Employee Motivation in Ceylon Electricity Board


I have selected Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), one of the main players in the energy sector of Sri Lankan economy (I have experienced working with them), to assess the cultural influences to employee motivation strategy of the entity. CEB, which is a 100% state owned enterprise, has significant presence in Electricity generation sector and is the only participant in Electricity transmission and distribution sector. Therefore CEB acts as a monopoly in the power sector and does not face any competition what so ever. It has the legal right to distribute electricity and therefore it has the bargaining power on how and where to purchase electricity. Thus operations in a non-competitive position has resulted a lesser pressure on the management to supply electricity at a competitive price or to reduce the cost by improving the systems and processes.

Employee motivation is crucial to any organization whether its primary objective is to earn short term profit or long term growth or even to serve the community in the case of CEB. But it is not a simple choice of selecting the method and approach to motivate your organizations employees. First it will have a large number of employees and they may come from different backgrounds and different educational levels. And within the organization they will be in different departments and different hierarchical levels. Even departments may have their own objectives and unique cultures. Therefore the traditional methods of motivation such as high salary and promotions are becoming inadequate to maintain the employee morale at the level required by the management to meet its strategic objectives. There are severe studies carried out on motivational practices and it has identified successful innovative motivational practices as well. But due to lack of knowledge and fear for implementation, these innovations are not yet widely practiced in developing countries such as Sri Lanka.

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Organizations have a culture which is unique to the organization. The entit's success of human resource strategies heavily depend on the impact of the cultural influences. The success on selection of motivational strategies, implementation of motivational strategies and changes thereto will be effective provided the culture back such strategies and changes. Strategies that are not accepted or supported by the culture will not be productive unless actions are taken to change the culture.

Theories on Employee Motivation

There are number of motivational practices. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is the most common motivational theory well known in the world. McClelland's Need Theory, Herzberg's Two Factor Theory, Vroom's Expectancy Theory are some other common theories. All these theories discuss the factors that motivate employees and emphasize the need to satisfy the factors to expect employees to be induced and to work for the organization's primary goals. Now let us look at each of the employee motivational needs by analyzing the extent of implementation at the government enterprise CEB.

2.1 Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow (cited in A Theory of Human Motivation, 1943) explained that needs of employees (human beings) can be prioritized in a particular order and the need to achieve them occurs in this sequential order. Therefore by considering the employees current achieved and unachieved needs an entity can predict the employees' desired needs and can satisfy these needs to stimulate the employees to a higher level of performance. These needs are represented in a pyramid that shows the largest and lowest, prioritized needs at the bottom. Satisfying the bottom needs will create the need to achieve the next level of needs and so on till self actualization needs are satisfied.

(Source : http://www.cbc.ca/radio2/programs/maslow.png)

Diagram 1.1

At CEB compensation level, promotions and job security are the primary tools that the management uses as means of employee stimulation. The salary scales of the employees are relatively high at CEB having considered the education, experience and skills of average employee in the economy. With the better salary staff members have the capacity to satisfy the need of adequate food and shelter as required by them. Also since CEB is a government owned entity and since there are no any employee slacks in the history at large scale, the job security is also is at a satisfactory level. They have the confidence that the government save them even at the most pessimistic situation. They are finically well secured even after their retirement as they are entitled to a pension. The possibility to accidents when working is minimal and the past experiences of the organization is very low. Also CEB has an insurance coverage that ensures the wellbeing in a case of an accident at work time. Also the total work hours that an average CEB employee want to spent and the work load is not high compared to private sector employees. Therefore the employees are not stressed to meet deadlines and they enjoy an adequate time for relax and enjoy with the family members leading a balanced time spent on work and life. Also since the employees are strongly organized in labor unions they feel the confidence of being a group member and protection from the group in case of disputes with the management i.e. safety in numbers. Thus we can conclude that the management of CEB is successful in meeting the physiological, safety and Social needs (belonging love) of employees.

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Thus we have to look at the next level of need to be satisfied by a human being as per Maslow. Are the employees are well accepted, respected and do they feel sense of achievement at CEB? At CEB employees are given targets via budgets. These budgets mostly relate to cost controls and there is no other any systematic method to give the employees challenging targets. Thus, the employees do not get the chance to feel the sense of satisfaction or the glory by achieving a challenging target by exercising their experience, skills and competence. Simply need to achieve is not satisfied as the employees like. Also the recognition that the employees get is questionable. First the lower level of employees is not respected by higher hierarchical employees. Therefore the employees feel that they are getting the attention, status that they really require from the top level. Also since the employees are not allowed to exercise the experience, skills to the success of the organization, the employees experience a lack of self respect that can be achieved through mastery, confidence and freedom. Maslow (cited in A Theory of Human Motivation, 1943) emphasized that need to earn self respect rather creating self respect based on fame and outer recognition instead of inner competence.

