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How Is Intrinsic Motivation Related to Job Performance?

Intrinsic motivation refers to the pursuit of something for inherent satisfaction rather than external rewards. This concept has been particularly interesting to researchers, who have found that high intrinsic motivation has been a key driver of workplace performance. 

However, this aforementioned research has focused on the effect of intrinsic motivation on one task. While insightful, jobs are not only comprised of one task. They typically consist of five or six key tasks. 

Research in the Academy of Management Journal examined whether high intrinsic motivation for one task could lead to decreased performance on tasks that are less intrinsically motivating. To examine this, the researchers conducted two studies—a field experiment in South Korea and a lab experiment in the U.S.

The research revealed that when intrinsic motivation for one task was above moderate levels, performance on that task increased while performance on other tasks decreased. In other words, too much intrinsic motivation for one task negatively impacted other tasks. These results occurred even when individuals had the necessary skills to complete all tasks. In contrast, lower levels of intrinsic motivation on one task were associated with increased performance on other tasks. Moderate levels of intrinsic motivation led to the best outcomes. Specifically, the ideal performance results occurred at medium levels of intrinsic motivation on a specific task, thereby creating a curvilinear relationship. 

Finally, the researchers explored the role of emotions in this relationship such as: happiness, relaxation, anger, anxiety, sadness, and boredom. The results revealed that high intrinsic motivation on one task leading to poor performance on other tasks was heightened by boredom alone—no other emotions.

Shin, J. & Grant, A.M. (2019) Bored by interest: How intrinsic motivation in one task can reduce performance on other tasks. Academy of Management Journal, 62(2), 415-436.