Motivation Defination


Motivation can be described as the forces acting on or within an individual, which determine the direction as well as the strength of their behaviours. This definition implies that there are four elements to the motivational process:

  • Internal forces: These are forces within the individual such as the need to belong.
  • External Forces: These are forces from outside the individual such as the need to obtain financial resources.
  • Direction: Individuals are directed towards achieving particular goals such as being promoted.
  • Strength: This refers to the amount of effort an individual expends to achieve a particular goal.

The Link between Performance and Motivation

If an organisation is to be successful in meeting goals and objectives, managers and employees must be in a position to perform their jobs competently. An individual’s performance in any job is a function of three variables:

  • Ability: This refers to the abilities and skills an individual possesses.
  • Motivation: This refers to an individual’s desire to use their abilities and skills to perform a particular task.
  • Environment: This refers to issues external to the individual such as the availability of financial or information resources.

Beyond a certain point lack of ability cannot be compensated for by high motivation. Also if an employee is not motivated, high level of ability will not suffice.

To meet goals/objectives managers must understand the needs, perceptions and expectations of employees that underlie their behaviour.


There are many theories of motivation and various ways of classifying them. In this chapter we will looks at two broad categories of theories referred to as:

  • Content Theories
  • Process Theories

Content Theories

Content theories, which are sometimes referred to as needs theories, try to explain motivation in terms of the needs experienced by employees. The main theories are:

  • Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  • Alderfer’s ERG Motivation Theory
  • McClelland’s Achievement Theory
  • Herzberg Two Factor Theory

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory states that human motivation is dependent on the desire to satisfy various levels of needs. According to this theory, human needs are classified into five categories and grouped in a hierarchy with the most basic needs (those essential for survival) located at the bottom (see Figure 6.1).

The basic assumptions of this theory are:

  • Only unsatisfied needs are motivators.
  • Higher level needs will not emerge until lower level needs have been satisfied.

Lower level needs are called deficiency needs and higher level needs are called growth needs.


  • Physiological Needs: These needs relate to basic survival needs, which allow for continued existence and include food, water, warmth and freedom from pain.
  • Safety Needs: These needs relate to physical and psychological safety from external threats to our well- being, such as the need for security and protection. These needs take effect when physiological needs have been met.
  • Social Needs: This level of needs relate to the requirement for company and companionship, and for a sense of personal belonging. These needs for personal contact and interaction with other people are triggered once physiological and safety needs have been met.


  • Esteem Needs: These relate to the need for self-esteem and a feeling of personal selfworth. These needs become active once all the deficiency needs have been satisfied
  • Self-Actualisation Needs: These refer to an individual’s need for self-fulfilment, personal development and realising ones potential. This need level is different from others in that such needs can rarely be fully satisfied or fulfilled. The more they are satisfied the stronger they become. Maslow believed that managers should strive to create the climate necessary to develop employees’ potential to their fullest.

Although research findings on the validity of Maslow’s hierarchy have not always been positive it remains useful as an introduction to needs theory.

Alderfer’s ERG Motivation Theory

Alderfer’s (1969) ERG (Existence, Relatedness and Growth) Theory specifies that individuals have three basic needs:

  • Existence: The need for food, water, air etc.
  • Relatedness: The need for interpersonal relations.
  • Growth: The need for personal development.

Building upon the work of Maslow, ERG theory avoids some of the criticism of Maslow’s work. The ERG model suggests that more than one set of needs can be active at the same time. Individuals can move from one category of needs to another and lack of fulfilment in one category can affect needs in another. For example, if an individual fails in a task that would satisfy a growth need that person might then regress back to a relatedness need.

McClelland’s Achievement Theory 

McClelland (1960) concentrated on developing and identifying motivational differences between individuals.  He proposed that people have three key sets of needs:

  • The need for achievement, which is a desire for challenging tasks and a good deal of responsibility.
  • The need for affiliation, which refers to the need for developing social and personal relations.
  • The need for power, which refers to the need for dominance.

The needs identified by McClelland can be useful in helping managers to recognise the differences in people at work. McClelland suggested that people posses an extremely wide variety of different types of needs and these needs are not arranged in any particular hierarchy. He believed that needs are learned through life rather than inherited and suggested that they may be activated by events in the external environment. McClelland argued that the main factor in willingness to perform is the intensity of an individual’s actual need for achievement.

Other needs he identified include autonomy, aggression, endurance, impulsiveness, nurturance and understanding. From a managerial viewpoint, this research suggests that it is important for managers to assess the strengths of various needs in their employees and to design motivational strategies that enable employees to satisfy the needs that are strongest in the individual.

