Motivational Theories And Relevance At Work Business Essay


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Employee Motivation has come to play a significant role in the dynamics of work environment. Motivation affects the acquisition of skills and abilities by employees as well as the utilization of these skills and abilities to benefit the organization and self. Motivation includes intensity, and direction of one one's effort and the persistence of these efforts to achieve goals.

This paper briefly explains the various motivational theories developed through time and cites examples of various industries and companies where these were implemented through the use of various articles and journals. Thus, through the use of various articles and journals and examples it aims to explain the relevance of these theories to managers.

Motivational theories and relevance at work

Motivating your work force has been the key to keep a business running smoothly. The simple act of moving from an authoritarian environment, where managers do not trust their workers, to an environment where workers are viewed as trusted collaborators and have a degree of autonomy can make a huge difference (Haefner, 2011). Motivational theories and its importance to managers is apparent due to the various reference available which site how managers can influence and build the motivation of its employees. Canadian Institute of Management (2006, p. 24) states 'The most successful leaders are ones who create a motivating environment where everyone is able to contribute their individual and team best to meet the business goals.'

Scientific Management Theory

The scientific management school of thought gave one of first formulated theories of motivation. It brings in the basic assumption that motivation of workers is related to economic and materialistic rewards (Taylor, 1911). The proponents of this theory believed that workers would respond with best efforts, if material rewards were closely related to work efforts (Oh, 1972). They saw scientific management as an economic boon to both workers and management by using improved manufacturing techniques, increasing operating efficiency, and sharing rewards (Steers, Mowday, & Shapiro, 2004). Managers were taught that improving production efficiency would bring about an increase in profits and reduction in waste and thus higher rewards for workers, which in turn increase the harmony between workers and managers (Oh, 1972).

However, in the 1930s Hawthorne Studies were conducted and found that relationships at work could have a tremendous effect on employee morale and productivity (Bowey, 2005). Bowey (2005, p. 18) also states that due to results of the Hawthorn studies, scientific management was discredited, though its effect linger even today, and a new school of thought developed.

Human Relations Theory

The human relations school of thought states that workers need responsibility for performance and credit for results to get dedicated and committed human motivation (Goodes, 1984). Goodes (1984, p. 19) also states that productivity is an effect and not a cause i.e. productivity is not the cause of receiving better or worse materialistic rewards but an effect of empowering and trusting your employees.

However, Goodes (1984, p. 20) also says that a combination both the above schools of thought is the most preferred. He says that when scientific management techniques are combined with committed and dedicated motivation we get synergy giving the most preferred combination that transpires when appreciation is coupled with monetary compensation.

Maslow's Theory

The 1950s show the emergence of content theories, since they aimed to isolate factors associated with motivation. Maslow's need hierarchy theory was amongst the included and states that as individuals develop, they move up a hierarchy based on the fulfilment of a series prioritised needs such as, physiological, safety and security, belongingness, esteem and self-actualisation (Maslow, 1954). Thus, when the need at one level is fulfilled, the employee targets to achieve and fulfil the next level of needs. Alderfer later took up this model to include just three needs: existence, relatedness and growth and forming the ERG Theory (Steers, Mowday, & Shapiro, 2004).

Maslow's theory can be applied into practical scenarios extensively. For example, in the scenario of construction workers, physiological needs encompass wage, salary and working conditions. Job security, safe working conditions and sick pay are included in safety needs. Team work and team building activities to develop relationships among peers form a part of social needs. The esteem needs comprise of positive feedback and opportunities for advancement. Self-actualization needs can be fulfilled by creating and stimulating task (Halepota, 2005). Another study was conducted earlier to a study the application of Maslow's theory to construction workers in America, and found that lower level needs such as physiological and safety needs are no longer a motivating factor to them as they have good salaries, and through unions they can fulfil their safety needs of job protection (Schrader, 1972). Thus, re-iterating the fact that when lower level needs are fulfilled, the employee aims to fulfil the needs at the higher level such as social needs.

Acquired Need's Theory

Another need theory was developed by McClelland in 1961 and was called the Acquired Need's Theory. This theory distanced itself from the hierarchy model and focused on clearly defined needs such as achievement, affiliation, power and autonomy. McClelland stated that at any given time an individual possess various conflicted needs that incline to motivate an individual's behaviour (McClelland, 1971).

Herzberg's Two Factor Model

The two-factor model theory was proposed by Herzberg in 1959. It stated that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are based on intrinsic and extrinsic factors, respectively (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959).

