Self-Determination Theory in Human Resource Development: New Directions and Practical Considerations

C. Scott Rigby, Richard M. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

170 Scopus citations


The Problem: There has been a “Copernican turn” in approaches to motivation and management: The focus in human resource development (HRD) and management circles today is no longer on how companies can motivate or incentivize employees from the outside, but instead on how they can effectively foster and support the high-quality motivation that comes from within employees. Developing affective commitment and intrinsic motivation is highlighted as a key to organizational success and employee satisfaction. The Solution: In this article, we review our applications of self-determination theory (SDT; Ryan & Deci, 2017) concerning how organizations can both assess and build a culture of high-quality motivation. We review a continuum of types of motivation in the workplace that range from passive or controlled compliance to personal valuing of and intrinsic interest in one’s work. We then discuss how support for employees’ basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness leads to these higher quality types of motivation. Evidence shows that enhanced need satisfaction can come from managerial climate, job design, and well-crafted compensation strategies, as well as being influenced by the perceived mission of the company. A focus on basic needs provides a practical basis for leveraging positive change and achieving goals from talent retention to workplace wellness. The Stakeholders: This article was written to help both researchers and practitioners in HRD (i.e., organizational leaders, human resource professionals, managers) learn the basic principles and applications of SDT as a means of unlocking a more practical and actionable model for engagement and motivation. This review not only translates SDT into practice, opening opportunity for collaboration between researchers and practitioners, but also provides meaningful insight into sustained employee motivation and engagement, job satisfaction, and productivity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-147
Number of pages15
JournalAdvances in Developing Human Resources
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 May 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © The Author(s) 2018.


  • employee engagement
  • employee experience
  • human resource development
  • motivation
  • performance management
  • productivity
  • retention
  • self-determination theory


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