Herzberg Two Factor Theory 

According to Herzberg’s two factor theory (1962), there are two sets of factors affecting employees. One set of factors can cause extreme satisfaction and the second set can cause extreme dissatisfaction. The factors that cause satisfaction are called motivators and the factors that cause dissatisfaction are called hygiene factors.


These factors, which can lead to extreme satisfaction, are related to job content issues such as the nature of the work itself, achievement, responsibility, recognition, advancement possibilities and self-growth potential. According to Herzberg, employees can be motivated by maximising satisfaction in terms of these factors.


These factors, which can lead to extreme dissatisfaction, are issues related to the job context such as company policy, supervision, pay, status, security and relationships with superiors, peers and subordinates. Although these factors do not explicitly motivate people, if an organisation were to perform poorly with regard to them, extreme dissatisfaction would occur. Thus, if these factors are good dissatisfaction is removed, but satisfaction does not occur. Hertzberg’s findings indicate that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not at opposite ends of the same spectrum. Rather they are on two separate spectra. The opposite of satisfaction is not dissatisfaction but no satisfaction. Similarly the opposite of dissatisfaction is no dissatisfaction. Thus, pleasant or good working conditions do not actually produce motivation – as hygiene factors they simply prevent dissatisfaction.

Process Theories

Process theories attempt to explain motivation in terms of people’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions regarding their job and the organisation in which they work. The process theories are concerned with determining how individual behaviour is initiated, directed and maintained. The major process theories of motivation are expectancy theory, equity theory, goal-setting theory and reinforcement theory. The following process theories are discussed:

  • McGregor’s XY Theory
  • Vroom’s Expectancy Theory
  • Equity Theory
  • Reinforcement Theory
  • Goal Setting Theory

McGregor’s XY Theory

McGregor focused on the assumptions that managers hold in relation to employees and on how this affects managerial behaviour in terms of motivating them. He suggested two sets of managerial assumptions about employees called Theory X and Theory Y.


In Theory X, managers see employees as inherently lazy, doing as little work as possible and therefore they need to be corrected, controlled and directed to ensure that they do enough work


In Theory Y, managers see employees as liking work and needing challenges. The implication of this theory is that if the work and organisational environment are appropriate, employees will embrace the tasks set for them without any need for control or coercion.

McGregor believed that all workers are naturally Theory Y, but may become Theory X as a result of how they are treated in organisations. Therefore organisational structures, systems and practices should allow for employee participation in the decision making process, and job enrichment and flexibility should be allowed and even encouraged.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

This theory was developed by Victor Vroom in 1964 and is sometimes called the Expectancy-Valence theory. This theory identifies important expectations that the individual brings to the workplace and focuses on the relationship between the efforts put into completion of a particular activity by the individual and the expectations concerning the actual reward that will accrue as a result of expending the effort. This theory argues that individuals base decisions about their behaviour on the expectation that one behaviour or another is more likely to lead to needed or desired outcomes.  The relationship between one’s behaviour and particular desired outcomes is affected by individual factors such as personality, perception, motives, skills, abilities etc, and by organisational factors such as culture, structure, managerial style, etc. This theory argues that a worker’s motivation is dependent on how the employee perceives the relationship between effort, performance and outcome.

Motivation = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence

Expectancy: This is the probability assigned by the individual that work level will be followed by a given level of achieved task performance.

Instrumentality: This is the probability assigned by the individual that a given level of achieved task performance will lead to various work outcomes (rewards).

Valence: This is the value attached by the individual to various work outcomes.

Therefore the level of motivation associated with a given task or job is drastically reduced whenever one or more of the factors approaches the value zero. Vroom’s theory suggests that effort (motivation) is not simply a function of rewards – the individual must feel that they have the ability to perform the task (expectancy), that this performance will impact on the reward and that this reward is actually valued.


Vroom (1964) suggests that managers must seek to understand individual employee goals and motives; ensure these are clearly and positively linked to desired performance levels, which in turn are achievable from the employee’s perspectives.

Equity Theory

This theory was developed by Adams (1965) and focuses on people’s feelings on how fairly they have been treated in comparison to how others are treated. It is based on the comparison between two variables, inputs and outcomes. Inputs refer to what employees bring to his or her job and include effort, experience and skills. Outcomes from a job are what the person receives in return for his or her inputs and include pay, recognition, benefits, promotion etc.

