Summary Self-determination theory and work motivation

Summary based on Gagné, M., & Deci, E. (2005). Self-determination theory and work motivation. Journal Of Organizational Behavior

The dichotomy between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation in cognitive evaluation theory, which explains the effects of extrinsic motivators on intrinsic motivation, made it difficult to apply the theories to work settings. Emphasizing different types of extrinsic motivation, which differ in their degree of autonomy, led to self-determination theory. This article is about self-determination theory as a theory of work motivation.

Porter and Lawler (1968) proposed a model of:

  • Intrinsic work motivation- involves people doing activity which they find enjoyable

  • Extrinsic work motivation- involves people doing activity where satisfaction does not come from activity itself but rather from the consequences to which activity leads.

Both Porter and Lawler also proposed structuring the work environment in order to produce total job satisfaction. They proposed achieving this by extending jobs to make them more interesting (more intrinsically rewarding) and by making the ways to accomplish extrinsic rewards (such as higher pay and promotions) more clear. The assumption present in this theory is that intrinsic and extrinsic rewards are additive. However, this was found to be quite controversial, since some studies found that extrinsic rewards undermined intrinsic motivation, while verbal rewards enhanced it, implying that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be both positively and negatively interactive.

Cognitive Evaluation Theory

According to Cognitive evaluation theory, external factors such as rewards, deadlines and evaluations undermine intrinsic motivation. For intrinsic motivation, feelings of competence and autonomy are extremely important. To stimulate intrinsic motivation, activities should be optimally challenging and people should receive positive feedback, which promotes the feeling of competence. Negative feedback was found to undermine both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, making people to feel amotivated. A meta-analysis of 128 laboratory experiments confirmed that positive feedback increases intrinsic motivation, while external rewards undermine it. It was also found that when rewards were given unexpected/independent of specific task engagement, extrinsic rewards did not undermine intrinsic motivation. Additionally, when rewards were given depending on performance in a supportive way, they enhanced intrinsic motivation relative to a comparison condition with no rewords or feedback. However, these kinds of rewards did lead to lower intrinsic motivation compared to a control group that got positive feedback. To sum up, extrinsic factors such as competitions and evaluations can be harmful to creativity, cognitive flexibility and problem solving.

There are five main problems with Cognitive evaluation theory as a theory of work motivation:

  1. Most studies that tested CET were laboratory experiments.

  2. It was difficult to include CET suggestions into behavioral and expectancy-valence approaches.

  3. Many activities in work organizations are not intrinsically interesting.

  4. Most people work to earn the money so using monetary rewards seems appealing.

  5. CET seems to indicate that managers should focus on either promoting intrinsic motivation or by using rewards extrinsic motivation.

Self-determination theory

The most important thing about SDT is the distinction between autonomous motivation and controlled motivation. Intrinsic motivation is example of autonomous motivation where people perform activity simply because they enjoy it. The opposite are controlled actions, which involve a sense of pressure. It was found that using extrinsic rewards induce controlled motivation. Both of these motivations are intentional and they are opposite of amotivation, which refers to the lack of motivation. SDT theorizes a self-determination continuum that ranges from amotivation (completely lacking in self-determination) to intrinsic motivation, which is self-determined. Between the two are 4 types of extrinsic motivation:

  1. External: most controlled and least self-determined

  2. Introjected: regulation is within the person but is a relatively controlled form of internalized extrinsic motivation.

  3. Identified: the greater feeling of freedom because the behavior is more compatible with their personal goals and values

  4. Integrated: fullest type of internalization, people have a full sense that the behavior is part of who they are.

Satisfying basic psychological needs is necessary for intrinsic motivation and internalization. To maintain intrinsic motivation, people need to feel competent and autonomous, able to satisfy the need for relatedness. When people satisfy need for relatedness and competence, they tend to internalize value and regulation of the behavior but it’s up to the extent of satisfaction of the need for autonomy what differentiates whether identification or integration, rather than introjection will occur. The concept of psychological needs has been central to organizational behavior for decades and according to organizational theories, people are viewed as differing in the strength of particular needs. Need strength can be assessed and used to predict motivation, job satisfaction, and work outcomes. SDT has a different theory, defining needs as universal necessities: nutriments that are vital for optimal human development and integrity. SDT research focus on the consequences of the extent to which individuals are able to satisfy the needs within social environment instead of the consequences of the strength of those needs for different individuals. Work climates that promote satisfaction of the three basic psychological needs will yield the important work outcomes:

