The Four Forms of Motivation

Motivation can be hard to come by. There’s always something else to do; it seems – another task, another project, another meet...

May 27, 2021

Motivation can be hard to come by. There’s always something else to do; it seems – another task, another project, another meeting – and even the most high-performing employees can struggle to perform at an optimal level.

To effectively incentivize and motivate employees to perform, it’s essential to understand the different forms of motivation and how they contribute to an employee’s work performance and overall engagement.

The Science Behind Motivation

Despite how we may talk about it, motivation isn’t a resource – it’s a response to stimuli, and that response differs from person to person. Different stimuli trigger different parts of the brain and motivate people toward productivity in different ways. 

Neuroscientists and psychologists have established that humans generally experience motivation when the neurotransmitter known as dopamine relays signals between brain cells is released. When dopamine reaches the nucleus accumbens – the brain area that mediates reward behavior – it solicits feedback on whether a good or bad thing is about to happen.

If an employee gets an email from their boss with a new assignment, dopamine taps the nucleus accumbens to predict what will happen if the task is done well, poorly, or not at all. When the expected outcome is realized, the employee will either act to increase the probability of reward or decrease the likelihood of a negative consequence.

The Four Forms of Motivation

Understanding what motivates each employee is crucial to both organizational and individual success, maximizing productivity, and keeping your teams happy. Here’s how to encourage and incentivize employees based on their preferred motivation style.

Extrinsic Motivation

If an employee is motivated to succeed based on influences like increased financial gain (such as commission or bonuses) or promotions, or if they do good work only because they fear negative consequences, they are likely extrinsically motivated. While this is ideal for employees in a competitive environment where their commission or promotions are dependent on their success, extrinsic motivation doesn’t work consistently. Eventually, promotions and compensation won’t motivate employees, which can be problematic down the road.

Intrinsic Motivation

If an employee is motivated by an internal desire to succeed or desire self-actualization or self-exploration, they are likely intrinsically motivated. While employers may feel employees don’t need external rewards because they have an internalized sense of motivation, morale is still important to reward these employees. Intrinsically motivated employees are more likely to place a high value on their boss saying “Good job” rather than being given a bonus at the end of the year.

Introjected Motivation

This form of motivation is more common than you think, and that’s not a good thing for employee morale or productivity. Introjected motivation is a negative internalized motivation, similar to negative reinforcement. The stimulus for introjected motivation may take many forms, such as internalized guilt around a previous negative interaction with a boss or colleague or consistent negative feedback without positive action items.

Identified Motivation

Sometimes called “self-determined motivation,” this is the most complex of the motivation forms because it builds up over time and isn’t something that can be created or instilled in a person with the snap of a finger. Identified motivation presents itself as feeling the need to perform or accomplish a task but not acting on the need until the desire to do so actualizes. While it’s often impractical to wait for someone to become motivated, this form of motivation is potent because the act of actualizing motivation creates lasting accomplishment and performance enhancement.

Maximize Motivation

If managers and supervisors reflect on the employees they work with or report to them, chances are pretty good they will instantly recognize which type of motivation works best for each employee. By tapping into that knowledge, managers can easily keep their employees motivated to do their best work simply by approaching task delegation in the most effective manner possible. For example:

  • If an employee is extrinsically motivated, consistently incentivize them with tangible rewards. These can be small, such as a personalized gift for assisting on a large project, or large, such as a benefits increase after a stellar end-of-year performance review.
  • If an employee is intrinsically motivated, be generous with your verbal and written praise during one-on-one meetings or in emails.
  • If an employee appears to approach work with an introjected mindset, focus on applying positive feedback to their work and critique. 
  • If an employee takes a while to actualize their motivation, sit down with them and ask if there is anything you can do to support their adjustment to a new task.

Final Word

Motivation in the workplace can take many forms, and what works to motivate one person may not do so for another. Understanding a wide range of motivation types can help managers and supervisors seek new methods that will help their teams excel. Doing this will enable you and your team to succeed in the long run.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is Assembly SOC 2 compliant?

