Employee motivation theory and practice

Motivation theorists and their theories (2 of 2)

Frederick Herzberg - Hygiene / Motivation Theory

This is based on analysis of the interviews of 200 engineers and accountants in the Pittsburgh area in the USA. According to this theory, people work first and foremost in their own self-enlightened interest, for they are truly happy and mentally healthy through work accomplishment. Peoples needs are of two types:

Animal Needs (hygiene factors)
  • Supervision
  • Interpersonal relations
  • Working conditions
  • Salary
Human Needs (motivators)
  • Recognition
  • Work
  • Responsibility
  • Advancement

Unsatisfactory hygiene factors can act as de-motivators, but if satisfactory, their motivational effect is limited. The psychology of motivation is quite complex and Herzberg has exploded several myths about motivators such as:

  • shorter working week;
  • increasing wages;
  • fringe benefits;
  • sensitivity / human relations training;
  • communication.

As typical examples, saying 'please' to shop-floor workers does not motivate them to work hard, and telling them about the performance of the company may even antagonize them more. Herzberg regards these also as hygiene factors, which, if satisfactory, satisfy animal needs but not human needs.

Chris Argyris

According to Argyris, organization needs to be redesigned for a fuller utilization of the most precious resource, the workers, in particular their psychological energy. The pyramidal structure will be relegated to the background, and decisions will be taken by small groups rather than by a single boss. Satisfaction in work will be more valued than material rewards. Work should be restructured in order to enable individuals to develop to the fullest extent. At the same time work will become more meaningful and challenging through self-motivation.

Rensis Likert

Likert identified four different styles of management:

  • exploitative-authoritative;
  • benevolent-authoritative;
  • consultative;
  • participative.

The participative system was found to be the most effective in that it satisfies the whole range of human needs. Major decisions are taken by groups themselves and this results in achieving high targets and excellent productivity. There is complete trust within the group and the sense of participation leads to a high degree of motivation.

Fred Luthans

Luthans advocates the so-called 'contingency approach' on the basis that certain practices work better than others for certain people and certain jobs. As an example, rigid, clearly defined jobs, authoritative leadership and tight controls lead in some cases to high productivity and satisfaction among workers. In some other cases just the opposite seems to work. It is necessary, therefore, to adapt the leadership style to the particular group of workers and the specific job in hand.

Victor Vroom

Vroom's 'expectancy theory' is an extension of the 'contingency approach'. The leadership style should be 'tailored' to the particular situation and to the particular group. In some cases it appears best for the boss to decide and in others the group arrives at a consensus. An individual should also be rewarded with what he or she perceives as important rather than what the manager perceives. For example, one individual may value a salary increase, whereas another may, instead, value promotion. This theory contributes an insight into the study of employee motivation by explaining how individual goals influence individual performance.

We have discussed above only a selection of the motivation theories and thoughts of the various proponents of the human behavior school of management. Not included here are, among others, the thoughts of:

What does it all add up to? Back to 'square one'? Yes, indeed, the overall picture is certainly confusing. This is not surprising, for the human nature and human mind defy a clear-cut model, mathematical or otherwise.

In some of the theories and thoughts presented, however, one can see some 'glimpses' of the person and how, perhaps, he or she could be motivated. This is rewarding in itself. But, as noted earlier, practice has been ahead of theory in this field, so let us now move to the practical side of management of human behavior and motivation in the workplace.

Next | Motivation theory into practice