In Focus: Leveraging on Employee Motivation

Rick is an honors graduate from a reputable university and he believes that he ought to get the best pay from among the managers of an IT company. His counterparts are much older than him and because of their length of stay in the company, they receive higher pay. Rick also expects to be promoted because of his exemplary performance in the past year.

Motivators are job elements that do concern actual tasks and duties. Examples of motivators would be the level of job responsibility, the amount of job control, and the interest that the work holds for the employee. Herzberg believed that hygiene factors are necessary but not sufficient for job satisfaction and motivation. That is, if a hygiene factors is not present at an adequate level (e.g. the pay is too low), the employee will be dissatisfied. But if all hygiene factors are represented adequately, the employee’s level of satisfaction will only be neutral. Only the presence of both motivators and hygiene factors can bring job satisfaction and motivation. Herzberg’s theory is one of those theories that makes sense but has not received strong support from research. In general, researchers have criticized the theory because of the methods used to develop the two factors as well as the fact that few research studies have replicated the findings obtained by Herzberg and his colleagues (Hinrichis & Mischkind, 1967; King, 1970). In the case of Rick, both hygiene and motivators must be present to motivate him. In essence, Rick wants to receive competitive pay and also is likely to want a job that challenges him. This is affirmed by his background of being an achiever.

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The final needs theory was developed by McClelland (1961) and suggests that differences between individuals stem from the relationship between a job and each employee’s level of job satisfaction or motivation. McClelland believed that employees differ in their needs for achievement, affiliation, and power.

In the case of Rick, he defintely has a high need for achievement, as evidenced by his background of being an honors graduate. In effect, he must be given tasks which will offer this sense of challenge. Employees who have a strong need for achievement desire jobs that are challenging and over which they have some control, whereas employees who have minimal achievement needs are more satisfied when jobs involve little challenge and have high probability of success. In contrast, employees who have a strong need for affiliation prefer working with and helping other people. These types of employees are found more often in people-oriented service jobs than in management or administration (Smither & Lindgren, 1978).

He may also probably have a strong need for power, and may possibly be moved up into a position of authority to be more motivated in his role. Employees who have a strong need for power have a desire to influence others rather than simply be successful. Research has shown that employees who have a strong need for power and achievement make the best managers (McClelland & Burnham, 1976; Stahl, 1983) and that employees who are motivated most by their affiliation needs will probably make the worst managers.

Rick must also be paired up with a mentor who can act as a role model. Social learning theory postulates that employees observe the levels of motivation and satisfaction of other employees and model those levels. Thus, if an organization’s older employees work hard and talk positively about their jobs and their employer, new employees will model this behavior and be both productive and satisfied. The reverse is also true: if veteran employees work slowly and complain about their jobs, so will new employees.

Finally, Rick’s salary and benefits must be equitable based on his perception. He has manifested exemplary performance and must be rewarded on this basis. If he continues to perceive inequity, his motivation on the job may be decreased. According to Adam’s equity theory, what workers put into their work (inputs) is fairly balanced with what they expect to get out of it (outputs).  Motivation will get the most out of employees inputs like personal effort and hard work by making the employees see it balanced by outputs (salary, benefits, and intangibles like praise and achievement) (Chapman, 2004).

Inputs are personal elements that we out into our jobs. Obvious elements are time, effort, education, and experience. Less obvious elements include money spent on child care and distance driven to work. Outputs are those elements that we receive from our jobs. A list of obvious outputs includes pay, benefits, challenge, and responsibility. Less obvious outputs are benefits such as friends and office furnishings.

According to this theory, employees subconsciously list all their outputs and inputs and then compute an input/output ratio by dividing output value by input value. By itself, this ration is not especially useful. But employees then compute the input/output ratios for other employees and to previous work experiences and then compare them to their own. If their ratios are lower than those of others, they become dissatisfied and thus are more motivated to make the ratios equal in one or more ways.

Research on equity has recently expanded into what researchers call distributive justice and procedural justice. Distributive justice is the perceived fairness of the actual decisions made in an organization, whereas procedural justice is the perceived fairness of the methods used to arrive at the decision. As one would expect, employees who believe that decisions were not made fairly are less satisfied with their jobs (Lowe & Vodanovich, 1995). To increase perceptions of procedural justice, organizations should be open about how decisions will be made, take time to develop fair procedures, and provide feedback to employees who might not be happy with decisions that are made (Jordan, 1997).

From equity theory, we conclude that employees who perceive they are being treated fairly will be more satisfied with their jobs than employees who do not perceive such fairness. The same holds true for motivation: employees who feel that they are not being treated fairly will feel less motivated than those who uphold such a feeling.

The degree of inequity that an employee feels when underpaid appears to be a function of whether the employee chose actions that resulted in underpayment (Cropanzano & Folger, 1989). That is, if an employee chooses to work harder than others who are paid the same, he will not feel cheated, but if he is pressured into working harder for the same pay, he will be unhappy.

Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory refers to three factors: (1) valence (value placed on the expected reward), (2) expectancy (belief that efforts are linked to performance), and (3) instrumentality (belief) that performance is related to rewards (Gagne & Deci, 2005). Porter and Lawler built on Vroom’s theory by proposing a model of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation.  People are extrinsically motivated if they do something they find interesting and from which they derive satisfaction.  Also people are extrinsically motivated if they do the activity because they are satisfied with the tangible or verbal rewards attached (Gagne & Deci, 2005).

In these times of cutthroat competition and dynamism across industries, HR practitioners ought to look more profoundly into the implications of motivational theories, and attempt to draft programs that leverage on these. Ultimately, a highly motivated and empowered workforce is the most certain way of putting in more into the firm’s coffers.


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