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Two theories of motivation Essay

In this essay, I will be discussing what motivation means. I will then explain the content and process theory of motivation, and within each respective category, I will provide a detailed explanation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Vroom’s expectancy theory. Thereafter, the essay will examine how a team leader can apply and execute these strategies suggested by the relevant theories effectively within the workplace in efforts of motivating his/her team. Throughout the essay, definitions and arguments will be presented and supported by academic literature prior to reaching a conclusion.

This essay encapsulates the definition of ‘motivation’ in regards to work which is defined by French et al. (2011: 666) as referring to the ‘forces within an individual that account for the level of direction and persistence of effort expended at work.’ In other words motivation is the drive that we have to continuously ‘perform’ and ‘achieve’ within our work environment. It is therefore clear, that motivation is a highly critical and crucial aspect within the business world. Motivation can be attributed to the field of psychology as it deals with the human and emotional aspect of what makes one individual highly motivated to achieve something as opposed to someone who is not motivated to pursue a goal and achieve the desired outcome.

Today, motivation applies to all walks of life such as in sports, education and personal motivation, but for the purpose of this essay, I will be examining motivation from a business management perspective. Motivation in the workplace was an alien concept in the 20s and 30s. Siblinger (1993: 248) tells us how Elton Mayo who is now known as the founder of the Human Relations Movement, who was a professor at Harvard, conducted a series of experiments at a factory called Hawthorne Works. This was during an era of assembly line manufacturing, workers had to one task repeatedly, day in and day out. Sonnenfield (1985: 125) reports, ‘instead of treating the workers as an appendage to ‘the machine’ this studies revealed aspects such as motivational influences, job satisfaction, resistance to change, group norms, worker participation and effective leadership.’ From then on, there have been a countless number of motivational definitions and theories.

Motivational theories are notions that help in differentiating between why one employee works harder than another and what needs to be done to get that employee to work in an effective way. Invariably, for such a complex subject, there are bound to be scores of theories and processes competing to shed light on the subject in different ways. It is therefore essential to clarify that no one theory is conclusive and all-encompassing. The best way of understanding the main theories of motivation is to classify it into two key notions – content and process motivational theories. French et al. (2011: pp. 161- 162) describes them as two discrete theories as follows… content theories are primarily concerned with individual needs and motives. It therefore aims to address the ‘what’ motivates individuals to behave in a given way.

On the other hand, process theories are aimed at understanding the process of motivation and address the ‘how’ motivation transpires. For instance, a content theory may highlight that security is an important need. Process theory would go further in addressing how and why a need for security could be linked to specific rewards and to the specific actions that the employee may need to perform to achieve these rewards. Within each category, I will examine one theory from each category and evaluate its effectiveness. In regards to the Content Theory, I will evaluate Abraham Maslow’s theory of motivation which is based on a hierarchy of needs. For the Process Theory, I shall be evaluating Victor Vroom’s Theory on Expectancy.

Abraham Maslow (1943) introduced this theory in an article and is considered the first theory of motivation. Maslow’s theory suggests that ‘human needs’ arrange themselves into hierarchies, where as soon as an individual’s ‘basic needs’ are satisfied, they seek to satisfy ‘higher needs’. The hierarchy is often shown as a pyramid of five levels. The first four, which are at a lower level, are termed ‘deficiency needs’ or ‘D – needs’ as described by Maslow. The top level is related to ‘growth needs’. The notion is that is the higher needs only become active, once the needs at the lower spectrum of the pyramid are satisfied. The D-needs are categorised as:

Psychological needs – Physiological: hunger, thirst, bodily comforts, etc.

Safety/security: physical, emotional and psychological security

Belongingness and Love: affiliate with others and be accepted.

Esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition.

The next level, which is the top level, deals with the ‘growth needs’ or ‘B-needs’ (‘Being needs’). Now, as mentioned earlier, deficiency needs are basic needs and these needs can be neutralised once they are fulfilled. Growth needs, however, cannot be completely satisfied. This is the highest level in the hierarchy of needs. This level is known as self actualisation. It is the desire to become what one is capable of becoming. According to Maslow, at this level, an individual feels that he should accomplish something in his life and he needs to use all his potential and resources available to achieve what he is capable of becoming.

Moving on, I will be evaluating is a Process Motivational Theory, and just like content theory, there are quite a few proponents. Regardless, for the purpose of this essay, I will be looking at Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. This theory was proposed in 1964 at the Yale School of Management. Unlike Maslow, who focused on needs, Vroom (1964) focuses on outcomes. He stipulates that an employee’s motivation is an outcome of how much the employee wants the reward, which he calls valence. The notion that this effort will lead to the said performance (Expectancy), and as result of this performance, it leads to a reward (instrumentality). So, Valence is the importance attached by the employee about the expected outcome. It is an expected satisfaction that the individual expects rather than actual satisfaction upon completion of the task, and therefore, Expectancy is the faith that enhanced efforts will result in better performance. In other words:

Motivation = Expectation of Work will lead to Performance x Expectation Performance will lead to Reward x Value of Reward

Silbinger (1993:125)

Singh (2010: 280) states the crucial element of the expectancy theory is an understanding of an employee’s goals and the relationships between effort and performance. It is also the understanding between performance and rewards, and finally, between the rewards and individual goal satisfaction. Therefore, when an employee has high expectancy levels and the reward is alluring inevitably the motivational levels will increase.