As self esteem need is not fulfilled most of the employees can't think of the next level of need i.e. self-actualization by becoming mastery in the area the employees want to be. A self-actualized person "can accept their own human nature in the stoic style, with all its shortcomings, with all its discrepancies from the ideal image without feeling real concern" (Maslow, 1954). Therefore the self actualized people have the ability to distinguish the difference good and bad from established social norms which lack of rationale justification. These people have the ability remove unnecessary forms of lack of morale, shame, guilt or anxiety. The staff does not have the opportunity to satisfy this need at all.

2.2 McClelland's theory of Needs

As per MacClelland (as cited in The Achieving Society, 1961), three factors affect employee motivation.

Need for Achievement: achieve in relation to set of standards by striving to succeed.

Need for Power: the desire to make others behave that they wouldn't have behaved otherwise.

Need for Affiliation: the need to create closed interpersonal relationships.

We have discussed earlier that at CEB employees are not satisfied with the need for achievement. At CEB the power of an individual depends on his affiliation with certain non-formal political groups. Thus, a person out of these political groups does not have the ability to exercise the power as he/she likes. His/her decisions and orders will not be accepted by the whole group if the group do not accept him. Thus the middle level employees who have given the power through designations feel difficulties in satisfying their need for power at CEB. Need for affiliation is satisfied by the members who are widely accepted in the above mentioned small political groups. The employees who do not belong to any of these political groups feel not secured at CEB.

2.3 Two Factor Theory

This theory states that there are certain factors in the workplace that cause job satisfaction and set of factors that cause dissatisfaction. (Herzberg, F., Mausner, B. & Snyderman, B.B, 1959) Hackman J. R., & Oldham, G. R. ( cited in Motivation through design of work , 1976) explains these factors that is useful the motivational strategy of an organization.

Motivators (e.g. challenging work, recognition, responsibility) that provide positive satisfaction such as recognition, achievement and personnel growth that arise from intrinsic conditions of the job, and

Hygiene factors (e.g. status, job security, salary and fringe benefits) that do not give positive satisfaction rather result in dissatisfaction in case of absence that arise outside the work such as from supervisory practices and company policy.

Now let us apply two factor theory to CEB. As discussed earlier, non existence of hygiene factors that results dissatisfaction are fulfilled to a certain extent at CEB as management's primary concern on employee motivation assures adequate salary and job security. The self status that the employees perceive tends to be low as they require and lack of flexible administration and non-existence of quality supervision results dissatisfaction among employees. Most importantly the management of CEB has ignored the importance of motivational factors as per two factor theory. Lack of challenging work and clear responsibility assignment has lead the employees feeling short of recognition, achievement and personnel growth in the entity. The end result is shortage of morale of employees to uplift the business performance that government requires.

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2.4 Equity Theory

Adams asserted that employees seek to maintain equity between the inputs that they bring to a job and the outcome that they receive from it against the perceived inputs and outcomes of others (Adams, 1965). The employee perception of the equitable and inequitable treatment at the work place and resulting impact on employee motivation is the base for equity theory. Equity Theory in business, introduces the concept of social comparison, whereby employees evaluate their own input/output ratios based on their comparison with the input/outcome ratios of other employees (Carrell and Dittrich, 1978). Perception of equitable treatment enhances the motivation while the opposite de-motivates employees. The inputs to the work place and outputs that employee expects to be fair can be listed down as follows.


Hard Work








Trust in superiors



Job security



Employee benefits




Sense of achievement

Political influences and involvements are common to CEB as it is a government organization. Most of employees are appointed through recommendations of politicians. This starts at the time of recruitment. Political preferences are essential to be selected to a post unless the position extensively requires educational qualifications and skills to fulfill the responsibilities attached to the job. The promotions, advancement of responsibility level, recognition and other benefits (outcome) not necessarily depend on inputs of the employees. Rather it depends on the affiliation to certain political groups within the entity. Thus, most employees feel that hard work, commitment, loyalty, competencies, are of little use for carrier advancements and other expected outcomes. Thus the fair treatment is not seen at CEB. Thus, the employees who are skillful and committed either attempt to reduce their performance or to provide low quality service or to find another entity that treat the employees in an equitable manner.

