The Moralization of Intrinsic Motivation

Business research and education have emphasized the positive value of intrinsic motivation for over 50 years. Now, the idea of loving your work is everywhere—from inspiring graduation speeches to the tweets of popular CEOs. However, such valuation of intrinsic motivation may have an unintended dark side for employees’ value judgments about themselves and others. In my research, I argue that the valuation of intrinsic motivation in employees’ social contexts makes them associate it with positive values, i.e., moralize it. Once moralized, intrinsic motivation becomes a source of value judgments. In my primary line of work, I use both field surveys and online and lab experiments to show that the moralization of intrinsic motivation can have potentially negative impacts on employees’ perceptions and behaviors at work.

My research program has two main streams. The first focuses on a phenomenon I define as the moralization of intrinsic motivation. In the first chapter of my dissertation, titled The Moralization of Intrinsic Motivation, I build a theoretical model explaining the sources and consequences of employees’ association between intrinsic motivation and morality. My other projects in this stream investigate the cultural variances in the moralization of intrinsic motivation and the ways to attenuate its impact.

In the second stream of research, I investigate parts of my theoretical model to illustrate the behavioral consequences of the moralization of intrinsic motivation for employees. In three separate projects, two of them being my dissertation chapters, I show that employees who moralize intrinsic motivation (a) selectively help intrinsically motivated others while refusing to help those who lack intrinsic motivation, (b) strategically display intrinsic motivation to their co-workers and supervisors, and (c) lose self-integrity when working with others who have seemingly higher intrinsic motivation than theirs.

During my time in the doctoral program at the University of Michigan, I was fortunate to step outside my main wheelhouse, the moralization of intrinsic motivation, and join collaborative projects to learn from others. Thus, in addition to my research on the moralization of intrinsic motivation, I also have projects related to discrimination in modern employment contexts (Sonday, Jue-Rajasingh, & Kwon, 2021) and robustness and resilience of social networks (Sytch, Roy, & Kwon, 2021).


Kwon, M., Lee Cunningham, J., and Jachimowicz, J. “Discerning saints: Intrinsically motivated employees selectively help intrinsically motivated team members.” Revise & Resubmit at Academy of Management Journal


Kwon, M. “The moralization of intrinsic motivation.” Target Journal: Academy of Management Review (September 2021)

Kwon, M. “Intrinsic motivation display as impression management.” Target Journal: Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes *Presented at the 2021 Academy of Management Meeting.

Kwon, M. “Intrinsic motivation and self-integrity.”

Sonday, L., Jue-Rajasingh, D., and Kwon, M. “The color of their skin or the content of their character? Social bias, reputation, & employment outcomes in online labor platforms.” Collecting new data and preparing manuscript for submission to target journal, Management Science

Sytch, M., Roy, S., and Kwon, M. "Network Robustness and Resilience." Target Journal: Academy of Management Review (September 2021, Special Issue)

© Mijeong Kwon 2017