Employee Motivation:



Ryan and Deci (2000;69) state that “in the real world, motivation is highly valued because of its consequences: motivation produces”. Oyedele (cited by Holmes, 2011; 2) believes “owing to the multifaceted nature of motivation and the fact that there is no single answer of what best motivates people at work, there are many competing theories that attempt to explain the nature of motivation.” There have been many theories on employee motivation over the last century these range from Taylor's scientific management, through Maslow's hierarchy of needs, and Herzberg's motivator-hygiene factors, to contemporary theories of goal setting, ERG and the four-drive model.

I will be looking at what motivation is, followed by an examination of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Herzberg's motivator hygiene theory, and seeing whether they are still of contemporary relevance. This is because according to Holmes (2011) these theories form the basis of most contemporary theories, and the terminology is still widely used by business managers today. I will then be looking at the four drive model which is a more recent theory, before eventually examining the aspects of Locke and Latham's metatheory of motivation, which brings together the existing theories.

What is motivation?

Nohria et al (2008; 1) argue that “getting employees to do their best work, even in trying circumstances, is one of managers most enduring and slippery challenges.” Kirstein (2010; 1) believes that motivating people at all levels of an organisation is important, however due to human nature being complex it has been an issue troubling managers for over 50 years. He states “managers today are no closer to understanding employees motivation than their counterparts more than half a century ago.”

Robbins (cited by Ramlall, 2004; 53) defines motivation as the “willingness to exert high levels of effort toward organisational goals, conditioned by the effort's ability to satisfy some individual need.” Sadri and Clarke (2011; 45) state “motivation relates to a range of psychological processes that guide an individual towards a goal and cause that person to keep pursuing that goal.” Whilst Pinder (cited by Latham and Pinder, 2005; 487) highlights work motivation as “a set of energetic forces that originates both within as well as beyond an individuals being, to initiate work related behaviour, and to determine its form, direction, intensity and duration.”

Maslow's hierarchy of needs:

Maslow (1970) combined the numerous approaches to motivation (before individual factors were the primary focus in the literature – biology, achievement or power etc) and developed a hierarchy of needs. Ramlall (2004: 54), when assessing Maslow's theory, states “employees at organisations are motivated by the desire to achieve or maintain the various conditions upon which these basic satisfactions rest.”

According to Maslow there are 5 needs that need to be met: Physiological, safety, social, esteem and self actualisation (figure 1).


(Figure 1, Maslow's hierarchy of needs)

Physiological: these are essential to be able to continue with life. These needs can include: air, water, food and good health. Maslow argued that if these needs aren't met then the desire to do other things (work, write poetry or buy a car) can be forgotten or become of secondary importance.

Safety: the need for security and an absence of threat. This can include: stability, protection, structure and freedom from anxiety. Maslow argues that the healthy and fortunate adults in society are largely satisfied in the safety needs and therefore they are no longer an active motivator.

Social: the need for close relationships. This involves the giving and receiving of love. Maslow argues that once the first two needs are met, this becomes the most important. He adds that when this need is unsatisfied the person will keenly feel the absence of friends, a mate or children.

Esteem: Maslow (1970; 21) states that “all people in our society ... have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, usually high evaluation of themselves, for self respect or self esteem.” He goes on to add that by satisfying this need they gain feelings of self confidence, strength and adequacy, however if the need is unsatisfied then feelings of inferiority, weakness and helplessness emerge.

Self actualisation: Maslow (1970; 22) states that this need refers to “people's desire for self fulfilment, namely to become actualised in what they are potentially.” In other words people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth and fulfilling their potential.

Whilst all these needs are important Poston (2009) argues that a distinction should be made between the “deficit needs” and “being needs”. A deficit need is when an individual is without something (food, water, shelter etc) whilst a being need is internal and at the top of Maslow's hierarchy.

Is Maslow still relevant today?

Whilst Maslow's hierarchy is an important model, it was first developed in 1943 and it is therefore easy to think that it is out of date and has no contemporary relevance to today's world. Shafiq et al (2011) argue that Maslow's hierarchy is still one of the most popular. However many academics disagree with the stages he initially set out. Rutledge (2011) argues Maslow underestimated the importance of social connections, as none of the needs can be met without them.

