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In a workplace, managers have to get their work done through people. It is the employees who carry an organization forward. It is the employees who help the senior management achieve the organizational goals and thus make a company a success. For this purpose every company needs a satisfied workforce and happy employees who dedicate themselves to their work. Motivation is an important part of retaining your employees and keeping them satisfied. Motivation essentially is the driving force that makes the employees achieve their goals (O'Neil & Drillings, 1994). According to Twylla Dell "The heart of motivation is to give people what they really want most from work. The more you are able to provide what they want, the more you should expect what you really want, namely: productivity, quality and service." (An Honest day's work, 1998) The level of motivation further determines the amount of effort an individual puts in to his work, thus affecting the level and standard of output. An unsatisfied person will just complete his job because he has to. But a motivated person will not only finish the job on time but also put in effort so that the outcome has some edge over the work done by others (Beck, 2000).
For managers, it is important to keep their employees motivated because every business depends on it employees. If the employees lack motivation, work won't be done on time. This leads to serious disastrous consequences for the company. And in turn, it leads to serious consequences for the employees (Petri & Govern, 2004). This one fact is ignored by employees at large, that if they do not complete their work, not only will it affect the company but it will affect them too. They are generally of the opinion that low standards of work will only affect the company, thus they act selfishly (Levesque, 2007).
Over the years, a lot of people have come up with numerous motivation theories. This is because, different things motivate different people. For some people, the simple monetary compensation might act as the sole motivational factor that drives them to work. For others, it may be other psychological needs like the need to belong, that may motivate them. So the question arises that which theory best represents the actual situation, that is which theory is best suited. Managers need to figure out what drives their employees, so that they can use those factors to keep the workforce satisfied, thus motivate them to work efficiently (Deckers, 2009).
Motivation is the key to improved performance. How an employee performs is dependant on two things, his ability to complete a job efficiently and his motivation. Ability is acquired by education, training, on job learning etc. but motivation is done by the employer or the supervisor (Thomas, 2009). The need for motivation arises because of one condition that prevails nearly in ever organization. Every individual has a desired state which he tries to achieve through various ways. But this desired state is quite different from the actual state of an individual. Motivation tries to close this gap and take an individual towards his desired state. Even though there are various ways and methods through which one can motivate employees, it should be noted that what works in one company may not necessarily work in another. In other words, the motivational system must be customized to suit the needs of different organizations (Frey & Osterloh, 2002).
The one theory that works in most situations is Maslow's theory of motivation that works through the hierarchy of needs. This theory recognizes the fact that every individual has some basic needs, which need to be satisfied before other higher needs can be achieved. For a person to work unselfishly for an organization they need to satisfy their basic physiological and survival needs before they can achieve anything else. Once these needs are satisfied, they act unselfishly for the betterment of the organization as a whole (Gorman, 2004). These needs, according to Maslow, are called deficiency needs. Satisfying these needs is indeed healthy, it makes a person grow and go towards self actualization. Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs with the physiological needs as its base and then it moves upwards towards self actualization. The physiological needs include food, air water. These needs are satisfied by the basic compensation that workers get. Once these needs for basic existence are satisfied a person gradually moves up to self esteem. The esteem needs include recognition, attention, social status which are then gradually achieved by the workers.
There are however, numerous limitations to Maslow's model. According to the model, people satisfy one motivating need at a time and then move on to the next one. However, there is little evidence to support this view. In practical situations, people can satisfy more than one need at a time and then move on to satisfy another set of needs. Another limitation of this model is the fact that even if an individual is at the highest level, he still has to satisfy his lower level needs. For example, if a person is at self actualization, he does satisfy his needs with motivators like truth and justice. But in addition to this, he has to satisfy his basic need for money, food, existence and so forth. Thus we can say that this model is not fully responsive and acts as a guide. It does require some interpretation where the managers can use this model as the basic skeleton and then customize it in a way that suits their organization perfectly (Griffin & Moorhead, 2009).
