Motivation in workplace


As the increasing concern of how to achieve performance excellence through employees, most of the organizations now pay more attentions on the means of motivating employees, such as incentives, rewards. Kreitner (2004) quoted Mitchells definition of motivation which refers to those psychological processes that cause the arousal, direction, and persistence of voluntary actions that are goal directed. Different motivation theories guide the ways of encouraging people to make effort and exploit their ability for the organizations goal and meeting their own needs; also, they suggest the factors resulting in job satisfaction and their influence on employee performance (Armstrong, 2006). This essay attempts to explore the motivator and the process of motivation by a critical review of motivation theories; moreover, it examines the theories through a questionnaire research in terms of what people are motivated and how they are motivated. Thereby, it leads to a further discussion of the application of motivation theory in practice.

Literature Review

As Armstrong (2006) states motivating people refers to encourage them to work toward the expected direction, motivation in organizations aims at creating a context and undertaking a motivation process in which individuals work and provide the performance according to the managerial expectations. The process of motivation is described as a needs-oriented model that goes through four stages: need, goal setting, action and achievement (Armstrong, 2006). It is suggested that people are aware of the unsatisfied needs consciously or unconsciously; and then the desire of satisfying the needs enables the establishment of goal (Latham, 2007). To achieve the goal by taking actions is believed will meet the needs. If the goal is obtained successfully, the same actions are likely to be repeated for satisfying the needs (Latham, 2007). In this way, the process of the motivation is completed.

The theory of motivation is divided into two main categories ?C content theory and process theory. Content theory interprets the insights of peoples needs and explores the factors that motivate people (Foster, 2005). It emphasizes the intrinsic elements that energize, direct and endure behaviour; also, it explains how these elements are valued as internal motivators by individuals (Porter, Bigley & Steers, 2003). There are four primary content theories of motivation at work, including Maslows hierarchy of need, Alderfer's ERG (existence-relatedness-growth) theory, Herzbergs motivator-hygiene model and McClellands learned needs theory (Porter, Bigley & Steers, 2003).

Content theory C Maslows Hierarchy of Human Needs

Among these theories, Maslow's hierarchy of human needs is the most famous one connecting peoples needs to motivation. According to this theory, individuals needs are categorized as deficiency needs and growth needs. Deficiency needs are the basic needs that must be satisfied; it contains three levels ?C physiological, safety and security, belongingness. The physiological needs are at the bottom of Maslows hierarchy theory. That is to say, all other needs are out of peoples consideration until the physiological needs are satisfied (Latham, 2007). The implication of physiological needs at work may include lunch break, rest break, sufficient wage to support daily essentials (NetMBA, 2007). Safety and security needs arise for protecting oneself from threats and harm either physically or emotionally on condition that physiological needs are satisfied. In the context of work, safety and security needs can be reflected through a safe working environment, retirement benefit, job security, etc (NetMBA, 2007). Since the two lower needs are satisfied, people are continuously seeking higher needs; thus the desire of interaction and communication with other people emerges. Belongingness needs covers this extent of peoples needs that receiving and giving love, and belonging to a group.

Growth needs refer to the advancement and achievement of individuals potential; it includes self-esteem and self-actualization (Foster, 2005). Growth needs are indeterminate but higher than deficiency needs. Maslows theory assumes that higher needs will be the focus of the individuals attention and become dominant when the lower needs are satisfied (Armstrong, 2006). Self-esteem needs classified as internal and external. The desires for achievement, confidence, freedom and independence come from oneself. The external esteem is about the desire of attention, importance, recognition and reputation (Armstrong, 2006). Self-actualization implies the needs to maximum ones potential and advance skills, and the needs to achieve higher goals that one considers one is capable for it (Armstrong, 2006). Self-esteem and self-actualization lie on the top two layers of the pyramid of Maslows theory. Although they may be difficult to accomplish, they are the greatest drive for individual behaviour.

