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How to Motivate Employees: Application of theories in the workplace

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Enhancing motivation of key workers, 2009, explains the usefulness of popular theoretical frameworks in business organizations today. It presents in gist the idea behind such theories as expectancy, goal-setting and equity, among others, with the understanding that these are still under continuing research to prove their validity. These theories are compared as to their application to workplace motivation with the goal of producing more efficient and productive employees.

Chapter 1

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Every person in direct supervision of employees or workers knows the intricacies of leadership and management of people under his/her care (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985). Whenever possible, it is to the best interest of the organization and employer in general that the workers perform their respective jobs efficiently and on a continuous or consistent manner. This is the aspiration of every owner of a company or those delegated to deliver their/his/her goals. However, this will only work so long as the individuals in their various places or positions know and understand what they want and where they want to go in the context of the overall goals of their organization (McKenna, 2006). Intertwined in this idea is the fact that individuals are motivated to work not only for them but that the vision and mission, goals of the corporate world where they belong must be their own also. Ownership as a motivational factor is critical for the survival and sustainability of both the individual worker and the organization as a whole (Landy, 1985). This paper intends to define motivation and its place in organizational behavior. The objectives of the study include the following:

-          To spark an interest on the existing data in literature on studies made on the subject matter.

-          To present a holistic picture of motivational models and their applicability today in the world of business and in organizations.

-          To identify specific motivational scenario/s in business or organizations.

Significance of the study

There is continued interest in the study of organizational performance for over 25 years already. Specifically, empirical and theoretical studies were made on the correlation of leadership and its primacy in the improvement of organizational performance. The output of this research in particular is to put emphasis on the findings of the work conducted that had pned almost more than a quarter of a century (McKenna, 2006). The model that will be derived will make its place in the contribution of knowledge to business in general and to leader-managers whose area of expertise lies in the customer sales or services aspects.

The problem of employee motivation is critical in all kinds of organizations today and is responsible for the shoddy products people buy and the careless service they also receive. It was thought that all that was necessary to produce high motivation in workers was to pay them more; this idea may no longer be valid for a large portion of the work force (Knoster et al., 2000).

Modern workers demand jobs that satisfy their inner needs for fulfillment, expression, and self-actualization. Traditional values involved loyalty to the company and a strong drive for money, status, promotion and security. The new breed of workers focuses on self-fulfillment and self-actualization and demands jobs that are challenging and that allow participation in decision-making (McKenna, 2006). They have little loyalty to the organization and less concern with money, status and security.

Research Questions

            1. What motivational models or paradigms have been empirically tested in the area of organizational behavior and what were the outcomes of these studies?

            2. What are examples of motivational theories that have proven their workability in motivating employees from different types of organizations?
The subject of human motivation is quite complicated for a number of reasons. Firstly, humans mature more slowly than any other organisms on this planet, and for this, the motivational tendencies are acquired more slowly too. Secondly, the individual is dependent on many of his fundamental satisfactions on other people; this is illustrated on his/her use of symbolic language to communicate these needs to others. Motivation is defined as the concept that represents the fundamental influence that drives behavior and providing its direction (Morris et al., 1999, p 284). In organizational behavior the principles in the study of behavior, especially on motivational theories, are applied in the workplace. Such theories help explain what motivates people in their attitudes toward work, their employers and other aspects of employment in general (McKenna, 2006).

Chapter 2

Review of Related Literature

Demick and Miller (1993) places in context first what an organization is like and settles how it can affect behavior in general and when that is established, proceeded to explain leadership and management in this context. In organizational behavior which is basic to the management of human resource, it points to the inquiry and application of learning about how people, individuals, and groups perform, operate, and work in organizations. It accomplishes this by means of adopting a system approach. Explicitly, it infers people-organization affairs in terms of the entire person, group totality, complete organization, and total social structure. Its intention is to put up enhance relations by attaining human goals, organizational purposes, and social goals. In such a milieu, the goals to effect change are influenced by several significant factors which are crucial to the overall results. Hence, there are expected leadership behaviors that maintain momentum during the change process (Demick, and Miller, 1993).

Bruffee (1993) explains in précis the need for a more efficient, economical and equitable management of the people in the industry or organization has never been as pronounced as it is today. This need has never been brought about by factors which inevitably affect not only the established structures and ways of doing things within the personnel area but also by the more meaningful and substantial task of managing the organization’s most important asset – the human capital. Among these factors are: stiffer competition in business; rapid changes in technological, competitive and economic environments; the explosion of technical and managerial knowledge; spiraling wage and benefits cost and so many others. These factors have no doubt been responsible for the emergence of the personnel function as a vital area in the implementation of corporate strategy (Bruffee, 1993).