Kenrick et al (2010; 294) highlight that Maslow only focussed on the personal needs and therefore omitted reproduction needs, which they believe are a key motivator. They state “the most enduring aspect of Maslow's theory is his idea of organising fundamental motives into a hierarchy”. Sadri and Clarke (2011; 48) add that Maslow's hierarchy is a framework that can still be used now in order to “assist companies in ensuring that they offer benefits that help satisfy needs at all five levels of the hierarchy.”

Herzberg's motivator-hygiene theory:

In his study Herzberg (1968; 87) identified that whilst some features served to motivate and satisfy employees other features prevented employees becoming dissatisfied. He states “the things that make people satisfied and motivated on the job are different in kind from the things that make them dissatisfied.” He named these “motivating factors” and “hygiene factors”. (Herzberg 1968, and Campbell and Craig, 2008; 610-611)

Motivating factors: Hackman and Oldham (1976) state these “factors are called 'motivators' because they are believed to be effective in motivating employees to superior effort and performance. These can include: opportunity to achieve worthwhile goals; growth, development and promotion; recognition; status attached to job and the level of responsibility and authority.

Hygiene Factors: These are features of work that prevent employees becoming dissatisfied. Campbell and Craig (2008; 610) state that “they do not motivate, but serve to maintain the employee's co-operation and loyalty.” These can include salary, supervision and administration.

Herzberg (1968; 87) states that his research “indicates that motivators were the primary cause of satisfaction and hygiene factors the primary cause of unhappiness on the job.” Mak and Sockel (2001; 267) argue that motivators, which make people happy, are related to what people did, whilst hygiene factors, which make people unhappy, are related to how they are treated.

Is Herzberg still relevant?

Roos (2005; 25) argues that Herzberg's motivator-hygiene theory has led to the redesign of many jobs to allow for “greater participation of employees in planning, performing and evaluating their own work,” meaning employees are more motivated. This has been achieved because the motivator-hygiene theory is a successful way of focusing attention “on the importance of providing employees with work that is meaningful to them.” Dalton (2010) adds that the “recognition and reward of good performance is one of the strongest stimulants for employee motivation.” Giancola (2011; 24) meanwhile highlights that a popular management dictum is “if you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do.” This is a concept that is still present in management thinking today on how to motivate employee's.

Whilst Herzberg's theory has been popular it has received criticism. Campbell and Craig (2008; 251) identify salary as a source of contention – should it be a motivator or as Herzberg believed a hygiene factor? In a study for McKinsey and Company (Dewhurst et al, 2009) it was found that non financial incentives were seen to be more effective in motivating employees than financial incentives. Table 1 shows the percentage of respondents who answered 'extremely' or 'very effective' for how effective the different incentives were at motivating them. The fact that increase in base pay was identified by 52% of the respondents shows that it is seen as a motivating factor.

Praise and commendation from immediate manager
Attention from leaders
Opportunities to lead projects or task forces
Performance-based cash bonuses
Increase in base pay
Stock or stock options
(Table 1, Effectiveness of different incentives)

Major Process Theories

Expectancy Theory

Individuals choose work behaviours that they believe will lead to outcomes they value (Vroom, 1964). The individual will consider the degree of effort required to produce an output. This output should match the management expected output and therefore warrant an expected reward. Porter et al (1968) criticised this theory as too simplistic.

Equity Theory

Individuals are motivated to reduce any perceived inequity (Vroom, 1964). An individual may reduce the amount of effort they apply to a task should a peer get the same reward for less effort.

Goal Setting Theory

Lock (1968) identified the goal setting theory as specific and challenging goal affecting the motivation and behaviour of the individual. Specific performance goals are more effective than asking an individual to do “the best they can”. Challenging goals are more motivational than easy or vague goals. The more dedicated an individual is at achieving the goal the more motivated they become. Commitment from an individual is greater when they are involved in the goal setting process.

Reinforcement Theory

Skinner (1938) identified that it was not necessary to study the needs or cognitive processes of an individual but examine the consequences of their behaviour. It is believed that behaviour that is reinforced is likely to continue. The reward for doing something well is an example that is used within business. Behaviour that is not rewarded or punished will not continue. If there is no reward, why is it worth doing it again?

