Work Motivation Theories

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The work motivation theories can be broadly classified as content theories and process theories. The content theories are concerned with identifying the needs that people have and how needs are prioritized. They are concerned with types of incentives that drive people to attain need fulfillment. The Maslow hierarchy theory, Fredrick Herzberg’s two factor theory and Alderfer’s ERG needs theory fall in this category. Although such a content approach has logic, is easy to understand, and can be readily translated in practice, the research evidence points out limitations. There is very little research support for these models’ theoretical basic and predictability. The trade off for simplicity sacrifices true understanding of the complexity of work motivation. On the positive side, however, the content models have given emphasis to important content factors that were largely ignored by human relationists. In addition the Alderfer’s ERG needs theory allows more flexibility and Herzberg’s two-factor theory is useful as an explanation for job satisfaction and as a point of departure for job design.

The process theories are concerned with the cognitive antecedents that go into motivation and with the way they are related to one another. The theories given by Vroom, Porter and Lawler, equity theory and attribution theory fall in this category. These theories provide a much sounder explanation of work motivations. The expectancy model of Vroom and the extensions and the refinements provided by Porter and Lawler help explain the important cognitive variables and how they relate to one another in the process of work motivation. The Porter Lawler model also gives specific attention to the important relationship between performance and satisfaction. A growing research literature is somewhat supportive of these expectancy models, but conceptual and methodological problems remain. Unlike the content models, these expectancy models are relatively complex and difficult to translate into actual practice. They have also failed to meet the goals of prediction and control

Motivation Theory 1 – Adam’s Equity Theory of Work Motivation

The theory explains that a major input into job performance and satisfaction is the degree of equity or inequity that people perceive in work situations. Adam depicts a specific process of how this motivation occurs.

Inequality occurs when a person perceives that the ratio of his or her outcomes to inputs and the ratio of a relevant other’s outcomes to inputs are unequal.

Our Outcomes<Other’s Outcomes = Inequity (under-rewarded)
Our InputsOther’s Inputs

Our Outcomes=Other’s Outcomes = Equity
Our InputsOther’s Inputs

Our Outcomes>Other’s Outcomes = Inequity (over-rewarded)
Our InputsOther’s Inputs

Both the inputs and the outputs of the person and the other are based upon the person’s perceptions, which are affected by age, sex, education, social status, organizational position, qualifications, and how hard the person works, etc. Outcomes consist primarily of rewards such as pay, status, promotion, and intrinsic interest in the job. Equity sensitivity is the ratio based upon the person’s perception of what the person is giving (inputs) and receiving (outcomes) versus the ratio of what the relevant is giving and receiving. This cognition may or may not be the same as someone else’s observation of the ratios or the same as the actual situation.

If the person’s perceived ratio is not equal to the other’s, he or she will strive to restore the ratio to equity. This striving to restore equity is used as the explanation of work motivation. The strength of this motivation is in direct proportion to the perceived inequity that exists.

Research suggests that individuals engage in illegal behaviors to maintain equity in relationships, either with their employing organization or with other people (Greenberg, 1990).

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