Theories of Motivation and their application to the workplace

Modified: 1st May 2017
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What is motivation? Motivation is defined as “the processes that account for an individual’s intensity, direction, and persistence of effort toward attaining a goal” (Robbins & Judge, 2011). Motivation comes from the Latin word meaning movement. According to the article The Future Work of Motivation Theory Campbell and Pritchard suggest that “motivation has to do with a set of independent/dependant variable relationships that explain the direction, amplitude, and persistence of an individual’s behavior, holding constant the effects of aptitude, skills and understanding the task and the constraints operating in the environment”. When looking into motivation one must look at the entire picture to analyze the process in its entirety. Intensity is describing how hard a person tries, do they try a little or do they try a lot. Direction needs to benefit the company; the direction needs to be towards the company’s goal. Persistence describes how long a person can stick to the task, how much effort they will give to actually achieve a goal. In the theory of motivation the subject wants to minimize pain and increase pleasure. Furthermore, there are two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation has to do with enjoyment in the task one is involved in. When a person enjoys doing a task they don’t have to be pressured by an outside party to complete the task, they just do it. Extrinsic motivation comes from such things as money, rewards or threat of punishment. People do these tasks to win the reward and compete with other people to get the reward.

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In discussing motivation it is important to discuss the theories associated with it. The Hierarchy of Needs Theory by Maslow is one of the first theories. In this theory the hierarchy of human needs is discussed. The first need physiological includes hunger, thirst, shelter, sex and bodily needs. The second is safety including security and protection from physical and emotional harm. The first two are lower-order needs and can be satisfied internally. The third is social which encompasses affection, belongingness, acceptance and friendship. The fourth is esteem which deals with internal factors such as self respect, autonomy, achievement and internal factors such as status, recognition and attention. The final need is self actualization which is the drive to become what we are capable of becoming includes, growth, achieving our potential and self fulfillment. These last three needs are higher-order needs and must be satisfied externally (usually by employers with bonuses, cash etc.).This theory shows that when a need is satisfied it no longer becomes a motivator and we must move onto the next need. If someone is on one level you need to figure out if they are satisfied with that level and either stay on that level or move to a different one. “Maslow argued that the first three needs on the list represent deficiency needs that people must master before they can develop into a healthy personality, while the last two represent growth needs that relate to the individual achievement and the development of human potential” (Steer, 2004). It is essential to remember that an employees needs are always changing and that what an employee needs today, may not be what they need tomorrow.

This chart shows the Hierarchy of Needs Theory by Maslow very clearly. As this chart displays it is easier to grasp the theory when everything is put in the proper chart. The physiological needs are at the bottom of the chart as they state the first needs that a human being needs fulfilled. As they move up the chart they need more intense needs fulfilled. Physiological and Safety needs can be satisfied internally while the top three must be satisfied externally. The top need is self actualization and is important in developing a person and becoming the person an employee wants to be in the end. This is a visual way of seeing how this theory is all tied together.

McClelland later created his own theory using Maslow’s theory, his own Theory of Needs. He took a more defined approach and only used very distinct needs. He described his theory as people having many needs at one time and this driving motivation, more specific to the workplace environment. His theory had three parts, need for achievement, need for power and need for affiliation. Need for achievement is a person’s need for success. Need for power is a person’s need to feel in charge, make people behave in a certain standard way. Need for affiliation is the “desire for friendly and close interpersonal relationships” (Robbins & Judge, 2011).

Theory X and Y by Douglas McGregor are also used in motivation. This theory states there are two completely different types of human beings and managers mold their behaviors according to certain assumptions. Theory X is when an employee dislikes work and a manager must guide them to get tasks completed. The employee just simply does not want to work and will most likely be motivated by money. The theory states that people inherently dislike work and need to be supervised and pushed into completing work. The employee needs to be rewarded, enticed, threatened or bribed to motivate them and they need a narrow span of control to keep them on the correct path. Theory Y states that an employee views responsibilities as the norm and can complete tasks and take on responsibility. It is believed that these employees exhibit determination and self control and are motivated to achieve progress. In this theory the employees want to do well and have a creative way of accomplishing their goals. They are usually very positive and can drive themselves to complete tasks. Human resource departments were in a way developed for Theory Y as it is a bigger emphasis on the needs of people individually. This theory is used today to help motivate employees and has set some of the rules for the human resource departments in organizations. It is important to assess the employees you currently have, understand which type of personality they are and use the correct motivation theory for them. Doing it this way you will become more successful in your approach with your employees and they will be appreciative of your commitment to understanding who they are and how they fit within the organization.

