Using Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators to Boost Safety Compliance

This blog post explores the concept of self-determination, its influence on safety motivation in construction worksites, and how Scratchie fosters intrinsic compliance for improved safety and wellbeing.
July 26, 2023
Nicole Celestine, Ph.D.
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On a bright Sunday morning, you might find yourself surrounded by loved ones, laughter echoing through the air as you indulge in leisurely activities like playing games or basking in shared moments. In this realm of voluntary leisure, you feel a genuine eagerness to partake in these cherished moments.

These are the moments of intrinsic motivation, where the joy of engaging in activities becomes its own reward, resonating from the core of your being.

Conversely, envision the chores of daily life—a sink full of dishes you’ve been trying to put off or ignore. Here, the undertones of motivation shift, and reluctance tugs at your spirit. Completing the task becomes a means to an end, propelled solely by external pressure to tick off the to-do list.

Such moments manifest the spectrum of extrinsic motivation, where external factors guide our actions.

But how does this dance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play out in the realm of our working lives, particularly in environments like construction worksites?

Every Worker is Motivated Differently

When it comes to construction, understanding worker motivation is crucial for improving safety performance, wellbeing, and ongoing job commitment.

This understanding begins with a recognition that every worker’s motivation will be different, underpinned by unique psychological drivers. Some workers may simply want to meet expectations and move through their workday without any trouble, while others may have a deep passion for their work, viewing it as an important part of their identity or key source of pleasure.

Therefore, to motivate safety compliance in as many people as possible means learning to work effectively with these different drivers of motivation. In this post, we explore different types of motivation and their impacts on safety in the construction industry, revealing how Scratchie revolutionises workplace safety through intrinsic motivation and innovative rewards.

Understanding Self-Determination

In 1985, prominent psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan introduced a key concept of motivation known as self-determination.

Self-determination refers to the power and freedom we feel we have to make choices and decisions for ourselves. It’s about being in control of our own lives and actions, rather than controlled by others or external forces.

When you have self-determination, you feel naturally motivated to take action, and a genuine pleasure or desire to partake in your activities. In its absence, however, you might feel a diminished sense of purpose and fulfilment in what you’re doing, leading to a lack of drive and enthusiasm.

You can notice the difference when you engage in voluntary leisure time compared to an unpleasant chore.

During leisure activities, like playing games or spending time with loved ones, you may feel a genuine excitement and eagerness to participate in these activities you enjoy. On the other hand, when faced with an unpleasant chore, such as doing the dishes, you may feel burdened, reluctant, or even resentful.

Levels of Safety Motivation: The Self-Determination Continuum

In truth, it’s not our activities themselves that cause us to feel self-determination or not. Rather, it’s the drivers that underlie our participation in those activities that cause us to feel a sense of enthusiasm or reluctance.

According to Ryan and Deci, these differing degrees of self-determination can be understood according to six different types, ranging from amotivation (the absence of motivation) to intrinsic motivation (the highest motivation).

This possible range, known as the self-determination continuum, extends beyond personal life to work, encompassing safety performance. With this understanding, supervisors can leverage it to enhance employees' intrinsic desire for safety, helping drive overall safety compliance.

Let’s explore these six levels of motivation in turn.


Amotivation represents the lowest point on the self-determination continuum, where individuals lack any motivation or interest in performing a particular task or behaviour. Workers experiencing amotivation may feel disconnected from safety protocols and indifferent toward their own and others’ wellbeing on a construction site.

Imagine a construction worker who has received no proper safety training and is not provided with any reinforcement or support for following safety guidelines. In this case, the worker might experience amotivation toward safety practices.

In the short-term, the worker's indifference to safety may lead to carelessness, increased likelihood of accidents, and decreased safety performance. Over time, this could lead to a higher rate of injuries and accidents on the worksite and negatively impact worker wellbeing.

External Regulation

External regulation occurs when individuals are motivated solely by external factors, such as rewards or punishments. Workers experiencing external regulation may comply with safety protocols to avoid negative consequences, gain external rewards, or maintain their social standing.

Picture a construction worker who follows safety rules because they fear being reprimanded by their supervisor or losing a bonus if they fail to comply. Alternatively, imagine they were concerned about meeting the expectations of their coworkers, so as to not seem lazy and like they weren’t carrying their weight.

The worker's safety performance may improve in the short-term due to compliance with safety rules and others’ expectations. However, their intrinsic motivation may remain low, and they may revert to unsafe practices once external rewards or punishments are removed or when others’ backs are turned. This can lead to inconsistent safety performance and reduced wellbeing.

External regulation serves as the initial target for Scratchie, using small cash awards as extrinsic rewards to motivate. However, as we'll delve into later, this type of motivation has ripple effects across higher levels of motivation, making it a powerful tool for increasing safety compliance.

Introjected Regulation

When behaviour is driven by introjected regulation, individuals are driven by internal pressures, such as guilt or ego, to conform to safety standards. Workers experiencing introjected regulation may follow safety protocols to avoid feelings of shame or to boost their self-esteem.

In this scenario, a construction worker adhering to safety guidelines would be doing so not because they genuinely believe in their importance, but because they fear being judged or feeling guilty if they fail to do so.

Consequently, the worker may maintain compliance with safety rules in the short-term, but the underlying negative emotions can lead to stress and reduced wellbeing. The result is that this type of motivation may not be sustainable in the long run.

