Theories of Motivation

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Theories of Motivation

Overview
At a simple level, it seems obvious that people do things, such as go to work, in order to get stuff they want and to avoid stuff they don't want.  Why exactly they want what they do and don't want what they don't is still something a mystery. It's a black box and it hasn't been fully penetrated. Overall, the basic perspective on motivation looks something like this:

In other words, you have certain needs or wants (these terms will be used interchangeably), and this causes you to do certain things (behavior), which satisfy those needs (satisfaction), and this can then change which needs/wants are primary (either intensifying certain ones, or allowing you to move on to other ones).  A variation on this model, particularly appropriate from an experimenter's or manager's point of view, would be to add a box labeled "reward" between "behavior" and "satisfaction". So that subjects (or employees), who have certain needs do certain things (behavior), which then get them rewards set up by the experimenter or manager (such as raises or bonuses), which satisfy the needs, and so on. Classifying Needs

People seem to have different wants. This is fortunate, because in markets this creates the very desirable situation where, because you value stuff that I have but you don't, and I value stuff that you have that I don't, we can trade in such a way that we are both happier as a result.  But it also means we need to try to get a handle on the whole variety of needs and who has them in order to begin to understand how to design organizations that maximize productivity. Part of what a theory of motivation tries to do is explain and predict who has which wants. This turns out to be exceedingly difficult. Many theories posit a hierarchy of needs, in which the needs at the bottom are the most urgent and need to be satisfied before attention can be paid to the others. 

Maslow
Maslow's hierarchy of need categories is the most famous example:  self-actualization|
esteem|
belongingness|
safety|
physiological|
Specific examples of these types are given below, in both the work and home context. (Some of the instances, like "education" are actually satisfiers of the need.) Need| Home| Job|
self-actualization| education, religion, hobbies, personal growth| training, advancement, growth, creativity| esteem| approval of family, friends, community| recognition, high status, responsibilities| belongingness| family, friends, clubs| teams, depts, coworkers, clients, supervisors, subordinates| safety| freedom from war, poison, violence| work safety, job security, health insurance| physiological| food water sex| Heat, air, base salary|

According to Maslow, lower needs take priority. They must be fulfilled before the others are activated. There is some basic common sense here -- it's pointless to worry about whether a given color looks good on you when you are dying of starvation, or being threatened with your life. There are some basic things that take precedence over all else.  Or at least logically should, if people were rational. But is that a safe assumption? According to the theory, if you are hungry and have inadequate shelter, you won't go to church. Can't do the higher things until you have the lower things. But the poor tend to be more religious than the rich. Both within a given culture, and across nations. So the theory makes the wrong prediction here. Or take education: how often do you hear "I can't go to class today, I haven't had sex in three days!"?  Do all physiological needs including sex have to be satisfied before "higher" needs?  (Besides, wouldn't the authors of the Kama Sutra argue that sex was a kind of self-expression more like art than a physiological need? that would put it in the self-actualization box). Again, the theory doesn't seem to predict correctly. Cultural critique: Does Maslow's classification really reflect the order in which needs are...
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