Motivation Concepts and Application Essay

It is a cardinal truth that the most important aspect of a successful management is to motivate its employees. Motivation can be defined as “the willingness to exert high levels of effort towards organizational goals, conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual needs” (Robbins 1998, p. 168). In any type of organization, a manager must know what motivates his workers the most in order to make each individual employee perform to the best of his ability. In simple words, motivation is the psychological characteristic of human beings that affects his/her degree of commitment and dedication (James and Charles 1987, p. 442). It is the set of forces that move a person towards the desired objective. Hence the management’s challenge is, therefore, to channel this energy and direct this behavior toward the organizational ends (Mitchell 1982, p. 88).

Concepts of Motivation

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Numerous theories have been developed by the behavioral scientists regarding the process of motivating employees (Massie, p. 107). These theories assist managers in understanding why an individual chooses to work, why he may continue to work for a particular organization for a considerable amount of time, how to boost his morale of the worker and inspire him to produce at his/her highest possible level. These theories can be classified under two broad categories – content theories and process theories. Motivation theories based on human needs determine the motives that drive individual behavior. Need theories contend that the way one behaves is entirely dependent on the internal needs which one attempt to fulfill. These theories specify the content of needs of individual and, hence, are called content theories or need theories. Several other theories are concerned with the mechanics of motivation. These theories are known as process theories of motivation. Thus, while the content theories focus on the individual need that leads motivates them, the process theories aims at the dynamics of motivation and the process through which it occurs (Reddy 1995, p. 211).

Content or Need Theories of Motivation

Some of the major need theories of motivation are discussed hereunder one by one:

Maslow’s Need’s Hierarchy Theory

One of the most popular explanations for human motivation was developed by the psychologist, Abraham Maslow and was popularized during the early 1960s. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory argues that human needs form a five-level hierarchy.

Physiological Needs: These are the basic needs for food, clothing and shelter. An organization helps in satisfying the physiological needs of its employees by offering them adequate wages. According to Maslow’s theory, until these needs are satisfied to the degree necessary to maintain life, other needs will not motivate an individual and once these basic needs are satisfied, they will no longer motivate the individual.

Safety and Security Needs: Once the physiological needs of an individual are met, the individual aims to satisfy his safety and security needs. These needs include the need to be free from the fear of physical, psychological or financial harm.

Social Needs: Social needs are also called belongingness needs or need for love. They involve the desire to affiliate with and be accepted by others. The management can satisfy this need of employees by allowing social interaction between them by means of appropriate office layout, breaks, and by providing them lunch and recreational facilities.

Esteem Needs: This level represents the higher needs of humans. They include the desire to have a positive self-image and obtain respect and recognition from others. The organization can fulfill this need of employees by appreciating their performance by rewarding them with a pay hike, a promotion, a well-furnished office, a car, a personal assistant and other benefits such as stock options, club memberships, etc.

Self-actualization Needs: These comprise the highest level needs in Maslow’s needs hierarchy theory. Self-actualization needs are an individual’s need to realize his full potential through continuous growth and self-development. Most management experts feel that employees’ need for self-actualization can be satisfied by allowing them to participate in decision-making and giving them the power to shape their jobs.

Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory

According to Herzberg, human beings are motivated by certain job content factors like job security, good pay, good working conditions, recognitions, achievements etc. These factors which contribute to the individual satisfaction are known as motivators. Similarly, the opposite factors like job insecurity, low pay and benefits, poor supervision, uncomfortable working conditions etc. lead to employees’ dissatisfaction and are known as hygiene factors. After conducting a study involving two hundred engineers and accountants to find out the extent of their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with their jobs, Herzberg concluded that the presence of good job content factors leads to satisfaction, and the absence of good job content factors leads to dissatisfaction. The findings of Herzberg and his associates suggest that the best way to motivate workers is to satisfy their need for job content factors.

McClelland’s Needs Theory

David C. McClelland has contributed to the theories of motivation by highlighting the importance of three basic needs to understand motivation

Need for Achievement: Achievement-motivated people thrive on pursuing and attaining goals. People with a high need for achievement have an intense desire for success. They seek competitive situations in which they can achieve results through their own efforts. Individuals with high need for achievement can be a valuable source of creativity and innovative ideas in organizations. Supervisors who want to motivate achievement-oriented employees need to set challenging, but reachable goals and provide immediate feedback about their performance.

Need for Affiliation: Need for affiliation refers to the desire to maintain warm, friendly relationships with others. Affiliation-motivated people are usually friendly and like to socialize with others. To motivate individuals with a high need for affiliation, managers should provide them with a congenial and supportive work environment in which they can meet both corporate goals and their high affiliation needs by working with others.

Need for Power: The need for power refers to the desire to be influential and to have an impact on a group. The need for power is manifested in two forms: personal and institutional. People with high need for personal power try to dominate others by demonstrating their ability to wield power. In contrast, individuals with a high need for institutional power focus on working along with others to solve problems and achieve organizational goals. McClelland opines that human beings have a high need for institutional power, a moderate need for achievement and at least a minimum need for affiliation.

Alderfer’s ERG Theory

An extension of Herzberg’s and Maslow’s content theories of motivation comes from the work of Clayton Alderfer. According to this theory needs can be classified into three groups of core needs – existence, relatedness, and growth (ERG). Existence needs are concerned with physiological well being of an individual. The relatedness needs pertain to the desire to establish and maintain interpersonal relationships. The growth needs pertain to the desire to be creative, make useful and productive contributions and have opportunities for personal development. He opines that different needs can emerge simultaneously, and people can move backward and forward through the needs continuum as circumstances change.

