Self-Determination Theory in Work Organizations: The State of a Science

Edward L. Deci, Anja H. Olafsen, Richard M. Ryan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1256 Scopus citations


Self-determination theory (SDT) is a macro theory of human motivation that evolved from research on intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and expanded to include research on work organizations and other domains of life. We discuss SDT research relevant to the workplace, focusing on (a) the distinction between autonomous motivation (i.e., intrinsic motivation and fully internalized extrinsic motivation) and controlled motivation (i.e., externally and internally controlled extrinsic motivation), as well as (b) the postulate that all employees have three basic psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness the satisfaction of which promotes autonomous motivation, high-quality performance, and wellness. Research in work organizations has tended to take the perspectives of either the employees (i.e., their well-being) or the owners (i.e., their profits). SDT provides the concepts that guide the creation of policies, practices, and environments that promote both wellness and high-quality performance. We examine the relations of SDT to transformational leadership, job characteristics, justice, and compensation approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-43
Number of pages25
JournalAnnual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2017 by Annual Reviews.


  • autonomy
  • basic psychological needs
  • competence
  • extrinsic rewards
  • intrinsic motivation
  • pay


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