Discerning Saints: Moralization of Intrinsic Motivation and Selective Prosociality at Work

Mijeong Kwon, Julia Lee Cunningham, & Jon Jachimowicz

Academy of Management Journal (Link)

Intrinsic motivation has received widespread attention as a predictor of positive work outcomes, including employees’ prosocial behavior. In the current research, we offer a more nuanced view by proposing that intrinsic motivation does not uniformly increase prosocial behavior toward all others. Specifically, we argue that employees with higher intrinsic motivation are more likely to value intrinsic motivation and associate it with having higher morality (i.e., they moralize it). When employees moralize intrinsic motivation, we suggest, they perceive others with higher intrinsic motivation as being more moral and deserving of their help and thus engage in more prosocial behavior toward those others. We provide empirical support for our theoretical model across a large-scale, team-level field study in a Latin American financial institution (N = 781, k = 185) and a set of three online studies, including a pre-registered experiment (Ns = 245, 243, and 1,245), where we develop a measure of the moralization of intrinsic motivation and provide both causal and mediating evidence. Our theory and results reveal that employees with higher intrinsic motivation are more likely to moralize their own motivation and are more attuned to others’ intrinsic motivation as a signal of morality, which underlies their decision to help them selectively. This research therefore complicates our understanding of intrinsic motivation by unveiling how its moralization may at times dim the positive light of intrinsic motivation itself.

Your Love for Work May Alienate Your Colleagues

Mijeong Kwon, Julia Lee Cunningham, & Jon Jachimowicz

Harvard Business Review (Link)

Research shows that employees who are passionate about their work are more productive, innovative, and collaborative. New research suggests that these employees also see passion for work as a moral imperative, and they’re more likely to judge colleagues who are motivated by other reasons, such as financial stability, social status, or familial obligations. The research also found that these employees were more likely to offer help to their more passionate colleagues. Leaders must recognize the diverse motivations that drive their workforce and create an inclusive environment that supports and values all forms of motivation, rather than penalizing those who do not fit the passion-centric mold.

The Moralization of Intrinsic Motivation

Mijeong Kwon & Laura Sonday

R&R at Academy of Management Review (Link to dissertation)

Business research and practice have emphasized the value of intrinsic motivation for over 50 years. In my dissertation, I argue that this valuation can have unintended negative consequences for employees. Specifically, I suggest that employees may internalize the ways their colleagues, leaders, organizations, and society value intrinsic motivation and come to associate it with superior morality. In the theory chapter, I conceptualize this process as the moralization of intrinsic motivation and describe how it shapes employees’ negative value judgments of and behaviors toward others and themselves in the domains of performance appraisal, cooperation, and engagement.

© Mijeong Kwon 2017