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Due to the often general connotations of the meaning of the term motivation and how it relates to work, motivation is a topic which many managers and academics alike claim to have knowledge of. Motivation is one of the most important topics in the study of organisational behaviour and it is so as it seeks to understand how to maximise employee productivity in the work environment. In this chapter, the term motivation is defined and the meanings surrounding it are explored in detail alongside those concepts, which underpin such meaning. Presenting a number of theories including both content and process theories, this chapter discusses the main theoretical approaches and a critique associated with each.

What is work motivation?

Various definitions of the term motivation exist and many of these definitions have developed over time. The vast amount of definitions is problematic due to little consensus existing as to how motivation can be viewed and interpreted effectively. Kleinginna and Kleinginna for example in 1981 reported 140 different definitions of motivation! The difficulty in defining motivation stems from the many aspects of motivation tied up with the very complexity of individual behaviour. Whilst some writers view motivation from a physiological perspective others view it from more of a hedonistic perspective in which humans are positioned as being driven by goals. For the purpose of this chapter, a definition is offered which draws on a number of writers in this area including the work of Vroom (1964) and Lock et al., (1981).

To move towards an understanding of motivation, to begin, motivation is defined as:

‘Work motivation is a set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual’s being, to initiate work-related behaviour, and to determine its form, direction, intensity, and duration’ (Pinder, 2014).

To explore this definition in more detail, there is a need to think about the central features of the above definition. First, it is a specific definition which links to work related behaviour yet is general enough to encompass different perspectives of motivation. Second, reference is made to the term ‘forces’ this in to captures that there is some form of cognitive element, which results in either motivation being strong or weak, and thus varying within the individual. This focus on energetic needs is one which is important as it highlights the need to recognise that motivational forces within an individual will vary thus contributing to its complexity.

Motivation can be considered to be a set of forces which boost performance and increase an individual’s ability to accomplish a particular goal or target. It must however be noted that work motivation and job performance ARE NOT the same thing! Motivation is an individual force, which shows itself in the expression of an individual’s behaviour.

Classical Conditioning: Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Behavioural theories to motivation such as that of classical conditioning draw out the psychological dimensions tied up in the relationship between rewards and punishments. In such situations there is a stimulus which triggers a response which is based upon some form of natural reaction to an event. From this perspective, any focus on motivation is largely treated from the perspective of extrinsic motivators where pay might be used as a reward or withholding pay could be reviewed as a punishment. However, from such behavioural theories of motivation it is possible to raise the question as to whether it is truly motivation or whether it is coercion which is taking place.

Classical conditioning is a process of behaviour modification, which is underpinned by the work of the psychologist Pavlov. Pavlov, in his experiment, Pavlov explored salivation as a response to food being presented. He noticed that every time food was presented to the dogs, the dogs would begin to salivate as a hard-wired response to the situation. Dogs don’t learn to salivate in response to the food but this instead a natural reaction. This would therefore be considered to be an unconditioned response. Pavlov then went on to ring a bell every time the food was presented until he got to the point where he was able to trigger a salivation response even when the food was not presented. In doing so, he had created a conditioned response where the dogs were conditioned to link the sound of the bell to the thought of food arriving.

Classical conditioning is a simplistic interpretation of behaviour, which is often not directly employed in the workplace. However, it does offer an underlying perspective which is useful to understand employee behaviour and learning in an organisational setting. For example; a health and safety inspector may provide negative comments to an employee, which trigger feels of anxiety. Next time, it only takes the health and safety inspector to visit to experience the same feelings as a learned response has been gained to know that the health and safety inspector is not good news.

With greater workplace application is the idea and concept of operant conditioning.

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Operant Conditioning

Operant conditioning is a behavioural theory, which was created by the psychologist B. Skinner. Skinner argued that behaviour could be modified when it produces a negative consequence. This in turn formed the theoretical basis for the introduction of rewards/punishment systems in the workplace. Skinner argues that reinforcement doesn’t have to be consistent and that instead it is possible to produce intermittent rewards to control behaviour.