2.5 Innovative Motivational Practices

Innovative motivational practices require organizations to provide quality of life by providing pleasure and relax time through perks in addition to the traditional motivate tolls such as promotion, pay-for-performance, holidays and personal achievements. Provision of game rooms, organizing trips to entire family, children care units are some non monetary incentives that reduce the stress levels of employees and make the employee life easier and happier. CEB is not gone to this stage to exercise innovative motivational practices and to assure the employees relaxed personnel, well satisfied personnel life.

Cultural Impact to Employee Motivation

Culture is a deeply rooted value or shared norm, moral or aesthetic principles that guide action and serve as standards to evaluate one's own and others' behaviors. ( Hofstede, G., 1994) Now let us analyze CEB how CEB's culture shape up the motivation strategy considering well known cultural theories.

3.1 Strong Vs Weaker Culture

In a strong culture staff is aligned to the organizational values in a strong manner. Conversely, there is weak culture where there is little alignment with organizational values and control must be exercised through extensive procedures and bureaucracy. As the employees are deeply involved in strong culture people do not think beyond the group motives, actions and aims when their personnel ideas contradict with them. Also if a members idea is different from the group's ideas it is discouraged at the initial stage or is considered as a negative influence because it results conflicts within the group.

CEB has a weaker culture. The organizations core values, strategies, ultimate goals are not widely shared among employees. Though there are core values to the organization they tend to be some written documents that are not shared or known by employees. Thus, the employees not take these objectives seriously leading the results deviating from the ultimate objectives. The requirement for provision of efficient product with quality service to the end consumers is a great example that is not seriously considered or valued by CEB employees. Thus, the superiors always require to monitor the progress of the work and to induce the employees to fulfill the responsibilities. This result the employees not getting a chance to feel the target and to fulfill it and to get the satisfaction of achievement. In addition since the goal congruence does not exist the contribution of each hierarchical level to meet the long term goals are not clarified leading the uncertainties in the minds of employees.

3.2 Power Distance

This theory concerns about the relative equality of power distribution among employees at different organizational levels. In cultures of low power distribution people accept power relations that are more consultative and democratic. Regardless of the difference in formal positions people act collectively with harmony respecting each other. Subordinates are given chance to demand the right and even to criticize the higher level employees. Thus communication is so strong from the top to bottom of the organization. But at cultures where the power distance is high, autocratic actions can be observed from the management. Here the subordinates acknowledge the power of formal positions. Also the people perceive power differences.

Power distance is another important cultural characteristic that we can note. At CEB the distance between higher hierarchical levels and lower hierarchical levels are accepted to a greater extent. Therefore the employees show a greater respect to for their superiors. Therefore when a decision is taken at a higher level the ideas of lower level are not necessarily considered and participative decision making is not practiced as it should be. This has lead to an excessive communication gap between the top level and bottom levels in the organization. The need of lower levels is not communicated together with the other suggested improvement to enhance the systems of CEB. Thus the employees do not get the chance to contribute their ideas to the development of the organization and the need to get the respect of others and need of respect of others are not fulfilled. Even the real ideas, goals of the top management are not well communicated resulting non-strategic behaviors. Further the short term and long term core requirements for the entity are not communicated to the lower level as it should be.

3.3 Uncertainty Avoidance

This dimension concerns about the attempts of members in the society to mange the nervous arising from uncertainty. In these kinds of cultures people establish strict rules and guidelines and expect the others to follow them. The employees in a these kind of and organization has to follow the formal well structured rules. Therefore the employees do not change their employer frequently. But in case of low uncertainty avoidance cultures people expect flexible rules and guidelines. They concerns about the deviations in the environment or even the changes in the competitors and always try to adopt the current practices to cope up with what is required. Employees in a similar culture are always ready to accept new challenges and do not hesitate to leave the current employer to go for a better compensation, work conditions or prosperous job though it appears challengeable.

