Literature review of Motivation in Human Resource Management


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In the fierce era of competition, organizations nowadays are more emphasizing on the management of Human Resources (Robert. L, 2008). Motivation; a key strategy in Human Resource Management has helped practitioners largely enough to subject the term "Motivation" for a discussion. Steers, Mowday and Shapiro (2004), asserted that employee motivation plays a vital role in the management field; both theoretically and practically. It is said that one of the important functions of human resource manager is to ensure job commitment at the workplace, which can only be achieved through motivation (Petcharak, 2002).

According to Mishra and Gupta (2009) the world of work has changed significantly due to globalization over the past few years and organizations are being assessed against international standards and best practices. Consequently the emphasis upon people has increased. Conferring to the authors, since organization has to produce its outcomes through its employees, there is emphasis on motivation and concern for people through assessment, regular feedback, ongoing support and experience based initiatives. Motivation is important because of its significance as a determinant of performance and its intangible nature (Mishra and Gupta 2009).

Generally if workers are demotivated, organizations are unlikely to operate affectively in achieving their goals and success; supported by Khan (2010), who points out that workplace dissatisfaction, usually leads to poor performance of employees and hence affect the performance of the organization as well. Therefore the concept of motivation is very important as motivated employees can help make an organization competitively more value added, hence profitable and highly motivated employees serve as the competitive advantage for any company because their performance allow an organization to well accomplish its goals (Danish and Usman, 2010).

Based on these reasoning, this paper shall include analytical and empirical studies to reveal the discrepancies and feasibility aspect of the domain, as Rai (2004) put forward; motivation is crucial for good performance and therefore it is increasingly important to study what motivates employees for better performance. This section offers a review of literature, which explores the concepts, types and theories of motivation.


Motivation is defined as "a human psychological characteristic that add to a person's degree of commitment. It is the management process of influencing employees' behavior". (Badu, 2005, p.38)

Conversely, Bartol and Martin (1998) relate motivation to the force that stimulates behavior, provide direction to behavior, and underlies the tendency to prevail. In other words individuals must be sufficiently stimulated and energetic, must have a clear focus on what is to be achieved, and must be willing to commit their energy for a long period of time to realize their aim in order to achieve goals.

However, other than motivation being a force that stimulates behavior, Vroom (1964) emphasized on the 'voluntary actions'. Supported by Steers et al. (2004), Vroom (1964) defined motivation as "a process governing choice made by persons...among alternative forms of voluntary activity." Similarly Kreitner and Kinicki (2004) assumed that motivation incorporate those psychological processes that create the arousal, direction and persistence of voluntary actions that are goal oriented.

Quite differently from the other definitions, Locke and Latham (2004) identified that motivation influence people's acquisition of skills and the extent to which they use their ability. According to the authors "the concept of motivation refers to internal factors that impel action and to external factors that can act as inducements to action. The three aspects of action that motivation can affect are direction (choice), intensity (effort), and duration (persistence). Motivation can affect both the acquisition of people's skills and abilities; and also the extent to which they utilize their skills and abilities" (Locke and Latham 2004, p.388).

In a nut shell, different authors have put forward the concept of motivation differently. Nonetheless, these definitions have three common aspects, that is, they are all principally related with factors or events that stimulate, channel, and prolong human behavior over time (Steers, Mowday and Shapiro, 2004).

Intrinsic and Extrinsic motivation

Following Lakhani and Wolf (2005), Lakhani and Von Hippel (2003) and Lemer and Tirole (2004), the current scholarly thinking favors a framework that considers two components of motivation given by intrinsic and extrinsic components. Accordingly, Lawler (1969) has defined intrinsic motivation as the degree to which feelings of esteem, growth, and competence are expected to result from successful task performance. This view bounds intrinsic motivation to an expectancy approach and expectancy theory which clearly indicates that intrinsic and extrinsic motivations summate (Porter &Lawler, 1968).