Keeping in mind the limitations of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Clayton Alderfer came up with a revised version known as the ERG theory. The ERG theory, that is existence, relatedness and growth, was formulated to align Maslow's theory with empirical research. One limitation of Maslow's theory was that the levels overlap a lot, and it rarely happens that those needs are satisfied in isolation. Thus the ERG theory reduced the number of hierarchical levels to three, namely; growth, relatedness and existence. This theory explains that initially an individual will be motivated to fulfill his basic existence needs. Once those are satisfied, he will eventually move to fulfill his relatedness needs, that is needs of conformity. Once both these needs are satisfied, only then will the person move to satisfy his growth needs (Koontz & Weihrich, 2006). There are however, certain issues that this theory deals with, which weren't dealt in Maslow's theory. Firstly this theory says that more than one need might motivate a person at the same time. For example, a person can be motivated to fulfill both his physiological and safety needs at the same time and not necessarily at different times. Also it is not always necessary that a person first satisfies a low level need and then move on to a higher one. The other difference which this theory holds is the fact that it accounts for the preferential differences in need as a result of different cultures. Some cultures may place importance to certain needs. For example, in US, since the level of poverty is less people may give more importance to social needs. However, in a third world country like Pakistan where 24% of the population lives under the poverty line, basic physiological needs might be the motivating factors which will push an individual to work.
Application of these theories is an essential for managers. Only if they understand these theories, can they come up with a plan which will motivate their employees and keep them satisfied. However to motivate an employee one cannot directly apply these theories into practice. Certain steps have to be taken in order to keep your work force motivated and happy (Hoffmann, 2007).
To keep employees motivated, managers should balance between communication, structure and incentives. One mistake that managers tend to make is using negative rewards. This usually backfires and has serious consequences for the manager. If you threat your employees there is a high chance that they will turn against you. Thus instead of this, using positive incentives and recognizing employee achievements can yield better results. In order to keep today's workforce motivated, management needs to loosen up their hold. They need to give the employees freedom to be creative, innovative and to take their decisions. This way the employees are not only kept motivated but they also produce excellent results (Levesque, 2007). It often happens that employees may not realize if they make mistakes, and they do make mistakes. In such a case, being harsh with them is not the solution as it gives birth to hostility between employer and employee. Instead of that managers should use constructive criticism. They should be kind but definitely let the employee know where he's wrong. Not only this, but the employer should also correct the employee so that further mistakes are avoided in the future. A very important fact to note is that in all of this communication is of vital importance (Thomas, 2009). As a manager you can use the best motivation theory that is there. You can create the best customized plan that you can in order to keep your workforce motivated. But if you do not communicate effectively it wont be of any importance, because communicating your idea clearly top your employees is very important as far as organizational success is concerned. Another common mistake that managers make is that they think that money is the sole motivator for employees. On the surface of it, it may look like it but it is not so. It ranks very low in the list of motivators. And once an employee gets a raise, then money isn't a motivator anymore. Fringe benefits may act as motivators when attracting new employees but it is not so for existing ones (Gorman, 2004).
Another aspect that managers need to take care of is that they should efficiently motivate their employees during change. In today's times, it is very common that new policies are being adopted by organizations. However while implementing these policies, it is very crucial to keep your work force motivated, otherwise it may lead to an extremely dissatisfied work force. To do this one should tell the employees beforehand about the change that's about to take place. In addition to this, they should encourage participation so that the employees feel that they are a part of this change, and that this change is not being dumped on them (Beck, 2000).
Numerous different theories of motivation have been formulated over time. Some of them have been disputed, while others haven't. No theory is perfect as such or no theory applies to your organization perfectly. Thus as a manager what you should do is that first familiarize yourself with the numerous theories that have been formulated. You should know what factors motivate employees and which don't. Then while actually implementing a motivation plan, customize those theories to suit your organization. Every organization has a different culture and different kinds of people. Thus there is no universal framework which will work in all organizations. Every organization is unique and different. They all do different kinds of work, have different procedures thus a totally different setup. Thus before taking any steps towards motivating your employees, one should take into account the kind of culture that the organization has. One should also take into account the type of management style that is used. Then see the ethnical differences amongst the workforce, because certain things which are considered positive reinforcement in one culture may not be so in another (Petri & Govern, 2004). Thus after doing a complete review of your organization, then only the manager should implement a motivation plan. The plan should be such that it gives the organization exactly what it wants and it should suit the needs of the people and the management. Otherwise no matter how good your plan is, it is bound to fail if it doesn't suit the needs of the people.