Culture & Engagement

Expert interview: Internal and external motivation explained

Happy employee

We talk a lot about motivation, and the different ways you can inspire your team to be more passionate about their work. But with so many different theories and approaches out there, how can we cut through the noise to try and understand what it’s all about?


Today, we have a special guest on our blog. Simon Kilpatrick is a business psychologist, university lecturer, and motivation expert. I recently interviewed Simon, and asked him to help clarify a few things for our readers about motivation. Here’s how the interview went.

Question: Why is motivation important?


When I first spoke to Simon, I asked him if he had any hints or tips on motivation. His answer?


“Sure, I have loads” he said “but unless you understand how motivation works, and why you’re trying to motivate your staff in the first place, then all you’re doing is following blind advice. What if you listen to the wrong tip? It might end up doing you more harm than good!”


So I scrapped my first question, in an effort to learn more about motivation. Instead, I asked Simon exactly why motivation is so important.


“As we all know” said Simon “everyone is different, we all have different motives and we’re all motivated by different things. People will undertake their job tasks, for example, answer their emails, make client calls and attend meetings. But their mind may sometimes be somewhere else, and they won’t be very productive. This is where motivation techniques are essential to engaging your team to buy into your company ethos and enjoy performing job tasks for their own sake. When you motivate your staff, you’re giving them a desire to work, or a reason to want to work; this also gives people a sense of purpose and has been shown to increase well-being.”

Question: Isn’t a fair salary motivation enough?


By Simon’s definition, it sounds like paying employees a fair salary should be more than enough to motivate them. Isn’t your salary the main reason you want to work, after all?


However, as you and I very well know, it doesn’t always work like that. So I asked Simon if he could share some of his expertise on the matter.


“Salary definitely plays a part,” he said “and you should absolutely make sure you’re paying fair wages. It is one of many ‘external’ motivators. However, the impact of salary as a motivator tends to diminish over time. A fair salary mostly just keeps your employees turning up to work – it doesn’t necessarily keep them at their productive best.”

Question: What is external motivation?


OK, so salary keeps bottoms on chairs. The answer made sense. But it raised several new questions. Such as what is ‘external’ motivation? How does it differ from ‘internal’ motivation? Is there even such a thing as ‘internal’ motivation?


Well, I wasn’t sat next to a business psychologist for nothing – and I was determined to make the most of his brain!


“There are two primary types of motivation,” Simon explained, “Internal and external. When we talk about external motivation, we’re talking about perks and physical rewards – salary being one of them. Other types of external motivation might include a generous holiday allowance, discounted gym membership, or a company car. Again though, these types of motivation serve more to make your employees want and need their jobs – not necessarily to want to work!”

Question: What is internal motivation?


I was starting to get the hang of this. Just to be sure though, I asked Simon to talk me through internal motivation – what is it, why is it useful, and how is it different to external motivation?


“OK, so on the flip side, we have internal motivation. This is the kind of motivation that drives staff to do their job well, and to take pride in their work. Staff with high levels of internal motivation will feel a deep sense of satisfaction by completing a job well for its own sake. Internal motivation is fuelled by thoughts and emotions – so it pays to keep your staff stimulated. This might be making sure your staff have a good balance of work and play. Or it might even be as simple as making sure they have a good variety of jobs to do – if boredom sets in, it can really sting internal motivation levels.”

Question: Are there any other benefits to having a motivated workforce?


I decided to run a quick summary by Simon at this point. Here’s what I had taken so far from his thoughtful answers:


1, People are motivated by different things

2, Motivation helps them to want to work

3, There are two types of motivation – external and internal

4, External motivation is about fair pay and rewards

5, Internal motivation is about the stimulation of feelings and emotions


I felt like I was nearly an expert myself! But I had one more question for Simon. I wanted to know if there were any other benefits to a motivated workforce – aside from increased productivity.


“Absolutely! Motivated employees feel more valued, and are more loyal. This seriously boosts your retention rates, and even increases the reputation of your business. But it also has plenty of knock-on effects, too – for example, employees will be more resilient to change within your organisation, which is a great asset in an ever-changing and competitive business environment.”

About Simon Kilpatrick


Simon Kilpatrick is a Lecturer of Psychology at Leeds Beckett University. He is a Work Psychology expert and teaches on the Organisational Psychology module and Individual Differences and Work behaviour module at the university.


Simon is a practicing Business Psychologist and Chief Executive Officer at Intrinsic Links Limited.


Intrinsic Links is a team building and eLearning company. We are a team of Psychologists with a large range of expertise. We increase job and organisational performance, and well-being in the workplace. We teach positive psychology and management techniques to help make teams h2er and people higher performers. All team building and training is facilitated by interactive activities which are informative and fun, and achieve lasting positive effects. We teach your team – Self-Awareness, Emotional Intelligence, Motivation, Effective Teamwork, Team Building, Leadership and Well-being techniques to outperform others and put you ahead of the competition.


For further information visit their website –