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Compare and Contrast One Process Theory of Motivation

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Compare and contrast one process theory of motivation with one content theory. Include in your answer a brief explanation of why one is a process and the other is a content theory. This essay will begin first of all by defining “Motivation” as a business concept and then go on to present one process and content theory each before finally comparing them both. The term “Motivation” was originally from the Latin verb movere, which means “to move” (Beck, 2004) however this is an inadequate definition here as it is too simplified and doesn’t cover the various processes associated with how humans behavior is activated.

Steers, R. M, Porter, L. W., & Bigley, G. A., 1996) but it lets us know that motivation is concerned with our movements or actions and what determines them. Motivation is a broad theoretical concept that we often use to explain why people (or animals) engage in particular actions at particular times. And therefore can be applied to different fields for this essay we will focus on work motivation.

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A better definition of motivation is a ‘concept used to describe the factors within an individual which arouse, maintain and channel behavior toward a goal. (Lisa Bolton, 2005) Work motivation theories can be divided into two categories termed process and content. The process theory explained in this essay will be Adam’s Equity theory while the content theory will be Alderfer’s ERG theory.

The process theories of motivation attempt to describe how behavior is energized, directed, and sustained, they focus on external influences or behaviors that people choose to meet their needs, in particular, they place heavy emphasis on describing the functioning of the individual’s decision system as it relates to behavior. Steers et al, 2004) One major process theory is the Equity theory developed in the 1960s by J. S Adams, it focuses primarily on the relationship between inputs and outcomes and worker’s perceptions of the fairness of their work outcomes and inputs. Equity theory is based on the premise that a worker perceives the relationship between outcomes; what the worker gets from the job and organization and inputs; what the worker contributes to a job and organization. (Adams, 1963 cited in George, 2002) Outcomes include pay, fringe benefits, job satisfaction, status, etc. Inputs include special skills, training, education, work experience, and anything else that workers perceive that they contribute to an organization. According to Equity theory, however, it is not the objective level of outcomes and inputs that are important in determining work motivation. What is important to motivation is the way a worker perceives his or her outcome/ratio compared to the outcome/input ratio of another person as known as a referent. A referent is another worker, group of workers perceived to be similar to oneself.

The referent could also be oneself at a different place or time or one’s expectations. Regardless of the referent a worker chooses, it is the worker’s perceptions of the referent’s outcomes and inputs that are compared, not any objective measure of actual outcomes or inputs. Equity is said to exist whenever an individual’s outcome/input ratio equals the outcome/ input ratio of the referents. Inequity exists when an outcome/input ratios are not proportionally equal. Inequity creates tension and unpleasant feelings inside a worker and a desire to restore equity by bringing the two ratios back into balance.

There are two basic types of inequity, overpayment equity; exists when an individual perceives that his or her outcome/input ratio is greater than that of a referent, and underpayment inequity; exist when a person perceives that his or her outcome/ input ratio is less than that of a referent. (George, 2002) The methods through which individuals reduce inequity are referred to as methods of inequity resolution. Adams describes six alternative methods of restoring equity:

  1. altering inputs
  2. altering outcomes
  3. cognitively distorting inputs or outcomes
  4. leaving the field
  5. taking actions designed to change the inputs or outcomes of the referent
  6. changing the referent. (Adams, 1963 cited in Steers, 1996)

The choice of a particular method of restoring equity will depend on the inequitable situation (Adams suggests, however, that the person will attempt to maximize positively valent outcomes and minimize increasing effortful inputs in restoring equity. ) in addition the individual will resist changing the object of comparison and distorting inputs that are considered central to the self-concept. (Steers, 1996)

Both underpayment inequity and overpayment inequity are dysfunctional for organizations, managers, and workers because motivation is highest when equity exists and outcomes are distributed to workers on the basis of their inputs to the organization. Workers who contribute a high level of inputs and receive in turn a high level of outcomes are motivated to continue to contribute a high level of inputs. Workers who contribute a low level of inputs and receive a low level of outcomes know that if they want to increase their outcomes, they must increase their inputs. (George, 2002)

Equity theory is a popular theory of motivation and has received extensive research attention and although there have been some nonsupportive results, by and large, the research evidence supports the main ideas of equity theory. (Greenberg, 1982 cited in George, 2002) In contrast to process theories of work motivation, content theories of work motivation assume that factors exist within the individual that energize, direct, and sustain behavior. These approaches to motivation focus on the assumption that individuals are motivated by the desire to fulfill inner needs. Steers et al, 1996) George (2002) describes need as a ‘requirement for survival and well-being’. One need theory of work motivation is Clayton Alderfer’s (1969 cited in George, 2002) Existence-Relatedness-Growth (ERG) theory which builds on some of Maslow’s thinking but reduces the number of universal needs from five to three and is more flexible in terms of movement between levels. The three types of needs in Alderfer’s theory are Existence needs; which are basic needs for human survival, physiological and physically related safety needs e. g. safe working conditions and good pay.

