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Analysing work motivation within an organisation

Work motivation has been a subject of interest for scholars for many years (Wiley 1995). It is defined as "a set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual's being, to initiate work-related behaviour and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration (Pinder, 1998, p11)." This paper discusses "what motivate people at work" based on the results of a motivation survey administered by university students and other academics.

It was revealed from the results that achievement, which is related to job content is ranked as the top one factor that makes people feel good at work. On the other hand, negative experience with colleagues, which is classified as job context variable is found to be the factor that causes the most dissatisfaction (Shields, 2007, p71). This finding is linked to Herzberg's assumption that "intrinsic factors" related to job content motivate people and "extrinsic factors" related to job context "forestall dissatisfaction" (Shields, 2007, p71). However, it is found that the value people from different groups place on each factor may vary according to demographic variables such as income levels, employment status, gender and social background (Wiley, 1997, p278; Kovach, 1980, p57 & Shields, 2007, p66).

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In this paper, the differences between two groups - people with different occupations and with different ethnicities - are discussed and analysed using motivation theories. Moreover, some of the main limitations and implications of the survey are discussed.

Differences between managers/professionals and other occupations:

The first distinct gap is analysed between managers/professionals and people in other occupations such as technicians, labourers, students, etc. In Part A, managers/professionals, compared with other employees, placed more value on "empowerment" (with means of 5.47 to 6.96 out of ten in the survey) but less value on financial reward (with mean of 5.50 to 4.42) as "feel good" factors. This difference continued in Part B, where managers or professionals thought they were more motivated by autonomy, achievement and ethics, while others focused more on remuneration.

Combining the results from Part A and Part B, we found that managers valued more "higher-order needs" ("intrinsic factors") including empowerment, autonomy and job activity while others valued more "lower-order needs" ("extrinsic factors") such as remuneration and job security (Shields, 2007, p67-68). Generally, managers possess more income and higher social status than other employees. This point can be deduced from the "skill-based pay system" which suggests that skills can be analysed and priced and the base pay should be linked to employees' acquisition of knowledge and specialized skills for his job or position (Shields, 2007, p296-308). Judging from this system, it seems that managers and professionals must surpass ordinary employees in terms of depth and vertical skills, with the assumption that managers always acquire more specialist, team scheduling and leadership skills. Hence, in the light of this statement, managers and professionals should be paid more than other employees. Moreover, a number of authors (Rynes, Gerhart &Parks, 2005; Shields, 2007, p72; Thornburg, 1992, p58-61) advocate that money sometimes means status and success. Since there is an income gap between managers and other employees, the former group theoretically possess higher social status than the later one. Therefore, as suggested by Maslow (Shields, 2007, p67-69) and Alderfer (Shields, 2007, p69), ordinary employees are more concerned about basic survival needs while managers and professionals have already satisfied those needs and they are on to the next step to meet their needs for growth. Furthermore, "the need for achievement, the desire to do something better or more efficiently than it has been done before" (McClelland & Burnham, 1976, p117) is an essential force driving managers to fulfil the organisations goals. It is only when those good managers or group leaders focus more on the job content, that they can effectively utilise the abilities of other team members and run the business more efficiently. This assumption is also supported by McClelland's proposition that managers with higher expectation to be successful prefer jobs that offer more autonomy and flexibility while other employees prefer jobs that fulfil their physiological needs (Shields, 2007, p70). Overall, managers and professionals are more motivated by "intrinsic factors", while people in other occupations are more motivated by "extrinsic factors".

Differences between Europeans and Asians:

The second finding in the survey was that respondents of Asian backgrounds are more motivated by "extrinsic factors" while others with European ethnicity are more triggered off by "intrinsic factors". Of the 101 respondents including 53 Asians and 31 Europeans, Europeans ranked "intrinsic factors" such as achievement and empowerment as more important "feel good" factors at work, whereas Asians positioned "extrinsic factors" such as financial rewards as the key factors making them feel good at work in part A. It was also found that the motivation of Europeans would decrease if the job did not fulfil their need for self-development and self-actualisation; while Asians were more demotivated when the pay and other financial rewards were below their expectations. There was no unanticipated outcome from Part B, in which the results indicated that Europeans are more motivated by "intrinsic factors" like autonomy, achievement and job interest when Asians are more motivated by other "extrinsic factors" like remuneration and job security.

Given the fact that most of the Asian respondents are Chinese, an explanation of these findings is that Asians are less likely to be financially secure and therefore are more motivated by financial rewards to satisfy their physiological needs rather than growth needs. According to the Australian Agency for International Development (2009), the number of developing countries in Asia is double than those in Europe. Environmental factors such as political and legal systems may influence the work motivational level (Latham & Pinder 2005, p492). The difference can be attributable to the fact that the legislation systems vary across Asia and Europe. For instance, in most the Asian countries including both developing and developed countries, many governments generally do not financially support retired individuals. European welfare regimes provide much more security and equality than those in Asia (Gough, 2003, p27). It means people in Asia should save a certain amount of money or investment during their work-lifetime in order to support themselves in retirement. In addition there are cultural differences between Europeans and Asians, Asians are relatively long-term oriented and feel more uncomfortable in unstructured and uncertainty situations when compared to Europeans and therefore they may view remuneration as a more essential motivating factor at work in a long-term basis to avoid financial uncertainty in the future (Hofstede, 2009). Finally, Kurman (2001) affirmed that people from low power-distance cultures set higher goals and thus perform better than those from high power-distance culture. This statement can support the rationalisation that Europeans with relatively low power-distance are more likely to set higher goals to fulfil their desires of "achievement" and other "intrinsic factors". Generally speaking, the survey results showed that Europeans are more motivated by "intrinsic factors" while Asians are more motivated by "extrinsic factors".


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Motivation influences behaviour which in turn affects the overall job performance (Wiley, 1997); therefore, managers should be able to create a positive employer-employee relationship that continuously meets each party's expectations to retain and motivate employees (Fisher, 2009; Shield, 2007). As people are most motivated by achievement in the survey, managers should set high but attainable goals for their employees and provide them with appropriate and timely feedback to give them sense of achievement (Shield, 2007, p80-82). In addition, managers must distinguish between "motivators" and "hygiene factors", seeking to "maximize satisfaction by improving job content variables and minimize job dissatisfaction by improving job context variables" (Shields, 2007, p71). Managers should also be mindful of the fact that what motivates some people, may not motivate others, and therefore they should make considerable efforts to find what motivates and demotivates certain groups of their employees in order to maximize the chance of achieving better performance.


The survey results could be biased by some limitations in the survey design and sample population. For example, the finding that most respondents were best motivated by "intrinsic factors" such as achievement, can be biased by the fact that all respondents came from similar academic backgrounds and maintain good living standards. In addition, with the proportion of 12 male and 89 female respondents, the unbalanced rate in gender may partially affect the results of the survey. Finally, most of the academic literature and theories which suggested the promotion of "intrinsic motivators" are underpinned with a western culture bias. The failure of taking contextual factors and other cultural perspectives into consideration may lead to biased views on motivation.


The analysis of the two groups throughout this paper leads the way to some important conclusions regarding work motivation. It is confirmed that different categories of people are motivated differently, and therefore demographic and contextual variables should be taken into consideration when motivating people at work. The findings are of high importance to HR managers to better motivate their subordinates. Further research should be done based on the limitations to gain deeper understanding on motivation.

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