Moreover, according to Amabile et al. (1993) Individuals are said to be intrinsically motivated when they seek, interest, satisfaction of curiosity, self expression, or personal challenge in the work. On the other hand individuals are said to be extrinsically motivated when they engaged in the work to gain some goal that is part of the work itself. As per to the author this definition of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is based on the individual perception of the individual perception of task and his or her reasons for engaging in it. Moreover, Amabile et al. further argued that intrinsic motivators arise from an individual's feelings with regards to the activity and they are necessary to adhere to the work itself. Conversely, extrinsic motivators although they may be dependent on the work, they are not logically an inherent part of the work. Extrinsic motivators refer to anything, coming from an outside source that designate to control work performance and include examples such as promised reward, critical feedback, deadlines, surveillance or specifications on how to do the work.

Furthermore, in line with the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, De Charms (1968) suggest that external rewards might undermine intrinsic motivation. He further proposed that man's primary motivation is to be effective in developing changes in his environment and individuals seek for personal causation. According to the author because of the desire to be the "origin" of his behavior, man keeps struggling against the constraint of external forces. Thus, De Charms hypothesized that when a man perceives his behavior as originating from his own choice, he will value that behavior and its results but when he perceives his behavior as originating from external forces, that behavior and its results, even though identical in other respects to behavior of his own choosing, will be devalued. De Charms (1968) further argued that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation may interact, rather than summate that is the introduction of extrinsic rewards for the behaviors that was intrinsically rewarding may decrease rather than enhance the overall motivation. The introduction of an extrinsic reward put the individual in a dependent position relative to the source of the reward. The locus of causality for his behavior changes from self to the external reward and thus the individual's perception of self-control, free choice, and commitment deteriorate and hence do his motivation. De Charms (1968) also anticipated an interaction between the intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions given if rewards are withheld. The motivation to perform a task undertaken originally in order to obtain an extrinsic reward may increase if the reward is subsequently withdrawn. This inexplicable effect develops because of the liberation of the individual's intrinsic motivation following the reduction of extrinsic controls over his behavior.

In addition Frey (1997) note that high intrinsic work motivation evolving from work which is interesting involves the trust and loyalty of personal relationships and is participatory. However, under certain circumstances, intrinsic motivation can be diminished, or ''crowded-out'' by external interventions like monitoring or pay-for-performance incentive schemes. This was also supported by Frey and Jegen (2001) who reviewed the literature on intrinsic motivations and found that the evidence does suggest that incentives sometimes do ''crowd-out'' intrinsic motivations. Besides, Frey (1997) suggests that the important matter is whether the external intervention is in the form of a command or a reward. Commands are most controlling in the sense that they seize self-determination from the agent, while rewards might still allow autonomy of action.

The maximization of employee's motivation to attain the organization's goals can only be obtained through a complete understanding of motivation theories (Reid 2002). There is a wide variety of theoretical frameworks that have been developed in the attempts to explain the issues related to motivation. Stoner, Edward and Daniel (1995) has described two different views on motivation theory, given by the earliest views and the contemporary approach which can further be subdivided into content and process theories.

Theories of Motivation

The earliest views of motivation

One of the earliest views of motivation is Frederick W Taylor et al. (1911) scientific management theory. Taylor (1911) with regards to employee motivation proposed a paternalistic approach to managing employees which is based on a combination of job training, performance related pay system, improved employee selection techniques, and job redesign, including the introduction of ergonomics. According to Taylor (1911), workers are "economic men" and in order to motivate them, workers should be paid higher wages. The author also argued that the higher is the wage rate, the higher will be the level motivation and productivity. Furthermore, Taylor points out that many payment methods were ineffective, as they did not reward efficiency and he believed that a differential piece-work incentive system should be replaced with a piece rate incentive system (Wren, 2005). In other words workers should be paid according to the number of units produced in order to motivate them to work.