Relatedness needs; which is a person’s need to interact with other people, receive public recognition, and feel secure around people this is met through relationships with family, colleagues, and supervisors. Growth needs; reflect the desire for personal psychological developments this corresponds to Maslow’s esteem and self-actualization needs. Alderfer’s model agrees with Maslow’s in positing that individuals tend to move from existence, through relatedness to Growth needs, as needs in each category are satisfied, but argues that a higher level need can be a motivator even if a lower-level need is not fully satisfied.

Although in contrast to the needs hierarchy, ERG demonstrates that more than one need may be operative at the same time. And in addition to the Satisfaction- Progression process described by Maslow, a Frustration-Regression process also exists whereby those who are unable to satisfy a higher need become frustrated and regress back to the next lower need level. Essentially, Alderfer attempted to produce a version of Maslow’s s theory which fitted more with the empirical research which had resulted from attempts to test Maslow’s propositions.

He also argued that the Relatedness or Growth needs actually become more important when satisfied (Wanous and Zwang 1977 cited in Finchman et al, 2005) unlike in the needs hierarchy where a need becomes less important to an individual when it has been satisfied. And although tests of the two theories have tended to favor Alderfer’s prediction, Maslow’s theory still seems to be the most widely known and repeated theory of motivation. As with Maslow’s theory, the ERG theory appears to offer a useful way of thinking about employee motivation.

Although there is a disagreement between Maslow and Alderfer regarding the exact number of need categories, both theories acknowledge that opportunities for the satisfaction of needs constitute an important element in the motivation of individuals. (Steers, 1996) One of the main differences between the two theories is that the Equity theory is a process theory and the ERG theory is a content theory. Process theories stress that unique things motivate each of us and that motivation is mostly the outcome of social comparison processes.

According to the Equity Theory, the worker makes the decision that they are being treated fairly/unfairly based on their own subjective belief of what they think others are getting or their own expectation of what they think they should be getting due to societal standards and therefore they choose to do something about it if they are not satisfied. Process theories, on the other hand, suggest the possibility of differences in perception which might lead to higher or lower states of motivation.

Content theories, on the other hand, argue that everybody has the same set of needs; basic underlying human needs which jobs need to provide opportunities to fulfill if they are to motivate individuals. (Franken, 2002) Alderfer’s theory attempted to establish a conceptualization of human needs that is relevant to organizational settings; he argued that the worker strives to satisfy three universal needs Existence, Relatedness, and then Growth and when Growth can’t be satisfied more emphasis on the Existence and Relatedness needs for the worker to be satisfied.

Also, more than one need can be operative at the same time. Content theories state that each individual is motivated by the same needs and therefore organizations should, therefore, address each need. Another difference between the two theories is that process theories focus on external behaviors or influences. The Equity theory explores the impact of feeling poorly rewarded or too well rewarded on our behaviors at work.

The ‘effective’ content of equity theory is two prevailing feelings – guilt and anger reduction – and equity theory suggests that these drive a range of behaviors. (Fincham et al, 2005) Whereas, content theories focus on the assumption that individuals are motivated by the desire to fulfill inner needs. ERG is used to explain the dynamics of human needs in organizations; it states that there are intrinsic needs that give rise to dispositions that must be satisfied before the individual is motivated. Franken, 2002) Content theories tend to be heavily prescriptive in nature since by assuming people have similar needs they are also recommending the characteristics that ought to be present in a job. Theories within this category differ in their accounts of what these needs are they state the needs are intrinsic but may lead to action depending on circumstances such as past rewards and how we think about the world. In ERG there are 3 needs; Existence, Relatedness, and Growth. (Fincham et al, 2005)

All process theories have in common, an emphasis on the role of an individual’s cognitive processes in determining his level of motivation. In Equity one important cognitive process involves people looking around and observing what effort other people are putting into their work and what rewards follow for them, comparing this ratio with their own. Equity theorists assume that these social comparisons processes are driven by our fundamental concern with fairness or equity. (Fincham et al, 2005) It should be noted though that both theories have had limited research done on them.

Although Equity has received broad support, it has been criticized as not been particularly ‘useful’ (e. g. , Locke & Henne, 1986) a major limitation to Equity theory’s usefulness is the difficulty of specifying what types of action an aggrieved employee will take. (Steers et al, 2004) Whereas the ERG theory has not established empirical verification because only a few studies have attempted to test it, however, the studies that have been reported appear to show stronger support for Alderfer’s ERG model than Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Eg Schneider & Alderfer, 1973) Most subsequent studies, however, have found that predictions from equity theory are supported best in conditions of underpayment since the threshold for experiencing overpayment is high and feelings of overpayment do not appear to last very long. As we start to rationalize our reward level. We find it easier to rationalize why we should be overpaid than underpaid. (Finchman et al, 2005) The ERG theory appears to offer a useful way of thinking about employee motivation.

