Theories Regarding Motivation

3.1 Introduction

Since motivation has been so thoroughly studied, there are numerous theories about what motivates us. In this chapter, we’ll look at some of the most popular motivational theories to help you build a base of understanding for improving your own motivation.

3.2 Herzberg’s Motivational Theory

Frederick Herzberg studied how a worker’s work environment would affect his work by causing satisfaction or dissatisfaction. His idea was that if people were satisfied at work, they would be motivated to work, and the opposite would be true if they were dissatisfied at work. He interviewed employees about their feelings at work and then published his findings in 1959 in his book called The Motivation to Work.

His theory is also called the motivation-hygiene theory because he considered the factors that satisfied employees to be motivators and those factors that were dissatisfying to be hygiene factors. Hygiene factors being present does not avoid job dissatisfaction, but if you take them away you will find that they can demotivate an employee. Examples might be the loss of a regularly expected pay raise or some decrease in how you perceive your work environment (turning off the air conditioner or no longer allowing personal space heaters). Herzberg identified the top six factors leading to dissatisfaction and the top six factors leading to satisfaction in the workplace. These are listed in order from highest importance to lowest importance in Figure 1 below.

Factors Affecting Job Attitudes

Leading to Dissatisfaction

Leading to Satisfaction

Company policy
Relationship with boss
Work itself
Work conditions
Relationship with peers

Figure 1: Herzberg’s Factors Affecting Job Attitudes

Herzberg argued that because the list of factors for dissatisfaction and satisfaction are not exact opposites of each other, we cannot assume that simply improving a dissatisfying factor would result in satisfaction – it would simply result in the absence of dissatisfaction. The same could be said if you remove a factor of satisfaction – the result wouldn’t necessarily be dissatisfaction, but just the absence of satisfaction. So what does this mean for actions we can take?
Because the list of factors for dissatisfaction and satisfaction are not opposites, we cannot assume that improving a factor of dissatisfaction will lead to satisfaction; it would simply lead to the absence of dissatisfaction.
There is one important distinction to notice when it comes to self-motivation and self-confidence. The factors that tend to bring us the most satisfaction at work, and so we assume, the most motivation, are the ones that we have some control over – and that are most related to our own job performance. If we are focusing on our performance, we will achieve our goals and receive recognition. If we do something we enjoy, that alone can provide satisfaction. We also see that taking on more responsibility, advancing, and growth are all ways to be satisfied at work. We can volunteer for additional responsibility, look for ways to grow our skills, and discover what would be necessary in terms of our performance to take advantage of opportunities for advancement. We might not be able to control company policy or the other factors that can lead to dissatisfaction, but we can certainly control our own work performance.
The factors that tend to bring us the most satisfaction at work, and so we assume, the most motivation, are the ones that we have some control over – and that are most related to our own job performance.
If you happen to be a manager, this information is also important because it shows you how different decisions you make may affect your employees. If you focus on motivation by putting in place factors on the left-hand side, you might relieve dissatisfaction, but you won’t necessarily create satisfaction and motivation. Fail to provide opportunities for growth, advancement, additional responsibility, achievement, and recognition, and you will have a team lacking satisfaction – and motivation. This is important to realize – that you have a better chance of achieving motivation when you focus on the individual, not on the traditional ‘carrots’ (salary, benefits, prestige, etc.) that we tend to think of as motivating us.

If you are a manager, you have a better chance of achieving motivation when you focus on the individual, not on the traditional ‘carrots’ (salary, benefits, prestige, etc.) that we tend to think of as motivating us.

3.3 Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

Another theory of motivation was posed by Victor Vroom. It is different from the previous theory because it focuses not on the needs of a person, but on their outcomes. He saw effort as being the result of motivation, which led to performance and then the resulting outcomes of that performance. He said that in order for a person to be motivated to put forth the effort, he or she must see a link between the three factors – effort, performance, and outcome. He proposed three variables that created the link:
  • Expectancy
  • Instrumentality
  • Valence
Victor Vroom proposed that motivation is directly linked to the expected outcome of any effort that is expended. He defined three variables that created the link: expectancy, instrumentality, and valence.

Figure 2 gives a visual description of this theory, which we will examine further below.