Identified Regulation

When experiencing identified regulation, individuals recognize the value and personal relevance of safety behaviours. As a result, any actions they take that demonstrate safety compliance align closely with their own goals and values.

A construction worker driven by identified regulation follows safety protocols because they understand that doing so is vital for their own wellbeing and the wellbeing of their colleagues.

At this level, the worker's intrinsic motivation begins to emerge as they internalise the significance of safety practices. This can lead to more consistent safety performance and improved overall wellbeing.

Integrated Regulation

At the level of integrated regulation, individuals fully internalise safety behaviours, integrating them into their sense of self. Workers experiencing integrated regulation adopt safety practices as an integral part of who they are.

Imagine a construction worker who considers themselves a crusader of safe practices, making safety an inseparable aspect of their identity. The result is that adhering to safety protocols becomes second nature and a part of who they are. 

At this integrated level, workers are highly motivated to maintain safety practices consistently. Likewise, their wellbeing is significantly enhanced as they experience a sense of fulfilment from upholding safety standards.

Intrinsic Motivation

At the highest point on the self-determination continuum, individuals experience pure intrinsic motivation. Workers intrinsically motivated towards safety genuinely enjoy and find satisfaction in adhering to safety practices.

A construction worker experiencing intrinsic motivation derives a sense of fulfilment from engaging in safe work practices, independent of any external rewards. This internal motivation is nurtured by the intrinsically motivating rewards of autonomy, competence, and relatedness.


Refers to the sense of independence and control that individuals feel over their actions and decisions. For instance, a worker may experience heightened empowerment when given the freedom to choose their preferred safety approach or take the lead on a safety-related decision.


Relates to the feeling of being capable and proficient in performing tasks. For example, a worker may feel a sense of personal accomplishment when performing safety tasks thoroughly and by the book.


Pertains to a sense of connection and belongingness with others. For instance, a worker may enjoy a sense of uplift when collaborating with their colleagues on safety initiatives.

Overall, intrinsically motivated workers exhibit consistently excellent safety performance, contributing to a safer work environment and promoting the wellbeing of themselves and their colleagues.

Improve Safety Motivation with Scratchie

Self-determination is an essential aspect of personal growth and happiness, as it allows us to shape our own path and live a fulfilling life on our terms.

An innovative app in the construction industry, Scratchie acknowledges the significance of motivating workers across the self-determination continuum. Its distinctive features boost intrinsic compliance with safety protocols, nurturing a safety-conscious work environment and catering to workers' diverse motivational needs.

For instance, when facing amotivation, Scratchie excels at instilling excitement and enthusiasm for safety by raising awareness of its significance. The enticing cash rewards, akin to external regulation, serve as a catalyst for deeper motivation, offering a refreshing departure from the traditional punishment-focused safety practices commonly seen on worksites.

But Scratchie's benefits don't end there. For many, Scratchie acts as a catalyst, prompting workers to embrace the value and personal significance of safety behaviours, leading to broader discussions about safety and wellbeing. With Scratchie's influence, workers take pride in their safety efforts, integrating these values into their identity and recognizing their importance.

Lastly, we’ve seen firsthand the satisfaction, pride, and camaraderie that flows from the use of Scratchie on worksites. This ultimately boosts intrinsic motivation, helping ensure continued compliance with safety protocol long after a reward has been awarded.

Curious to explore how Scratchie can motivate your workforce? Don't miss our live Procore webinar in early August, where we'll showcase this innovative safety solution driving a motivation revolution in Australia's construction industry.


What is self-determination in the context of motivation?

Self-determination refers to the power and freedom individuals feel they have to make choices and decisions for themselves.

It involves being in control of one's own actions and life, leading to natural motivation and a genuine desire to engage in activities. In the absence of self-determination, individuals may feel a lack of purpose and fulfilment, resulting in decreased drive and enthusiasm.

How are the six categories of motivation on the self-determination continuum related to the concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

The self-determination continuum includes six types of motivation, ranging from amotivation (absence of motivation) to intrinsic motivation (highest motivation). 

  • Amotivation and external regulation are considered extrinsic motivation as they are driven by external factors (e.g., rewards, punishments).
  • Introjected and identified regulation fall in between, reflecting a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
  • Integrated regulation and intrinsic motivation are the most internal/intrinsic forms of motivation, driven by personal values, interest, and a sense of fulfilment.

Are some forms of motivation better than others on construction worksites?

Yes, some forms of motivation are generally considered more beneficial for fostering a positive safety culture and enhancing safety performance on construction worksites. Intrinsic motivation and integrated regulation, which both stem from internal sources and personal values, are often considered more sustainable and effective.

Workers intrinsically motivated towards safety genuinely enjoy adhering to safety practices and find fulfilment in maintaining a safe work environment. Similarly, workers with integrated regulation have fully internalised safety behaviours as an integral part of their identity, leading to consistent and enthusiastic compliance. 

These forms of motivation are more likely to result in long-term safety commitment and improved overall wellbeing for both workers and the organisation. However, it is essential for supervisors to understand and address various motivational levels within their workforce to leverage the full potential of a diverse workforce and enhance safety compliance across the board.

How does Scratchie's reward system promote intrinsic motivation among workers?

Scratchie's reward system can foster intrinsic motivation by recognizing workers for adhering to safety protocols.

Workers experience a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction from the intrinsic rewards of autonomy (freedom to choose safety approaches), competence (feeling proficient in safety tasks), and relatedness (building connections through safety collaboration).

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