Applications of Need Theories

Motivating employees has always been a critical issue for most organizations. Some of the methods used by leading organizations to motivate their employees are discussed below:

Eli Lilly gives special attention to the creation of a work environment that employees would love to work in. At Eli Lilly, new employees are personally welcomed by their bosses. If the new recruit is not a local resident, the boss goes to the railway station/airport to receive him, arranges for his accommodation, food, and even laundry, if required. Though employees in other organizations in the industry work for six days a week, Eli Lilly gives its employees two Saturdays off a month (second and fourth). It also offers one week of paternity leave to its married, male employees.

Cadbury strives to make the workplace informal and pleasant to work. It believes in developing informal culture. Cadbury provides a gym, cafeteria and piped music to its employees.  Employees from different functions form teams, visit markets, interact with customers and provide their feedback to the management. The company quickly allocates budgets to managers who propose innovative and feasible proposals.

The Philips Software Center India tries to help employees maintain a balance between work and personal life. The company frequently organizes get-togethers of employees’ families. It discourages its employees from taking on more work than they are capable of delivering and putting in so many hours at work that they disrupt their personal life.

FedEx helps its employees identify their strengths and weaknesses and offers personal development programs to overcome their weaknesses. It encourages employees to pursue courses offered by the company or external training institutes. About 600 courses are offered through the company’s online training library. FedEx reimburses expenses (up to $3000 each year) incurred on education and training provided to their employees.

Nokia motivates employees through both monetary and non-monetary benefits. The company shares its profits with employees. About 1-5% of the company’s earnings per share (EPS) are distributed among its employees. Nokia appraises and rewards employees purely on the basis of their talent and potential. It promotes meritorious employees quickly, irrespective of their age, qualification and experience. Even a front office employee stands a chance of being promoted to managerial positions.

Process Theories of Motivation

The content theories of motivation only identify the needs that drive the behavior of individuals. They fail to explain the process through which behavior is energized, directed and sustained. On the contrary, process theories of motivation attempt to explain the thought processes of individuals when they decide whether or not to behave in a certain way. Process theories are sometimes called cognitive theories due to their focus on the thought processes associated with motivation.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

The expectancy theory of motivation was originally proposed by Victor H. Vroom who contends that before putting in any effort to perform, individuals consider three issues:

1.      What is the probability that the performance will be up to the required level?

2.      What is the probability that the performance will lead to the desired outcomes?

3.      What is the value assigned by the individual to the potential outcomes?

The key components of this theory are valence, expectancy and instrumentality and their relationship can be expressed as: Motivation = Valence x Expectancy x Instrumentality.

Valance: Valence is the motivational component that refers to the preference of an individual for a particular outcome. In simple words, it signifies ‘how much reward one wants’. When an individual has a strong desire for the outcome, the valence is positive. On the other hand, if the individual wishes to avoid the outcome, the valence is negative. However, if an individual is indifferent to the outcome, the valence is zero.

Expectancy: Expectancy is the probability that certain efforts will lead to the required performance. In other words, expectancy is the probability (ranging from 0 to 1) that a particular action or effort will lead to a particular outcome. All individuals will be motivated to reach their goal only when they see some connection between their effort and performance.

Instrumentality: It refers to the probability that successful performance will lead to positive outcomes. The major outcomes we consider are the potential rewards such as incentives or bonuses, or a good feeling of accomplishment. “If I work hard with this paper, how likely is that I’ll secure a high grade from my Professor?” This is an example of instrumentality.

Thus, combining the above elements we get: (E –> P) X (P –> O) X Valence = Motivation, where E, P and O represents effort, performance and outcome respectively.

Adam’s Equity Theory

This theory of motivation focuses on people’s sense of fairness or justice. The equity theory refers to the subjective judgment of an individual about the fairness of his reward, relative to the inputs (which include many factors such as effort, experience, education, etc.), in comparison with the rewards of others (payments, bonuses, appreciation, status, promotion, job-title etc.). When individuals feel that their rewards are not in accordance with their inputs, they may be dissatisfied, reduce the quantity or quality of output, or resign from the organization. When people perceive that they have been equitably rewarded (output = input), they will probably contribute the same level of production output. When people perceive the rewards as being more than equitable (output > input), they may work harder. In such situations, there is every chance that some individuals may discount the reward.

Application of Process Theories

Wal-Mart stores Inc., the Arkansas-based retail giant, operates more than 2600 stores and supercenters in the United States. Besides, it also runs 472 Sam’s Clubs and more than 1000 stores overseas. They are the number 1 retailer in the world and the management uses the Vroom’s expectancy theory along with Adam’s Equity theory to motivate their employees in order to bring out the best from them every day (Foster 2001). Vroom’s theory is based on three key elements – expectancy or effort-performance linkage, instrumentality or performance-reward linkage, and valence or attractiveness of the reward.

At Wal-Mart, all employees (referred to as Associates) are valued highly and provided with a lot of benefits to motivate them to work hard and give their 100% to the job. The benefits provided by the company to its Associates include: vacation and personal time, pay during holidays, payment for the period when the employee is required to report for jury duty, medical and bereavement leave, maternity/paternity leave and so on. The company also provides the Associates and their spouse a 10 percent discount on select merchandise, confidential counseling services, Child Care Discounts, and GED (General Educational Development) scholarships and reimbursements on completion of GED. Wal-Mart is one of the few companies that provide healthcare benefits, incentive bonuses, stock purchase programs, holiday bonuses, and free professional counseling even to the part-time Associate.

The concepts of motivation are several and varied. The practical applications of these theories prove beyond any iota of doubt that all the concepts are equally significant in motivating individuals. These concepts, if implemented rightly, will definitely increase the productivity of an organization and limit its employee turnover by ensuring that its employees are satisfied with their job, which in turn, helps to increase their efficiency and effectiveness as well (Thomas and Mullen, 2001).


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