This graph shows the detailed difference between Theory X and Theory Y that McGregor proposed. Theory X is the traditional theory while Theory Y is more modern. Theory X is also more geared towards lower level employees that value the lower end needs such as physiological and safety. They also value financial incentives more than Theory Y employees. Theory Y is more geared towards higher skilled employees, who value the higher level needs such as social esteem and self actualization. As displayed the Theory X and Theory Y are related to the Hierarchy of Needs proposed by Maslow.

Two factor theory by Fredrick Hertzberg believes a persons relationship to work is basic. He can be credited with introducing job design and bringing in the importance of job enrichment. A survey was conducted in which people were asked to remember a time when they were happy/unhappy with their jobs and provide reasons and descriptions. When he conducted his research he found that such factors as achievement, advancement and recognition were related to the good in job satisfaction. Employees who disliked their work used such words as pay, supervision and working conditions. The theory compared two factors: motivating factors and hygiene factors. Motivating factors were more intrinsic (more geared towards Theory Y), such as challenging work load. Hygiene factors (more geared towards Theory X) were more extrinsic such as, job security and compensation. Other Hertzberg hygiene factors were quality of supervision, pay, company policies and physical working conditions. He described how managers must motivate by associating these factors with the work itself and bring in such motivators as promotion, recognition and give responsibility. Today they have stated that you need motivation factors to make sure employees continue to perform at a higher level, but that you need hygiene factors to know an employee is never dissatisfied.

The next theory is self-determination theory and this is a theory that states that people like to feel that they have control over a situation. This theory goes into detail about the beneficial effects of intrinsic motivation, while discussing the negative effects of extrinsic motivation. The theory states people want to feel as though they have a choice in what activity or task they complete. When a person feels as though they must complete a task, they become less motivated because the control is lost. This theory then goes into cognitive evaluation theory which describes how people feel as though individuals who are paid for work view that more as something they have to do and they lose motivation to complete the tasks. If it was a voluntary act to work they would feel motivated to complete the tasks. There are a few studies to show that extrinsic rewards motivate employees more so than intrinsic rewards. If an employee is verbally acknowledged for a “job well done” their motivation increases. It is all about control for an employee in this theory and goal setting is a way for an employee to hold control. Deadlines are a way for an employee to maintain control over their own work and completion of tasks. In this theory employees strive to be happy and need to choose a job more for extrinsic reasons, instead of pay or monetary rewards. Motivated employees are the happy employees according to this theory and they work harder when they have control in their situation.

Goal setting theory states that specific and difficult goals, with feedback, lead to higher performance (Robins & Judge, 2011). It is important to see how setting goals can actually motivate employees in the workplace. Employees were motivated at work when goals were set according to Locke and Latham in 1960. Their theory states that specific and difficult goals with feedback can lead to higher performance. In this study it was shown that difficult tasks lead to more effort and therefore, employees display more work motivation. The more difficult the goal the better the performance is from the employee. Challenging an employee leads to higher work performance and a successful work environment. If each employee is working at a high performance level the organization will be successful in attaining goals as whole. Studies show giving an employee a specific goal to concentrate on gives them meaning in the company and an employer will automatically see a higher performance from the employee. Also, providing challenging goals to an employee will result in more effort because it is more satisfying to achieve a difficult goal. An employee will strive to achieve this specific goal to receive positive feedback from the company itself and their peers. Receiving that positive feedback will reinforce positive behavior for future goals that a company wants to achieve. Commitment is a trait an employee must posses and is important in goal setting. Commitment is important in goal setting because an employee must be dedicated to the goal and must not give up, they must be willing to complete the tasks. It is important for managers to set specific challenging goals for their employees. If they challenge their employees in this way it will result in the entire organization attaining many concrete and important goals, which leads to greater motivation throughout, along with better performance.

Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief that he or she is capable of performing a task (Robbins & Judge, 2011). This theory created by Bandura concentrates on ones self confidence, meaning the higher your self-efficacy the more convinced you are you can achieve a task. People with higher self-efficacy will give more energy and won’t give up in reaching a goal. However, people with low self-efficacy will have little stamina and tend to give up in achieving goals. In terms of receiving feedback it is also very different depending on what level of self-efficacy an employee displays. If an employee has high self-efficacy they will take negative feedback and use it as more motivation. If an employee has low self-efficacy they use negative feedback as a reason to lessen their effort, which therefore decreases motivation. Studies show that it is important to consider the self-efficacy theory and the goal-setting theory together. In considering the two theories together an employee with high self-efficacy will set higher goals for themselves and will put more effort towards the achievement of goals. A manager can increase an employee’s self-efficacy by assigning challenging goals to an employee. In the real world when an employee is assigned a difficult task they feel their manager is certain of their abilities to complete this task. You become more confident and start to believe in your own abilities as a person, this sets in higher motivation. Bandura describes four ways to increase self-efficacy. Enactive mastery is when an employee knows that in the past they had successfully completed a task and are fully confident they can achieve it again. Vicarious modeling is when you observe someone else successfully completing something. For example if you observe a co-worker achieving a reward for highest sales in a month you become confident that you can do the same. Verbal persuasion is when you are “amped” up by someone. They display confidence in you, talk about your positive qualities and how they know you are capable of anything and suddenly you believe these words and become self-assured. Arousal happens when a person gets “psyched up” and uses this energy to complete the tasks. The next effect discussed in self efficacy is the Pygmalion effect which is described as believing something enough that it becomes true. If an employee is told they are a great learner, achiever and self sufficient they will start to believe all of these qualities are true. This is a great motivating tool to use to boost the confidence of your employees. Telling your employees positive characteristics they possess will get them to become more confident therefore leading to increased efforts towards business goals. In training an employee to believe a mangers positive feedback is true, the workers will start to perform at a higher standard. Motivation should affect performance in a positive way and that is what managers need to focus on in an organization. In this theory highly motivated employees can be achieved through self efficacy.

Instinct theories began to gain popularity and theories based on drive began. Thorndike, Woodworth and Hull all worked on the concept regarding how present behavior is largely influenced by past behavior. Hedonism was described by Allport as a “past action that led to positive outcomes would tend to be repeated, whereas past actions that led to negative outcomes would tend to diminish” (Steers, 2004). Reinforcement theory was developed by Skinner and is defined as a “theory that says that behavior is a function of its consequences” (Robbins & Judge, 2011). Reinforcement theory is really concentrated on employee behaviors and explains how reinforcement causes behavior good or bad. Operant conditioning is mentioned in this theory as a way to strengthen this theory. Operant conditioning is acting in a way or behaving in a way to get something, some type of a reward and to avoid anything negative. Skinner argues in operant conditioning that if an employer wants a specific behavior to be repeated they must positively reward the employee. Positively rewarding an employee will lead to the behavior being repeated and using negative consequences will reduced the occurrence of the less desired behavior. Skinner’s research states that a person will associate an action with a reward and will therefore always act this way to receive this reward regardless of anything else, such as emotion, environment etc. Findings suggest that if an employer motivates an employee with a bonus for a job well done, the employee will continue to perform at the level desired to receive that bonus. However, if an employee does not receive that bonus after the desired behavior is complete, this positive behavior will decline.

Related to reinforcement is the social-learning theory, which states “the view that we can learn through both observation and direct experience (Robbins & Judge, 2011). This learning is important to develop oneself as an individual because we learn through the people we are exposed to in our lifetime. We use many people we come into contact with as models for learning and we take away our direct experience from these learning experiences. There are four processes used in the social learning theory to determine influence on an individual. Attentional process “people learn from a model only when they recognize and pay attention to its critical features” (Robbins & Judge, 2011). This means as humans we are more influenced by attractive people or people we can relate too in some way. Retention processes is how well an individual remembers an actions of an individual once the person is no longer in their presence. Did you retain the knowledge? A motor reproduction process is described as modeling a behavior. After an individual observes a behavior they must turn the observation into an action and continuously follow through with the model behavior. Reinforcement processes is described as motivating employees to behave a certain way, if an employee is given some sort of an incentive to behave a specific way, this behavior suddenly becomes more attractive. Once reinforcement comes into place an employer has the power to positively or negatively reinforce to get the desired results.

“A theory that says that individuals compare their job inputs and outcomes with those of others and then respond to eliminate inequalities” (Robbins & Judge, 2011). This theory is known as equity theory; it demonstrates that when employees put in long hours and hard work they expect to be compensated fairly. The employees will start comparing what is called the output-input ratio of them and other employees to make sure everything is fair. This theory is all about comparing your current situation at your company with other employees, friends, family members or people in similar companies. Tension will form once an employee is aware of the unfair treatment. Justice must be served if an employee is treated unfairly. There are three forms of justice under the equity theory. Distributive justice has to do with the decision that was made to make the situation just and fair. Procedural justice is defined as the fairness in the process of conclusion. Lastly, interactional justice is focused on how an employee is treated; they are to be treated with respect.

