Intrinsic Motives, not Positive Consequences Linked to Achieving Goals, Career Performance

Amy Wrzesniewski

Amy Wrzesniewski

Sustained effort toward a goal may be intrinsically motivated by personal commitment to a larger “mission.”
At the same time, goal-seeking activity may be extrinsically motivated by external rewards, counteracting intrinsic motivation’s positive impact on effective career performance.

Xiangyu Cong

Xiangyu Cong

This complex interaction of internal and external motives was investigated among more than 10,000 people admitted to the United States Military Academy (“West Point”) by Yale’s Amy Wrzesniewski, Xiangyu Cong, Michael Kane, Audrey Omar, and Thomas Kolditz, with Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore.

Michael John Kane

Michael John Kane

Wrzesniewski’s team considered the long-term impact of holding both intrinsic motives (desire to serve and protect citizens) and extrinsic motives (have a respected career) for attending West Point cadets on:

  • Promotion to commissioned officer rank,
  • Extending officer service beyond the minimum required period of 5 years,
  • Selection for early career promotions.
Audrey Omar

Audrey Omar

Cadets who were intrinsically motivated were more likely to accomplish these goals.
However, those who also reported extrinsic motivation were less likely to achieve these career distinctions.

Richard Koestner

Richard Koestner

A meta-analytic review of nearly 130 experiments by University of Rochester’s Edward Deci and Richard Ryan with Richard Koestner of McGill confirmed the undermining effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation from childhood through adulthood.

Mark Lepper

Mark Lepper

People may report less intrinsic motivation when extrinsic rewards are available, a phenomenon called the “overjustification hypothesis”  by Stanford’s Mark Lepper, David Greene, and Richard Nisbett of University of Michigan.

Clark McCauley

Clark McCauley

People typically view their work as being intrinsically or extrinsically motivated:

  • Job, mostly extrinsically motivated
  • Career, some intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
  • Calling, intrinsically motivated by fulfillment from the work itself, resulting in greater satisfaction and better performance than the other two orientations, according to Wrzesniewski’s previous work with Schwartz, collaborating with Bryn Mawr’s Clark McCauley and Paul Rozin of Penn.
Paul Rozin

Paul Rozin

These results  empirically support long-standing philosophical guidance to find meaning in work rather than primarily focusing on positive consequences of goal achievement.

Thomas Kolditz

Thomas Kolditz

This is especially relevant because the U.S. Military employs extrinsic motive appeals in marketing messages to recruit cadets, suggesting that military services provides “money for college,” “career training,” and enables members to “see the world.”

However, extrinsic motives tend to be associated with less career recognition and tenure than those who find meaning in the organization’s mission.

-*How do you increase intrinsic motivation when extrinsic motivation may seem more appealing?

-*What elements make your work “a calling”?

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2 thoughts on “Intrinsic Motives, not Positive Consequences Linked to Achieving Goals, Career Performance

  1. kathrynwelds Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. This research may also provide guidance to people developing marketing campaigns to recruit employees, especially in the current “hot” job market.
    Extrinsic appeals, like for free food and a “fun” work atmosphere might not lead to employee retention or long-term performance as much as intrinsic appeals to being part of a high-performing team that works on leading edge breakthroughs in a specific field.

    Reply

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