motivational theories

The success of any organization depends on the ability of managers to provide a motivating environment for its employees. Motivated employees are more productive, happier, and stay with the organization longer. One of the primary tasks a manager faces is to find out what motivates their staff. By understanding employee needs, managers can understand what rewards to use to motivate them.

Abraham Maslow proposed the theory called hierarchy of needs theory (370-396). Maslow believed that within every individual, there exists a hierarchy of five needs and that each level of need must be satisfied before an individual pursues the next higher level of need. As the individual progresses through the levels of needs, the preceding needs lose their motivational value. The five levels of needs, according to Maslow are:

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1.Physiological Needs. These needs include food, water, and sex, which are essential for us to survive. If these needs are not met, then all other needs will not be a source of motivation.

2.Safety Needs. This refers to the need to feel safe from physical and emotional harm.

3.Social Needs. These needs are concerned with social interactions with others. The individual needs to feel a sense of belonging, affection, acceptance, and friendship.

4.Esteem Needs. Esteem is concerned with the feelings of self-confidence derived from achieving something, and the recognition and prestige that comes with that achievement.

5.Self-Actualization Needs. This level of needs is concerned with achieving one’s full potential and dreams.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is too simple and rigid. Humans are very complex with needs that overlap each other at different times. In other words, even if a level of need has been met in the past, this does not mean that this same level of need will not again become a source of motivation in a different situation.

Fredrick Herzburg developed another popular theory of motivation called the two-factor theory (Herzburg 53-62). Herzburg’s findings suggest there are two factors that contribute to employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The first is referred to as motivators, which includes responsibility, advancement, and recognition. The other is known as hygiene factors. These factors include the work environment, management, salaries, and company policies. Unsatisfactory hygiene factors can act as de-motivators, but if satisfactory, their motivational affect is limited without motivators.

Another theory, developed by B.F. Skinner, is the reinforcement theory. This theory is a behavioral approach. The main point is consequences influence behavior. According to the reinforcement theory, there are four ways to modify behavior. The first and most affective way is positive reinforcement, which refers to rewarding a desirable behavior to strengthen the likelihood that it will be repeated. The second way a manager can modify behavior is negative reinforcement, which is defined as removing a negative stimulus in the environment after the behavior occurs. Another way to modify behavior is punishment, which decreases the chances of the behavior to occur. This works on the principle that punishment is something unpleasant and that humans will try to avoid. The last method of behavior modification is lack of reinforcement. The idea behind this method is that if a behavior is not reinforced in any way that it will decrease in frequency, and be eliminated.

The last theory of motivation this paper will cover is the expectancy theory, proposed by Victor Vroom. Unlike the reinforcement theory, this theory is concerned with internal processes that an individual undergoes in order to decide whether they want to put forth the effort to strive towards a specific goal. According to Vroom, there are three important elements to consider when determining motivation. The first element is “valence,” this refers to the desire an individual has to achieve a goal or fulfill a need. The second element is “instrumentality,” this is the belief that if an individual gives a certain level of performance, then a desirable outcome is expected. The third element is “expectancy,” this is the belief an individual has about the relationship between effort and performance, if one exerts a high level of effort, then one can expect good performance.

What motivates people depends on their perception of the attractiveness of the goal and its attainability. This is only a selection of motivational theories, there are many more. Regardless of which theory is followed, interesting work and employee pay are important links to higher motivation. Options such as job enlargement, job enrichment, promotions, monetary and non-monetary compensation should be considered. The key to motivating employees is to know what motivates them and designing a motivation program based on those needs.

Works cited
Herzberg, Fredrick. “One More time: How Do You Motivate Employees?” Harvard Business Review Jan.-Feb.1968: 53-62
Maslow, Abraham F. “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Psychological Review 50 (1943): 370-396
Skinner, B.F. Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan, 1953
Vroom, Victor H. Work and Motivation. New York: Wiley, 1964

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motivational theories. (2018, Jul 05). Retrieved from