When motivating a workforce all four of the major process theories are useful. A manager should when possible ensure that the employee believes that an increased effort will improve overall performance and this may lead to valued rewards.(Vroom, 1964). Managers need to be aware of how the employee perceives the reward system. Employees need to see it as being fair. Within any organisation the management should be aware of the motivational benefits of having the involvement of the employee in the setting of goals and understand the level of self efficacy of an employee. Should this level be high the employee is more likely to respond positively to the setting of challenging goals. Good performance should be encouraged with positive feedback and praise (Skinner,1938 ) and that negative performance will not be rewarded and may lead to punishment.

Motivation in the 21st century:

Steers et al (2004) argue that since the 1970's few new ideas and concepts have emerged on employee motivation. Instead the theories founded in the 1960's and 1970's were extended and refined in subsequent works, by new academics. Similarly Holmes (2011), who categorised Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Herzberg's motivator hygiene frameworks as founding theories, argues that the contemporary theories (including the ERG theory, the Goal setting theory and the cognitive evaluation theory) expand on these existing models. Lawrence and Nohria “bucked” the trend in motivational theory when they applied the four drive model to motivation (Abraham, 2010 and Lawrence, 2010).

Lawrence and Nohria's four-drive model of motivation:

The four drive model of motivation is a “holistic way of looking at employee motivation beyond the typical 'pay' model that is prevalent in the corporate world today.” (Thelanterngroup, 2011). There are four underlying drives:

  • Acquire and achieve – this is when people are driven to acquire goods that are either material (food, clothing and shelter etc.) or positional (for example social acknowledgement and recognition).

  • Bond and belong – this is the mechanism to form social relationships and develop mutual caring commitments with other humans. Abraham (2010; 83) states “those who have bonded well had a relative advantage over those who did not”.

  • Be challenged and comprehend – this is where individuals seek to learn in order to decrease their uncertainty and make situations more consistent with what is perceived as 'normal' behaviour.

  • Define and defend – these are mechanisms that make people defend themselves and their valued accomplishments whenever they perceive them to be endangered.

Nohria et al (2008; 2) argue that these four drives underlie everything that we do and if an organisation is able to meet these needs they will have a motivated work force. In a study carried out by Lawrence and Nohria (cited by Nohria et al, 2008; 2) they found that “the ability to meet the four fundamental drives explains on average about 60% of employees variance on motivational indicators.” The average of previous models has only explained about 30% of the variance.

The environment (the situation or circumstance that is present when a task needs to be completed) acts as a stimulant for the motivating behaviours to manifest. Figure 2 demonstrates how the four drives interact with the environment to create a motivated work force.

(Figure 2, The four drives model)

Block (2009; 35) states that organisations are made up of people, and because of this it is essential that the four drives are met as “people need and want all four drives to be satisfied simultaneously.” McEuan (2011; 5) however highlights that the drives are independent of the others and therefore fulfilling one drive does not mean that all the other drives will be fulfilled. She goes on to add that these principles can be applied to all people but states “we know that all people are not alike”. This highlights clearly the problem of all motivational theories – what motivates one person does not necessarily motivate another.

The role of motivating employees is that of the organisation as a whole, and the individual managers. According to Nohria et al (2008; 2) “research shows that individual managers influence overall motivation as much as any organisational policy”. E.O Wilson states, in regards to the academic significance of Lawrence and Nohria's theory “the four drive model will also be of interest to scholars because it has been conceived from an independent approach to the study of human nature. Its conception of broad instinctual categories can serve as a valuable reference point for future studies by both social scientists and biologists.”

In 2001 the Academy of Management Review (AMR) issued a call for papers which offered new and useful ideas into work motivation (Steers et al, 2004). Whilst they received over 50 papers, they were only able to publish 6 papers. These were:

  1. Locke and Latham who focused on the development of metatheories of motivation
  2. Fried and Slowik who examined how time factors can influence goal setting processes
  3. Seo, Barratt and Bartunek who identified a set of direct and indirect paths through which work related affective feelings can influence three dimensions of behavioural outcomes
  4. Kanfer and Ackerman who used life span and adult development theories to facilitate an understanding of the implications of ageing on workplace motivation
  5. Ellemers, Gilder and Haslam who used self categorisation theory and social identity processes to examine the ways in which individuals and groups interact and are motivated
  6. Kehr who examined the explicit and implicit motives and perceived abilities on motivation in the workplace

I will be focusing on Locke and Latham's metetheory in more detail, and seeing how it has built on the traditional theories and offer a new insight into motivation in the twenty first century.