Expectancy means that you believe that the effort you put in can affect the performance that you deliver. For example, if you work harder, you will perform better and if you work less, your performance will suffer. This factor is affected by:
  • Having the resources you need to do the job (time, money, hardware or software)
  • Having the skills and knowledge to do the job
  • Having the support you need to get the job done (manager support, approval, information)

Instrumentality refers to the belief that your performance will affect the outcome. For example, excellent performance will result in a more positive outcome than poor performance. But even more, it is the belief that you will be rewarded for the hard work. You believe there is something in it for you if you perform well. This belief can be affected by:
  • Having a clear understanding of what has to be achieved in order to receive a reward – what the ‘rules’ are for you to get rewarded for your effort
  • Trusting the people who will decide whether or not you (or others) receive a reward for a corresponding level of outcome
  • Transparency in the process that results in who gets what outcome and corresponding reward

Valence is the importance that a person places on the reward or expected outcome. For example, if I am motivated to spend time with my family more than by money, I will not value an offer of overtime. On the other hand, if money is of utmost importance to me at the moment, I will place a much higher value on that overtime.

So in order for a person to be motivated by what they believe the outcome will be (the reward), all of the following must be true:
  • They must believe that their increased effort will increase their performance
  • They must believe that their increased performance will increase their reward
  • They must value the reward being offered

You’ll also notice the box in Figure 2 with ‘equity?’ indicating that people will compare their outcomes with those received by others and they may adjust their effort accordingly. For example, if I sold 100 widgets and you sold 50 widgets but we both got the same bonus, I will probably reduce my effort the next time around – in other words, I will be less motivated because I will perceive that there was some inequity in the reward structure.

Under this theory, organizations will have a challenge in motivating every individual because motivation is based on an individual’s perceptions of expectancy, instrumentality, valence, and equity in the existing system. However, as individuals, we can apply this theory of motivation to any area of our lives where we need to be motivated. We can create our own rewards for our performance and for achieving our personal goals. Since we would also be in control of the reward system, there would be no chance of not getting the expected reward – unless of course, you don’t follow through on your promise to yourself!

As individuals, we can apply this theory of motivation to any area of our lives where we need to be motivated by creating our own rewards for performance and goal achievement.

3.4 McCleland’s Need-Based Model

David McCleland based his theory of motivation on the idea that each of us has three fundamental needs:
  • The need for achievement
  • The need for affiliation
  • The need for power (authority)
McCleland said that each of us has these three needs in a different balance. These needs affect how we can be motivated as well as how we try to motivate other people. McCleland was particularly interested in understanding people who have a high need to achieve because they are not as common as one might think. Here is a brief explanation of each type of need:

N-ach: Need for achievement:
  • Seek achievement
  • Strive to attain goals
  • Want advancement
  • Need feedback
  • Need a sense of accomplishment

N-affil: Need for affiliation:
  • Need for interaction with others
  • Need for friendship
  • Want and need to be liked

N-pow: Need for power:
  • Authority motivated
  • Need to influence others
  • Need to make an impact
  • Need to lead
  • Need to increase personal prestige or status

McCleland conducted a famous experiment where he asked people to throw rings over a peg, like in a fairway game. There were no instructions given as to where the people had to stand, so people threw the rings from different distances. Yet he noticed that the people who had tested as having a high level of the need to achieve chose their positions carefully – they picked positions that were neither too close nor too far. They chose a distance that was realistic but not too easy. In other words, they seemed to be challenging themselves while still making achievement of the goal a real possibility.

What McCleland realized about those with a high level of need to achieve is that they set goals at a level where they feel they can influence the outcome and yet where there is still the need to stretch in order to achieve the goal. He also found that these people were more likely to look for ways that a situation could be improved. They believe they have influence and the ability to make a difference.

So what if you are not a naturally achievement-motivated person? If you don’t see the achievement of the outcome as reward in itself, you are not alone. Many people are motivated by affiliation or power instead. But McCleland believed that motivation by achievement could be taught and learned. In fact, you are learning some of the ways to become more motivated by realistic goal-setting in this ebook.

3.5 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Finally, not discussion of theories of motivation would be complete without Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a theory on what motivates people in his paper A Theory of Human Motivation. He posited that people have five levels of needs that they seek to meet. The more basic the need, the more motivated a person will be to fulfill it. So using his Hierarchy of Needs, you can begin to assess how strong the motivation factor will be for a group of people or an individual. Figure 3 shows Maslow’s hierarchy.

The bottom four layers of the pyramid Maslow called d-needs or deficiency needs. Failure to meet these needs could result in physical harm in the case of the physiological level. Or if the next three layers of needs are not met, such as lack of security, friendship or love, and self-esteem, the body won’t necessarily give physical signs of the deficiency, but the person will be upset, disconnected, anxious, or tense.
Maslow proposed five levels of human needs. The most basic, and therefore the most motivating, are at the bottom of the model.