One of the strategic approaches today in enriching and enhancing is accomplished utilizing the systems approach or systems model. The latter is meant as interpreting people and organizational relationships in reference to the whole individual, “whole group, whole organization, and whole social system” (Knoster et al., 2000). The objective is developing improved and enhanced relationships by attaining individual aims, organizational goals and social aspirations (Berry, 2002).

Specifically, any student who pursues the study of the concepts involved in the matter will examine how individuals work in groups; acquire insights into human strengths and interpersonal relationships. Intertwined in the study is to delve into theories or principles of motivation of personnel, effective leadership with the goal of formulating a sound thinking and values of management and leadership. Moreover, organizational behavior investigates scientific data and utilizes a variety of research traditions to further understand how individuals work and function efficiently in diverse forms of structures ((McKenna, 2006).

Summary of key findings

It is interesting what possibly Oprah is really like when she handles the day-to-day operation of her companies. Everyone virtually knows Oprah Winfrey whose net worth according to Forbes magazine is estimated at $725 million. One of the richest people n the world, she has people who work for her and make her companies running smoothly. What is her leadership like and is there a possibility that her feats can be duplicated (McKenna, 2006)?

Organizations today place great emphasis on finding and training leaders at all levels – from supervisor to president basically to bear the fruits of effective leadership solely in motivating employees to produce and excel in the rendering of services. Indeed, a major portion of all selection and training activity is devoted to leadership; the success or failure of any organization depends in large measure, on the quality of its leaders. Some analysts believe that the basic difference between a successful and an unsuccessful organization is its leadership, essentially so because leaders usually take the role of motivators of their subordinates or team members. All types of organization - business and industry – hence, recognize the importance of the leadership function (Berry, 2002).

Chapter 3

Discussion of theories at work and their applications

One of the most pressing problems facing organizations today is how to motivate workers to work more productively and to increase their feelings of satisfaction and involvement with their jobs. All echo the same complaint that too many employees do not seem to care about doing a good job which results to careless mistakes and faulty results (McKenna, 2006).

Tremendous strides have been made in recruiting, selecting, and training workers. But none of these functions can improve the quality of the work being done if workers are not sufficiently motivated to the best job possible (McKenna, 2006).

Most managers believed that the answer was simple: if the workers need more motivation, pay them more. This notion had been popular for a long time, but it may no longer be valid for a sizable portion of the work force (McKenna, 2006).

In today’s society, money no longer serves as the sole motivating force. In times of severe economic depression such as the 1930s when jobs were extremely difficult to find, the question of survival – of being able to provide enough food for one’s family – was paramount and money, was indeed, the prime mover (Landy, 1985).  But in times of prosperity, jobs are more plentiful and salaries are high. People are neither forced to remain at unsatisfying jobs nor are they compelled to work hard jobs they do not like. Hey can quit and go elsewhere. Consequently they do not have to worry about being fired for not doing the best job possible; they can always get other jobs (McKenna, 2006).

Human motivation is most complex. People seldom behave or respond to a particular situation because of a single motive. A person is driven by a variety of needs and desires, some complimentary and others conflicting. Although people do not fully understand their motivational structure, they do know, from psychological research, quite a bit about the forces that drive them (McKenna, 2006).

Most people must work to earn enough money to support themselves and their families, but it can no longer be assumed that this is the sole, or even the primary reason for working. If it were, why would so many successful business persons and entertainers, for example, continue to work at the same pace when they have more money than they could possibly spend and freely admit that they do not need anymore? This is not to suggest that money has no role in motivating a person to want to work, but it has been shown that salary is of only minor importance as a motivator once a person’s income level is considered sufficient. The evidence is clear that many people work to satisfy a host of inner needs. Of course, people have different needs; the work that satisfies the needs of one may frustrate the needs of another (Landy, 1985).

~Work theories

Several theories of work motivation have been advanced. Because they are theories, they are by definition still open to question and cannot yet be accepted as matters of fact. These motivational theories are provocative, seemingly plausible, and the research they have generated has led to new ways of thinking about why people behave as they do on their jobs (McKenna, 2006).

A. The Need Achievement Theory of Motivation

Psychologists have proposed several theories of motivation. The need for achievement by McClelland posits the existence to be the best in whatever they undertake. This desire to accomplish something, to do a good job, to be the best typifies many people in the society, not only successful executives. Thos who possess this need derive great satisfaction from their achievement and are motivated to excel in everything they undertake (Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985; McKenna, 2006).