CEB has a culture of high uncertainty avoidance. Therefore the employees are reluctant to change. Most of them are serving the entity for a long period of time and has not changed the job more than once or twice. Also they fear about the mass restructuring process that the government tries to implement by time to time. Therefore the employees counter attack to change the organization through strong trade union movements bringing the disputes public. This is due to the low confidence of security in the business and lower tolerance to take a risk. As the employees are reluctant to change it is extremely difficult to achieve higher achievements at CEB. Even the management tries for dramatic changes the middle level and operational employees does not accept and cope-up with the changes so easily. Therefore dramatic achievements are not easy to see. Also the creativity is not supported by the culture. First the employees are reluctant to think about mass scale changes. Thus the tendency to generate new ideas is relatively low. Second the generated ideas are difficult to implement in a successful manner as expected due to higher resistance. Because of this factor most employees do not bother about communicating the new ideas to top level as they are not confident about their validity at CEB.

3.4 Individualistic and Collectivistic Cultures

Individualistic cultures have loose ties among each other. Main concern is the well being of him/ her or immediate family members but not others. On the individualist side we find societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him/herself and his/her immediate family. On the collectivist side, we find societies in which people from birth onwards are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, often extended families (with uncles, aunts and grandparents) which continue protecting them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.

CEB is a culture where individualism is strong. Therefore the people motivate personnel achievements, free time, challenges and other individual rewards such as self respect. In collectivism cultures concern about the achievements of group and discourage self- actualization, self-realization and self esteem. Thus because of the individualism the employees of they tend to focus on personnel achievements. As we go from the bottom top of the Maslow's Hierarchical Needs, from physiological to self-actualization all are forced by the cultural impact of individualism. Also as this individualism is so strong, the politically backed management always prefers the benefit of their own members or loyal employees to the group compared to the well-being of the CEB as a whole. This has resulted excessive staff levels. In-addition unstructured, not transparent performance evaluation has resulted unfair promotions that really de-motivate real achievers.

Further the respect that the middle level management requires are not given together with the power that they want to exercise because of this unfair, unequal treatment for employees.

3.5 Long vs. Short term orientation

This theory considers the time period that the society cares in day to day operations. Long term oriented society's value actions that affect the future achievements or failures. The resulting shame of unsuccessful work in the long run and the glory of long term success is perceived and cared by members in these kinds of societies. In short term oriented societies people value actions and attitudes that are affected by past and present actions and work. People more concern about the current stability, current achievements and try preserve the current level rather than considering about long term goals, targets and success.

We can say that CEB operates in a culture which is short term oriented. The employees more concerned about current status. They does not plan for long term growth at CEB and find short roots get developed at CEB. Because of this it is difficult to the employees to satisfy the esteem needs or self actualization needs the upper levels of the Maslow's pyramid of needs. They do not achieve in great margins. They do not feel the glory of respect of others as they are not respected. Also there careers are stagnated for a high period of time and they do not have the confidence to try to acquire mastery skills. In addition as the employees do not have the competition the individual self development is quite low. Therefore the top management does not consider the employees as competent work force and the employees are not well recognized at CEB as they require.

How Culture affect Motivation

At CEB the employees are well paid compared to avarage employees in the economy and the jobs are well secured as the enterprise is a government owned stake. Therefore the employees physiological, social and security needs are fulfilled. However CEB has a weaker culture. Therefore the goal congruence is at minimum level and employees do not feel the long term targets and they do not know the path to achieve them. They feel that the targets as unrelated and unachievable aims. Therefore the employees do not acquire the satisfaction of achievements. Also the high power distance creates poor communication that minimizes the possibility to convey new ideas to the top and also to implement them. As the strategies are not well communicated it is difficult to the employees to align with the strategic framework of the organization. Also the power distance creates weak relationships among different hierarchical employees and the acceptance, and needs to be respected by others are not satisfactorily fulfilled. The uncertainty avoidance cultural influence makes it difficult to generate and implement new ideas. Thus the employees' creativity and need to be well accepted and respected for skills and competence are not satisfied. Because of the individualistic culture the employees more concern of their own achievements. But the unstructured performance evaluation process and biased evaluation methods makes doubts about the equitable treatment to employees and de-motivate real achievers. Finally the short term orientation makes the employees think about the current status and employee tend to focus on saving the current status. Thus, dramatic achievements are rare and in lower competition majority do not develop in the jobs that reduce the individual confidence and self respect.

Thus, we can understand the cultural impact on lower motivation practices at CEB and need to change the culture in a dramatic manner to ensure a conceptual change in how employees perceive the organization, individual skills, strategies in a radical way to ensure a motivated workforce.