However, Maslows theory is also questioned by other scholars for two points. Firstly, as Armstrong (2006) points out, the priority of different needs is varied with individual. Maslows hierarchy of needs theory indicates that people follow this hierarchy of needs steadily. Nevertheless, different people may have different need to be satisfied as their priority. There are two researches conducted among a group of managers from different organizations for examining Maslows theory. Lawler and Suttles research found managers predominant needs at the higher level are varied with individual (Koontz and Weihrich, 2006). In another research, Hall and Nougaim found little evidence to support the theory of hierarchy as managers increasing attention on growth needs is mostly determined by the changes in upward careers instead of the satisfaction of lower-order needs (Koontz and Weihrich, 2006).

Process theory C Goal Setting Theory

As it has been mentioned, content theories are about what people are motivated. Simply, process theories suggest the means that people are motivated. They concentrate on the process of peoples decision-making and the actions they take in order to attain the expected goals (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007). Process theory of work motivation has three major theories: equity theory, expectancy theory and goal-setting theory.

Goal-setting theory states individual motivation and performance can be enhanced through setting a specific goal on condition that the goal is challenging but committed, and along with a feedback on performance (Griffin and Moorhead, 2009). From the management perspective, goal is used as an effective means to manage motivation and to control organization performing in relation to the expected result (Griffin and Moorhead, 2009). It also helps organizations to interpret and forecast employees work behaviour as the theory assumes behaviour is the outcome of sensible goals and purpose(Koontz and Weihrich, 2006). Goal-settig theory contains four major propositions: challenging goals, specific goals, participation and knowledge of results (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2007). The four major propositions are regarded as the fundamental elements of goal-setting theory that mostly contribute to higher level performance (Arnold and Silvester, 2005).

Challenging goals are more likely to cause desirable performance. Once people commit the goal and believe it is achievable, they become goal-oriented; and they take actions for goal achievement (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). Difficult goals require more effective outcome of behaviour than easy ones. Further, specific goals administer to higher level performance than general ones; for reasons of providing precise plan that people work upon. Participation in goal-setting theory is an important part as it is a proper way to get agreement on setting higher goals (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). In this way, people are willing to make effort to accomplish the goals. Knowledge of results or feedback is playing the role of informing people of the results and maintaining motivation for higher goals (Armstrong, 2006).

Theoretically, goal-setting is an effective method for organizations to managing work motivation and achieving high goals. However, it is doubted of its effectiveness out of laboratory setting (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). Austin and Bobko point out goal-setting is likely to focus on quantity of work rather than quality of it as quantity is more measurable and clearer than quality when setting goals (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). Moreover, there may be conflicts among different goals in the real work context. To decide which goal is prior means to ignore or reserve the other goals. Thereby, the application of goal-setting is weakened (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). Besides, goal-setting theory is limited to individual work and performance. In practice, group goals and performance, especially a companys goals and performance account for more importance (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). Crown and Rose found setting group goals can enhance the performance of the group; and the group goals are consisted of individual goals agreed by individuals (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). Therefore, goal-setting theory is suggested to be applied to group or organizations as whole rather than stick on individual levels.

Research Data Analysis

The research aims to find out what people are motivated in the workplace and in which way they are motivated on the basis of Maslows hierarchy of needs theory and goal-setting theory. The data is collected through questionnaire from ten respondents.

The first part of questionnaire is developed for exploring the motivators according to Maslows theory. The core proposition of Maslows theory is that peoples needs have five stages from low to high forming the hierarchy. Five specific items indicate the five levels of needs: reasonable wage, job security, employee relationships, achievement and recognition, opportunity of upward career (see appendix 1, Question 2). The research data presents that respondents give priority on different items. Reasonable wage implies the physiological needs which are the basic needs that must be satisfied. There are sixty percent of respondents ranking it as their priority; twenty percent rank job security (which represents safe and security needs) as their primary needs. Interestingly, twenty percent of respondents rank the theoretically top needs opportunity of upward career (which represents self-actualization needs) as their prime needs.