As is the case with all theories, there are certain limitations. In Maslow’s case, the theory primarily deals, with behaviour. The problem is that you can rarely compartmentalise human behaviour. Some people are able to achieve self-actualisation without fulfilling the basic needs as Neher (1991) concurs. Also Maslow’s definition of needs may not be the same someone else. I agree with Maslow in terms of needs such as food, air, shelter, but would argue that respect and love from others and by others are not needs but desires. Another issue with this theory is the concept of self-actualization, as people do not go out of their way to achieve aspects of self-actualisation but rather it is subconsciously _achieved_. In regards to Vroom’s expectancy theory, there are some salient features to the theory as well as some drawbacks.

Employees who are target driven would be able to make the most of this theory. It can also be used as a tool for conducting staff appraisals, where targets are set out for a given period, and then performance is assessed against it. Rewards, which could be in the form of a bonus or pay rise, are given out accordingly. The main problem with this theory in my opinion is that setting out parameters for performance is quite difficult. In many cases, an individual’s performance is dependent on other work colleagues and/or departments, for which the individual would have no direct control. In such circumstances, it becomes quite difficult to realise the full potential of the theory.

A team leader’s main resources are his people – the team. To be successful, he has to ensure that his team members are all performing to a given standard. This is where a team leader has to use his people skills. If he was dealing with automated machines, computers or robots, it would be straight-forward, but as s/he is dealing with humans it is a different situation entirely. A team leader would therefore have to be familiar with various motivational theories. He would also have to be aware that it is highly unlikely, that you can apply one theory to a given situation. He would therefore have to be adept at using a combination of theories to get the best out of his team. He could therefore use Maslow’s theory of needs as a starting point, ensuring that his team’s psychological needs are taken care of by setting a fair wage, and regular breaks are provided. He needs to make sure that working environment is safe and also psychologically the team members feel secure in their jobs.

The team leader could also organise social events away from work, as this proven to be a great way of members understanding each other and feeling a level of camaraderie between them and the organisation. In terms of esteem, the team leader has to treat each member with a certain level of professional respect and not only reward for their efforts, but also give encouraging words and give praises where they are due. After a given time, some team members can be given challenging tasks or jobs, where the employee’s full potential is realised. There are aspects of Vroom’s’ Expectancy theory that a team leader could use as well.

The team leader should design a performance plan which would stipulate objectives and outcomes. This can be divided into the basic level of performance which deals with the minimum level of outcomes. The team leader can then add challenging goals which in turn would require a behavioural change from the employee in order to achieve it. Therefore, to motivate workers, the team leader must strengthen workers’ perceptions of their efforts as both possible and worthwhile and clarify expectations of performances. He should then link the rewards to performances, and ensure that rewards are desirable. In this way, a team leader can use a number of motivational theories in order to motivate his team and derive the best possible results.

The essay began with the concept of motivation and as mentioned earlier, it encompasses a wide array of fields. As humans motivation is the fuel that drives us to do what we do. In the business management field, motivation is extremely critical. A manager’s ability to perform is governed primarily on how s/he can derive the best out their employees. In fact the entire human relations concept in business has become a subject, known as Organisational Behaviour. Humans have complex needs and behavioural patterns. Understanding them and aligning them to the organisation’s needs is the challenge of a business manager. These theories on motivation certainly go a long way towards gaining an understanding. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that can be applied. A manager has to evaluate the situation and task and accordingly apply different elements of various theories.


French, R., Hunt, J., Jr, J.S., Osborn, R., Rayner, C., Rees, G. and Rumbles, S. (2011) _Organisational Behavior._ 2nd Ed. Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Maslow, A.H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation. _Psychological Review,_ Vol 50, No 4, pp.370-396.

Neher, A. (1991) Maslow’s Theory of Motivation: A Critique. _Journal of Humanistic Psychology_, Vol 31, No 3, pp.89-112.

Silbiger, S. (1994) The 10 Day MBA A step by step guide to mastering the skills taught in the business schools. London: Judy Piatkus Ltd.

Singh, K. (2010) _Organisational Behaviour Text and Cases._ London: Pearson Education Ltd.

Sonnenfield, J. A. (1985) “Shedding light on the Hawthorne Studies”. _Journal of Occupational Behaviour,_ Vol 60, No 2, pp.111-130.

Vroom, V. H. (1964) Work and Motivation. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

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