Evidence also shows that the economic growth of private companies and of whole societies is related to the level of the need for achievement than do those who are less successful. Once high achievement – need persons have been identified, it is possible to determine what they want and what they need in their work to satisfy this high level of achievement motivation (Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985).

McClelland’s research identified three characteristics of high need-achievement persons:

            1. They favor a working situation in which they are able to assume personal responsibility for solving problems. If they were not solely responsible for finding the solutions to the problems, they would not have any sense of achievement. They are not happy when the solution depends on chance or on eternal factors beyond their control. It must depend on their own efforts and ability (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985).

            2. They have a tendency to take calculated risks and to set moderate achievement goals. By assuming tasks of moderate difficulty, high achievement need persons are able to satisfy their achievement needs. If the tasks or goals were too easy, there would be little sense of accomplishment. If they were too difficult, they might not succeed and would again have no sense of accomplishment (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985).

            3. High achievement – need persons must have a definite and continuing feedback about their progress. If they did not receive recognition for their work, they would not have a clear idea of how well they were doing. High achievement – need persons feel a greater sense of accomplishment if they have a personal feedback from superiors in the form of congratulatory memos, pay raises, promotions, or a pat on the back (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985).

There are unsolved questions about the need – achievement theory, and not all research supports the findings discussed (Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985). However, it seems to be a useful theory of behavior and a plausible explanation for the motivation of some employees. The theory is judged to be high in scientific validity and in its usefulness in application to the world of work (Landy, 1985).

B. The Needs- Hierarchy Theory of Motivation

One major motivational model or theory more often used in organizations and industries is the theory by Abraham Maslow. More prominently called as the hierarchy of needs, this theory explains an individual’s needs on different levels. On the theory, Maslow defines basic or fundamental needs as the individual’s biological needs like hunger, thirst and rest. Maslow believes that on this basic level lies the “evolution” of the other so-called “higher” needs. If the lower levels are not satisfied, the implications mean the individual cannot or will not move onto the higher levels (McKenna, 2006; Morris et al., 1999, p.302).  Maslow’s theory became a phenomenal one especially in industry because of its humanistic desirability; they seemed significant to people. It helps clarify why some work incentives are not effective for some people and situations. And managers in work settings can implement interventions in their workplaces based on their understanding of human behavior according to the hierarchy of needs (Berry, 2002, p. 240).

 Figure 1.1 The following pyramid diagram illustrates Maslow’s hierarchical levels where the “more basic needs must be largely satisfied before higher motives can emerge.” Morris et al. 1999 in A.H.Maslow. Copyright Ó1954 by Harper & Row.

C. The ERG Theory of Work Motivation

Clayton Alderfer suggests three basic human needs: Existence needs, Relatedness needs, and Growth needs. Existence needs are the lowest level needs and are concerned with physical survival (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985). These also related to tangible environmental goals such as being able to but food and shelter. Relatedness needs involve interactions with other people and the satisfactions they can bring in the form of emotional support, respect, recognition and a sense of belonging. Growth needs focus on the self and include the need for personal growth and development, which can be satisfied only by using one’s capabilities to the fullest. This conception includes Maslow’s self-esteem and self-actualization needs. Both aspects – esteem and growth – must be satisfied. A job can provide satisfaction of the growth needs if it involves challenge, autonomy and creativity (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985).

The ERG needs are not rigidly hierarchical. More than one of the ERG needs can operate at the same time. Satisfaction of one need does not lead automatically to the emergence of a higher need (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985).

Frustration of one of Alderfer’s higher needs (Relatedness and Growth) may proceed to going back to a lower need. For example, in Alderfer’s theory, if a worker’s relatedness need is not being satisfied, he or she may give up on it and focus instead on the existence needs. In practical terms, this means that the worker may demand higher pay or fringe benefits as compensation for failing to satisfy the relatedness needs (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985).

Alderfer’s theory is appealing on intuitive and logical grounds and is seen as more directly applicable to the motivation of people at work. Despite its promise, however, relatively little research has been conducted on it. The theory does not have more empirical support than Maslow’s theory, but not all the studies, not even those by Alderfer himself, have been positive (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Landy, 1985).

D. The Motivator-Hygiene Theory of Motivation and Job Satisfaction

The motivator – hygiene theory, combining motivation and job satisfaction, was proposed by Frederick Herzberg in 1959. Although controversial, the theory is a simple one and has stimulated vast amounts of research yielding important implications for the structure of some jobs. It also had ramifications on actual job design – the way in which various jobs are performed (Baron, 1983).

