Employee Motivation Theories and Concepts
WRT 312 (Critical Analysis & Research Writing)
Employee motivation theories and concepts
Numerous theories on the subject of employee motivation have been developed and published for the better part of this century. While early employers thought of their workers as just another input into the production of goods and services (Lindner, 1998), employees were becoming increasingly dissatisfied with working conditions and malevolent management. As post-war, labor tensions mounted in the 1920s, employers needed to change their approach to employee relations if they were to avoid costly, and sometimes violent, labor strikes. Early motivational theories set the foundation for the development of 20th century concepts, including the move to get “Googled” and motivational techniques based on business strengths found in the corporate toolbox. Early Motivational Theories
George Elton Mayo, an Australian-born psychologist and Harvard Professor, began significant research in 1927 in an attempt to demonstrate that employees, if appropriately motivated, are more productive and can achieve greater return through appropriate human relationship management techniques (Trahair & Zaleznik, 2005). This research, referred to as the “Hawthorne Studies,” found that employees are not only motivated by financial gain, but also by the behavior and attitude of their supervisors. During these studies, the employees responded positively to the mere fact that they were receiving attention from their supervisor as a result of the experiment. In his article, Gordon Marshall (1998) noted that “the term ‘Hawthorne effect’ is now widely used to refer to the behavior-modifying effects of being the subject of social investigation, regardless of the context of the investigation. More generally, the researchers concluded that supervisory style greatly affected worker productivity” (para. 1) and that “enhanced productivity therefore depends on management sensitivity to, and manipulation of, the ‘human relations’ of production” (para. 2). This represented a dramatic paradigm shift for employers and theorists alike.
Subsequent to the conclusion of the infamous Hawthorne Studies, five primary motivational theories have developed that have increased the understanding of what truly motivates employees. They are Maslow’s need-hierarchy, Hertzberg’s two-factor system, Vroom’s expectancy theory, Adam’s equity theory, and Skinner’s reinforcement theory. Maslow identified that employees, in general, have five primary levels of needs that include psychological (e.g. air, food, shelter), safety (e.g. security, order, stability), belongingness (e.g. love, family, relationships), esteem (e.g. achievement, status, responsibility), and self-actualization (McLeod, 2007). Maslow further noted that, in order to provide motivation, the lower levels would need to be satisfied before one progressed to the higher levels.
Hertzberg classified motivation into two, distinct factors. He believed that intrinsic factors (or motivators) produce job satisfaction through achievement and recognition while extrinsic (or hygiene) factors produce dissatisfaction. He identified extrinsic factors to be associated with compensation and perceived job security, or lack thereof. Vroom theorized that demonstrated effort would lead to performance which, in turn, would lead to reward (either positive or negative). The more positive the reward the more highly motivated the employee would be. To the contrary, negative rewards would result in a lesser motivated employee.
Adams found that employees want to ensure that there is a sense of fairness and equity between themselves and their co-workers. He believed that equity is achieved when employees are contributing, in terms of input and output, at the same rate. Skinner’s theory was likely the most simplistic, He established that employees will repeat...
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