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Lewin and Tolman saw behavior as “purposeful, goal directed and largely based on conscious intentions” (Steers, 2004). Expectancy theory is “a theory that says that the strength of a tendency to act in a certain way depends on he strength of an expectation that the act will be followed by a given outcome and on the attractiveness of that outcome to the individual” (Robbins & Judge, 2011). This theory researched and presented by Victor Vroom is still used today when discussing motivation. The employee will rationally evaluate which option will give them the best reward. This theory states that an employee is more likely to act a certain way or perform at a high level when they know it will lead to a reward. Therefore, this theory has three relationships it concentrates on to describe the expectancy theory. Effort-performance relationship “the probability perceived by the individual that exerting a given amount of effort will lead to performance”, if they know there is a high chance they will receive a reward, they will complete the task. If the probability or chance that the reward will be non-existant the employee will most likely not complete the task. Performance-reward relationship “the degree to which the individual believes performing at a particular level will lead to the attainment of a desired outcome”, employees want to know that if they do good they will receive some sort of praise. If an employee is performing at an above average level, they should receive compensation or praise to keep their efforts constant. Rewards-personal goals relationship “the degree to which organizational rewards satisfy an individual’s personal goals or needs and the attractiveness of those potential rewards for the individual”, many times a certain goal satisfies an employee both at their job and in their personal life. A simple example would be excelling at your job in general way, this satisfies one employee personal and work goal.

In discussing motivation it is important to look into the job characteristics model. This model developed by Hackman and Oldham described it as a model that could describe any job with just five core dimensions. The first core dimension is skill variety and this has to do with the variety of the job. If a job has many different activities it will keep an employee engaged. The more variety a job has the more skills and talents an employee will be using. This will keep the job interesting for the employee. Task identity is the next dimension and it is when a job requires the completion of a whole piece of work. Meaning an employee doesn’t just want to complete a part of a project, they want to complete the entire project themselves. A shoe maker does not want to just create the sole of the shoe; they want to complete the project from start to finish. Task significance is the degree to which your job has an influence on lives or work of other people. Autonomy represents the freedom or flexibility an employee has over his or her own procedures. An employee is very independent if they have high autonomy in their job and they create their own schedules. And the last core dimension is feedback and it is all about how effective the completed performance really was according to people. Once an employee carries out the duties of their job, through feedback they can see how effective their performance was. In order for an employee to stay motivated knowledge of results, experienced responsibility and experienced meaningfulness must be present. An employee will be motivated if they know about the subject, have responsibility towards the task and understand what the purpose or meaning of this task is. If all of these factors are present motivation will increase and absenteeism will decrease.

This chart was discussed in class and shows how to enrich an employee’s job so they become more motivated. For example, when you establish client relationships you can do so by using skill variety, autonomy and feedback. Each of those factors is enhanced by the right side column. In today’s society it is very important to keep motivating employees and challenging them using the job characteristics model or variations of this theory. This theory is also discussed in the article Motivating and Energizing Your Team. MORE INFORMATION

Motivating employees can be done by redesigning a job to make the tasks more interesting to the employee. If there are new incentives, challenges or rewards an employee will be more likely to stay motivated. Using job enrichment, which really allows the employee to control the scheduling and planning. Some alternative work arrangements might also be necessary to motivate employees as well, given that 87% of America’s workforce has some sort of family obligation. Some options to offer your employees include flextime (flexible work hours), job sharing (two or more people split a 40 hr week), on site child care, banking, dry cleaning and telecommuting (working from home). Johnson & Johnson reported that 71% of the employees cited the family-friendly programs as one of the key reasons they stay. Aetna reported that its turnover rate was decreased by 20% due to these programs (Boyett, 2006). In today’s society it is essential to adopt these types of programs and redesign businesses. Today we can still see research being done on all of these theories as they are the solid foundation for the theories of motivation. Retaining, attracting and motivating employees in today’s workplace has become a challenge with now managing a more diverse workforce, but they must stay firm and confident in proven methods of motivation.

When motivating your employees you should focus on the “how”, how do I motivate my employees? Employees are the most important asset to a company (Boyett, 2006). One suggestion is to become interested in the employees life at a personal level. “One of the greatest complaints of employees is that the person they work for isn’t interested in who they are and what goes on in their lives, personally or professionally”, “if they feel anonymous they’ll dread going to work and return home deflated” (Lencioni, 2010). This problem will decrease motivation for an employee at all levels, no matter what the job title. “The consequences of unmotivated employees are a huge expense in the way of innovation, production, and quality. Management cannot treat people like machines and expect positive results; people offer specialized abilities, actions, vigor and time commitments that machines cannot provide” (Harell & Daim 1). It is important for an employee to find fulfillment at work and understand why their role is important to the organization. A company must provide meaning and purpose in work (Boyett, 2006). Having a mission or vision that is exciting and energizing to the staff will increase motivation. Informing the employee about the company will help to drive the employees to become more emotionally invested in the company’s progress. Training an employee will show them how invested you are in them and how much you find them to be an essential piece of the company. When you invest in your employees they see that as a form of job security. Listening to the wants and needs of your employees can guide you in the right direction as well. Managers must treat their employees as people and as individuals to motivate them in the specific way they need to be motivated or pushed. Each employee is a different person and has a few different needs. Getting to know your employees will benefit you as a manager and the company as a whole. Also, sharing in the rewards of the company can also motivate an employee. We are seeing a shift in compensation as employees want to be compensated on the value they add to the company and not the hours invested. This will motivate an employee to bring out their creative sides and use that in their job or task.

