Motivation Theories

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 2 November 2016

Motivation Theories

A couple of decades ago, the topic of motivation were just another term in the books of managers trying to implement behavioural techniques on their employees. Give perks, give monetary benefits, performance rewards and employees are bound to be motivated – as simple as that. But gradually as the years passed by, as people began to move out of the shackles of monotonous, menial work environments, there was a radical shift on how management studies began to view motivation. There were debates, lectures, psychological-social experiments and theories which suddenly threw the old concepts aside and brought in new ones.

The topic became a cynosure of all management, scientific and economic studies – a topic which was deemed simple suddenly became a complex monster without which, the workplace culture was poised to be threatened. Employees, after all, are the biggest assets of organizations – and motivation is what keeps them going. This paper will explore why the different motivational theories are important and break away from the usual old age concept of motivation and show it as the world is viewing motivation nowadays.

The idea is to generate a certain amount of interest and debate in the topic (otherwise relative) so as to obtain a clear understanding as to what might be the underlying reasons for employee motivation. Motivation Theories Assuming that the reader already knows what motivation is, have known about the various popular motivation theories and can distinguish between the various motivational theories and the literature surrounding them; it has been observed how the traditional motivational theories of Maslow have almost vanished from the experiments and recent research papers, whilst laying emphasis on job environments and social evaluations.

As the global market moves through recurring waves of economic slowdown and instability, more organizational changes have occurred leading to fluctuations in employee satisfaction and the way workers view their jobs. Motivation, clearly, has been a challenge. Leaving aside the various theories, basic motivational factors such as compensation rewards, innovative performance evaluation methods, the nature of work, organizational changes and socio-political structure have been evolving over the past few years and that has a direct impact on motivation.

Among all the theories, the one which stands out (and is probably relevant) is Herzberg’s motivator –hygiene theory, which divides the concept into two parts – the motivator factors and the hygiene factors. While job satisfaction and work autonomy contribute to the ‘motivator’ factors, ‘hygiene’ factors constituted of pay and performance. Herzberg deduced that the insufficient hygiene factors lead to de-motivation and the motivator factors like job enrichment contribute to motivation.

This is in compliance with the Hackman and Oldham’s theory of job enrichment which talks about increasing motivation stemming from skill identity, autonomy, task significance and job purpose. Deci & Ryan’s model talk about the similar aspects, giving rise to the notion that extrinsic motivational factors (factors outside work like pay, performance compensations, rewards) directly oppose the intrinsic factors (job satisfaction, challenging tasks, etcetera). While it is completely baseless to say that monetary rewards, i. e. xtrinsic factors do not work, it has been observed that insufficiency of such factors lead to extreme de motivation.

On the flip side, intrinsic motivational factors work only if the work is challenging enough to engage the interest of an individual wherein the job has a psychological impact on the skills of the employee. [1] New Theories and Experiments As we usher into newer business environments, new theories and experiments have cropped up which are causing a paradigm shift in the way the world looks at motivation.

The most popular which are used in business organizations are the carrot and stick approach [10] where colloquially employees are given ‘carrots’ as rewards and ‘sticks’ for reprimands. This consequently produces desirable and undesirable behaviours among employees who perform mechanical and process oriented jobs as in the service industry [13] . However, playing by the rules of the motivation theories, there have been an opposition to this and there was an approach constructed around the concept of intrinsic motivation when it comes to jobs which require creativity and rudimentary cognitive skills like building new products.

Among the most famous ones are the performance of the candle experiment (see Appendix 1) with a three groups of people where each group was given varying monetary rewards to solve the candle problem [6]. The result shows how the motivation through monetary rewards falls flat in the face of creative and cognitive jobs. The same has been elucidated Author Dan Pink in his bestseller book about motivation, Drive [14]. A similar experiment was performed by LSE economics who concluded that “… financial incentives can result in a negative impact on overall performance” [4].

As the topsy-turvy war between various motivation theories continues, there are companies who have exemplified intrinsic motivation by providing autonomy to their employees to motivate them – Google, Atlassian, Wikipedia are just among the few examples. This display of being able to motivate their employees has led to these companies being the stalwarts in their respective industries. Accountability and autonomy has been redefining motivation theories all across organizations in the Western world [3].