Locke and Latham' metatheory of motivation:

Locke and Latham (2004; 389) argue that whilst there is a plethora of existing work motivation theories and there is an “urgent need to tie these theories and processes together into an overall model.” They present a 'metatheory' which include “six recommendations for building theories of work motivation that are more valid, more complete, broader in scope and more useful to practitioners than existing theories.” These recommendations help in advancing knowledge and understanding of employee motivation in the twenty first century. The six recommendations are:

  1. Use the results of existing meta-analysis to integrate valid aspects of extant theories. In other words tie existing theories and processes together into one overall model. Figure 3 is one version of their integrated model of work motivation. (It can be seen more clearly and with Locke and Latham's additional comments on page 390 of their 2004 paper.)
  2. Create a boundaryless science of work motivation. This involves doing two things: first work motivation should be extended and further developed in areas other than task performance and second motivation theorists should consider using concepts developed outside organisational behaviour and industrial/ organisational psychology.
  3. Identify how general variables such as personality get applied to and are mediated by task and situationally specific variables, how they are moderated by situations and how they affect situational choice and structuring
  4. Study subconscious as well as conscious motivation and the relationship between them
  5. Use introspection explicitly as a method of studying and understanding motivation
  6. Acknowledge the role of volition on human action when formulating theories


(Figure 3, Integrated model of work motivation)

Steel and Konig (2006; 898) agree that the theories are not in competition and state that they should be “viewed as hierarchically” meaning each theory provides different benefits by focusing on specific components and levels of analysis. Davis et al (2010; 222) however believes that a single meta-theory “would in all probability yield a cumbersome outcome.”
Motivational Theory.

“Understanding yourself will enable you to understand better the individuals with whom you work. If you are in a management role then thinking about the motivations of those who you work with may increase your knowledge of how to support them,” (Sussex 2008:180).
Motivation theory links that of motivation and performance and is usually a positive link, there is varied reasons to behind people’s motivation and is useful to know.

Knowing how to manage one’s own emotions can help with personal skills for a managing role. Managing can be hard and lonely job and it is crucial to find out what resources you can draw from those work colleagues around you.
This table below shows some different motivational drivers.

Motivational Drive

When accomplishment is important, the need to finish a task well.
Social interests are important, loyalty to the organisation and the team.
A person has a drive to be good at what they do.
If a person is motivated by an interest in changing things and influencing others.
Source: (Sussex 2008:181).

It has been identified that there have been nine motivational drivers, which are key factors to helping people feel motivated in work. It has been said that as a manager you need to ask yourself these nine questions being completely brutal with your answers in order to pinpoint what drivers are missing.

Fit: - is this person in the right role? Are there strengths and weaknesses specifications to the job?
Expectations: - do the employee know what is expected from them? How can you clarify those expectations.

Requirements: - does this person have what is needed to work productively? (e.g. training, equipment, work space.)

Work Style: - How does this person work (outgoing vs. reserved; task-oriented vs. people-oriented)? How can I respond to these behaviors?

Strengths: - What strengths does this employee have? How can I continually build on these strengths?
Competency: - Is this employee getting better at what he or she does? If not, what can I do to develop this person more fully?

Feedback: - Do I routinely give effective feedback (positive and constructive) on performance? If not, how can I improve in this area?

Connection: - Does this person feel connected to me and my team? If not, how can I help him or her feel more closely linked?

Contribution: - Does this employee know how he or she contributes to the success of the organization? If not, how can I let this person know?

As a manager it may be unrealistic to put all nine drivers in place for each person, however it may be more realistic to put one or two into motion.
At the very least, you consider these motivational strategies:
  • Don’t bog people down with unnecessary policies and procedures.
  • Quit micromanaging.
  • Connect people to one another.
  • Communicate!