On the other hand in line with building on the concept of motivation Elton Mayo (1953) came up with the Human Relations approach whereby the emphasis is laid on non-economic motivators. According to Elton Mayo (1953), if objectives of organization's are to be met, it must attempt to understand, respect and consider the emotions, sense of recognition and satisfaction that is the non-monetary needs of workers. He believed that employees are not just concern with money but also they need to have their social needs to be met in order to be motivated to work. He is of view that workers enjoy interactions and managers should treat them as people who have worthwhile opinions.

Furthermore, McGregor (1960) postulates Theory X and Theory Y which is based on assumptions about people and work. According to this theory, there are two types of assumption made with regards to employees whereby theory X assumes that employees are lazy and therefore theory X suggests that in order to motivate employees a more autocratic style of management is required. On the other hand theory Y assumes that workers enjoy work, committed to objectives of the organization and will apply self control and self directed in the pursuit of organizational objectives and therefore does not require external control.

Content theories of motivation

Content theories tend to focus on individual needs and attempt to explain the factors within a person that stimulate and stop behavior, in other words they focus on identifying factors that motivate people (Reid, 2002). According to Bassett-Jones and Lloyd (2005), content theory assume a more complex interaction between both internal and external factors, and explored the circumstances in which individuals react to different types of internal and external stimuli.

The most well known content theory of motivation is the hierarchy of needs which has been put forward by Abraham Maslow (1943). According to Maslow, people are motivated by five types of needs and in order to motivate people to work more productively there is a need to offer them opportunity to satisfy those needs. He proposed that basic needs are organized in a hierarchy of prepotency and probability of appearance (Wahba and Bridwell, 1973). These needs include physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, self-esteem and self-actualization. Maslow argued that once a lower order need is fulfilled, the next level of needs in the hierarchy comes into play that is once employees satisfy the lower order needs they will next consider the next level of needs. The author further argued that unfulfilled lower needs dominate ones thinking and behavior until they are satisfied (Berl et al. 1984).

However this theory has also been criticized to a large extent, for example Wahba and Bridwell (1973) argued that based on the ten factor analytic studies that have attempted to test Malow's theory; there is no clear evidence that human needs are classified into five different categories, or that these categories are organized in a special hierarchy. The authors contradict Malow's proposition and points out that, "none of the studies has shown all of Maslow's five need categories as independent factors" (p. 516), for example some studies have showed that the self-actualization needs may emerge as an independent category. They also argued that studies have also proved the issue of need deprivation and the domination of behavior to be different from that suggested by Maslow. Moreover results have also proved that either self-actualization or security are the least satisfied needs and social needs are the most satisfied. Therefore the degree of satisfaction of other needs varies greatly that is it is difficult to determine their general pattern and these trends are not the same as proposed by Maslow (Wahba and Bridwell, 1973).

Conversely, Alderfer (1972) in the attempt to address the short comings of Malow's theory proposed an alternative to Maslow's theory which he termed as the ERG theory and postulate a three level hierarchy. Alderfer grouped Maslow's five categories of needs into three categories given by Existence, Relatedness and Growth. According to the author, people are motivated by these three groups of core needs and he asserted that as one level of need is satisfied another takes over but if a need is not satisfied on a continuous basis, the individual may decide to give such a need a low priority.

Nonetheless, while Maslow and Alderfer presented the concept of motivation in a hierarchy, McClelland (1961, 1971), ignored the concept of hierarchy and put forward a theory known as the acquired need theory that emphasize on three types of needs namely, need for affiliation, need for achievement and need for power. McClelland is of view that individual's experiences are acquired through life experiences that is they are learned. According to this theory individuals possess several needs, and when these needs are activated they serve to motivate behavior and this is to the contrary of Maslow's proposition of a continuous progression throughout the hierarchy of needs (Steers et al. 2004).

