Motivation in theory

Many theories of motivation were developed in the mid to late twentieth century, contributing to the rapidly growing field of businesss management. A few of the best know theories are outlined below.

Herzberg's two-factor theory

Research was conducted by Herzberg and his colleagues into what made people feel particularly good and particularly bad about their work. Results showed that the 'feel-good' factors that provided job satisfaction were responsibility, accomplishments and a feeling of growth in job competence. The second set of factors, which created negative feelings, included working conditions, salary and poor interpersonal relationships.

Two important conclusions arose from his research:

  1. the causes of satisfaction at work lie in the content of the job itself - the motivator
  2. the causes of dissatisfaction lie in the working environment - the hygiene factors or maintenance factors.

The motivating factors

Herzberg uses this term to describe those factors arising from the job, which have the power to create satisfaction. They are effective in motivating people at work to greater performance and productivity. It is important to remember that they are all examples of factors arising directly from the actual job itself.

The motivators are usually regarded as the following:

  • achievement - the personal satisfaction of completing a job, solving its problems and seeing the successful results of one's own efforts
  • recognition - the acknowledgement of a job efficiently done - this may be something which arises from within the individual or be acknowledged by others
  • work - the positive effects of the job upon the person - your job may be interesting, varied, creative and challenging. However, different people may find the same job more or less interesting; what is interesting to one person may be boring to another
  • responsibility - the degree of control the person has over work - the amount of control that people can exercise is, in part, influenced by the authority and the responsibility that goes with it
  • advancement - the opportunity to achieve promotion within the organisation - advancement also occurs when someone is given more freedom to exercise initiatives in his/her normal work
  • growth - the opportunities to gain new knowledge and develop skills - it may be seen as the opportunity to use developed skills and abilities or to realise further potential in the job.

The hygiene or maintenance factors

The importance of these factors is their power to cause dissatisfaction if they are not of an adequate standard. Removing the dissatisfaction then does not create satisfaction but it does allow the motivators to come into play to improve job satisfaction and therefore motivation. For example:

  • university policy and administration - the overall operation of the organisation (how it is managed and organised)
  • supervision - the social and technical ability of managers - factors in this category include knowledge of the job, fairness in allocated work, and help provided to colleagues
  • working conditions - this related to all physical aspects of the job - the amount of work, facilities for performing it, and general appearance of the workplace
  • interpersonal relations - the quality of relationships between management and the work team and between colleagues themselves
  • salary - this covers all forms of monetary rewards, basic pay, bonuses, overtime rates, etc.
  • status - this is the regard the organisation has for its members, shown by certain extras apart from pay. Examples include having a personal office, having administrative support, etc.
  • job security - the actual security of tenure rather than the feeling of security - it includes items like fixed-term contracts, lay-off agreements and redundancy procedures.

You will notice that the manager is not a motivator. The quality of supervision is a hygiene factor. However, a manager can still affect the motivation of his or her staff.

McClelland's needs theory

McClelland identified three motivators that he believed we all have, regardless of our gender, culture, or age: a need for achievement, a need for affiliation, and a need for power. According to McClelland, these motivators are learned (which is why this theory is sometimes called the Learned Needs Theory).

McClelland also says that, of these three motivating drivers, one will be dominant. This dominant motivator is largely dependent on our culture and life experiences. People then have different characteristics depending on their dominant motivator.

These characteristics are as follows:

Dominant MotivatorCharacteristics of This Person
  • Has a strong need to set and accomplish challenging goals
  • Takes calculated risks to accomplish their goals
  • Likes to receive regular feedback on their progress and achievements
  • Often likes to work alone
  • Wants to belong to the group
  • Wants to be liked, and will often go along with whatever the rest of the group wants to do
  • Favors collaboration over competition
  • Doesn't like high risk or uncertainty
  • Wants to control and influence others
  • Likes to win arguments
  • Enjoys competition and winning
  • Enjoys status and recognition

Vroom's Expectancy theory

Vroom's Theory is based on these three components:

  • Expectancy:
    Expectancy can be described as the belief that higher or increased effort will yield better performance. This is thinking  "If I work harder, I will do something better". Conditions that enhance expectancy include having the correct resources available, having the required skill set for the job at hand, and having the necessary support to get the job done correctly
  • Instrumentality:
    Instrumentality can be described as the thought that if an individual performs well, then a valued outcome will come to that individual. In other words, the increased effort will yield a tangible result. Things that instrumentality are having a clear understanding of the relationship between performance and the outcomes, having trust and respect for people who make the decisions on who gets what reward, and seeing transparency in the process of who gets what reward
  • Valence:
    Valence means "value" and refers to beliefs about outcome desirability. There are individual differences in the level of value associated with any specific outcome. For instance, a bonus may not increase motivation for an employee who is motivated by formal recognition or by increased status such as promotion. Valence can be thought of as importance that a person attaches to an expected outcome.

Vroom concludes that the force of motivation in an person can be calculated using the formula: Motivation = Valence*Expectancy*Instrumentality.

MacGregor's Theory X and Theory Y model

According to this theory, your leadership style is strongly influenced by your beliefs and assumptions about what motivates members of your team: if you believe that team members dislike work, you will tend towards an authoritarian style of leadership; On the other hand, if you assume that employees take pride in doing a good job, you will tend to adopt a more participative style. There are more details about these diffferent styles of leadership.