Motivation and job satisfaction.
It has been said by many that motivation is linked to that of job satisfaction. In the 1930’s it was suggested that what motivates a person is being treated with respect and dignity and when managers show an interest in them. This may seem very obvious to us all now, however motivation is still highly connected to job satisfactory within staff members.
“One reason for understanding people might be to enhance the quality and quantity of their work. There was a view that if mangers could understand people better it might be possible to enhance life and job satisfaction and to improve productivity.” (Skye in Henderson and Atkinson 2003:228).
The Skills Model. (Motivation and leadership.)
“The skills approach takes a leader-centred perspective on leadership. However, in the skills approach we shift our thinking from focus on personality characteristics, which usually are viewed as innate and largely fixed upon, to an emphasis on skills and abilities that can be learned and developed. Although personality certainly plays an integral role in leadership, the skills approach suggests that knowledge and abilities are needed for effective leadership, (Northouse 2010:39).
The skills model identifies four individual attributes that have an impact on leadership skills and knowledge, general cognitive ability, crystallised cognitive ability, motivation and personality.
Motivation is listed as the third attribute to this model. Although the skills model does not really explain in many ways why motivation ma affect some ones leadership, it does suggest three aspects of motivation that are essential in developing some leadership skills.
First leaders must be willing, in the sense of taking on complex organisational problems, they must be able to express dominance, - to exert influence to others. Third, leaders must be committed to the social good of the company. “However, in the skills model it refers to the leaders willingness to take on the responsibility of trying to advance the overall human good and value of the organization. Taken together, the three aspects of motivation (willingness, dominance, and social good) prepare people to become good leaders,” (Northouse 2010:49).

How should motivation of the employees be increased?

If an employee does not engage and is not motivated as much as managers would like them to be, the only option for efficient use of workforce is to increase their motivation. The first thing managers need to understand is that different factors affect employees’ motivation differently. If the organisation has a lot of employees it is impossible to ask every employee what motivates them, therefore, employee appraisals could be used. On the other hand, if the organisation is relatively small then managers are most likely to know what motivates the employees. There are two approaches that a company can take in order to increase their employees’ motivation. These are financial or non – financial incentives. Which one an organisation decides to use depends on the factors that motivates employees as well as restrictions that may occur because of the company’s budget. If an organisation cannot afford bigger salaries or bonuses then non – financial incentives need to be introduced.

Financial incentives

Increasing motivation using financial benefits for the employees is the most common one used in businesses. If the organisation produces things, system where employees get paid for every item they make could be introduced or if the organisation is in sales business then commission payment scheme could be applied. In the first case the company should really control their product quality as employees will be motivated to make as many items as possible and thus, possibly reducing the quality of the product. In order to avoid this quality related issues bonuses could be given to the employee with the highest quality standards they complete their tasks, performance, sales records, etc. Company can also provide employees with other benefits (instead of pay raise or bonuses) such as health insurance, company cars, education reimbursement or employee discounts.

Non –financial incentives

Sometimes non –financial incentives are seen as more sustainable in achieving greater employee motivation. Since sometimes financial incentives increase motivation for only short term, non –financial incentives are more valued by the employees. By giving employees more responsibilities in their jobs managers can increase motivation. If an employee feels that their contribution to the business is valued and that their role is more important, there is a greater possibility of increased motivation when a person feels valued. The other scheme that could be applied is to promise an employee a higher position if they reach a certain target. The appraisal system is very valuable in achieving this because by reviewing their performance employees will feel that their value has been recognised in the organisation, which is a big motivator.
The other perspective to look at increasing employee motivation is to reduce their job dissatisfaction. This could be achieved by enlarging their jobs. For example, if it is a production company, employees could not only produce the item but also pack it. The other way is to introduce job rotation. This gives the employee the possibility to occasionally change the nature of their job. This could benefit the company as well by providing an employee with a wider range of skills. Both of these can reduce boredom of the employees and therefore, increase their motivation.
(BizHelp24, 2009)


It has been shown that having motivated employee's is important for the simple reason: motivated employees produce. McEuen (2011; 5) states that “we need committed, educated and highly motivated people at all organisational levels”. Therefore businesses and academics are constantly trying to discover what motivates people and the best way to motivate them. Herzberg argued that there were motivating factors and hygiene factors. However other academics have argued that people are different. What may motivate one person may not motivate another. Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs to categorise people depending on their needs at the time, whereas Lawrence and Nohria in a new theory argued people were motivated by four key drives.

Locke and Latham meanwhile believe that the different theories focus on different aspects of the motivational process and therefore thought that it was important to link all these aspects together in one model. Whilst Maslow's hierarchy of needs and Herzberg's motivator-hygiene factors are still seen to be relevant today, despite being around for over 50 years, the literature on employee motivation has struggled to move on from these theories. As has been mentioned they seem to be the basis for all following theories, and managers still use the terminology found in them. Locke and Latham (2004; 388) state “that in order to progress further, work motivation needs to be studied from new perspectives.”


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