Moreover, also put differently Herzberg et al. (1959) sought to understand how work activities and the nature of an employee's job influence motivation and performance. They proposed a theory that involves what they termed as "motivators" and "hygiene factors" and argued that motivation factors tend to increase job satisfaction while hygiene factors tend to decrease job satisfaction. According to Herzberg the most crucial difference between the motivators and the hygiene factors is that the motivator factors involve psychological growth while the hygiene factors involve physical and psychological pain avoidance. The authors examined motivators and hygiene factors in the workplace and proposed that where job satisfaction was high there would be corresponding high motivation. Herzberg (1959) further argued that work motivation is influenced to a large extent by the degree to which a job is intrinsically challenging and provides opportunities for recognition and reinforcement.

However despite that Herberg's theory has been widely accepted by managers (e.g Latham 2007, Miner 2005, Steers and Porter 1983), this theory has been criticized by many authors. For example Reid (2002) argued that the work of Herzberg is an examination of job satisfaction rather than motivation of employees. Reid also argued that no matter how much emphasis is laid on factors that are intrinsically rewarding, if hygiene factors such as low pay is not addressed, their full effect cannot be felt. Moreover, also Brenner et al. (1971) contradict Herzberg proposition that motivation factors increase job satisfaction and hygiene factors leads to job dissatisfaction and points out that his study and others indicated that the employees received job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction from both the motivating and the hygiene factors. Similarly Locke (1976) assessed Herzberg two factor theory and argued that job satisfaction and dissatisfaction result from different causes. Locke also argued that the two-factor theory is inconsistent in classifying factors of satisfaction.

Process theories of motivation

Along with the content theories, there are also different process theories. According to Viorel et al. (2009) the content theories emphasize on specific factors that motivate workers with regards to certain necessities and aspirations, while the process theories emphasize on the processes and the psychological forces that have an impact on motivation. They start from the premise that motivation starts with the desire to do something. The process or cognitive theories are more useful to the managers compared to the content theories because they provide more realistic principles with regards to the motivation techniques (Viorel et al. 2009).

Vroom (1964), in the interest to study motivation developed an alternative to the content theories which is known as the expectancy theory. Vroom suggest that there are three mental components that are considered as instigating and directing behavior and these are referred to as Valence, Instrumentality, and Expectancy. He argued that employees rationally analyze different on-the-job work behaviors and then choose those behaviors which they believe will lead to their most valued work-related rewards and outcomes for example promotion. Moreover, Porter and Lawler (1968) expanded Vroom's work to identify the role of individual differences for example employee abilities and skills and the role clarity in relating job effort to actual job performance. Porter and Lawler also explained the relationship between performance and satisfaction. They argued that this relationship is mediated by the extent and quality of the rewards that employees receive in return for their job performance.

In addition to expectancy theory Adams (1963), developed the equity theory to clarify how employees respond cognitively and behaviorally with regards to unfairness in the workplace. Adams suggested that employees develop beliefs about what constitutes a fair and equitable return for their job performance and contributions therefore employees always compare their efforts and the associated rewards with that of other employees and in case there is a situation whereby there is an element of injustice or unfairness there is an imbalance that is a perception of inequity will result. The author is therefore of view that when perception of inequity occurs the employee will get engaged in activities in order to reduce the inequity that is the negative feelings of dissatisfaction will motivate the individual to do effort to redress the inequity.

On the other hand, quite differently Latham and Locke (1979) came up with the goal setting theory. According to Latham (2004), the underlying premise of the goal setting theory is that "one's conscious goals affect what one achieves" (p. 126). The author argued that this is because a goal is said to be the objective or aim of an action and having a specific goal result to improved performance. Employees with specific hard goals tend to perform better compared to those with vague goals and that a goal is a standard for assessing an individual's performance. Moreover, Latham also suggested that "to the extent that the goal is met or exceeded, satisfaction increases; and conversely, to the extent that performance falls short of the goal, one's satisfaction decreases" (p. 126).

