It is easy to understand why machines, buildings, brand names and financial assets are resources of a business. What is less understood or realised is perhaps the most significant resource of any business is the people it employs (Stimpson, 2002). The employees are the greatest future asset for business companies no matter how technologically advanced equipment it owns or how efficient it is (Robbins & Judge, 2007). Katz and Kahn (1978, cited in Steers & Porter, 1991, p.3). have posited that organisations have three behavioral requirements: (1) people must be attracted not only to join the organisation but also to remain in it; (2) people must perform the tasks for which they are hired, and must do so in a dependable manner; and (3) people must go beyond this dependable role performance and engage in some form of creative, spontaneous, and innovative behavior at work. Hence as the world adopts technology at a faster rate with more sophisticated applications and as products tend towards greater similarity; there is a growing awareness that a business may differentiate itself and its brands by creating a quality, focused and well motivated workforce (Stimpson, 2002).
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Abraham Maslow (1954, cited in Fincham & Rhodes, 2005, p.193) outlined what is perhaps the most influential motivational theory of all. A useful starting point would be the work of Maslow and his theory of individual development and motivation, published originally in 1943. Maslow's basic proposition is that people are wanting beings, they always want more, and what they want depends on what they already have (Mullins, 2007). He contends that man has five basic categories of needs, which are ranked and satisfied in order of importance (Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002).
At the lowest level of the hierarchy are the physiological or survival needs. These are the needs for food, air, sleep, etc. Usually in the business and industrial world, the satisfaction of these needs is taken for granted. However, Maslow reminds us that these needs have a tremendous potency, and have the power to pull the individual back to a strong pattern of physiological needs satisfying behavior if these needs suddenly become predominant (Tannehill, 1970).
Assuming the basic physiological needs are met, and in most cases this is so, the next level of needs Maslow calls safety or security needs (Tannehill, 1970). These include freedom from pain or threat of physical attack, protection from danger or deprivation, and the need for predictability and orderliness
Once the security needs are satisfied, the next level of needs to come into predominance are the social needs (Tannehill, 1970). Originally Maslow referred to this need as the need for belongingness and love. Social needs include the need for emotional love, friendship, and affectionate relationships with people in general, but especially a spouse, children, and friends (Steers & Porter, 1991).
The next level up the hierarchy is identified as the esteem needs. These include both self-respect and the esteem of others. Self-respect involves the desire for confidence, strength, independence and freedom, and achievement. Esteem of others involves reputation or prestige, status, recognition, attention and appreciation (Mullins, 2007).
And finally, Maslow says, the highest need in the hierarchy is the need for self-actualisation. In a briefly stated way, it is the need to become all that one is capable of becoming, to reach one's full potential in one's own terms. The desire of an individual to achieve his full potential may take any one of many different forms, the need for all men is the same, how they satisfy the need varies from individual to individual (Tannehill, 1970).
In summary, Maslow sees the motivational needs of man arranged in a hierarchy, and as one set of needs is satisfied the desire to satisfy the next level of needs up the hierarchy arises. The desire to continue to satisfy these needs, despite frustrations and dissatisfactions, Maslow feels is an intrinsic part of the human being (Tannehill, 1970).
Similarly the ERG theory, developed by Yale psychologist Clayton Alderfer, is another historically important need theory of motivation. In many respects, ERG theory extends and refines Maslow's needs hierarchy concept, although there are also several important differences between the two. The E, R, and G stand for three basic need categories: existence, relatedness, and growth (Moorhead & Griffin, 2003).
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Existence needs include nutritional and material requirements. At work, working conditions and pay would fall into this group.
Relatedness needs are met through relationships with family and friends and at work with colleagues and supervisors.
Growth needs reflect a desire for personal psychological developments (Fincham & Rhodes, 2005).
Like Maslow, Alderfer too suggests that individual progress through the hierarchy from existence needs to relatedness needs to growth needs as the lower-level needs become satisfied (Mullins, 2007). For example, Existence needs - those necessary for basic human survival - roughly correspond to the physiological and security needs of Maslow's hierarchy. Relatedness needs, those involving the need to relate to others, are similar to Maslow's belongingness and esteem needs. Finally, growth needs are analogous to Maslow's needs for self-esteem and self-actualisation
(Moorhead & Griffin, 2003).
However, Alderfer's theory differs in a number of important respects from Maslow's. While Maslow proposed a progression up a hierarchy; Alderfer did not believe that one level of needs had to be satisfied before the next level need would emerge (Steers & Porter, 1991). Likewise in contrast to Maslow's approach, ERG theory suggests that more than one kind of need, for example, relatedness and growth needs may motivate a person at the same time. A more important difference from Maslow's hierarchy is that ERG theory includes a satisfaction-progression component and a frustration- regression component. The satisfaction-progression concept suggests that after satisfying one category of needs, a person progresses to the next level. On this point, the need hierarchy and ERG theory agree. The need hierarchy however assumes the individual remains at the next level until the needs at that level are satisfied. In contrast, the frustration-regression component of ERG theory suggests that a person who is frustrated by trying to satisfy a higher level of needs eventually will regress to the preceding level (Moorhead & Griffin, 2003). For example, the fulfilment of growth needs is difficult, frustration regression occurs, causing us to concentrate on fulfilling our relatedness needs. Having our growth needs frustrated therefore makes them less rather than more important. From above we can see that Maslow was prepared to accept that in some limited circumstances a few individual differences occur and unsatisfied needs become less important. But for Alderfer this was a custom (Fincham & Rhodes, 2005).
