Working in the creative industries is, to many, synonymous with a dream come true. To others, it conjures images of exploitation, low wages and struggling artists working for their passion, barely scraping a living, hoping to make it big someday. In this paper, I will discuss the nature of the creative industries, the characteristics of the people who work within them and whether these factors increase an individual’s vulnerability to exploitation. I will explore the concept of intrinsic motivation and how it drives creativity, but also how it can lead to exploitation. Finally I will investigate the impacts of extrinsic reward on intrinsic motivation and the theory that these impacts may cause creative workers to be at further risk of self-exploitation.

The Creative Industries and Creativity

The UK government defines the ‘creative industries’ as “those industries that have their origin in individual creativity, skill and talent and which have a potential for wealth and job creation through the generation and exploitation of intellectual property” (Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2001, p.5). In summary, the creative industries are built upon the skills and talents of creative individuals. Combining definitions from Amabile (1997, p.40), Oldham & Cummings (1996, p.608) and Baer et al. (2003, p.570), creativity in the context of work can be described as the creation of original and novel ideas, products, processes or other outcomes which are relevant or provide a benefit to an organisation.

The Nature of the Creative Industries as a Contributor to Exploitation

There are significant barriers to entry into the creative industries (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2010; McKinlay & Smith, 2009) as well as high demand for creative jobs. As such, there is an attitude that employees are “replaceable” (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2010, p.7) and as the demand outweighs the roles available, it seems that attractive packages are not required to attract employees. As a result of this, many entrants to the creative industries expect, are willing and in some sectors, are expected, to work for free in order to gain experience and recognition, in the hope of securing future opportunities with the organisation (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2010, pp.7-8; Randle & Culkin, 2009, p.102).

As such, there is significant evidence to suggest that people working in the creative industries are prone to exploitation, in many cases working long hours, for free or for little monetary reward in order to gain exposure to their industry of choice or to gain access to an audience for their creative works (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2010; McRobbie, 2002).

The Characteristics of Creative People and How They Contribute to Exploitation

Amabile (1997, p.43) describes ‘creatives’ as having typical traits of “independence, self-discipline, orientation towards risk-taking, tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance in the face of frustration and a relative lack of concern for social approval”. Also, the enjoyment of complexity, intuition, aesthetic sensitivity and self-confidence relate to high levels of creativity (Oldham & Cummings, 1996, p.615).

These characteristics could be conducive to creative individuals being prone to exploitation. Their independent nature means that they may not collaborate to campaign for improved working conditions and reward (McRobbie, 2002, p.112). Their propensity for risk-taking means that they may be more likely to take an unpaid job on the chance that it will lead to future opportunities with little consideration of potential failure (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2010, p.9) and their acceptance of ambiguity and frustration may mean that they are more tolerant of uncertainty and poor working conditions. Finally, their self-confidence could mean that they remain optimistic that they will achieve success in the future if they persevere, allowing them to continue to be exploited as they have faith that one day they can ‘make it’ (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2010).

Intrinsic Motivation, Creativity and the Impact of Extrinsic Motivators

Many writers discuss the concept of intrinsic motivation as being an inherent passion for and enjoyment of an activity, which inspires an individual to do it, without reward or any external (extrinsic) motivators (Baer, et al., 2003, p.569; Amabile, 1997, p.39; Deci, 1972, p.113). It is widely acknowledged that the higher the level of intrinsic motivation, the greater the level of creativity demonstrated by an individual (Baer, et al., 2003; Eisenberger & Rhoades, 2001; Amabile, 1997; Oldham & Cummings, 1996). Furthermore, typically creative people, in the right environment, tend to rely significantly less on extrinsic reward and are primarily driven by the excitement and interest derived from the job itself; creative people exhibit high levels of intrinsic motivation for their chosen creative disciplines (Amabile, 1997). As such, creative people are more likely to work purely for the enjoyment of a job itself, rather than for financial reward and may work long hours because they are intrinsically motivated to do so, arguably exploiting themselves.

