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7.3: Motivating Employees

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  • Learning Objective

    1. Define motivation and describe several theories of motivation.

    Motivation refers to an internally generated drive to achieve a goal or follow a particular course of action. Highly motivated employees focus their efforts on achieving specific goals; those who are unmotivated don’t. It’s the manager’s job, therefore, to motivate employees—to get them to try to do the best job they can. But what motivates employees to do well? How does a manager encourage employees to show up for work each day and do a good job? Paying them helps, but many other factors influence a person’s desire (or lack of it) to excel in the workplace. What are these factors? Are they the same for everybody? Do they change over time? To address these questions, we’ll examine four of the most influential theories of motivation: hierarchy-of-needs theory, two-factor theory, expectancy theory, and equity theory.

    Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory

    Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy-of-needs theory proposed that we are motivated by the five unmet needs, arranged in the hierarchical order shown in Figure 7.3 “Maslow’s Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory”, which also lists examples of each type of need in both the personal and work spheres of life. Look, for instance, at the list of personal needs in the left-hand column. At the bottom are physiological needs (such life-sustaining needs as food and shelter). Working up the hierarchy we experience safety needs (financial stability, freedom from physical harm), social needs (the need to belong and have friends), esteem needs (the need for self-respect and status), and self-actualization needs (the need to reach one’s full potential or achieve some creative success).

    Figure 7.3 Maslow’s Hierarchy-of-Needs Theory


    There are two things to remember about Maslow’s model:

    1. We must satisfy lower-level needs before we seek to satisfy higher-level needs.
    2. Once we’ve satisfied a need, it no longer motivates us; the next higher need takes its place.

    Let’s say, for example, that you’ve just returned to college and that for a variety of reasons that aren’t your fault, you’re broke, hungry, and homeless. Because you’ll probably take almost any job that will pay for food and housing (physiological needs), you go to work repossessing cars. Fortunately, your student loan finally comes through, and with enough money to feed yourself, you can look for a job that’s not so risky (a safety need). You find a job as a night janitor in the library, and though you feel secure, you start to feel cut off from your friends, who are active during daylight hours. You want to work among people, not books (a social need). So now you join several of your friends selling pizza in the student center. This job improves your social life, but even though you’re very good at making pizzas, it’s not terribly satisfying. You’d like something that will let you display your intellectual talents (an esteem need). So you study hard and land a job as an intern in the governor’s office. On graduation, you move up through a series of government appointments and eventually run for state senator. As you’re sworn into office, you realize that you’ve reached your full potential (a self-actualization need) and you comment to yourself, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

    Needs Theory and the Workplace

    Figure 7.4


    Employees are motivated by different factors. For some, the ability to have fun at work is a priority.

    ICMA Photos = Employee Meeting 5 – CC BY-SA 2.0.

    What implications does Maslow’s theory have for business managers? There are two key points: (1) Not all employees are driven by the same needs, and (2) the needs that motivate individuals can change over time. Managers should consider which needs different employees are trying to satisfy and should structure rewards and other forms of recognition accordingly. For example, when you got your first job repossessing cars, you were motivated by the need for money to buy food. If you’d been given a choice between a raise or a plaque recognizing your accomplishments, you’d undoubtedly have opted for the money. As a state senator, by contrast, you may prefer public recognition of work well done (say, election to higher office) to a pay raise.