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Theories of Motivation

This essay will look at motivation to discuss the content theorist Abraham Maslow ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ relevance and his critics. The research of motivation is interested basically with why people act in certain ways. ’Why do people do what they do?’ In typical terms, motivation can be defined as the direction and perseverance of action. It is interested with why humans take a specific course of action in to others, and why they continue with a chosen endeavour, often sustained over long periods and in the face of difficulties and problems (Kerch D(ed) 1962).

From a review of motivational theory, ‘Mitchel’ pinpoints four common traits that are intrinsic in defining Motivation (Mitchel1982) Motivation is typified as an individual phenomenon. Every person is unique and all the major theories of motivation in one way or another allow for this uniqueness to be demonstrated.. Motivation is described, usually as intentional. Motivation is assumed to be under the workers control, and behaviours that are influenced by motivation, such as effort expended are seen as choices of action.

Motivation is multifaceted. The two factors of greatest importance are; 1 what gets people active (arousal); and 2 the force of an individual to engage in desired behaviour (direction or choice of behaviour). The purpose of motivational theories is to predict behaviour. Motivation is not the performance itself and it is not behaviour. Motivation concerns action and the external and internal factors that affect a persons choice of action. On the basis of these traits, Mitchell defines motivation as ‘the extent to which a person desires and adopts to engage in certain specific behaviours’.

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Mullins (2010) quotes ‘Kathy Scholfield, Director of Human resources, HFC Bank which was sited in ’Engineering the Carrott, Management Today December 1995.p66’ “ You don’t motivate individuals. You provide them with an environment to be self motivated. It is a personal decision, but it’s managements job to provide the right environment”. Content theories of Motivation

Significant content theories of motivation include •Maslow’s hierarchy of needs •Alderer’s modified need hierarchy model •Herzberg two factor theory. •McClelland’s achievement motivation theory. Content theories try to clarify the specific things that actually motivate the employee at work and are concerned with the identification of their strengths and needs, and the goals they seek in order to fulfil their needs. The content theories focus on the important factors of needs and what motivates.

“The most widely recognised theorist in motivation was Abraham Maslow who founded the concept “Hierarchy of needs”, his content theory focused on the factors within a person that energise, sustain and stop behaviour and attempt to identify the distinguishing needs that motivate people.” (Mitchell 2008) Cole (2004) states ‘Maslow’s studies into human motivation led him to propose a theory of needs based hierachial model with the basic needs at the bottom and the higher needs at the top, as in Fig1. This theory made a considerable influence on developments in management theory during the 1950s/60s due to partly to the simplicity of the model and partly to the identification of higher levels of needs.’

“Maslow’s basic proposition is that people are wanting beings, they always want more and what they want depends on what they have already have (Mullins 2010 p261). Maslow identified eight needs, however the hierarchy of needs only shows five main levels, ranging from the lowest level of physiological needs then through to safety needs, love needs and self esteem needs to the final need of self actualisation.

Maslow developed his ‘Hierarchy of needs’ (Fig 1) motivation theory and it is probably the most popular and most read motivation theory. (Maslow1954) theory suggests that people have different needs, which can be grouped and ordered to display relative importance, and that within each person there is a hierarchy of needs and the individual must satisfy each level before they move onto the next.

There are five hierarchical levels and these are: Physiological needs: Food, shelter, sexual satisfaction i.e. those needs needed for basic survival. Safety needs: The need to feel safe and have security, freedom from threats of violence within your environment. Also refers to emotional and physical safety. Social needs: The need for love, friendship and belongingness Esteem needs: The need for self respect, status and recognition from others. Self actualisation: The point of reaching ones full potential. Are you capable at excelling yourself? Maslow theory proposes that once a lower level of need has been satisfied it is no longer becomes a motivator and the needs of the next upper level necessitate satisfaction and become the motivating factor. Only unsatisfied needs are the motivator for a person and that a satisfied need is no longer a motivator.

The most significant limitations of Maslow’s theory concern his methodology’ to define the characteristics of self acutalised individuals by undertaking a qualitive assessment method called biographical analysis. In short he looked at the writings and biographies of the people he decided as being self actualised.

This method is subjective and is entirely based on the researcher and personal opinions are prone to being bias, which reduces the validity of Maslow’s definition of self actualization and should not be accepted as fact. It is also quite difficult to empirically test Maslow theory of self actualization in a way that casual relationships can be established. Author and artists such as Rembrandt and Van Gough lived in poverty through their life and it could be argued that they achieved self actualization.

It is also apparent when looking at the poorer regions of the world and the poverty in which people exist, people are still capable of ascending to higher levels of needs such as belongingness and love. Furthermore this should not occur according to Maslow as people who are in financial hardship are failing to meet physiological needs such as shelter and food (McLeod 2007).

The Economist (2008) states ‘Maslow was described by Peter Drucker as “the father of humanist psychology”. But Drucker took issue with Maslow’shierarchy, complaining that he had not seen that “a want changes in the act of being satisfied”. Hence “ as a wants approaches satiety its capacity to reward, and with it its power of incentive diminishes fast”. And opinionates “so (as we all know well) top executives can never be paid enough for them to be satisfied.”

Conclusion Even after many years have passed since its inception and more and more flaws being applied when the hierarchy of needs principles are taken out of its simplistic form. Maslow’s theory of is still the most recognised and well known theory to date, being still written about and being applied in one form or other assisting managers in motivating employees in partnership with other management motivational theories.

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Theories of Motivation. (2016, Nov 15). Retrieved from

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