Studies (Amabile, 1997; Deci, 1972), have illustrated that controlling, “non-synergistic” extrinsic factors, such as financial reward, controlling management styles and a work environment that is non-conducive to creativity, can inhibit intrinsic motivation and creativity by introducing “extraneous concerns” and reducing an individual’s ability and propensity to take risks and be “playful” with ideas (Oldham & Cummings, 1996, p.609).

Given the earlier listing of creative characteristics, it is possible that an independent, self-disciplined individual would become demotivated by the perception that their behaviour is being extrinsically controlled as per Deci’s (1972) Cognitive Reevaluation Theory, or that their creative freedom is being undermined by external constraints and may even rebel against such control by withdrawing their creativity (McKinlay & Smith, 2009, p.53).

With significant financial reward, often comes the pressure of deadlines, minimum quality levels and stakeholder requirements, which introduces another tier of controlling extrinsic factors. It is possible therefore that some creative people avoid significant financial reward as it allows them to avoid monetary influence and subsequently preserve their creative freedom.

In addition to this, formal employment arrangements and the associated financial security may come with other non-synergistic extrinsic factors such as a controlling supervisory style or restrictive work environment. As such, these environments may not appeal to creative workers, leading to an increase in self-employment, freelancing and therefore potentially unpredictable availability of work. These working patterns carry a risk of periods of non-employment, acceptance of low pay and even the need to work for free for the purposes of networking and exposure (Randle & Culkin, 2009, pp.103-104).

Synergistic extrinsic motivators, such as reward, recognition and feedback which provide confirmation of the individual’s competency or which provide additional information about or further immersion in the creative activity, may be conducive to intrinsic motivation (Amabile, 1997). This may also mean that creative individuals are content to work in exchange for the exposure and immersion in the creative industry, instead of financial reward.

Conclusion Further to the discussion above, it appears that the inherent characteristics of typically creative people and the intrinsic motivation they have for their jobs could be significant contributors to the likelihood of them being exploited. Creative people will be creative whether they receive payment or not and may choose to work for free to gain exposure and immersion in their chosen field, which exposes them to potential exploitation (Hesmondhalgh & Baker, 2010). This vulnerability is then further exploited by the nature of the creative industries and the willingness and expectation of individuals to work for low or no pay to gain entry to the industry. It is also possible that an awareness or perception of the impacts of controlling extrinsic factors could prevent individuals from seeking highly-paid employment within the creative fields, although whilst there is some evidence to support this theory, it requires further investigation and validation.


Amabile, T. M., 1997. Motivating Creativity in Organizations. California Management Review, 40(1), pp. 39-58.

Baer, M., Oldham, G. R. & Cummings, A., 2003. Rewarding Creativity: when does it really matter? The Leadership Quarterly, 14(4), pp. 569-586.

Deci, E. L., 1972. Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Reinforcement and Inequity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22(1), pp. 113-120.

Department for Culture, Media and Sport, 2001. Creative Industries Mapping Document. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 23 October 2014].

Eisenberger, R. & Rhoades, L., 2001. Incremental Effects of Reward on Creativity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81(4), pp. 728-741.

Hesmondhalgh, D. & Baker, S., 2010. ‘A very complicated version of freedom’: Conditions and experiences of creative labour in three cultural industries. Poetics, 38(1), pp. 4-20.

McKinlay, A. & Smith, C., 2009. Creative Labour: working in the creative industries. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

McRobbie, A., 2002. from Holloway to Hollywood: happiness at work in the new cultural economy? In: P. d. G. a. M. Pryke, ed. Cultural Economy: Cultural Analysis and Commercial Life. London: Sage, pp. 97-114.

Oldham, G. R. & Cummings, A., 1996. Employee Creativity: Personal and Contextual Factors at Work. Acacdemy of Management Journal, 39(3), pp. 607-634.

Randle, K. & Culkin, N., 2009. Getting In and Getting On in Hollywood. In: A. MacKinley & C. Smith, eds. Creative Labour: working in the creative indusries. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 93-111.


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