Yes, at Assembly, security is a top priority. Each quarter, we have ongoing security work that is everyone’s responsibility. While we maintain a strong security posture, it was important for us to prove to our customers that we do everything we claim to do. This led us to pursue a SOC 2 Type II report that would provide evidence of our compliance with industry gold-standard security practice.

What's the ROI for employee recognition?

There is study after study showing that employee recognition leads to increased engagement. This in return creates an environment where employees are happier and more motivated which increase productivity and reduces voluntary turnover significantly. In order to filled critical roles, companies tend to spend nearly twice the value of an annual salary. Assembly is an investment in your employees that supports your bottom line.

Does Assembly offer longer-term contracts?

Yes, we will offer contracts for companies with longer-term agreements to help larger customers have more certainty around future costs.

The minimum agreement term is a 12-month subscription.

Does Assembly offer onboarding support?

We do! Any new customer needing further support to get started with Assembly to ensure you're set up for success can request custom onboarding support. These one-time services start at $5,000. Improving your employee experience is about much more than just using our amazing software; it’s about transforming your business to create a workplace that people love. That’s much easier to do with the personal support and advice from our passionate people experts.

Is there a free version of Assembly?

Yes. We offer a completely free plan for up to 50 team members. This plan is intended for teams or organizations that are looking to get started with an employee engagement tool. Keep in mind, this plan is limited in features.

All customers can open an Assembly account for free and get started without a credit card. Then you can change plans as necessary.

How much do rewards cost?

At the time of redemption (when your employees exchange their points for a paid reward) you'll pay face value. If a reward is a $10 Amazon gift card, your cost will be $10. All paid rewards are billed for on a monthly basis.

The good news is that you don't have to pay for rewards upfront because we only charge you when points are redeemed, not when they're earned.

Does Assembly offer discounts?

We offer discounts or educational or charitable organizations. In order to secure a discount, you'll first need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

For all other organizations, we are willing to consider longer-term agreements in exchange for discounts. To set up annual plans or longer, you will need to book a demo with a customer support specialist.

How do I cancel my plan if needed?

If you're on a month to month plan, you can go here and cancel anytime. If you're having concerns or need help setting up your account for success, you can always book a demo with a customer support specialist.

If you're on a longer-term custom plan, you'll need to reach out to your customer support specialist to cancel your account or email us at

What customizations are available?

Great question! You can customize your core values to match your organization's to boost and track alignment. You can change your currency from the 🏆 emoji (our default) to any emoji of your choice. You can swap our logo for your own. You can also set up company culture rewards such as, "Lunch with the CEO," "Buy a book on us," and so much more!

Who can give or receive recognition?

While we recommend a peer to peer set up where anyone in your organization can give or receive recognition, you can set up Assembly however you want. If you need to limit the people who can give or receive recognition, that's perfectly fine and can be done from your Admin, here.

What integrations are available?

Assembly connects to the tools your employees use every day to offer an easy, seamless experience with minimal change management.  

Assembly has integrations with HCM/HRIS systems like ADP, Google, Office 365, and Slack. We also integrate with communication tools like Slack and Teams so you and your employees can access Assembly wherever they work now.

What's your average adoption rate?

That depends on the company's permissions set up. That said, over 90% of the employees on Assembly's platform are recognized on a monthly basis. That means nearly every employee across all of our customers are receiving regular recognition from their peers, managers, or leadership. We're extremely proud of this.

Must rewards be set up to use Assembly?

They are not required. You can use Assembly without having rewards set up. However, we don't recommend it if you intend to have a high adoption and usage rate. You can always keep the costs down by offering internal culture rewards that are fulfilled by you internally.

Are points required to use Assembly?

No, you can remove allowances from anyone or everyone. It's up to you but we do recommend using points whether they're worth a real dollar value or not. Companies that use points have a much higher engagement rate even if those points don't exchange for real dollars.

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