Motivation at the workplace remains as one of the most important components of employee management. As a result, there are various motivational theories that have been developed over time to address motivational issues at the workplace. So to speak, this research paper will look at different theories of motivation and define motivation through these theories’ perspective. More important, these theories would be divided into two sections, with theories that were developed before 1960s forming the first section and theories that emerged after 1960s or contemporary theories forming the second section of this paper. The research paper will also compare two contemporary theories by looking at their strengths and weaknesses.
Motivation refers to the drive to engage in an activity. It is founded on the mental predisposition to initiate and persist in an endeavor. This mental predisposition will influence the effort that is put by the concerned persons. The drive may be to achieve desired outcomes or to avoid painful consequences. In a quest to attain these desired outcomes or avoid the painful consequences, the use of the person’s abilities such as talent, physical abilities to perform a task or capacity, comes into play. In this case, motivation shall be discussed in relation to the theories developed to explain it, the comparison between the various theories developed and their impact on industry, as well as the applicability and shortcomings of the theories in practice. The theories of motivation are applicable in almost every sphere of human endeavors.
Research Findings and Discussion
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One of the most read theories, the Hierarchy of Needs, developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow and postulates that human needs are classified in a hierarchical manner, ascending from the lowest to the highest, that these needs motivate people to work to attain them (Huitt, 2004). Upon the satisfaction of a need at a lower level of the hierarchy, the need ceases to be a motivator and the individual will be motivated by a need on a higher level in the hierarchy. Maslow identified five basic human needs and classified them in their order of importance.
According to Kootz and Weihrich (2007), the first, physiological needs refer to the basic needs for sustaining human life such as food, shelter, water, and sleep. Maslow argues that unless these needs are adequately satisfied’ other needs in the hierarchy will not motivate people. The second in the hierarchy is security and safety needs. They refer to needs to be free of any physical danger and of the fear of losing property, food or shelter. Third in the hierarchy are affiliation or acceptance needs. This is the longing or need to be appreciated and accepted by others. This is the direct result of the fact that we are social beings.
The other two needs in the hierarchy are esteem needs and the need for self actualization. Maslow indicates that once people have satisfied their needs to belong, they then want to be held in positions of high esteem by themselves and also by others. It is this need that gives people the quest for power, status, and self-confidence. This enables managers to work to ensure that the personal needs of employees are met and utilize self esteem to motivate employees.
Based on research, however, evidence to support that human needs form a hierarchy is little. Two levels of needs were identified: biological needs and other needs. It was noted that reasonable satisfaction of biological needs is a prerequisite for the satisfaction of other needs. The satisfaction of other needs was found not to be hierarchical, but varied with individuals. The research also found that the upward mobility among managers was a consequence of career changes and not necessarily the satisfaction of lower level needs (Kootz and Weihrich, 2007, p.291).
The two factor theory of motivation, considered as a modification of the Maslow’s theory, was developed by Herzberg, is based on the satisfaction and dissatisfaction of employees. This theory was developed from his findings after interviewing employees to know when they were highly motivated and when they were dissatisfied and unmotivated.Herzberg believed that two factors contributed to employees’ behavior at work: hygiene factors and motivators. The hygiene factors entail the presence or absence of job disatisfiers such as pay, company policy and interpersonal relationship. He noted that when the hygiene factors are poor, the employees are dissatisfied and that when the hygiene factors are good, the employees are satisfied and highly motivated to work.
Achievement, recognition, responsibility and opportunity comprise the second set of factors that influence job satisfaction. Herzberg indicates that when these motivators are absent, the employees are neutral towards work, but are highly motivated and satisfied when the motivators are present. Poor hygiene factors such as a noisy environment only dissatisfy employees, but its correction will lead to a high level of satisfaction and motivation. On the contrary, motivators must always be in place before the employees are motivated and satisfied. The implication of this theory is that managers in corporations must work to eliminate dissatisfiers, while at the same time ensuring that the motivators, through upgraded job content, are present to ensure that the employees are highly satisfied and motivated.
McGregor theory is based on assumptions commonly referred to as Theory X and theory Y and sets assumptions about the nature of people. Theory X is based on the assumption that without active intervention by management, people are passive or even resistant to organizational needs. This theory refers to people who are inactive in their jobs, and thus require constant supervision for them to achieve the desired results. In other words, these people do not want to work and find the job dissatisfying. On the other hand, Theory Y is inclusive of people who are willing to work, need less supervision, and are always seeking for different ways of improving on their level of performance (Peterson, 2007, p.60).
It was found out that the lack of appropriate mechanism in managing employees within a particular business or organization would result in some of these employees failing to achieve their targets in work. As a result, Peterson (2007) argues that to motivate such a person, the manager would need to employ close monitoring framework to induce the employee to meet the desired targets (p.61). In addition, learning or rather training is an important component that has been found to motivate such employees to work. In this regard, it is important to mention that most employees who fall under Theory X are new employees who do not have the required experience and would therefore evade responsibility as a way of avoiding to make mistakes. However, as they gain experience, there is a tendency for them to be inclined towards Theory Y.
