2 Process Theories of Motivation Short Summary

Motivation theories are primarily divided into two major types which are the content theories and the process theories. This report aims to critically evaluate two process theories of motivation which is the Expectancy Theory by Victor Vroom and the Equity Theory by John Stacy Adams. The methodologies used in this report include a study and analysis of textbooks, writings and journals from the internet. As a conclusion, the question is not whether each of these approaches to motivation works, but where and when they work best.

What is Motivation? The word motivation is coined from the Latin word “movere”, which means to move. Motivation is defined as an internal drive that activates behaviour and gives it direction. The term motivation theory is concerned with the processes that describe why and how human behaviour is activated and directed. To maximize an individuals’ motivation to achieve the organisation’s objectives, managers must have a thorough understanding of theories of motivation.

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Such theories grew from a realisation that the principles of “scientific management” as advocated by Taylor (1911), involving the radical division of labour (Smith, 1904) by managers who relied too much upon an assumption that monetary rewards motivates. This realisation, combined with an emerging consciousness regarding the conditions of the working classes in the industrialised West (Mayo, 1933), saw the birth of a new school of thought – the human relations movement – marked by the Hawthorne Study.

From this “industrial psychology” school developed two streams of work motivation theory generically known as “Content” theories and “Process” theories (Rollinson 1998). The Content Theory of Motivation is based on the idea that it is internal or intrinsic factors that energize and directs human behaviour. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Alderfer’s ERG theory, Herzeberg’s motivator-hygiene theory (Herzeberg’s dual factors theory), and McClelland’s learned needs or three-needs theory are some of the major content theories.

Of the different types of content theories, the most famous content theory is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. Maslow introduced five levels of basic needs through his theory. Basic needs are categorized as physiological needs, safety and security needs, needs of love, needs for self esteem and needs for self-actualization (Maslow 1954). Just like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ERG theory explains existence, relatedness, and growth needs.

Through dual factors theory, Herzeberg (1993), describes certain factors in the workplace which result in job satisfaction. McClelland’s learned needs or three-needs theory uses a projective technique called the Thematic Aptitude Test (TAT) so as to evaluate people based on three needs: power, achievement, and affiliation. People with high need of power take action in a way that influences the other’s behaviour ( McClelland 1967). The most widely accepted explanations of motivation have been propounded by Victor Vroom.

The theory argues that the strength of a tendency to act in a specific way depends on the strength of an expectation that the act will be followed by a given outcome and on the attractiveness of that outcome to the individual to make this simple, expectancy theory says that an employee can be motivated to perform better when they belief that the better performance will lead to good performance appraisal and that this shall result into realization of their personal goal in form of some reward (Vroom 1964). Motivation = Valence x Expectancy.

Efforts and performance relationship Performance and reward relationship Rewards and personal goal relationship Diagram 1 – Equity Theory Vroom (1964) would maintain that we do things in our jobs in order to achieve second level rewards: “If a worker sees high productivity as a path leading to the attainment of one or more of his or her personal goals, he or she will tend to be a high producer. Conversely, if he or she sees low productivity as path to the achievement of his or her goals, he or she will tend to be a low producer”. Lyman W. Porter and Edward E. Lawler developed a more complete version of motivation depending upon expectancy theory.  Actual performance in a job is primarily determined by the effort spent. But it is also affected by the person’s ability to do the job and also by individual’s perception of what the required task is. So performance is the responsible factor that leads to intrinsic as well as extrinsic rewards. These rewards, along with the equity of individual leadto satisfaction. The conclusions that can be drawn from this theory are:

Individuals will only act when they have a reasonable expectation that their behaviour will lead to the desired outcome. Effort alone is not sufficient. It has to be accompanied by ability and skill. Job satisfaction results from effective job performance rather than the other way round. Job design is therefore of crucial importance as it affects the workers motivation directly. Personal Traits One variable that organisations are not able to affect directly is that which is intrinsic to the individual: the person’s “locus of control” and, obviously, any other personality traits.

Interestingly, personality traits, it can be argued, may play a significant part in people’s career/employer choice. Organizations need to understand that different variables, in different people, in different jobs, in different departments, at different levels in the hierarchy affect motivation and those measures to influence performance of those different individuals must reflect that. People will develop comparisons with others (“referents”) to help decide what is fair and reasonable in an exchange.

We are also influenced by friends, colleagues, family, and other sources of facts and opinions in establishing these benchmarks. Our motivation is then exerted proportional to the degree to which we are receiving reward outputs equivalent to our effortful inputs. When outputs or rewards (salary, bonus, special treatment, etc. ) are not equivalent, people become bitter and even disruptive, productivity and quality may be reduced, absenteeism may increase, and personnel may turnover.  If employees perceive that their inputs, in terms of their effort or performance, do not receive adequate reward, either on their own merit or in comparison with others, a perception of inequity will result. Attendant negative feelings of dissatisfaction will result in the individual being motivated to redress the inequity. Generally speaking, this is likely to affect their future performance in that organisation in an adverse manner.

It is, of course, possible for the reverse situation to occur whereby the reward is overly generous in relation to the input (the “fat cat” scenario) and it is believed that guilt feelings may be felt. Interestingly, little is written on the effect upon motivation in the “fat cat” scenario! And finally, as far as this brief consideration of some of the large numbers of varying motivation theories are concerned, there is goal setting theory (Locke, 1968), although this time focussing on the individual rather than the organisation.

If people feel that they are not equally rewarded them either reduce the quantity or quality of work or leave the organization. However, if people perceive that they are rewarded higher, they may be motivated to work harder.


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  2. Equity Theory: The Recent Literature, Methodological Considerations, and New Directions. The Academy of Management Review. 3;2: 202-210.
  3. Deci, E. L. The effects of externally mediated rewards on intrinsic motivation. Journal o] Personality and Social Psychology, 1971, 18, 105-115.
  4. Herzberg, F Mausner,B & Snyderman, BB 1993,_The Motivation To Work_, Transaction Publishers, NY Huseman, R. C. , Hatfield, J. D. & Miles, E. W. 1987).
  5. A New Perspective on Equity Theory: The Equity Sensitivity Construct. The Academy of Management Review. 12;2: 222-234.
  6. Landy, F. , Becker, W. S. (1987), “Motivation theory reconsidered”, in Cummins, L. L. , Staw, B. L. (Eds),Research in Organisational Behaviour, JAI Press, Greenwich, CT Locke, E , 1968
  7. “Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives” Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, Volume 3, Issue 2, May 1968, Pages 157-189
  8. Maslow, A. (1954), Motivation and Personality, Harper and Row, New York, NY {text:bookmark-start} Mayo, E. 1933),
  9. The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilisation, Macmillan, New York, NY, . McClelland, D. C. (1967),
  10. The Achieving Society, Free Press, New York, NY, Porter, L. W. , Lawler, E. E. (1968),
  11. Managerial Attitudes and Performance, Irwin, Homewood, IL. , {text:bookmark-start} Rollinson,D ,Edwards, D, Broadfield, A (1998)
  12. Organisational behaviour and analysis : an integrated approach, Addison Wesley, England Skinner, B. F. 1953.
  13. Science and human _behaviour. New York: Macmillan Taylor, F. 1911. Scientific management. New York: Harper. Vroom, V. (1964),
  14. Work and Motivation, John Wiley, New York, NY {text:bookmark-end}

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