Work Motivation

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American Psychologist |© 1990 by the American Psychological Association | | |February 1990 Vol. 45, No. 2, 144-153 |For personal use only--not for distribution. |

Work Motivation
Theory and Practice

Raymond A. Katzell
New York University
Donna E. Thompson
Baruch College, City University of New York


Major theories of motivation are classified as those dealing either with exogenous causes or with endogenous processes. Whereas the latter help explain motivation, the former identify levers for improving worker motivation and performance. Seven key strategies for improving work motivation are distilled from the exogenous theories. Illustrative programs are described for implementing those strategies, programs that aim at creating organizations in which workers are both better satisfied and more productive. Suggestions are offered for improving the science and technology of work motivation. [pic]In recent years, work motivation has emerged as an increasing topic of concern for American society. This heightened interest is due, in part, to the flagging productivity of our organizations. Demographic changes have further underscored the need for innovative approaches to developing, motivating, and retaining valuable human resources. There is no longer an endless supply of qualified individuals either for unskilled entry-level positions or for technical or more highly skilled jobs (Szilagyi & Wallace, 1983). Moreover, changes have occurred in what American workers want out of jobs and careers and, for that matter, out of their lives in general (Katzell, 1979;Lawler, 1985). Demographic projections for the increased diversity of the American workforce in the 1990s and beyond are also raising the additional problems of matching motivational practices to the needs and values of diverse subgroups of employees (Thompson & DiTomaso, 1988). [pic]Interest in work motivation among psychologists and other behavioral scientists who study organizations has escalated dramatically as well. In fact, probably no other subject has received more attention in recent journals and textbooks of organizational behavior (Cooper & Robertson, 1986). Current reviews of that literature amply document the extensive empirical research that has been done and the theories that have been formulated (e.g.,Landy & Becker, 1987;Locke & Henne, 1986;Pinder, 1984). [pic]In this article we endeavor to bring together major theories, research, and applications on the subject of motivation for work performance. Work motivation is defined as a broad construct pertaining to the conditions and processes that account for the arousal, direction, magnitude, and maintenance of effort in a person's job. We begin by briefly summarizing and classifying key theories. Seven key strategies for improving work motivation are then distilled from this classification. Various programs are described for implementing those strategies, with the aim of creating work situations in which workers are both better satisfied and more productive. Last, we suggest some future directions for research and practice.

Theories of Work Motivation

[pic]The early theories of work motivation can be characterized as simplistic. One view was that the key to motivating people at work was a behavioral version of the carrot and stick: Pay people for being good workers and punish or fire them for being otherwise. That was a basic tenet of so-called scientific management (Taylor, 1911). In contrast was the notion that a happy worker is a good worker, a notion that has been criticized as the core of the naive “human relations” movement (Perrow, 1972). Eventually the validity of both of these formulations was called into question by empirical findings. For example, it was noted that workers respond to incentives and disincentives other than money and even the keeping of a job (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959;Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939), and the...
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