In 1953 Viteles insisted that in the absence of a good theoretical foundation, applied research follows a path of trial and error; and becomes misdirected and inefficient (Latham, 2007, pg 29). Indeed, there has been a significant body of literature that delved on the theories of motivation. These diverse motivation theories helped identify and determine the myriad of factors that drive people to behave in particular ways (Statt, 2000, pg. 58). There are numerous motivation theories with more than one way of grouping or classifying them. However, the most common one is to classify them according to four general types, namely: need theory; expectancy theory; equity theory; and goal setting theory (Statt, 2000). These are considered as the formal motivation theories. Additionally, there are also some informal motivation theories that are classified under the following general classes: (1) Theory X; and (2) Theory Y (Statt, 2000, pg.56).
A. Need Theories
Need theories buttress the assumption that people have "psychological needs arising out of, though going far beyond, basic biological drives like hunger, thirst, sex or the avoidance of pain" (Statt, 2000, pg.58). Motivation in this case, is referred to as the content of satisfying such needs; and the need theories are referred to as the 'content theories'. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory and Herzberg's Dual Structure Theory Need Theory both belong to this group of theories (Wentland, 2003).
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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory -
Maslow was an American psychologist who's theory proposed the view that employees always want more, and their wants mainly depend on what they already have. He acknowledged that human needs are identifiable in a series of levels and labelled it the hierarchy of importance.
According to Maslow, there are five key categories of needs that are arranged in the hierarchy (Gaynor, 2004, pg.239). Needs belonging to the lower levels must be satisfied first, "before the higher level needs become important." Physiological needs (e.g. food, water, air) occupy the lowest level in the hierarchy. This is followed by the safety needs such as security, freedom from danger, good health, etc. Next, are the social needs, which are exemplified by love, affection and group acceptance. Then there are the esteem needs, which are achieved through "recognition and respect from colleagues and by voiced approval from others (Gaynor, 2004)." At the topmost level are self-actualization needs, which are associated with skills and potentialities (Preker, 2007); and "relate to finding self- fulfillment opportunities on which to build a career."
Maslow didn't specifically relate this theory to a work situation although that's where it has gained its recognition. Despite being a popular theory of motivation at work, it has faced some criticisms such as "Maslow thought the main motivational outcome of behavior is satisfaction, but then again job satisfaction doesn't always lead to improved work performance" (Mullins, 2007) also there is an argument that "people do not necessarily satisfy their higher level needs through the work situation, instead they satisfy them through other areas of their life, therefore the manager would need to have an understanding about his employees that goes far beyond their behavior at work" (Mullins, 2007).
Having said all this, I think Maslow's theory encourages managers to get the basics right before introducing other complex motivational strategies, as it forces one to look at motivation from the employee's perspective.
2. Herzberg's Dual Structure Theory
This theory posits "motivation factors affect one dimension, ranging from satisfaction to no satisfaction." (Griffin, 2007, pg91) This theory groups needs into two general categories, namely: hygiene needs and motivator needs (Statt, 2000, pg.61). Moreover, this theory assumes that people's attitudes toward aspects of their jobs that are regarded as motivators, influenced job satisfaction and not motivation. These are referred to as hygiene factors, which include the following: interpersonal relations, company policies, working conditions, supervision, and salary and benefits (Gaynor, 2009, pg.95). On the other hand, the motivators include the following: "achievement, independence, recognition, and responsibility, challenge and so on" (Statt, 2000, pg.61). This theory is particularly applied in a technique used for structuring employee tasks called 'job enrichment'. Herzberg's Dual Structure theory suggests that managers adopt a two-stage process, wherein the first stage requires the elimination of factors that cause dissatisfaction in order to enhance motivation in the workplace; and the second stage necessitates increasing opportunities for "achievement, recognition, responsibility, advancement and growth" (Griffin, 2007, pg.91).
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B. Expectancy Theory
American psychologist, Victor H Vroom (1964) was the first person to link expectancy theory to the work place. The Expectancy Theory presupposes that motivation is largely dependent on an individual's mental expectation about their ability to perform tasks and subsequently receive desired rewards. (Griffin, 2007, pg.235) In contrast to the needs theories discussed above, the expectancy theory does not focus on understanding the various types of needs, but rather, on the specific thinking process that individuals utilize in order to achieve their rewards. (Griffin, 2007) This theory places a particular focus on the relationships among the following factors: (1) the individual's efforts; (2) the possibility of high performance; and (3) the desirability of outcomes arising from the high performance. Thus, in essence, the expectancy theory is of the idea that motivation is largely dependent on how much a particular individual wants something and how likely that individual thinks that he is to get it. (Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, 2008, pg.358) However, in trying to apply this approach, the theory suggests that managers need to recognize that: (a) employees work for many reasons; and (b) such reasons may change over time, Due to the variable components in this approach, as well as the changeable nature of it, one can say its next to impossible to use this form of motivation in an organization.