The input output ratio may be compared to that of another employee. A state of equity exists when the input outcome ratio is perceived to be equal to that of another person or the group average. Inequity occurs when the input to outcome ratio is perceived to be out of balance when compared to others.

The most common way of reducing perceived inequity is to:

  • Change their input – may reduce their level of effort
  • Try to change outcomes– for example by looking for a pay increase
  • Leave the job – if they feel they are under paid

The implications for managers are that employees evaluate the equity of their rewards compared to others and will not be motivated if they feel they are not being treated equally.

Reinforcement Theory

The emphasis of reinforcement theory is that the behaviour of a person in a situation is influenced by the rewards or penalties that a person experienced in a similar situation in the past.

Reinforcement theory introduces an important point about motivation; that a large amount of motivated behaviour is learned behaviour.

There are four main types of reinforcement behaviours available to managers:

  • Positive reinforcement (for example; pay raise, promotion) is provided after desired behaviour occurs, with the intention of increasing the probability that the desired behaviour will be repeated.
  • Avoidance is an attempt to increase the probability that the desired behaviour will be repeated. When the manager uses avoidance, the employee is shown what the consequences of improper behaviour will be, but is allowed to avoid those consequences by displaying good behaviour. This is sometimes referred to as negative reinforcement.
  • Extinction is basically ignoring the behaviour of subordinates. It is an attempt to weaken behaviour by giving the employee neither positive nor negative reinforcement. This approach can be used when the behaviour is seen by the supervisor as temporary, nontypical, and not serious in its negative consequences.
  • Punishment (threats, docking pay and suspension) is an attempt to decrease the likelihood of a behaviour recurring by applying negative consequences.

Reinforcement theory has a number of implications for management:

  • Motivated behaviour is influenced by learning what is acceptable to the organisation.
  • If managers are working with the employees to develop motivated behaviour, they should:
    • Tell the employee what they are doing wrong. o Be careful not to reward all individuals at the same time. o Tell individuals what they can do to get positive reinforcement.
    • Be sure to administer the reinforcement as closely as possible to the occurrence of the behaviour. o Recognise that failure to reward can also modify behaviour

Goal-Setting Theory

A goal is a target, objective or result that someone tries to accomplish. Goals tell an employee what needs to be done and how much effort will be expanded. Goal setting focuses on the conscious choices a person has to make.

Goal-setting theory states that people will be motivated to the extent to which they accept specific, challenging goals and receive feedback that indicates their progress towards goal achievement.

There can be two approaches to goal setting:

  • Management sets goals for the employees.
  • The employees and managers mutually develop goals with each other.


The goal-setting theory has implications for management:

  • Managers need to work with employees in goal setting to provide targets for motivation.
  • The goals established should be specific rather than general in nature.
  • Goal setting requires that the manager provide feedback on performance


  Structuring of work

Organisations can also use job design to improve motivation by making task more interesting to the employees. The following are the main approaches:

  • Job Enlargement
  • Job Enrichment
  • Job Rotation

Job Enlargement

Job enlargement involves increasing the scope of the job by extending the range of duties and responsibilities involved. Job enlargement is a reversal of the process of division of labour.

Job Enrichment

Job enrichment was developed for the advancement of the Hertzberg’s ‘two factor’ theory of work motivation discussed earlier in the chapter. The job enrichment approach suggests that employees gain most satisfaction from the work itself and it was the intrinsic outcomes arising from the work that motivated employees to perform well in their job. Herzberg (1966) established the concept of vertical loading. Vertical loading involves the addition of more challenging dimensions to the job; including increasing the authority, responsibility and accountability associated with the job and at the same time reducing some controls.


On a similar line Hackman and Oldham (1980) suggested that three basic conditions necessary for promoting job satisfaction and employee motivation:

  • Work should be meaningful for the doer.
  • Doers should have responsibility for the results.
  • Doers should get feedback on the results.

Hackman and Oldham identified five core job characteristics, which needed to be incorporated into job design to increase meaningfulness and feedback:

  • Skill variety: the extent to which a job requires a variety of skills from an employee.
  • Task identity: the degree to which a task is perceived as a unified one with a clear outcome visible from the start.
  • Task significance: the degree to which the task has an impact on others in the organisation.
  • Autonomy: the degree of discretion the employee has in scheduling work and determining procedure.
  • Feedback: the amount and kind of information that is received about job performance.

Job Rotation

This approach involves moving workers from one job to another, in order to increase interest, satisfaction and motivation.

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