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Pédagogie Explicite - Études
Écrit par Gerald E. Ledford, Barry Gerhart et Meiyu Fang   
Jeudi, 19 Mars 2015 19:37

Gerald E. Ledford Jr., Ph.D.
Barry Gerhart, Ph.D.
Meiyu Fang, Ph.D.

Negative Effects of Extrinsic Rewards on Intrinsic Motivation: More Smoke Than Fire

WorldatWork Journal
2e trimestre 2013

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Motivation research makes a basic distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

In general, researchers define intrinsic motivation as that which arises from performing the task. An employee may feel motivated to perform the task because doing so gives that worker a feeling of accomplishment, mastery and/or self-fulfillment. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, comes from outside the individual, and results from the expectation of receiving external rewards such as salary, benefits, incentives, promotions and recognition in exchange for job performance. This means the tools of compensation and benefits professionals are extrinsic rewards. These tools have the goals of enhancing extrinsic motivation and increasing organizational performance.

A recurring theme in the popular management literature is that extrinsic rewards diminish intrinsic motivation, and this problem is so serious that it can render extrinsic incentives for performance of any kind as ineffective or even counterproductive. This claim has become so commonplace that many managers and employees assume that it is true and that it is proven by decades of academic research.

Two prominent commentators on rewards, Alfie Kohn and Daniel Pink, have done much to popularize the claim of an undermining effect of extrinsic rewards, relying on one-sided discussions of research to make the case. Kohn, a former schoolteacher, authored a famous Harvard Business Review article titled, “Why Incentive Plans Cannot Work” (Kohn 1993b). He states in his book, “The bottom line is that any approach that offers a reward for better performance is destined to be ineffective” (Kohn, 1993a, p.119). He further states, “Possibly the most compelling reason that incentive systems fail is … (that) extrinsic motivators not only are less effective than intrinsic motivation but actually reduce intrinsic motivation … Furthermore, the more closely we tie compensation (or other rewards) to performance,  the more damage we do” (p.140). Daniel Pink, a political speechwriter turned writer of best sellers, addressed rewards in “Drive” (Pink 2009). He listed “seven deadly flaws” of extrinsic rewards, including, “They can extinguish intrinsic motivation” and “They can diminish performance.” Such assertions are commonplace in the management literature.

If extrinsic rewards have such negative effects on intrinsic motivation that they cannot be effective, compensation and benefits is destined to be a miserable profession. Therefore, the issue is of central importance to rewards professionals. However, this article shows that extrinsic rewards do not undermine intrinsic motivation and effects on intrinsic motivation do not render extrinsic rewards ineffective. Furthermore, focusing only on intrinsic motivation is not a practical strategy for work organizations. Total motivation is a function of external plus internal motivation, and extrinsic motivation cannot be ignored.

The authors first consider theories that bear on the impact of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Next, they will discuss a specific study by two of the authors to demonstrate that extrinsic rewards can actually increase intrinsic motivation. The authors will broaden the discussion by summarizing lessons from the extensive research on the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Finally, the authors will draw some important implications for practice.


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