Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The word "motivation" is often used to describe certain sorts of behaviour. A student who studies hard and tries for top grades may be described as being "highly motivated", while her friend may say that he is "finding it hard to get motivated" to study for an exam or to start an assignment. Such statements imply that motivation has a major influence on our behaviour but they don't really tell us how.

A Definition of Motivation

Motivation can be defined as a concept used to describe the factors within an individual which arouse, maintain and channel behaviour towards a goal.

Another way to say this is that motivation is goal-directed behaviour.

While it is easy to see the things that a person does, it is much harder to guess at why they are doing it. As an example let us look at our hard-working student. It may be that that student is working hard because she wants to get high marks, but it might also be that she really enjoys learning that subject. She may be striving for high marks because she wants to impress her friends or because she wants a good job, so that the marks themselves are really a step toward another goal. It is dangerous to assume that you know what is motivating someone because you really can't "read their mind".

Since it is part of a manager's job to get their work done through others, managers need to understand why people do things (that is, what motivates them?) so that s/he can convince their employees to work towards the goals of the organisation.


Theories are ways that we try to explain and understand complex and abstract issues and ideas. Abstract ideas are ideas like truth or love. They are very difficult to talk about because they are very hard to describe and define. They are not clear cut or concrete. Motivation is a fairly difficult area and there are a number of theories which have been developed to try to explain why people behave in the ways that they do and to try to predict or guess what people actually will do, based on these theories.

Basically there are two general approaches to motivational theory.

CONTENT THEORIES - what makes people tick. what turns them on or off.

These theories suggest that people have certain needs and/or desires which have been internalised . (This means that as we have grown up we have learned that these are things that we want and need and we come to believe it so strongly that we think that it is a natural thing to want these things.) These theories look at what it is about certain people that make them want the things that they do and what things in their environment will make them do or not do certain things. For example why would a person who was getting a lot of money for a job still be unhappy? Maybe there are other things which they consider to be more or equally important such as the work environment or the friendship and support of the people that they work with.

We will look briefly at two content theories of motivation.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Abraham Maslow (1908 - 1970) developed a theory of motivation based on a hierarchy of needs. This is probably the most popular theory of management although the theory does have its critics..

Maslow believed that each person has five categories of needs

Physiological needs - Basic needs for the body, such as food shelter drink rest etc.

Safety needs - Where the basic needs are reasonably satisfied we turn to thinking about protection from danger, security and order so that we feel safe. These safety needs can be a concern for physical safety but also covers psychological safety needs such as job security etc.

Social needs - Once the first two needs are reasonably satisfied, social needs such as needing acceptance, giving and receiving affection and "belonging" become things that people want

Ego needs - Next comes people's need for achievement, self esteem, self confidence, respect and status

Self Actualisation needs - finally at the top of the hierarchy once all of the other levels have been reasonably satisfied is the need to become the person that we feel that we are capable of becoming. This means that we have achieved what we consider to be our very best.

Maslow believed that the lower needs (physiology and safety etc) needed to be at least partially covered before the higher needs (such as ego and self actualisation) could be activated (In fact Maslow believed that these two higher needs are very rarely satisfied in anyone). He believed that once one set of needs was at least partly satisfied people would begin to be motivated by needs from the next category. An example which might be used here is a shift in the emphasis of the union movement in Australia from wages and working hours to now emphasising issues such as job security, industrial health and other security issues. There is also a move away from unsatisfying specialisation to a team or group work system which gives workers more responsibility and hence more satisfaction. Informal groups such as sporting or friendship groups are also often encouraged in the work environment. Can you see what needs this is addressing?

Maslow also believed that people were often motivated by more than one set of needs at a time and that they place varying importance on different needs. This means that someone could be motivated by their basic need for food, shelter and comfort but may override these needs by refusing to do a job which contradicts their personal values. Their self-esteem (which is an ego need) was the dominant one. As our circumstances change the needs that we consider to be the most important to us can change too. If the physiological needs are neglected for too long we may starve or become ill. These needs may then become the dominant ones and the job taken even though it conflicts with a person's values.

In Australia as an affluent or wealthy country, most peoples lower needs are satisfied and so we are not really motivated by them because we already have them. We are fairly safe and have enough to eat so we are more often motivated by higher needs. Maslow suggests that once we have activated these higher needs we often view them as more important than the lower needs. as an example of this an employer might wonder why a job which is secure and has a good superannuation package as its main attraction does not attract applicants. It may be that the sort of person that the employer wants for the job is more attracted by the ego needs such as independence and sense of achievement in a job and considers that it is worth the risk of an insecure job environment

Hertzberg's Two Factor Theory

Like Maslow Hertzberg believed that people had higher and lower levels of needs. Unlike Maslow who had five levels of needs Hertzberg has divided human needs into two categories.

· Hygiene factors - "environmental factors" such as salary, inter-personal relationships, working conditions, style of leadership and types of supervision, security, type of work, working hours, status. Hygiene factors are so called because they are seen to work like preventative medicine. They stop you from getting sick but do not really do anything to make you the healthiest that you can be, or better than you were. In a management context this means that hygiene factors don't motivate people to do their very best but they are needed to stop people becoming dissatisfied with their jobs.

· Motivating factors - factors within a job which allow for such things as achievement, responsibility, recognition, advancement, challenge. Hertzberg suggests that these factors are the ones which encourage people to strive to do well, in other words to motivate them to do their best.

Hertzberg believed that these two levels of needs were equally important for job satisfaction however they worked in different ways. If the lower needs are inadequate workers will quickly become dissatisfied, however, as these needs are satisfied trying to motivate staff by just adding more hygiene factors such as wages or work hours is an inefficient and short term solution. A better way would be to appeal to their higher level needs by giving them more responsibility or giving them greater scope for advancement. In this way the individuals goals are satisfied as well as those of the organisation. Job enrichment programs are where jobs are redesigned to incorporate these motivating factors.

Process Theories - how and by what goals people are motivated.

Process theories of motivation look at what people are thinking about when they decide whether or not to put effort into a particular activity. Here is just one of a number of this type of approach to motivation theory.

Adam's Equity Theory

Adam's argues that people are motivated by "inequity". That means that a person looks at others who are doing the same or similar jobs to them and compare how much effort that they put into the job and how much they are rewarded for their work.
For example a person who was working very hard in a job may see a colleague who does not put in much effort at all has the same rewards of salary, prestige, promotion etc. This would probably be a negative motivator, discouraging that person from working so hard. There are, on the other hand, positive motivators where a person feels that they receive more than others in the same job and so feel that they are being rewarded for their efforts.

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