The two theories also differ in the importance of satisfied needs. Maslow argued that when once a need is satisfied, it becomes less important to the individual whereas research based on Alderfer's ideas has found that relatedness or growth needs actually become more important when satisfied (Wanous and Zwany 1997, as cited in Fincham & Rhodes, 2005, p. 199). Unlike Maslow's theory, the results of Alderfer's work suggest that lower - level needs do not have to be satisfied before a higher level need emerges as a motivating influence. The ERG theory states that an individual is motivated to satisfy one or more basic sets of needs. Therefore if a person's needs are blocked than one must pay attention on satisfying needs at other levels. For example, if a subordinate's growth needs are blocked because the job does not provide sufficient opportunity for personal development then the manager should try and provide greater opportunities for the subordinate to satisfy existence and relatedness needs
Although Maslow's theory is intuitively appealing, various criticisms have been levelled at it (DeCenzo & Robbins, 1988 and Steers & Porter, 1991 as cited in Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002, p.699). One of the most important of these shortcomings is that it is a broad theory of human development rather than a description of work motivation (Landy, 1985 cited in Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002, p.699). Similarly according to Ivancevich & Matteson (1999, cited in Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002, p.699) Alderfer's ERG theory has not stimulated a great deal of research. However, the ERG theory is regarded as a more valid version of the need hierarchy (Robbins, 1998, cited in Arnold & Boshoff, 2002, p.699) and has elicited more support from contemporary researchers as far as motivation in the work situation is concerned (Luthans, 1998, cited in Arnold & Boshoff, 2002, p.699).
Even though Maslow's need theory lacks empirical support, it continues to be a very popular theory of motivation. It has been widely adopted by organisations and is frequently used as the foundation for organisational development programs such as participative management, job enrichment, and quality of work - life projects. According to his theory, organizations must use wide range of factors to motivate behavior since individuals will be at different levels of the need hierarchy (Steers & Porter, 1991).
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The greatest value of need theories lies in the practical implications they have for management. In particular, the theories are important insofar as they suggest specific things that managers can do to help their subordinates. With this in mind, it is worthwhile to consider what organisations and managers may do to help satisfy their employees' needs (Greenberg & Baron, 2003).
Perhaps one of the most important lessons to be learned from the data reviewed here is that if managers truly want to improve performance and work attitudes, they must take an active role in managing motivational processes at work. Managing motivation is conscious, intentional behavior. Any attempt by managers to improve the motivational levels of their subordinates should be prefaced by a self - examination on the part of the managers. Before managers attempt to deal with others, they should have a clear picture of their own role in the organisational environment. Managers should be sensitive to variations in employees' needs, abilities, and traits as greater awareness of such variations allows managers to utilise efficiently the varied talents among their subordinates and to reward good performances with things most desirable to the employees (Steers & Porter, 1991)
A further factor to consider is the nature of the tasks which employees are asked to perform. Before providing the employees with jobs that offer greater challenge, diversity and opportunities for personal need and satisfaction; managers may begin by putting themselves in the place of their subordinates and asking themselves what they would get out of doing such a job. Research has shown that increasing role clarity on a job generally increases the likelihood of improving task performance. In a broader sense, managers could give increased attention to the quality of the overall work environment. Greater efforts could be made to assess worker attitudes on a continual basis. Finally, if employee motivational levels and consequently performances are to be increased then it is important that employees involve themselves in cooperative ventures aimed at improving output (Steers & Porter, 1991).
Hence in context with the above two theories, managers may provide employees with a salary that allows them to afford adequate living conditions, sufficient opportunities to rest [e.g. coffee breaks] and to engage in physical activity such as fitness and exercise facilities. Organisations can also offer employees with life and health insurance plans and encourage participation in social events such as office picnics or parties. Monetary awards even small ones, in recognition of employees' suggestions for improvement helps promote their esteem and there by motivation levels
(Greenberg & Baron, 2003). Also in order to encourage the employees towards self actualization, managers may offer challenging work that stretches the individual as it will give a sense of achievement. Opportunities to develop and apply new skills may also be offered as it would increase potential (Stimpson, 2002).
In summary, we do not have to motivate an individual to be motivated, that comes built in as a part of being a human being. People's behavior does not always make sense to those observing them, even when looked at in terms beneficial to the individual (Tannehill, 1970). Thus, despite the many conceptual similarities among the two theories, the two theories share an inherent weakness i.e. they do an adequate job of describing the factors that motivate behavior, but they tell us very little about the actual process of motivation (Moorhead & Griffin, 2004). Hence there is no evidence to state which theory would endow us with best results. Managers may apply theories which according to them, would best suit their organisational culture.