  • Persistence and maintained behavior change

  • Effective performance

  • Job satisfaction

  • Positive work-related attitudes

  • Organizational citizenship behaviors

Social contexts and internalization

Autonomy support is the most important factor for predicting identification and integration and in that way autonomous behavior. It was shown that autonomy supportiveness of chemistry instructors predicted not only autonomous motivation over the semester but also course grades. There were 3 specific factors found that led to greater internalization:

  • Meaningful reason for doing the task

  • Acknowledgment that people might not find the activity interesting

  • Emphasis on choice rather than control

Supports for autonomy fall within two categories:

  1. Specific factors in the social context, such as choice and meaningful positive feedback

  2. Interpersonal ambience-organizational ambience

Social-contextual factors that maintain intrinsic motivation and those that help integration of extrinsic motivation are very similar but it is important to know the difference. It is important to know the difference because autonomous extrinsic motivation predicts different outcomes from intrinsic motivation. SDT index the degree to which people are:

  • autonomy oriented: to be self-determined and experience social contexts as autonomy supportive

  • control oriented: to experience social contexts as controlling and to be controlled

  • impersonally oriented: tendency to be amotivated

SDT and other theories of work motivation

Many theories have been influenced by the cybernetic approach and the expectancy-valence approach. Even though these theories differ, what do they have in common is that the total motivation the person has may be determined by various factors but represents a single variable that provides basis for making predictions. The difference between SDT and most other work motivation theories is that the focus of SDT is on relative strength of autonomous versus controlled motivation, rather than on total amount of motivation. Differences between theories are highlighted in following paragraphs.

Goal-setting theory

Locke and Latham’s goal-setting theory suggested that people’s goal representations are the efficient causes of behavior and by setting a specific difficult goals and having an understanding of how to achieve these goals people’s performance will be maximized. This theory do not differentiate kinds of motivation thus characteristics of goals are used to predict work outcomes. Differently, SDT proposes that autonomous motivation and intrinsic goals are better predictors of effective performance of heuristic tasks and that these two types of motivation do not differ in predicting long term algorithmic performance. We could point out that the biggest difference between SDT and goal setting theory is that according to SDT a “meaningful rationale” is one of the important factors that help integrated internalization and goal setting theory suggest that it facilitate goal acceptance.

Action regulation theory

Action regulation theory is strongly influenced by the cybernetic approach and emphasizes the mechanisms that keep people effectively focused on goal-directed action. The theory also proposes the greater decision latitude greater motivation but it does not make differential predictions for intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Oppositely, SDT take into account different concepts of autonomous and controlled types of motivation to make predictions about effective performance and psychological health where decision latitude is just one factor important for supporting autonomy.

Kanfer’s task-specific motivation

Kanfer’s theory of work motivation uses the interaction of motivation and individual differences in abilities as a basis for predicting work performance. Motivation is described in terms of cognitive allocation processes:

  • distal factors-mechanisms such as utility to the person performing the task

  • proximal factors-when activities are more complex, include self-monitoring and self-regulation which are critical for performance and competence development.

Kanfer’s theory does not predict types of performance (algorithmic and heuristic) and does not take into account different types of motivation regarding the well-being and performance. Oppositely, for SDT the central concern is predicting types of performance, well-being outcomes and performance outcomes and it is less concerned with mechanisms how the goal was achieved.

Job characteristics theory

According to Hackman and Oldham the most effective ways of motivating individuals is through optimal design of job. However, job characteristics theory does not make a difference between introjected forms of internal motivation and identified, integrated and intrinsic forms. The authors proposed that jobs should:

  1. Provide variety, have positive impact on others

  2. Afford freedom-decision latitude

  3. Provide feedback

There are 3 main differences between SDT and job characteristics theory:

  1. SDT apart from focusing on choice and feedback as a way to impact autonomous motivation also suggests interpersonal style of managers is important.

  2. SDT considers difference in type of individual differences

  3. Job characteristics theory does not consider issues such as trade-offs between internal motivation and controlled motivation.

Maslow, Herzberg, and Alderfer

The theories of Maslow (1954), Herzberg (1966), and Alderfer (1972) are classics in organizational behavior. In the work of Herzberg there are just 2 categories of motives-satisfiers and motivators or extrinsic and intrinsic motives. Some aspects of these theories are consistent with SDT, such as using a concept of psychological needs. There are also important differences between SDT and other theories. Focus is in other theories for example primarily on the energizers of motivated action where SDT addresses both how behavior is energized and how is it directed. Important difference is also in three decades of using an empirical approach where every proposition received empirical confirmation before being incorporated into a theory. Humanistic theories were criticized because of the lack of the empirical support.