There are a number of ways detailed below in which rewards/punishments may be used to trigger behavioural outcomes:


The productivity of the workforce may be directly linked to rewards to stimulate positive employee morale. Operant conditioning can be used to ensure employee morale remains high. Putting the theory into practice, positive reinforcement could be used in the form of verbal praise for example or a financial reward to illicit a desired response e.g. higher productivity.

Customer Service

With regards to customer service, increased attention has been directed towards the idea that a happy employee equals a happy customer. Continuous reinforcement may be important here where every time an employee sells a product/service to a client they receive a reward. The employee then learns that they positively get reinforced each and every time this happens.

REINFORCERS: Reinforces can be either negative or positive and they increase the likelihood that a behaviour will be repeated. This could for example; be praise received from a manager when a task is carried out correctly to reinforce the correct behaviour. A negative reinforce would be something such as a loud noise each time a pilot in a cockpit fails to do all pre-take off checks.

PUNISHERS: punishers are those factors, which decrease and weaken the likelihood of a behaviour repeating. A pay cut or a disciplinary meeting would be examples here.


Classical conditioning can be heavily criticised for its simplistic approach, which doesn’t apply to workers in dynamic organisations. However, operant conditioning can be seen as having application and there are both advantages and disadvantages to this behaviourist approach.

On the one hand, behaviour can change and operant condition may be used to successful change behaviour. It can also be used more broadly in the workplace and linked to knowledge/learning as well as leadership principles. On the other hand however, behaviourism can be assessed as having a number of disadvantages. For example, what behaviours are rewarded? Is it surface level behaviour only which means that the underlying behaviour does not change. Instead, targets are simply being met and being rewarded as such. Operant conditioning can therefore be criticised for the level at which exists which is a very surface level. From a motivational perspective it relies on extrinsic reward and thus neglects an understanding of the individual and an intrinsic focus.


The chapter will now go on to discuss a variety of motivational theories. In doing so, it will describe the theory before introducing a critique of both the advantages and disadvantages of the theoretical approach. The content theories of motivation: notably Maslow and Herzberg described below argue that there is a ‘one best way’ approach to motivation and they draw on the consensus that different things motivate different people. Such content theories have resulted in frameworks being created which aim to consider both intrinsic as well as extrinsic factors of motivation.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs developed in 1943 is a motivational theory, which argues that individuals are motivated differently depending on their position on the hierarchy (see figure 1). An individual may for example at the very beginning of their career be motivated by financial rewards and security before obtaining a comfortable position which allows them to be motivated by more intrinsic factors. Pay is therefore considered to be just one influential motivating factor with the recognition that pay will become less important as an individual develops. A further important driving force of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the idea that motivation as a concept is not fixed but instead is fluid and thus changes over time. As an individual develops what motivates them might change and interestingly Maslow marks a move away from extrinsic rewards at the bottom of the hierarchy to more intrinsic rewards as an individual develops and progresses. At the very top of the hierarchy is the concept of self-actualisation which realises the very potential of the individual and their self-drive to achieve.

Critique of Maslow

A central critique surrounding the work of Maslow is its lack of practical application, which has led many to criticise Maslow’s theory as being unable to be applied in the workplace. The theory is empirically unproven and is therefore somewhat ubiquitous in nature. Whilst it has value in its simplistic overview of motivation, this simplicity is also a source of its downfall due to the complexity of motivation not being widely considered or given appropriate attention. Further, as a theoretical approach it is considered to privilege white, males, which are the original group, the theory was developed upon.

Herzberg: Motivators and Hygiene Factors

Herzberg developed a theory in 1966 differentiating between two different types of factors: those, which were motivating factors and those which were hygiene factors. Whilst, motivating factors were those factors which were considered to provide satisfaction, hygiene factors had the potential to cause dissatisfaction. Herzberg approached motivation from an understanding that motivation was more than just intrinsic factors alone and that instead there was a need to think about those motivating factors, which could fuel satisfaction e.g., pay being a central hygiene factor.

An interesting separation was made in Herzberg’s work where he argued that there was a difference between those factors, which motivate people at work, and factors, which influence the working context. Motivating factors are therefore different to and not just the opposite of those factors, which can cause dissatisfaction. He explained this further by stating:

‘We can expand…. by stating that the job satisfiers deal with the factors involved in doing the job, whereas the job satisfiers deal with the factors which define the job context’.