A study was conducted with 63 people at an ITES Company in India, to try to co-relate the results with Herzberg's Two Factor Theory. The factors which were perceived by the majority as motivational were achievements of desired goals (85%), recognition for performing well (85%), relationship with peers and bosses (85%), individual respect (85%), liberty at work (80%) etc. Only a few such as food and canteen facility (80%), work timing (60%) and opportunities for foreign visit (60%) were perceived as hygiene factors (Dash, Singh, & Vivekanand, 2008). These results confirmed the adherence to the two factor theory at work that motivating factors are intrinsic factors, while hygiene factors turned out to be extrinsic factors.

Expectancy Theory

The mid-1960s saw the transition of new theories from content theories to process theories. As Sheer, Mowday and Shapiro stated, 'process theorists view work motivation as a dynamic perspective and look for causal relationships across time and events as they relate to human behaviour in the workplace' (2004, p. 381). The Expectancy Theory was a process theory and can be identified as an advancement of the scientific management theory. It is based on making employees believe that they can improve their efforts, which would lead to a rise in performance, and believe that these improvements would be recognised and would lead to a reward they desired (Bowey, 2005).

For example, at the Wallace Company, the employees were given authority to work on their own and were trained to improve quality. The employees were aiming for the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Reward as they knew the value of it. This kept them motivated to put in the best of their efforts and their efforts paid up when the won the award in 1990 (Braddick, Pferfelle, & Gandossy, 1993). This example clearly reiterates all the attributes stated in the expectancy theory.

McGregor's Dual Theories

McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y both hold the management responsible for organizing humans, materials and machines, to get desirable effects, but differ on the view about the workers. Theory X states that workers are indolent, lack aspiration, avoid work one possible, put themselves before the organization and oppose change and should be punished for their wrong doings and rewarded for their efforts (McGregor, 1960).

Theory Y on the other hand, empathises with workers and says that workers are not indolent or inconsiderate of the organization needs by nature. It is poor management and poor policies that have made the workers that way (McGregor, 1960).

The case at Hobart Brother's Company is cited by John H. Sheridan (1991, p. 24) as an example of McGregor's Theory Y. Employees are considered as family at Hobart Brothers to the extent that even hourly workers were involved in the company's value analysis program. When a fire broke out in the plant in May 1990 the damage was so bad that the management thought that they would be out of business for several months, but such was the dedication of the employees to the organisation of the employees that the plant was brought back into operation in just two months.

Best Practices Approach

Management has to pay close attention to what kind of work motivation techniques it seeks to employ as every one of them comes with their own set of implications. However, a new evolving methodology of motivating employees is seeing dawn. This methodology is known as the "best-practices" reward systems (Bowey, 2005).

Bowey goes into citing many principles which are worthy of incorporation into modern reward systems strategies (2005, p. 19). These are as follows:

Involvement: Employees should be involved in the implementation of any new remuneration system and consulted about any problems they might be able to foresee.

De-motivators: Remove all hitches that prevent employees from achieving a high degree of performance such as poor quality and shortage of equipment, space, tools, material, support from others, or any other resource that they would need.

Equity: Performance rewards for all employees should be the same for all employees at the same level and are performing equally.

Reinforcement: Procedures which give the employees reinforcement, encouragement and feedback should be in place so that they are aware of the employer's interest as well as their own results.

Relevance of Reward: Care should be taken the reward given is sought after and is relevant to the employee.

Goals and Strategies: Employees should be consulted about the goals set and about the strategies that need to be employed to achieve these goals.

The above stated principles have formed the basis for improvements in many organisations in the UK, in Europe, and in New Zealand. In 1995, these principles were used to develop a system called 'gain-sharing' that was introduced into the Metropolitan bus services in Auckland, New Zealand. This system and the stated principles turned a NZ$51 million loss making firm that was frequented with strikes into a firm that made profits without any government subsidies and was eventually sold off to a multinational firm for NZ$100 million (Bowey, 2005).


As managers, we can no longer be comfortable in our offices and decide not to pay attention to the factors effecting employee motivation. We need to convince employees to increase their productivity and convince them that by doing this they are serving their interest interests as well as those of the company and the motivation theories arm us with exactly how to do this. Various literatures, cited here, show us that these motivation theories are very much applicable to work environments around the world and have substantial effects if employed properly. Managers, if known to these theories, can analyse and choose how to strategize the implementation of these motivation theories in their work environment.

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