Kelman’s theory of internalization

Kelman (1958) presented theory of internalization or attitude change stating that person’s behavior can be either compliant or can be influenced by others in a case that person identifies with the others or the behavior is harmonious with the person’s values. Oppositely in SDT focus is on values and behavioral regulations and on the degree to which they have been integrated with a person. SDT explains it more as identifying with values and behaviors more than with a identifying with another person. Another important difference is that Kelman suggests that identifying with another person will lead to continuously engage in behaviors performed by other where SDT suggests that even though identification with another person can stimulate a person’s behavior, the behavior regulation can be either controlled or autonomous.

Organizational commitment

There are two theories about organizational commitment. First, O’Reilly an Chatman (1986) used Kelman’s (1958) classification to identify three forms of organizational commitment:

  1. Identification with organization

  2. Internalization of organization’s values

  3. Compliance

Their concepts of identification and internalization relate to the internal types of motivation in SDT which is autonomous extrinsic and introjected motivation. In the second theory Allen and Meyer (1996) defined three forms of commitment which refers to employees’ identification with, emotional attachment to, and involvement in the organization.

SDT research in organizations

Numerous studies have supported SDT as an approach to work motivation.

  1. Eden (1975) reported a negative relation between the perception of extrinsic rewards and the amount of intrinsic motivation. Deckop and Cirka (2000) found that merit-pay programs in a non-profit organization led to decreased feeling of autonomy and intrinsic motivation which indicates that rewards can undermine intrinsic motivation in a work setting.

  2. Studies have found relation between managerial autonomy support (defined as manager acknowledging their workers perspectives) and positive work outcomes.

  3. Studies have found that managers’ autonomy support led to greater satisfaction of the need for competence, relatedness, and autonomy and thus, more job satisfaction greater persistence, higher performance, better acceptance of organizational change and better psychological adjustment.

  4. Blais and Briere (1992) found that managerial autonomy support positively predicted autonomous motivation and the quality of the workers performance.

  5. Gagne and Koestner (2002) found that autonomous motivation at the beginning of the study predicted commitment to the organization on the end (but not vice versa)

Recent study by Bono and Judge (2003) showed that followers of transformational leaders are more likely to adopt autonomous goals than controlled goals in a workplace.

Autonomous motivation and effective performance

Both laboratory and field studies have shown that autonomous motivation is associated with more effective performance on relatively complex tasks, where there is no difference for controlled motivation when mundane tasks are involved. Koestner and Losier (2002) highlighted the fact that intrinsic motivation yielded better performance on tasks that are interesting but that autonomous extrinsic motivation yielded better performance on not interesting tasks.

SDT model of work motivation

Environmental factors such as job content, job context, and work climate together with individual differences are considered as antecedents of autonomous motivation and outcomes associated with autonomous motivation such as: high performance, psychological well-being, organizational trust and commitment and job satisfaction. There are few prepositions regarding the work motivation:

  1. Autonomous extrinsic motivation will be more effective in predicting persistence on boring, effort-driven tasks, while intrinsic motivation will be more effective in predicting persistence on interesting tasks.

  2. Controlled motivation will lead to poorer performance on heuristic tasks than autonomous motivation but will lead to equal or better short term performance of algorithmic tasks.

  3. Autonomy-supportive work climates facilitate internalization of extrinsic motivation, which results in more autonomous self-regulation of extrinsically motivated behavior.

  4. Specific aspects of jobs interact with the work climates to influence autonomous motivation for work.

  5. Concrete managerial behaviors that support workers’ autonomy in the work place can be identified empirically

  6. Employees’ autonomy supportive work climates will have positive effects on employees’ autonomous motivation and positive work outcome

Organizational citizenship

Studies have shown that autonomous motivation predicts volunteering and prosocial behavior as well as organizational citizenship. Research done by Smith, Organ, and Near (1983) showed that managers’ supportive leadership led to greater organizational citizenship. By using SDT the predictions could become more refined and better integrated than those in previous studies.

The satisfaction performance

Job aspects such as complexity, challenge, importance, choice and autonomy supportive work climate lead employees to be autonomously motivated for their jobs, which results in them doing job very good while being satisfied. Controlled motivation will yield lees effective performance, especially on heuristic tasks.

Reward effects

One of the most important results from studies examining the effects of rewards on intrinsic motivation is that when rewards are given in an autonomy-supportive climate they are less likely to undermine intrinsic motivation and in some cases can enhance intrinsic motivation.

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