Examples of Hygiene Factors (those factors which can cause dissatisfaction if not maintained):

  • Policy
  • Security
  • Personal life
  • Work conditions
  • Relationship with supervisor

Herzberg’s research also identified true motivators and thus motivating factors, which he considered to be factors such as:

  • Achievement
  • The work itself
  • Responsibility
  • Opportunity for Advancement
  • Recognition

It is these above motivating factors that Herzberg argued attention has to be directed. Focused upon the extent to which money could be considered to be a motivating factor, Herzberg argued that it was primarily a factor, which could be considered to be a dissatisfied if the correct levels of pay were not offered. Instead, whilst it is an important factor it is a condition, which should be maintained to support a motivating environment. He however noted that there were a number of other motivating factors, which demanded attention to stimulate an effective organisational climate.

In relation to the above factors, Herzberg also argued that there were four basic states an individual could experience with the ideal being that an employee would have high motivating and high hygiene factors resulting in an ideal state of perfect happiness for the employee. He also noted that three other categories existed. The second was high motivation/low hygiene, which would result in motivated employees who have complaints about the working conditions they are faced with. The next group was low motivation/high hygiene, which would see bored employees working to gain a financial reward. The final category referred to low motivation/low hygiene which is the most detrimental category and a category which would result in highly unhappy, unproductive and dissatisfied employees.


To critique Herzberg’s study, it is possible to reflect upon both the strengths and weaknesses of the theory. One of the central strengths of the theory is that it identifies a range of factors and this allowed for managers to differentiate and focus upon those issues which could fuel motivation in the workplace and those factors which had to be maintained to avoid dissatisfaction. From a manager list perspective this allowed for solutions to be put in to place for any problems recognised by management within a firm. With regards to the theory’s weaknesses, one of the central weaknesses is that it is rather generalizable and thus may not fully draw out the individual, psychologically informed nature of motivation. Hourly paid employees for example may not be as concerned about job enrichment as those on a salary. Further, often the motivating factors are interpreted without a true understanding of context which could be detrimental to firm success. For example; simply giving autonomy to a worker may not actually motivate them if they are given too much responsibility too soon and without real guidance.

Moving away from an examination of content theories as per the work of Maslow and Herzberg above, attention is now directed towards process theories of motivation: Goal Setting, Expectancy Theory and Equity Theory.

Process theories argue that individuals are all distinctive and different and thus place emphasis on the very individual nature of motivation. Moving away from a static interpretation of motivation as seen in content theories, process theories offer a more dynamic appraisal of motivation in which it is viewed as something which is fluid, individually focused and interchangeable.

A central feature of process theories is the idea that experience is important and that previous experiences may be used to shape the motivating factors of another situation. This focus on motivation being something, which is unique and individually focused is something, which addresses a concern of content theories that their one size fits all approach, is not truly applicable to the modern day, dynamic organisation and its workforce.

Adam’s Equity Theory (1963)

Adam’s equity theory is a motivational theory which argues that individuals are motivated by fairness and that if equality is not seen within the workplace or a given work situation that individuals will compare themselves to each other and reduce their input to move closer to a position of equity. Ultimately a position of fairness needs to be aimed towards where balance is struck between employee’s inputs and the outputs they receive. Any mismatch in fairness here could result in the equity being unequal and employees feeling demotivated in the workforce. For example; think about how you would feel if you and your colleague were both working really hard but only one of you was gaining recognition throughout the company. Or how you would feel if you found out that same colleague was on a higher salary than you. As a result of this there is a need to think about the extent to which organisations can enhance fairness in the workplace.

Perceptions of both fairness and justice according to Adam’s equity theory are important and are considered in direct relation to a perception of inputs and outputs. If you are an individual who feels you are being under rewarded for your work you may feel anger and therefore may reduce your input so as to move closers to a situation which is balanced. On the other, if you are being over-rewarded you may feel guilt which could also impact upon feelings of employee motivation or morale within the company.


