What Motivates Employees According to over 40 Years of Motivation Surveys

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What motivates employees according to over 40 years of motivation surveys Carolyn Wiley
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA
Theoretical background The relationship between people and their work has long attracted psychologists and other behavioural scientists. Psychologists’ interests, dating back to the early years of the twentieth century, reflect the development of the industrial psychology and vocational guidance disciplines. Their work dealt with measurement of aptitudes and abilities to improve the job-person fit. The study of motivation now forms an integral part of both industrial and vocational psychology. However, in both fields, concepts like need, motive, goal, incentive and attitude are appearing with greater frequency than are the concepts of aptitude, ability and skill (Vroom, 1995, p. 4). Three assumptions guide contemporary research on human motivation: (1) Motivation is inferred from a systematic analysis of how personal, task and environmental characteristics influence behaviour and job performance. (2) Motivation is not a fixed trait. It refers to a dynamic internal state resulting from the influence of personal and situational factors. As such, motivation may change with changes in personal, social or other factors. (3) Motivation affects behaviour, rather than performance (Nicholson, 1995: p. 330-1). Initiatives designed to enhance job performance by increasing employee motivation may not be successful if there is a weak link between job performance and an employee’s efforts. Early management theories, such as Frederick W. Taylor’s Scientific Management Theory suggested using financial compensation to impel motivation and job performance. Personality and learning theories in psychology during the early 1900s led to the development of motivational programmes to enhance performance by creating organizational conditions that matched need satisfaction with on-task efforts. Research on the determinants of choice, from the 1940s through the 1960s, led to the development of predictive models of workplace behaviours, including turnover (Nicholson, 1995, p. 332). The rise of behaviourism, emphasized B.F. Skinner’s Operant Learning and Reinforcement Theory as a means of altering workplace behaviour. Behaviour modification techniques were then developed to enhance job performance. And job redesign was used to strengthen employee motivation by creating work environments that promoted a sense of achievement, the perception of

What motivates employees

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Received July 1995 Revised December 1995

International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 18 No. 3, 1997, pp. 263-280. © MCB University Press, 0143-7720

International Journal of Manpower 18,3 264

competence, and autonomy. The past two decades have seen tremendous growth in the use of goal setting and management by objectives (MBO) programmes. Thus, modern approaches to motivation may be organized into three related clusters (Kanfer, 1992): • personality-based views; • cognitive choice/decision approaches, and • goal/self-regulation perspectives. Goal/self-regulation frameworks of work motivation emphasize the factors that influence goal striving which focuses on the relationship between goals and work behaviour (Locke and Latham, 1990). The idea is that goal setting produces high performance. The basic premiss of goal setting theory is that an employee’s conscious intentions (goals) are primary determinants of taskrelated motivation since goals direct their thoughts and actions (Locke, 1968). Results of goal/self-regulation research indicate two critical preconditions of a positive goal-performance relationship: acceptance of the goal assignment and provisions for performance feedback. More recently, cybernetic control (Lord and Kernan, 1989), resource allocation (Kanfer and Ackerman, 1989), and socialcognitive theories (e.g. Bandura, 1986) have been used to examine more closely how particular attributes of a goal, a person and a...
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