Introduction to motivation at work

1. The Concept of Motivation

Most of us get up in the morning, go to school or work, and behave in ways that are predictably  our own. We respond to our environment and the people in it with little thought as to why we work hard, enjoy certain classes, or find some recreational activities so much fun. Yet all these be- haviors are motivated by something. Motivation  refers to the forces ei- ther within or external to a person that arouse enthusiasm and persistence to pursue a certain course of action. Employee motivation  affects produc- tivity, and part of a manager’s job is to channel motivation toward the ac- complishment of organizational  goals.2   The study of motivation helps managers understand what prompts people to initiate action, what influ- ences their choice of action, and why they persist in that action over time.

A simple model of human motivation is illustrated in Exhibit 12.1. People have basic needs—for food, achievement,  or monetary gain—that translate into an internal tension that motivates specific behaviors with which to fulfill the need. To the extent that the behavior is successful, the person is rewarded in the sense that the need is satisfied. The reward also informs the person that the behavior  was appropriate  and can be used again in the future.

Rewards are of two types: intrinsic  and extrinsic. Intrinsic rewards are the satisfactions a person receives in the process of performing  a par- ticular action. The completion of a complex task may bestow a pleasant feeling of accomplishment, or solving a problem  that benefits others may fulfill a personal mission. For example, Frances Blais sells educational materials for the intrinsic reward of helping children  read well. Extrinsic rewards are given by another  person, typically  a manager, and include promotions, pay increases, and bonuses. They originate  externally,  as a result of pleasing others. Rob Michaels,  who hates his sales job, nevertheless  is motivated by the extrinsic reward of high pay. Although extrinsic rewards are important, good man- agers strive to help people achieve intrinsic  rewards as well. The most talented and innova- tive employees are rarely motivated exclusively by rewards such as money and benefits, or even praise and recognition.  Instead, they seek satisfaction  from the work itself.3 For example, at Google,  people are motivated  by an idealistic goal of providing “automated universal transference,” which basically means unifying data and information  around the world and totally obliterating  language barriers via the Internet. People are energized by the psychic rewards they get from working on intellectually stimulating and challenging technical problems, as well  as by the potentially beneficial global impact of their work.4

The importance of motivation as illustrated in Exhibit 12.1 is that it can lead to behav- iors that reflect high performance within organizations. Studies have found that high em- ployee motivation  goes hand-in-hand with high organizational performance and profits.5

Managers  can use motivation theory to help satisfy employees’ needs and simultaneously encourage high work performance. With massive layoffs in many U.S. organizations in re- cent years and a decline in trust of corporate leadership, managers are struggling  to keep employees focused and motivated.  Finding and keeping talented workers is a growing chal- lenge. Managers have to find the right combination of motivational  techniques and re- wards to keep people satisfied and productive in a variety of organizational situations.

2. Foundations  of  Motivation

A manager’s assumptions about employee motivation and the use of rewards depend on his or her perspective on motivation. Four distinct perspectives on employee motivation  have evolved: the traditional  approach, the human relations approach, the human resource ap- proach, and the contemporary approach.6


The study of employee motivation  really began with the work of Frederick W. Taylor on scientific management. Recall from Chapter 1 that scientific management pertains to the systematic analysis of an employee’s job for the purpose of increasing efficiency. Economic rewards are provided  to employees for high performance. The emphasis on pay evolved into the notion of the economic man—people would work harder for higher pay. This approach led to the development of incentive  pay systems, in which people were paid strictly on the quantity and quality of their work outputs.


The economic man was gradually  replaced by a  more sociable employee in managers’ minds. Beginning with the landmark Hawthorne  studies at a Western  Electric plant, as described in Chapter 1, noneconomic rewards, such as congenial work groups that met so-cial needs, seemed more important than money as a motivator of work behavior.7  For the first time,  workers  were studied  as people, and the concept  of social man was born.


The human resource approach carries the concepts of economic man and social man further to introduce the concept of the whole person. Human resource theory  suggests that employ- ees are complex and motivated by many factors. For example, the work by McGregor on Theory X and Theory Y described in Chapter 1 argued that people want to do a good job and that work is as natural and healthy as play. Proponents of the human resource approach believed that earlier  approaches had tried to manipulate  employees through economic or social rewards. By assuming that employees are competent  and able to make major contributions,  managers can enhance organizational  performance. The human  resource approach laid the groundwork for contemporary  perspectives on employee motivation. Seeing employees  as real people  is one strength of GFOUR Theatrical Productions,  as shown in the Spotlight on Skills box.


The contemporary approach to employee motivation  is dominated by three types of theo- ries, each of which will be discussed in the following sections. The first are content theories, which  stress the analysis of underlying human needs. Content theories provide insight into the needs of people in organizations  and help managers understand how needs can be satis- fied in the workplace. Process theories  concern the thought processes that influence behavior. They  focus on how people seek rewards in work  circumstances.  Reinforcement theories focus on employee learning of desired work behaviors. In Exhibit 12.1, content theories focus on the concepts in the first box, process theories on those in the second, and reinforcement theories on those in the third.

Source: Daft Richard L., Marcic Dorothy (2009), Understanding Management, South-Western College Pub; 8th edition.

1 thoughts on “Introduction to motivation at work

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