While content theories have tended to focus on needs of people and process theories have focused on factors motivating people, Adair (2006) have brought some new issues in the field of employee motivation and developed a new theory of motivation known as the Fifty-Fifty rule. Unlike the authors of content and process theories, Adair is of view that motivation lies both within an individual as well as external to the individual. According to the author, 50 percent of motivation lies within a person and fifty percent lies outside the person however Adair points out that this theory does not assert for the exactly fifty-fifty proportion in the equation but it only emphasized on the idea that a considerable part of motivation lies within a person while a considerable part lies outside and beyond its control.

Through these theories, it can be said that work motivation has been characterized by dimensions such as interesting job, ability to perform, recognition, adequate pay, and feedback on performance (Dwivedula and Bredillet, 2010). However according to Meyer et al. (2004) it is also very important to consider differences in the psychological states, or mindsets that can accompany motivation. Therefore, Meyer et al. (2004) argued that motivation theories developed in other areas of psychology render a convincing case that motivation is multidimensional.

Opponent-Process Theory and Adaptation-Level Theory

The opponent process theory, proposed by Solomon and Corbit (1973, 1974), explain that there are pairs of emotions that play in opposing pairs and when one of these emotions is experienced, the other is temporarily suppressed, however when one emotion is activated the opposite one is also activated. The author argued that the theory accounts "for the existence of psychological mechanisms for the automatic or autonomic control of affect, such that repeated pleasures lose a lot of their pleasantness and make one potentially capable of new sources of suffering; in the same vein, repeated aversive events lose a lot of their unpleasantness and make one potentially capable of new sources of pleasure" (Solomon 1980, p.709). According to Bowling et al. (2005) proponents for this theory provide for a specific way in which job satisfaction is influenced by both the person and the environment. This theory is said to be a complementary explanation for job satisfaction stability that can be integrated with the argument of dispositional and with adaptation-level theory (Bowling et al. 2005).

Bowling et al. (2005) argued that "the adaptation-level theory (Helson, 1948, 1964a, 1964b), offers one potential explanation for the temporal stability of job satisfaction" (p. 1046). Bowling explained that the theory postulates that someone's evaluation of an outcome is said to be a function of previous experiences outcomes. For example, an employee who has worked for years without a pay raise would be expected to respond positively to even a small pay increase because this change in pay would be different from that individual's adaptation level, however the positive response would be temporary as the person's adaptation level would eventually change as the experience of the pay increase is integrated into the employee's adaptation level (Bowling et al. 2005).

Self-Regulatory Theory

Moreover quite differently, Higgins (1997, 1998) proposed the regulatory focus theory that draw important differences in the processes through which individuals approach pleasure and avoid pain. Huggins proposed that individuals have two types of motivational systems given by a system that regulates rewards (promotion focus) and one that regulates punishments (prevention focus). According to the author people who operate primarily within the promotion focus are concerned with accomplishments, are sensible towards the existence or absence of rewards, adopt a goal attainment strategy, are more creative and are more willing to take risks. However, people who operate within the prevention focus tend to be more concerned with duties and responsibilities and are more sensitive to the existence or absence of punishments. Moreover the regulatory focus is ascertained both by situational and chronic factors (Higgins, 1997, 1998).

Job Characteristic Model (JCM)

On the other hand Hackman and Oldham's (1976) proposed the Job Characteristic Model (JCM) and identified five 'core job characteristics' namely: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback. According to the authors the core job characteristics are three determinants of the 'critical psychological states' namely skill variety, task identity and task significance which contribute to 'experienced meaningfulness'; autonomy to 'experienced responsibility'; and feedback to 'knowledge of results'. The critical psychological states in turn are projected collectively as promoting job satisfaction, internal work motivation, performance and reduced absence and labor turnover. The model assumes that autonomy and feedback are more important than the other work characteristics and people with higher 'growth need strength' will respond more positively to enriched jobs than others" (Parker et al. 2001).