It also acknowledges that opportunities for the satisfaction of needs constitute an important element in the motivation of individuals. Equity theory appears to offer a useful approach to understanding a wide variety of social relationships in the workplace. Additional research is needed to extend predictions from the theory beyond single questions about how employees react to their pay. Another similarity is that both theories account for individual differences.

Because there is no rigid hierarchy in which a lower need must be substantially gratified before one can move one and since one or more needs can be operative at the same time this makes ERG more consistent with our knowledge of individual differences amongst people. There are important individual differences operating which determine whether equity theory predicts behavior in conditions of overpayment. Huseman et al. (1987, cited in Fincham et al, 2005) suggest 3 types of people:

  • the Benevolents
  • the Equity Sensitives
  • the Entitleds.

Overall both theories have attempted to explain motivation from two different angles and have therefore helped us increase our understanding of motivation, although they are both relatively old and there are newer theories with better explanations and more evidence these two theories have been quite influential in their time and are still quoted today, they paved the way for the newer theories and are still been used as a base for comparison.

Reference List

  1. Adams, J. S. (1963) Towards an understanding of inequity cited in George
  2. J. M. & Jones, G.R (2002) (3rd Ed. ) Organizational behavior. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  3. Adams, J. S. (1963) Towards an understanding of inequity. Journal of abnormal and social psychology, 67,422-436, cited in Steers
  4. R. M, Porter, L. W., & Bigley, G. A. (1996) (Ed. ). Motivation and leadership at work. (6th Ed). Singapore: MC Graw-Hill.
  5. Adams, J. S. (1964) Inequity in social exchange, in L. Berkowitz (ed. ) Advances in experimental social psychology, vol. ii. New York: Academic Press, cited in Fincham
  6. R & Rhodes, P. (2005) Principles of organizational behavior. New York: Oxford university press.
  7. Adams, J. S. (1975) Inequity in social exchange. In R. M. Steers & L. W. Porter (Eds. ), motivation and work behavior. New York: Mc Graw-Hill cited in Beck
  8. R. C. (2004) (Ed. ). Motivation: Theories and Principles. (5th) New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  9. Alderfer, C. P. (1969) An empirical test of a new theory of human needs, organizational behavior, and human performance 4:142-75. Alderfer
  10. C. P. Existence, relatedness, and growth; Campbell and Pritchard, Motivation theory and industrial and organizational psychology cited in George
  11. J. M. & Jones, G. R (2002) (3rd Ed. ) Organizational behavior. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Alderfer, C. P. (1972) Existence, relatedness, and growth. New York: Free Pass, cited in Fincham
  12. R & Rhodes, P. (2005) Principles of organizational behavior. New York: Oxford university press
  13. Alderfer, C. P. (1972) Existence, relatedness, and growth. New York: Free Pass, cited in Steers
  14. R. M, Porter, L. W., & Bigley, G. A. (1996) (Ed. ). Motivation and leadership at work. (6th Ed). Singapore: MC Graw-Hill.
  15. Beck, R. C. (2004) (Ed. ). Motivation: Theories and Principles. 5th) New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
  16. Bolton, L. (2005). Motivation. Retrieved December,14,2005, from http://opax.swin.edu.au/~388226/howtolitz/motiv1A
  17. Greenberg, J. Approaching equity & avoiding inequity in groups & organizations. In J. Greenberg and R. L. Cohen (1982) (Eds. ) Equity and justice in social behavior New York: Academic Press 389-435 cited in George, J. M. & Jones, G. R (2002) (3rd Ed. ) Organizational behavior. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Fincham
  18. R & Rhodes, P. (2005) Principles of organizational behavior. New York: Oxford university press.
  19. Franken, R. E. (2002) Human motivation. USA: Wadsworth. Huseman, R. C., Hatfield, J. D., and Miles, E. (1987) A new perspective on equity theory: the equity sensitivity construct, Academy of management review, 12, 222-34 cited in Fincham
  20. R & Rhodes, P. (2005) Principles of organizational behavior. New York: Oxford university press.
  21. Shaw, J. D., and Gupta, N. (2001) Pay fairness and employee outcomes: exacerbation and attenuation effects of financial need, Journal of occupational and organizational psychology, 74/3, 299-320 cited in Fincham
  22. R & Rhodes, P. (2005) Principles of organizational behavior. New York: Oxford university press.
  23. Tissington, P. (2005). Motivation and job satisfaction. Retrieved November 22, 2005, from http://www.lis.aston.ac.uk
  24. Wanous, J. P., and Zwany, A. (1977) A cross-sectional test of need hierarchy theory, organizational behavior and human performance, 18, 78-97 cited in Fincham
  25. R & Rhodes, P. (2005) Principles of organizational behavior. New York: Oxford university press.

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Compare and Contrast One Process Theory of Motivation. (2016, Dec 02). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/compare-and-contrast-one-process-theory-of-motivation/

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