recognition, for example being named 'Employee of the Month'
  • Avoiding being reprimanded or punished

Extrinsic rewards may appeal to more materialistic individuals. They might have a personality that is more focused on ‘thinking’ than ‘feeling’.

Practical Example

An employee improves the way they work because they want to achieve the status of 'Employee of the Month'.

This could be for an external reason, making the reward extrinsic, such as wanting the cash bonus that is given in addition to the title.

It might also be for an internal reason, making the reward intrinsic.

This could be because they want the feeling of status that the title bestows, or it could be because this employee is plagued with self-doubt and desires confirmation that they deserve to be valued and respected.

It could also be that the individual enjoys having a sense of superiority over their colleagues.

The employee could also be motivated by a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

Why Should Employers Strive to Harness Intrinsic Motivation?

On the most basic level, the majority of employees go to work to get paid. Their wage is their main motivation as money is a necessity in the modern world.

The individual ambition of workers will vary. Whilst some will wish to progress quickly through their career, others will be content to find an entry or mid-level role where they can remain until retirement.

Some will have the desire to study and gain expert knowledge, others will prefer to gain nothing more than on-the-job experience.

Regardless of their ambition, it is always easier for workers to perform their day-to-day tasks if they are doing something they enjoy, in a business where they feel valued.

Because the power of intrinsic motivation is centered around the internal feelings of the individual, it is not constrained by their ambition in the same way as external motivation might be.

Most workers, regardless of skill level or pay grade, have the desire to do well and want to feel happy in their role.

Intrinsic Rewards: What They Are and Why They’re Important
Intrinsic Rewards: What They Are and Why They’re Important

Intrinsic rewards, if understood correctly by employers, can be a useful leveler within the workplace.

Employers can use them to communicate a positive message to employees, regardless of their socio-economic status or career goals.

Using intrinsic motivation in the workplace can:

  • Help to create a positive working environment
  • Increase staff retention levels
  • Help employees to work more positively or be more responsible
  • Drive genuine passion for a cause–effect change
  • Help staff to maintain focus and engagement
  • Be beneficial to learning
  • Help bosses to find common ground among their teams (particularly concerning ambition or career goals)
  • Promote equity (especially amongst diverse teams)

Intrinsic motivators can be useful to help bosses get the best performance from their teams and help people to feel included.

In the corporate, sales or financial sectors, where performance is often highly scrutinized and quantified, intrinsic motivators can be extremely useful for employees who are not exclusively money-oriented.

Typically, in these sectors, rewards are associated with extrinsic motivators such as bonuses and raises.

Some employees may be more concerned with the status and respect that comes with the financial rewards, or the satisfaction of achieving their goals or exceeding the expectations of others.

It is important for employers to be highly intuitive to be able to harness the power of both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards as motivators.

The feeling of gratification when an employee receives an extrinsic reward is often immediate and with a short duration. Intrinsic rewards offer more longevity. They can keep people motivated over longer periods without having to offer a further motivator. Extrinsic rewards have to be offered with some continuity to remain effective.

How Can Employers Use Intrinsic Motivators?

Using intrinsic motivators can be extremely useful in businesses that have made a commitment to sustainability, or another common goal, such as corporate social responsibility.

This is because the individuals who are attracted to roles in these types of businesses, or have been selected for these roles, will most likely share similar values.

Here, the intrinsic reward of working towards a cohesive goal and being part of a team of committed, like-minded individuals who strive to work in a way that impacts the world around them positively is an intrinsic motivator in itself.

Harness Passion

Intrinsic rewards are most motivating to workers who already have a passion for the work that they do. This passion, or interest, comes from inside of them; therefore an internal reward might hold more meaning than an external one.

It can be helpful to remind staff why they became passionate about their particular field in the first place, so that they continue to be intrinsically motivated.

Set a Good Example

It is also important for management to set a good example; a workforce who sees their employer demonstrate genuine interest and passion for their business and clients, without linking it to financial or external gratification, are more likely to find value in intrinsic motivation.

Encourage Autonomy

Managers should avoid micro-managing their workforce if they want them to appreciate the value of intrinsic rewards.

Workers who react well to intrinsic motivation will appreciate having a sense of autonomy and choice.

In turn, this leads to them performing their tasks in a way that is appropriate for them and leads to a feeling of competence as they select the tools and methodologies that they see fit.

How Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace Might Look

  • Having cohesive, meaningful, long-term goals in mind and a commitment to affecting something in a positive way (such as becoming carbon neutral or more sustainable)
  • Demanding high, individual success rather than ranking staff by their performance
  • Keeping the workforce engaged and reminding them of their passion for the job
  • Setting a positive example from the top down; become a boss who cares, both for the workforce and the work they are doing
  • A highly engaged workforce, whose engagement has longevity rather than an end date for ‘accomplishment’
  • Workers who have a sense of choice and autonomy, and who understand their progress through meaningful feedback

Extrinsic rewards are often most effective in situations where employees are completing a particularly laborious or difficult task, or one that they are not enjoying.

They can also help encourage workers to overcome obstacles or hone new skills.

Once the extrinsic reward motivates them to achieve their goal, the intrinsic sense of accomplishment may be a motivator for future performance.

Offering excessive extrinsic rewards, or a disproportionate reward for something that may be deemed a low achievement, can decrease motivation in students and workers, and should be avoided.

Final Thoughts

An intrinsic reward is a positive feeling an employee experiences as a result of their achievements at work. Intrinsic rewards are internal and can be highly subjective.

Intrinsic motivation, at its core, has many commonalities with businesses that have made commitments to charity, equality, sustainability and social responsibility.

The use of intrinsic rewards may not appear to be immediately compatible with the corporate or financial sectors where success is often measured in digits.

However, employees will usually share common goals, such as taking pride in their work, and the desire to be recognized, valued or to make a difference.

Managers who possess an innate ability to understand and analyze the individual values and goals of their team members should be able to motivate their workforce by finding a balance between the promise of the instant gratification of the extrinsic reward and the long-term satisfaction of the intrinsic reward.


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