It was found out that an experienced individual may naturally fit into the Theory Y category as the team member may understand both expectations and consequences, have a desire to learn and grow, and generally find work fascinating and enjoyable (Peterson, 2007, p.61). Therefore, such individuals would be motivated to work in the team by participating rather than by being coerced to accomplish certain tasks. In this regard, their motivation is drawn from the fact that it is easier for them to work with managers in executing certain tasks rather in being supervised in every task they are assigned to. Following these argument, it can be concluded that an understanding of the kind of members that a manager have plays a critical role in motivating the team towards achieving its goals in a project that is being undertaken. This is because a team that comprises of Theory X and Theory Y members requires the manager to strike a balance between being authoritative and supportive of what is being done by the members.
The McClelland’s theory of needs is based on the fact that different employees have attached to certain factors that are developed with time as they go through different challenges. These needs are classified into three categories namely; achievement, power and affiliation. In line with this, different people are motivated by different needs. To begin with, some people are motivated by their need to make an impact in the society by attaining certain achievement. This desire to achieve would then be the driving force and it would motivate them to work. On the other hand, other people are motivated through having excellent relationships with other people. Therefore, working in a team and sustaining good relationship is a motivator of this group of people. According to Jost (2008), employees rate good relationships with co-workers, managers and good working hours as the top factors that keep them in their current jobs. Lastly, other people are motivated by power issues. Such groups of people are motivated when they are given an opportunity to lead others in the organization.
The theories that are mentioned above and how they define motivation and the way they are utilized by the management in motivating their employees comprise the past theories that were developed to define motivation. In consistent with this, there are modern or rather contemporary theories that have been developed in the recent time to define and explain the issue of motivation in businesses and organizations. Two of the contemporary theories that are known are Adam’s Equity Theory and Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. Notably, these two theoretical perspectives abandoned the assumption that behavior was a direct function of environmental stimuli and emphasized the importance of psychological processes in shaping employees’ behavioral responses to environmental stimuli (Grant & Ashford, 2008, p.6). Instead, these theories adopted an open-minded perception that allowed employees and managers to look at the issue of motivation from a different angle, i.e. from behaviorism approach to cognitive perspective.
According to Grant & Ashford (2008), Expectancy theory (Vroom, 1964) focused on the role of employees’ beliefs and values in driving and explaining motivated behavior (p.6). In connection to this, employees would evaluate their behaviors at work and then select behaviors that they believe would result in outcomes they deem to be important to them or rather value. Particularly, the effort that employees spend is determined by the anticipation that the outcome will be able to attain the value placed on an outcome in a person’s mind (Isaac, Zerbe & Pitt, 2001, p.214).
The Equity Theory states that whenever an employee detects inequality in his remuneration, then he or she would find ways of restoring equity. In reference to Stecher & Rosse (2007), Adams argued that there are several cognitive and behavioral mechanisms available to individuals to reduce the psychological discomfort associated with perceptions of inequity (p.778). In other words, the employees are motivated when they perceive their treatment as lacking inequality and would work on restoring it whenever they perceive it in their rewards.
There are different issues that can be noted from contemporary theories. To begin with, both theories are based on weighing of benefits of certain factors in an employee’s behaviorism and cognitive perspective. For instance, the expectancy theory evaluates whether certain behavior would be beneficial. Similarly, the theory of equity determines whether there is inequality of any form in an employee’s rewards, and work on restoring it.
The strength of Adam’s equity theory is based on the fact that there should be a balance between the input of the employee and his or her output towards the same. Notably, there are important mechanisms that have been put in place to determine the experience, skills, and level of expertise that an employee has and the output that is expected from such an employee. Therefore, balancing between input and output of an employee can be done easily. On the contrary, since equity theory is based on the perception of the employee, some cases may exhibit overrating of an employee’s input or output, thus failing to balance between his or her input and output.
In regard to Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, it is worthy to note that this theory is based on people’s behavior and their cognitive perspective towards how they benefit from the behaviors they choose to portray. As a result, the strength of this theory is based on the fact that there is no single person who can choose to behave badly when he or she is aware of the fact that these behaviors would result in loosing certain benefits. Contrary, the fact that people can choose behaviors that are beneficial is not always true. Contrary, this theory focuses more on behaviors and undermines other factors such as job satisfaction that plays a critical role in motivating employees.
Motivational theories play an important part in helping business leaders and company management to understand factors and issues that motivate employees at work and thus help them to be more productive. As a result, there are past theories that were developed by scholar and researcher to elucidate on the issue of motivation and how it can be sustained at the workplace. These theories include; the McClelland’s theory of needs, McGregor theory, the Maslow’s theory and Hierarchy of Needs. However, these theories were either abandoned or further developed since they had serious weaknesses that could not support their viability at the workplace. Among the recent or contemporary theories that were developed in the 1960s are Adam’s Equity theory and Vroom’s Expectancy theory. These theories are more inclined towards cognitive perspective as compared to behaviorism perspective. Most important is the fact that they are used current to explain motivational issues at the workplace.
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