3.5.1 Level One – Physiological Needs

The bottom, or most important needs, are the physiological needs. These are just what they sound like – with the exception of clothing and sexual activity, the things that our bodies need in order to keep functioning. These are the things that we will be most motivated to pursue should we experience a lack of them. They include:
  • Air
  • Food
  • Water
  • Clothing
  • Shelter
  • Sexual Activity

3.5.2 Level Two – Safety Needs

Once the physical needs have been met, the individual will then focus on making sure that they are safe. These are the things people want in order to create a certain level of predictability and order in the world. It doesn’t just mean physical safety, but can also mean general health and well-being, safety from financial ruin, injustice, or having to deal with the stress of the unfamiliar. Other examples related to our professional lives include:
  • Job security
  • Protection from unilateral authority
  • Financial savings
  • Insurance policies
  • Reasonable accommodations for the disabled

Safety needs are the second level of human need. Meeting these needs helps establish a sense of predictability, order, and well-being.

3.5.3 Level Three – Belonging Needs

The third level of human needs revolve around social interactions and the need to belong. These needs will be pursued once the lower needs are met. People will fulfill this need by pursuing individual relationships and by joining larger social organizations. These relationships are emotionally-based and fulfill the need to be loved by, cared, for, and accepted by others.

All human beings need to feel a sense of belonging which will be manifested in a variety of relationships – including those in the workplace.

If these needs are not met, individuals become more at risk for depression, social awkwardness or anxiety, or loneliness. In some cases of extreme peer pressure, individuals may actually sacrifice the lower levels of needs in order to fit in.

People may fulfill this level of need through different relationships, such as:
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Intimate Relationships
  • Clubs or Social Organizations
  • Sports Teams
  • Office Culture
  • Religious Groups
  • Professional Organizations

3.5.4 Level Four – Ego-Status

The ego-status needs are related to the belonging needs, but with one major difference. Whereas belonging needs refer to being a part of a group, ego-status needs refer more to how the individual believes she is seen by those groups. We each have a self-image which is at least in part developed by how we believe we appear to others. For example, we believe we are smart, funny, kind, considerate, or any number of different attributes. We also believe that others see us that way. Our needs at this level revolve around us reinforcing our self-image and, by turn, the image others have of us. People will strive to fill this need by such means as:
  • Status and achievement at work
  • The accumulation of wealth
  • The accumulation of ‘status symbols’ (cars, homes, etc.)
  • Recognition from others
  • Taking opportunities to lead others
  • Associations with people who have the esteem of others
  • Personal achievement in areas such as education, skills, and hobbies
  • Pride in the achievements of their family members
The ego-status level of needs related to how we believe others see us and how we see ourselves.

Those with the healthiest sense of self-esteem are those whose esteem is based on their own accomplishments and internal feelings. The more self-esteem is based on external things and associations, the more fragile that esteem is.

Additionally, we perceive a certain ‘status’ that we have in our groups. This status could be conferred on us literally with a title, such as Director, Manager, Administrator, Chair, Treasurer, or Secretary. It could be an honorary status in the sense of being the person that others come to when they need help or advice. Or it could be that you simply have a certain level of popularity, success, or other achievement that gives you a strong sense of self-esteem and accomplishment. If these needs are not met, the individual may suffer from low self-esteem or an inferiority complex.

Those with the healthiest self-esteem are those whose esteem is based on their own accomplishments and internal feelings.
The more self-esteem is based on external things, the more fragile it is.

3.5.5 Level Five – Self-Actualization

Maslow described this level of human need as the desire to become more and more oneself, and to become more and more of what we are capable of becoming. This level of need is related to meeting one’s full potential – whatever that might be. The exact need is very individual. For example, one person might have the need to be the perfect parent. Another individual might have the need to become athletically gifted, or another to become artistically expressive.

The need for self-actualization is the need to become more and more oneself, and to become more and more of what we are capable of becoming.

It’s important to realize that this level of need is only achievable when the other four have been met. One must be physically nourished, not have to focus on safety, feel loved and a sense of belonging, and have a good level of self-esteem before he or she would seek this level of desire.

Maslow related two ways of understanding self-actualization that were taught to him by his professor, Dr. Wayne Dyer. They are:
  1. To cease caring about the good opinion of others
  2. To do things purely because you enjoy them – because they are the reason you are here on earth, not because of money, fame, or any other reason.
The more we are self-actualized, the more we will find that we are motivated by the things in life that make us happy rather than those that we do simply because it is our job or our role. Also, an increase in self-actualization naturally leads to more self-confidence because you feel more secure of yourself in general. If you no longer care about what other people think (generally) and you are doing things that you love, you are affirming your individuality and accepting yourself – faults and all.

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