However, across industries, organizations have been still trying to motivate their employees through rewards and monetary benefits while ignoring the age old basics of the intrinsic motivation theory. Motivation in an economic crisis The fire test for managers concerning this subject comes during an economic downturn when employee motivation is at an all time low. Organizational behaviour theory suggests the usage of three models: The Authoritarian model is used by most firms worldwide involving trying to control processes and bring all the resources in order through downsizing.

However, this only leads to a substantial decrease in employee motivation. The IT service industry in India and other parts of Asia has been using this model during economic slowdown. This can be traced back to the roots of the Indian society which is built on a more authoritarian culture [11] . As the IT service industry is a more process oriented job, the managers mostly try to balance the company profits with resource downsizing. Interestingly, this industry sector also successfully uses the ‘carrot and stick’ approach to motivate their employees.

The Paternalistic model tries to build up on the social protection of employees by gaining their trust and their willingness to continue with the company. This does not dampen motivation but does not elevate employee motivation enough to bring the firm out of crisis, as the employees are not encouraged to improve their skills. Russian firms in the 1990’s used this model to control the economic downturn but failed miserably as the employees were not motivated and it also accentuated the crisis situation.

Based on Rensis Likert’s Supportive relationships principle, the Supportive model recognizes the employee as the most important member of the firm, which in turn is likened to a social system [2] . Probably the best form of motivation during a crisis would be the supportive relationship principle wherein people’s outlook towards economic barriers are used to overcome the crisis, hence changing their attitude towards job satisfaction and organization commitment by discovering growth opportunities, giving the employees ideas to foster company profitability and minimizing their professional crisis [5].

Motivation in IT industries – Asian vs. Western As the world is being swept by technological advancements, the IT sector has been in the boom and has been defining the trend in economic patterns. Considering the IT industry, in Asian markets such as India or the Philippines, where the industry is more service oriented, the motivation model is completely different from that which is used in the Western world. Western IT companies, which are more product based, do not follow the age old motivation theories.

These theories like Maslow and Taylor of trying to influence workers and employees with fat salaries have been adopted by organizations which have an Indian base. However, the Indian companies which deal with the IT service industry address the needs of the employees in a more radical and structured manner as these companies understand the needs of the employees better than the Western companies with a presence in India. The dichotomy of the East-West cultures force organizations to take various approaches to the subject of motivating employees.

In India, the BPO and the IT industry, which mostly dominate the economy, is heavily dependent on people, hence the motivational approaches are as important as the job itself [12]. The industry also shows a large spike in attrition as past trends have shown arising out of factors mainly because the employee is not motivated. An attitude study was conducted by Robbins to find out behavioural patterns of employees in BPO industry and to find out whether redesign of work, autonomy and restructuring teamwork and feedback increase satisfaction at the workplace, which in turn results in higher performance and motivating employees.

The results were surprising as it was found that there was no relationship between job characteristics and motivation. Instead it was found that BPO workers were motivated to work as long as their salaries and financial demands were being met [9]. This technique is adopted by a lot of multinational companies which establish their BPO base in Indian and Philippine market. However, the Indian companies in the IT sector take a different approach by addressing the working conditions (like graveyard shift benefits), social concerns and standard of living of the employees.

This is provided, not only by monetary benefits, but also by work time flexibility, autonomy, purpose and a sense of belonging. Surprisingly, this is the same strategy which is used in the western culture to motivate the employees. In Malaysia, where the service industry is one of the most emerging markets in Asia, there are several push and pull factors which affect employee motivation, which in turn affects the high rate of attrition in this sector.

Studies in the Malaysian IT service market have concluded that though compensation and rewards have been the primary methods to motivate employees, work and job purpose are also seen as among the various pull factors which affect it [7]. Recently, however, international businesses have been restructuring and redesigning their reward and motivation scheme to address the local culture of Asian countries, aligning them with those of the Western cultures. Conclusion Motivation, as we see, is not just about trying to encourage employees with rewards and benefits.

A lot of psychological and social aspects are intertwined with the way motivation works. All the motivational theories are bound to clash against each other as organizations are changing the way they look at employees and their needs. Managers need to be aware of the fact that employees are not just assets and treat workers with a sense of belonging. As globalization is turning a page, managers have to keep in mind how the workers react to workplace environments and how they can be motivated to shape up organizations and industries, on a whole by inducing creativity and encouraging them to look at the broader picture existing in businesses.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 2 November 2016

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