Motivation of Employees Essay

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Employment Motivation and Engagement: How to Recruit and Retain Top-Quality Talent in a Competitive Marketplace

Because employee performance and productivity are closely aligned with corporate profitability, there has been a great deal of research over the years concerning optimal approaches to motivating people in the workplace. The analysis of what motivates people to perform to their maximum effort, though, has becoming increasingly complex as the result of a growing number of theories concerning the antecedents of motivation and optimal job performance and motivational methods to achieve it. While the debate concerning which motivational approaches produce the best results continues, there is a consensus among organizational behavior researchers that pay ranks among the top factors that include employee motivation, perhaps the overarching factor in most cases. Despite these findings, studies have shown time and again that money talks when it comes to employee motivation. When people become convinced that their efforts at work are not being adequately rewarded, their job performance is adversely affected and they will likely begin an active job search to find better employment elsewhere. To determine the optimal approach to employee motivation, this paper provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature, followed by a summary of the research and important findings concerning these issues in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Employee Engagement and Motivation

With 90% of new businesses failing to survive even a year, the companies that succeed are clearly doing something different and it turns out to be motivating their employees. In this regard, Neff (2002) emphasizes that, "Successful companies know that motivated, satisfied employees increase customer satisfaction and profit margins. Because of the link between employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction, companies have implemented an array of strategies to help increase employees' internal motivation."

The research to date into employee motivation can be categorized according to three fundamental views as follows:

1. Motivation is internal to the individual and it is not really possible to motivate people in any meaningful ways (except, perhaps, offering enormously large amounts of money -- "a deal employees can't resist");

2. Employees must be motivated by management; therefore, effective interpersonal skills are an important part of the skills set needed by managers today; and,

3. A holistic view that combines parts or all of the first two views.

By contrast, the Gallup Workplace Audit (GWA) measures employee engagement related to productivity, profitability, employee retention and customer service at the business unit level (hospital, hotel, factory, etc.).

The studies to date has shown that employees who score high on the GWA questions are regarded as being "emotionally engaged" in their work and in their organizations.

The Role of Human Drives and Emotions in Employee Motivation and Behaviour

The major drives (also termed "primary needs") of human motivation and behavior relate to the basic needs for life, as well as the alternating needs for activity and rest. In this regard, Weiner advises that, "The major primary needs include the need for foods of various sorts (hunger), the need for water (thirst), the need for air, the need to avoid tissue injury (pain), the need to maintain an optimal temperature, the need to defecate, the need to micturate, the need for rest (after protracted exertion), the need for sleep (after protracted wakefulness), and the need for activity (after protracted inaction)."

In sum, drives have been described as "the forces igniting human activity" and "an important characteristic of these constructs is that they function as energizers of action."

Maslow's Needs Hierarchy, McClelland's Learned Needs Theory, Four-Drive Theory and Their Implications for Motivating Employees

Maslow's Needs Hierarchy. In his well-known hierarchy of needs, Maslow describes how primary needs must be satisfied before people can move on to higher pursuits such as relationships and self-actualization. In this regard, Wilson and Madsen advise that, "Every person is born with a set of basic needs. Satisfied needs no longer motivate behavior. Maslow proposed the existence of another key human need the need for individual fulfillment."

The arrangement of the five hierarchal needs conceptualized by Maslow are depicted in Figure 1 below

Figure 1. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


McClelland's Learned Needs Theory. In contrast to Maslow's conceptualization of human needs, McClelland regarded internal human needs being as the primary driver of human behavior

and proposed an "independent" set of needs.

According to Barbuto, Fritz and Plummer, "This theory of motivation emphasized three needs - need for power, need for affiliation, and need for achievement. Despite its general acceptance, the trichotomy and its measures (Thematic Attribute Test) have been widely criticized."

Four-Drive Theory. As originally propounded by Harvard Business School's Lawrence and Nohria, the four-drive theory posits that human motivation can be explained in terms of four drives (acquire, bond, comprehend, and defend) that include features and constituent elements that influence motivation in the workplace.