Today we see many people being motivated by money because of the difficult economic times. This type of motivation is not uncommon; however it will not ultimately keep your employees happy and consistently motivated. Managers must understand the times of today in their organization and reevaluate their techniques as managers to maintain a positive work environment. Many people are worried about their future and their family’s future so they need job security as an employee, this becomes essential to employees. Managers need to be aware of each employee they are dealing with on a daily basis and work to satisfy them and fulfill their needs. Looking at each employee’s personality, discovering their worth and adjusting their tasks to their specialties will help improve their motivation because they will feel as though their employer cares for them as a person. If an employer does not fulfill the employees needs they fall behind and become unmotivated, which can lead to many unwanted consequences. Unmotivated employees can lead to costly mistakes, decreased morale, negative feedback, lazy employees and decreased profit. Dedicated employees seem to be motivated employees, as they care about the company as a whole and also work to support their families at the same time. In today’s society managers must be aware of the attitude employees possess and address those as quickly as possible to keep the organization always working at full capacity and efficiency. Efficient employees are motivated individuals who thrive on feedback and factors in the job characteristic model. Happiness is a huge factor in motivation and keeping employees. If an employee is unhappy with their job their productivity will decrease and they will lose motivation. Turnover and absenteeism can increase when an employee is not happy at their job and in their work environment. Unhappiness in a job can also come from thing such as other co-worker interactions, especially if they are negative and hostile. Employees who work in a hostile and uncomfortable workplace tend to lose their motivation at a quicker rate and motivation usually stays very low in this situation. Checking in with your employees to see if they are happy is essential to maintaining motivation throughout the workplace.

According to this chart is a good way to find out how happy you are at your own job. Understanding this chart will help assess the happiness of your employees and understand what they need as individual employees. As managers it is necessary to keep employees happy.

The article Motivating and Energizing Your Team: 10 Tips for Success talks about motivating your team, which could be your employees as an employer or manager. In this article there are ten successful ways to motivate employees. The first tip is to acknowledge your employees on a daily basis by starting conversation about a topic both parts are interested in. Appreciate the performance of your employee by telling them, competent performance needs to be praised. Even if the task is routine they should still be recognized for performing the task at a high competent level. Providing feedback in a way that still motivates the employee is important. If the feedback is negative find the professional way to approach the employee so the correct behavior can be displayed in the future. It is also important to recognize correct and proper behaviors as well. Letting the employee know they are part of the bigger picture will motivate them to achieve their tasks in a timely manner. The fifth tip is encouraging the competence of your employees by asking their input frequently. Make sure to “come thru” for your employees, when a request is made, make sure to follow thru with an action of some sort. Always recognize extra efforts employees give and don’t take these efforts for granted as they will become less frequent. Show the employee trust is there by assigning challenging tasks and new tasks; this allows them to see you trust their knowledge and hard work to complete this new task. Training should be available to enhance the knowledge of your employees; it also shows them that the company is invested in them. And the last tip is affirming your teams efforts publicly, for example, providing a special lunch to show recognition to a job well done will “lift the spirits” of the employees. As Maslow said “assume that everyone likes to be justly and fairly appreciated, preferably in public”. As this article displays our team is our employees and as managers it is our responsibility to motivate them to keep our company on the right successful path.

Another factor to look at is cultural differences in employees and organizations.

To have a successful motivation factor throughout a business all cultures must be taken into consideration. What might motivate one employee could upset another employee at the same company. Motivation throughout a diverse workplace is not a “one size fits all” method. According to the article Motivating Employees on a Global Scale: Author Bob Nelson an employer has to be aware of different cultures in their organization. For example in a Hispanic culture they are very family orientated and a reward that can be used for their entire family would motivate this employee. Japanese culture is group orientated and would be motivated by work-group recognition. Mangers in the United States must be aware of the fact that many cultures believe our solo motivators to be embarrassin


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