For a further investigation on this question, a cross-tabulation is used in order to find out the relationship between the priority of needs and the role in a group. The data shows who play the role of doer and shaper in a group consider physiological needs are primary; who take the leader positions in a group attach more importance on higher needs, e.g. self-esteem and self-actualization needs. Moreover, the responses on Question 4 (see appendix 1) show there are certain percentage of respondents are willing to work under unfavourable conditions when they believe there is something valuable to them. From this point, it can hardly support Maslows theory that people have higher needs when their lower needs are satisfied. Reviewing Armstrongs doubt on Maslows hierarchy of needs, he points out that the priority of different needs is varied with individual. Therefore, peoples needs do not follow Maslows hierarchy strictly. Also, the data reveals that physiological needs, safe and security needs, and self-actualization needs are the top motivators among the respondents.

The second part of questionnaire attempts to understand how people are motivated to deliver high-level performance. The questions are designed base on the theory of goal-setting. Seventy percent of responses show goals are able to improve the performance (see Appendix 1, Question 5). The other responses upon the points that specific goals, participation and knowledge of results lead to enhancement of performance positively support the theory of goal-setting (see Appendix 1, Question 7, 8&9). That is to say, most of respondent believe challenging goals and specific goals helps them to deliver an enhanced performance, and participation in goal-setting endows them the willingness to work toward the goals; finally feedback is regarded as a vital means to know how well they have been, also a form of motivator. Question 6 (see appendix 1) exposes the potential issue of application of goal-setting theory. It cannot be denied the possibility that people would accept higher goals if their lower needs are at risk of satisfaction. When such situation occurs, people acceptance of higher goal is reluctant. This may fails to produce an expected performance as the goal probably is exorbitant or the person is less motivated.

Austin and Bobko argue that goal-setting theory concentrate on quantity rather than quality (Armstrong, 2006). The responses collected from ten respondents also point to this limitation. This issue can be perceived in different contexts. For instance, quantity can be understood as the number of product produced by individual workers or groups. In this situation, the goals set for individual or group have limited effectiveness on product quality. Yet, when quantity stands for the amount of money, for example sales amount, goal-setting theory is still effective on work motivation relating to the organization performance.

An Evaluation of Motivation Theory in Practice

In the literature review part, the proposition of Maslows hierarchy of needs represented the content theory of motivation has been explained. Also the limitation of this theory is discussed. Through the research, the weaknesses of Maslows theory are further exposed; especially the concept of hierarchy of needs is strict. Nonetheless, Maslows theory of needs helps organizations to have the idea of the basic nature of human motives (Porter, Bigley and Steers, 2003). Knowing the needs theory, Managers are able to manage work motivation by creating a work environment that aims to satisfy employees needs (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis, 2005).

Goal-setting theory is introduced to organization management as known as Management by Objectives (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis, 2005. It is broadly applied in the organizations for its strengths of guiding and directing individuals to work toward the goal; and of providing indicators for performance evaluation (Clegg, Kornberger & Pitsis, 2005). Goal setting is a process of advancing, negotiating and set objectives that challenge the individuals as well as the organizations. Therefore, as Crown and Rose state, setting group goals is more important than individual goals (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). The group goals are consisted of several individual goals that are agreed by individuals (Arnold and Silvester, 2005). Therefore, the process of achieving group goals actually is the process of attaining group members individual goals. Thus, individual performance and group performance can be advanced through goal achievement.


Motivation is described as a process that needs-oriented pass through four stages: need, goal setting, action and achievement. Content theory helps to identify the elements that are able to motivate people. Maslows hierarchy of needs theory recognized five levels of peoples needs. By knowing the needs, organizations are able to motivate employee to deliver high level performance through satisfying their needs. Process theory is regarding to the methods of motivation. Goal-setting is an effective way in modern organization management. It identifies the relationship between goal and performance. It advocates that challenging and specific goal, participation and feedback can result in high level performance. Although goal-setting theory is argued that it focuses on individual goal and performance, it also can be employed in groups or organization. Further, setting group goals can improve the whole performance rather than individual. Therefore, it is sophisticate and effective way for work motivation in modern organizations.


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