Activation theory

Besides, quite similar to the JCM, Anderson (1976, 1983) came up with the activation theory whereby he argued that the strongest motivating factor is the work itself however over time as the worker get used with the environment and learns the responses required in the repetitive task there may be a fall in the activation level or job stimulation. It is important to highlight that over time all work tends to become repetitive after the job has been practiced and therefore a wide range of dysfunctional and non-task activities must be pursued to offset the fall in the job stimulation level (Milbourn 1984). Moreover according to Milbourn (1984), if dysfunctional activities are addressed, managers can consider enriching jobs through job redesign to reduce monotony at work in order to maintain job stimulation.

Motivational practices in Organizational environment

According to Islam and Ismail (2008) the theories mentioned continue to offer the foundation for organization and managerial development practices to a large extent. Along with the above theories, during the last decade, based on employees' motivation many empirical studies have been carried out (Islam and Ismail, 2008). For example, Milliken (1996) has accounted for way the Eastman Chemical Company motivate and retain its employees and according to the author the ways or incentives adopted were job security, performance-based appraisal system, extrinsic recognition through employee suggestion system, providing performance feedback and the provision of training in problem solving, etc. In addition Kovach (1995) has described the ranking of ten motivational factors made by the employees and their immediate supervisors and Kovach has found that to a large extent the rankings made by the supervisors differed to those made by the employees. He pointed out that managers make mistakes by thinking that what will motivate them will also be the same for the employees.

On the other hand Bent et al. (1999) carried out research in small food manufacturing businesses whereby respondents were asked to complete, using a five-point Likert scale about how they felt motivated and then how satisfied they were with their jobs and the authors found that the degree of positive motivation was high. According to Bent et al. (1999) the employees were either very or moderately motivated with their jobs, however it was important to note that no respondents stated that they were either very motivated or very dissatisfied with their job. The authors also argued that issues which are associated with individual management style include lack of appreciation from management to feel for the work of employees and that there was also poor communication contributing to low job satisfaction and this contrasts with the identification by employees, of the motivating or satisfying qualities of a good management style. Moreover, another issue raised by the employees was that of training and this was both in terms of effective training contributing positively to job motivation and in terms of poor or lack of training which caused demotivation (Bent et al. 1999).

Furthermore VAITKUVIENÄ- (2010) conducted research in two Swedish manufacturing companies given by, the company Frilight AB which manufactures yachts, boats and lightning equipment for camps, and the company Enitor Plast AB which manufactures different types of plastic parts. The author reported that the workers were found satisfied with the working conditions, training of staffs and career opportunities. The author argued that the Swedish employees were motivated and that the employees do not avoid responsibilities and follow directions. VAITKUVIENÄ- (2010) also found that almost all employees are stimulated with the organizing of recreational tours, holidays and events. According to the author more than half of employees in the Sweden manufacturing companies are stimulated through gifts on various occasions (birthdays, holidays), free meals at work, health insurance coverage, work, clothes, equipment, travels for the company employees, days off, recognition and good working conditions and therefore the author pointed out that the employees of the manufacturing companies consider non-financial motivation tools to be more important.

Eventually, Dwivedula and Bredillet (2010), in line with the authors Cummings and Blumberg (1987) pointed out that studies from the manufacturing sector emphasize on the importance of providing autonomy, and skill variety to the employees which are otherwise absent. On the other hand Adler (1991) observed and concluded that manufacturing firms rely on job rotation, and voluntary job switching to motivate the employees. Moreover, Galia (2008) supported by Dwivedula and Bredillet (2010) reported that more recently it has been observed that, in a survey of 5000 manufacturing firms by SESSI (Industrial Statistics Department of the French Ministry of Economics, Finance, and Industry), practices such as autonomy at work, incentives to promote creativity have been widely adopted in order to motivate the workers.

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