The premise of this theory is that lower level needs have generally been satisfied in contemporary society. Where they have not, job dissatisfaction is the result. However, the reverse is not true; the fulfillment of basic needs does not produce job satisfaction. Only higher order needs such as self-actualization are capable of producing satisfaction. But, failure to find self-actualization in a job does not necessarily lead to dissatisfaction (Baron, 1983).

Thus, there are two sets of needs: those that produce job satisfaction and those that produce job dissatisfaction. They are separate; the presence or absence of one set of needs does not produce the opposite condition. Herzberg calls the factors that produce job satisfaction motivator needs – they motivate the worker to the highest level of performance. These motivators are an integral part of the work itself and include the nature of the work and the person’s sense of achievement, level of responsibility, and personal development and advancement.   The motivator needs can be satisfied only by stimulating, challenging and absorbing work (Baron, 1983).

The factors that produce job dissatisfaction are the hygiene (or maintenance) needs which have little power to produce satisfaction. They have nothing to do with the nature of the work itself but rather involve features of the work environment such as company policy and administrative practices, type of supervision, interpersonal relations, company benefits, and working conditions.  Though there were criticisms against Herzberg’s theory, this has helped to focus interest on the importance of the intrinsic aspects of the job and their ability to motivate workers. It also spawned the concept of job enrichment (Baron, 1983).

E. The Expectancy Theory of Motivation

The expectancy theory, originated by Victor Vroom, states that people make choices based on their perceived expectancy that certain rewards will follow if they behave in a certain way. In the work situation, this means that people will work hard if they expect this effort to lead to desirable rewards such as higher pay or promotion. The expectancy theory seems to agree with personal experience and common sense; the higher one’s expectancy is of receiving some reward – the harder one shall work for it (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Berry, 2002).

F. The Goal – Setting Theory of Motivation

Developed by Edwin Locke, goal-setting theory also has a common – sense appeal and is clearly relevant to the world of work. Locke argues that people’s primary motivation in a work situation can be defined in terms of one’s desire to achieve a particular goal. The goal represents what the person intends to do at a given time in the future. For example, an individual may have as a goal graduating from college with honors or achieving the highest sales record in the company or getting a pay raise to buy a new house. Goals are important in any endeavor, motivating and guiding one’s behavior so that the person will perform in the most effective way. Studies of work behavior have shown how goals influence a person’s motivation. Specific goals are also more motivating than general goals. Goals that are difficult to obtain are more motivating than easy goals (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Berry, 2002).

Goals facilitate job performance in four ways: they direct attention and action, they mobilize energy and effort, they increase persistence, and they motivate the development of the behavior that are appropriate and necessary to attain the goals (Baron, 1983; Berry, 2002).

The goal-setting theory is probably the most thoroughly researched of all motivational theories presented; the evidence is highly supportive. In case after case, goal-setting has been found to produce substantial increases in employee output. Further, the theory is high in both scientific validity and in usefulness on the job (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Berry, 2002).

G. The Equity Theory of Motivation

The notion that a person’s motivation is influenced by his/her perception of how equitably he/she is treated at work was proposed by J. Stacy Adams. In any work situation, be it a classroom or an office, people assess both their inputs – how much effort they are putting into the work – and their outcomes p how much reward they are receiving for the work. People then perhaps unconsciously, calculate the ratio of outcome to input and compare the ratio with what they perceive are the ratios of fellow coworkers (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Berry, 2002).

Are they getting equal outcomes as a function of their inputs or are they getting less than other people? If they are getting less, a state of inequity exists, which motivates people to create a condition of equity. If they are getting the same, a state of equity exists. Research shows and personal experiences confirm that people do make such comparisons. One may have felt unfairly or inequitably treated in a course for which he/she had worked harder than someone who, ultimately, received a higher grade. Did the person work harder as a result of this inequity?

It is generally accepted that a sense of being treated fairly with respect to others can influence work motivation, either by increasing or reducing it. The theory is fairly well supported by research but has a limited application to specific situations at work (McKenna, 2006; Baron, 1983; Berry, 2002).

Chapter 4


The workplace today considers any of the perspectives mentioned in this paper. However, what are more reflective at many organizations are their strategies in enhancing the life of the average worker. The understanding of the needs or drives that motivate people is therefore critical in the choice of what “motivator variables” that the management may employ to encourage their people to do or sustain an excellent job or an efficient performance.

Essentially, the role of motivation in a person’s life is crucial to the understanding of human activities. Motivation is never static because in life, there always presents a dynamic and changing pattern of needs. Internal and external motivation provides in brief, an astute way of explaining the “why’s” of people’s behaviors. No wonder then, that in general, educators handle pupils or learners in the light of this ideation.


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