C. Equity Theory
Adam's Equity Theory presupposes that people are motivated to achieve and "preserve equitable treatment for themselves." (Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, 2008) In this case, equity is construed to mean the "distribution of rewards in direct proportion to the contribution of each employee to the organization" (Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, 2008). Hence, this theory focuses on "the exchange relationships among individuals and groups and the motivating effects of a perceived imbalance in the exchange" (Miner, 2002, pg.221). This theory could be further exemplified in the following manner: first, the individual concerned develops an input-to-outcome ratio. Inputs in this case, pertain to the contributions of the individual to the organization such as time, effort, skills, education, experience, etc. Outcomes, on the other hand, pertain to the rewards that are obtained from the organization such as "pay, benefits, recognition, and promotions" (Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, 2008, pg.357). Next, the individual compares the input-to-outcome ratio with what he perceives as the input-to-outcome ratio for some other individual, who could be a co-worker, or a friend working for another organization, or even an average person in his organization. If the two ratios being compared are approximately similar, the individual concerned may feel that the organization is treating him equally or fairly. On the other hand, if his input-to-outcome ratio is higher than that of the 'comparison other', he may feel under- rewarded and is, thus, motivated to make changes. Such changes may include decreasing his own inputs; try to increase his total outcome by demanding for an increase in pay; leave the organization; or carryout a new comparison with a different individual (Miner, 2002, pg.357). Since pay is a most relevant outcome within the context of the equity theory, it suggests that managers avoid problems arising from inequity by ensuring that rewards are distributed equitably - that is, on the basis of employee performance; and that " everyone clearly understands the basis of his or her own pay" (Miner, 2002, pg.358).
D. Goal Setting Theory
The Goal Setting Theory posits, "behaviour is a result of conscious goals and intentions" (Griffin, 2008, pg.300). Thus, this theory was underpinned "on the premise that human action is purposeful, in that it is directed by conscious goals" (Locke, 1994, pg.14). It has been observed that employees are more likely to be motivated to attain goals that are established by both their managers and themselves (Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, 2008, pg.359). This theory suggests that the manager must develop a thorough understanding of the goal setting processes of employees and the manner by which they attain such goals (Griffin,2008, pg.300). Thus, in applying this theory, a manager can formulate and implement a reward system that "fit employee needs, clarify expectations, maintain equity and provide reinforcement" (Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, 2008, pg.359). Moreover, this theory essentially provides an understanding of the goal that a particular employee intends to achieve and the subsequent rewards that the employee could get if the goal is attained. The Goal Setting theory is characterized by two attributes, namely: goal difficulty and goal specificity (Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, 2008). , Goal difficulty is the degree or extent by which the goal becomes challenging and requires effort. On the other hand, in terms of goal specificity, "goal content can be vague ("work on this") or specific." It is recommended that a goal be specific, moderately difficult and one that the employee is motivated to achieve (Pride, Hughes, Kapoor, 2008, pg.359).
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There have been a number of studies on this approach to motivation and their results have been supportive, but still there are limitations to this theory, in the sense that some jobs such as call center jobs cannot adapt to the goal setting theory, also due to the fact that the environments in which businesses operate change from time to time, goals would be subject to change therefore making it difficult for individuals to maintain performance targeted at specific goals which will in turn affect the business. Another school of thought that doesn't embrace the idea of goal setting theory is that it relates to solely individuals and in organizations most tasks are performed in groups (Martin, 2001, pg 419).
Effectiveness of Motivation Theories
There is a dearth in available studies that explore the effectiveness of motivation theories in the context of management in general in relation to employees. However, there are a few studies that explored such topics. One such research undertaken was the study conducted by Kini and Hobson in 2002, which evaluated the relationship between motivational theories and successful total quality initiatives. In particular, the researchers tested the effectiveness of the following motivational theories in the success of total quality initiatives: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory; Alderfer's ERG Theory; McClelland's Theory of Needs; Expectancy Theory; Goal Setting Theory and Equity Theory. In this study, the researchers constructed and distributed a survey instrument, which was designed so that "the participants can enter a score between 0 to 10 to indicate the extent to which each of the item in the question was utilized in participant's organization's approach to total quality" and performed a regression analysis on the collected data. The results indicated that Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs theory; and Equity Theory were ineffective in promoting "organizational commitment to employee morale, cross training and performance recognition" (Kini, Hobson, 2002). However, the results of the study suggested that the expectancy theories were most likely to produce success in the implementation of total quality initiatives." Hence, this study found that the expectancy theories was indeed an effective motivator in terms of facilitating clear communication of performance expectations; and empowerment of work teams (Kini, Hobson, 2002). In contrast, however, in a study conducted by Tesone in 2005, it was found the Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory had significant implications "for managers in organisations from the standpoint of recruitment, selection, employee retention, and performance improvement" (Tesone, 2005) The results of the study indicated that younger workers prioritise socialization needs, "only to be replaced by more self actualizing and self-esteem needs with age" (Tesone, 2005). Managers may employ this understanding of "human intrinsic needs to develop effective strategies in the areas of employee recruitment, selection, and retention, as well as performance management" (Tesone, 2005).