Expectancy Theory and Its Practical Implications

Expectancy theory maintains that people tend to act in their own self-interest by taking courses of action that are considered to be the optimal combination for achieving the best possible outcome for themselves.

More specifically, Liao and Liu report that "Expectancy theory is a process theory of motivation, suggesting that expenditure of an individual's effort will be determined by expected outcomes and the value placed on such outcomes in a person's mind."

Characteristics of Effective Goal Setting and Feedback

In any event, it is important to ensure that employees have the resources they need to accomplish their goals, and there are several potential constraints involved. For instance, Wilson and Dobson report that employees are frequently unable to complete an assigned goal because of one or more of the following reasons:

1. The goal was not clearly stated;

2. Adequate training or instruction were not provided; and/or,

3. Adequate resources (time, equipment, information) are not available.

Timely and informed feedback is critical to promoting goal achievement by employees. People want and need to know how their performance is measuring up against expectations, and feedback is an essential part of the motivation process to improved performance. In this regard, Wilson and Dobson emphasize that, "[Feedback] is a necessary and desired part of communication. Most of us want to do well in our work. Effective job performance feedback means hearing when we are doing well (reinforcement) and also hearing when our performance needs improvement (correction)."

Equity Theory and Ways to Improve Procedural Justice

Virtually everyone has a fine-tuned sense of fair play and justice. Equity theory holds that employee perceptions of justice or fairness in the workplace have major effects on employee motivation and turnover. According to Murphy, Ramamoorthy, Flood and MacCurtain, "Procedural justice relates to the perceived fairness of the decision-making procedures used to determine the distribution of the outcome."

Employee perceptions of the equity of procedural justice have consistently been linked with employee behaviors and work-related attitudes including: job satisfaction, organizational commitment, pro-social behaviours, tenure intent, team attachment, job performance and absenteeism.

By implementing equitable conflict resolution procedures and other measures that ensure all employees are treated fairly and with respect will improve perceptions of procedural justice perceptions in ways that will produce positive organizational outcomes in the form of higher levels of employee engagement and tenure intent by employees.


The research showed that motivating employees is a challenging enterprise in any workplace setting, but there are some tools and theories available that can help determine what factors are most salient for motivating others in a particular situation. These included Maslow's hierarchy of needs, McClelland's learned needs theory, and the four-drive theory that explains motivation in terms of the four drives, acquire, bond, comprehend, and defend. Although pay and benefits remain among the top factors that motivate people in the workplace, the research also showed that factors such as perceptions of procedural justice also play a major role in employee motivation.


Alderman, M. Kay. 2004. Motivation for Achievement: Possibilities for Teaching and Learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Barbuto, J.E., Fritz, S.M. & Plummer, B.A. 2004, September. Is There a Difference between Agriculture/Natural Resources and Non-Agriculture/Natural Resources Majors' Motivation Sources? NACTA Journal, 48(3), 30-39.

Isaac, R.G., Zerbe, W.J. & Pitt D.C. 2001, Summer. Leadership and Motivation: The Effective Application of Expectancy Theory. Journal of Managerial Issues, 13(2), 212-217.

Khandekar, R.P. 2012, August. Interacting Sets of Contradictory Human Needs as Drivers of Human Behavior. Indian Journal of Economics and Business, 11(2), 323-341.

Lawerence, P. & Norhira, N. (2001). Driven: How Human Nature Shapes our Choices. San Fransico, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Liao, H-L & Liu S-H. 2011, March. Modeling Motivations for Blogging: An Expectancy Theory Analysis. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 39(2), 251-261.

Little, B. & Little, P. 2006, January 1. Employee Engagement: Conceptual Issues. Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict, 10(1), 111-115.

Murphy, C., Ramamoorthy, N., Flood, P. & MacCurtain, S. 2006, July 1. Organizational Justice Perceptions and Employee Attitudes among Irish Blue Collar Employees: An Empirical Test of the Main and Moderating Roles of Individualism/Collectivism. Management Revue, 17(3), 328-341.

Neff, T.M. 2002. What successful companies know that law firms need to…[continue]

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