Self-determination Theory and Employee Motivation





Self-determination Theory and Employee Motivation

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Self-determination Theory and Employee Motivation

The self-determination theory (SDT) is a motivation theory that is based on the idea that people willingly search for prospects of developing their full potentials (Gunesekare, 2016). It proposes a multidimensional view of motivation and also specified how the various types of motivation can be encouraged or discouraged (Gagnéet al., 2015).Deci and Ryan (2000) argue that as people seek such opportunities, their psychological wellbeing is enhanced, thus developing their inner striving conditions into optimal performance. The starting point of this theory is the assumption of the inherent rooting of growth, development, and integrity motivation within the humans (Deci& Ryan, 2000). As such, the SDT postulates that satisfaction of a person’s innate fundamental psychological needs is required for continued growth and development.

Ryan and Deci (2000) notes that intrinsic and extrinsic types of motivation have been studied widely, and the distinction between the two types of motivation informs both educational and developmental practices. In SDT, the two types of motivation are distinguished by the different goals that give rise to an action (Ryan & Deci, 2000). The basic distinction is between intrinsic motivation that refers to doing something because of the interesting nature or enjoyableness of the task, and extrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because of the separate outcomes associated with it (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

The concepts related to SDT have been intensively researched and discussed within the organizational literature for over six decades now. For instance, Argyris (1957) and McGregor (1960) emphasized that organizational environments offering their employees the opportunity to satisfy their higher order needs are more likely to promote effective performance. Moreover, both styles of management and organizational designs allowing greater participation in the organization’s decision-making processes, as well as greater flexibility in doing one’s job have been found to hold a positive association with the employee satisfaction (Ugboro&Obeng, 2000), organizational effectiveness (Pearce & Sims, 2002) and the quality of work-life (Srivastava, Bartol, & Locke, 2006).

A review of literature in the SDT and work motivation reveals how the theory offers a fruitful lens for explaining the motivation of proactivity. Strauss and Parker (2014) draw from the SDT to propose strategies for enhancing the likelihood of effective proactivity, both for individual, team and organization. The antecedents of proactive behavior, which include the individual differences in the tendencies to engage in proactivity, have also received extensive attention in the existing literature. The individual differences that dominate the existing empirical body include the demographics, knowledge, personalities as well as the abilities. Scholars in this area argue that the individual differences as well as the contextual variables influence proactivity directly through the proactive motivational states (Strauss & Parker, 2014).

Employees’self-determination is another important issue for organizations that predicts key job outcomes, probably because self-determined employees often feel more committed to their organizations and also report fewer turnover intentions and other physical symptoms. According to Gorbatsevich (2010), understanding the concept of work motivation requires a clear definition of human motivation as a whole, and the special literature reveals that three aspects under which the concept of motivation is discussed, namely: motivation as a process of encouraging one to perform a specific behavior, motivation as a psychological state of a person performing a certain behavior, and motivation as the underlying reasons that drive a person to be engaged in a certain behavior. SDT stipulates that the different types of motivation determine the behavior of people, and the motivation types differ in terms of the self-determination levels (Gorbatsevich, 2010).


SDT and work motivation

Therefore, focusing on the SDT, work motivation can be defined as a set of reasons that correlate with the need for competency, relatedness and autonomy of a worker determining one’s professional activity engagement. The self-determination theory proposes that workers’ intrinsic motivation contributes to the overall employee output, and thus the major psychological needs of the employees should be adequately considered. The subordinates should be treated as both experienced and capable autonomous. SDT stipulates that managers need to develop a corporate culture that incorporates workplace development of social bonds (Gorbatsevich, 2010).

Understanding the employee perspective from an SDT perspective is important since the model has been found to be consistent and also provides the correct description of a group of needs, which determine the employee behavior. The theory also offers an explanation for the mechanism of correction between the employee factors and the motivation factors, among other aspects of the approach to work motivation. Deci and Ryan (2008) argues that this theory focuses on the types, rather than just amounts of motivation, and pays particular attention to the autonomous motivation, amotivation and controlled motivation, which makes it the best model to address the research topic of the influence of empowering leadership on subordinates’ autonomous work motivation and their proactivity. SDT also can help in addressing the research questions that either enhance or diminish the various types of motivation, and examines the aspirations of people, thus revealing the differential associations between intrinsic and extrinsic aspirations (Deci & Ryan, 2008).



Gunasekare, U. L. T. P. (2016). Self Determination Theory to Explain Charismatic Leadership in Virtual Teams: Proposing an Integrated Model.International Journal of Business Administration7(3).Available at:

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology25(1), 54-67. Available at:,+Deci+00.pdf

Ugboro, I. O., &Obeng, K. (2000). Top management leadership, employee empowerment, job satisfaction, and customer satisfaction in TQM organizations: an empirical study. Journal of Quality management5(2), 247-272. Available at:

Pearce, C. L., & Sims Jr, H. P. (2002). Vertical versus shared leadership as predictors of the effectiveness of change management teams: An examination of aversive, directive, transactional, transformational, and empowering leader behaviors. Group dynamics: Theory, research, and practice6(2), 172. Available at:

Srivastava, A., Bartol, K. M., & Locke, E. A. (2006). Empowering leadership in management teams: Effects on knowledge sharing, efficacy, and performance. Academy of management journal49(6), 1239-1251. Available at:

Strauss, K., & Parker, S. K. (2014). Effective and sustained proactivity in the workplace: A self-determination theory perspective. The Oxford handbook of work engagement, motivation, and self-determination theory, 50-71.Available at:

Argyris, C. (1957). The individual and organization: Some problems of mutual adjustment. Administrative science quarterly, 1-24. Available at:

Gorbatsevich, T. A. (2010). Defining work motivation: focusing on the self-determination theory. Belorussian State University. Available at:

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian psychology/Psychologiecanadienne49(3), 182. Available at:

McGregor, D. (1960). The human side of enterprise. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Gagné, M., Forest, J., Vansteenkiste, M., Crevier-Braud, L., Van den Broeck, A., Aspeli, A. K., … &Halvari, H. (2015). The multidimensional work motivation scale: Validation evidence in seven languages and nine countries.European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology24(2), 178-196. Available at:


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