This is a theoretical approach which has value in its approach to fairness, and there is true value in the promotion of a fair workplace particularly where motivation is concerned. Recognising that the workplace is a social organisation, where people talk; there is a need to ensure that an unbiased workplace is created where rewards are fair and applicable to all where appropriate. If we consider the disadvantages of this theory we can also argue whether it truly provides a realistic view of behaviour and whether employees are as aware of a position of equilibrium as he promotes. Further, there is a need to think about the extent to which management can control perceptions and whether even if equity is focused upon individuals may still feel disadvantaged when compared to another. This could, for example, be related to the extent to which the manager is consciously aware of how they distribute praise and recognition.

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Vroom’s Expectancy Theory (1964).

Vroom’s expectancy theory is again driven by output e.g. productivity but argues that people will be more motivated to perform actions which they know or at least expect to lead to desired outcomes and a particular response.

Motivating Force = Valence x Instrumentality x Expectancy

Vroom argued that the motivating force would be stronger when the expectation of a reward and the perception of the quality of that reward was high. Approached in a mathematical way, this formula represents a link between behaviours and rewards and does so to reflect upon the importance of experience. For example; if an individual previously worked hard and received a bonus they may work hard the next time simply because of the expectancy that they will receive the reward, without the reward ever actually being promised.

This theory has faced criticism with regards to the extent to which people actually view motivation in this thought through mathematical manner.

Goal Setting Theory

Goal setting theory is a theory which argues that in order to motivate an individual there is a need to put specific, challenging goals in place which allow an individual to be focused and motivated by the task at hand. In order for this to be effective, goal setting theory argues that the goals set must be SMART goals and must therefore have a specific time attributed to them. An important aspect of goal setting theory is the need to think about the challenging nature of the goals set. Too simple and they won’t motivate, too challenging and they won’t motivate. Managers therefore need to be focused upon putting stretching goals at the right level in place.

On a positive note, goal setting theory has very practical applications which support a link between theory and practice in the workplace. However, it is possible to critique goal setting theory with regards to the extent to which goal setting theory could produce unethical behaviour with individuals wanted to simply reach their goals regardless of what it takes. It is therefore important to ensure that this focus on short-term goals does not create a tunnel vision, which can restrict the perspectives and views of the people within the organisation.

Problems and challenges with the psychological approach to motivation

The above process theories of motivation approach motivation from a somewhat psychological perspective where individual difference and individual thought processes are considered. As previously discussed this marks a difference from those broad, one size fits all content approaches outlined at the opening of this chapter. One of the central challenges of this psychological approach is however the lack of empirical evidence which supports this simply due to the complexity of measuring behaviour at the individual level. Whilst there is value in exploring motivation from the individual, micro-foundation level, there are issues with regards to the extent to which it promotes a reductionist, simplistic interpretation of motivation which could be too narrow to have true application to an organisation.

Across the board, the majority of process theories focus on one aspect of the job and does so in order to understand how something such as the setting of goals impacts upon motivation. Difficulty however arises with regards to the extent to which such theories provide a limited appraisal of what is essentially a complex study to examine. What is thus needed is a move towards more holistically orientated, social approaches where a link with the outside world is used to incorporate motivational practices.

Current interpretations to motivation call out for an increased need to consider the wider social orientations to work and this in turn is bringing in thinking such as the influence of work/life balance on motivation and the role of both class/group identity. This move towards more social considerations of motivation is intended to support a more rounded, bigger picture of motivation and the complexity, which surrounds it.

What factors affect an employee’s motivation?


Employees do not work for free and employees instead work for a financial payment which has resulted in money long being established as a factor affecting motivation. From the early days of Taylorism there was an idea that the more money you paid an employee the more you were able to motivate them. Money has great influential value and it is a factor which has been widely supported as stimulating higher performance. However, in recent years, attention has been directed towards other factors which have motivational influence which are explored throughout the course of this section.

Rewards can take various forms and can be extrinsic, intrinsic or social rewards.

Financial Rewards

Research widely suggests that financial rewards influence the satisfaction of employees and those financial rewards such as pay; promotion and bonuses can be used to motivate employees to perform.

Salaries: Fixed amounts of financial reward each month which provides a financial incentive to work.

Financial Benefits: Staff Discounts, contribution to travel costs.

Commission: Financial reward directly aligned to sales.

Performance Related Pay: bonuses.

In reality, an employee may have a mixture of the above and financial rewards remain an important motivational incentive largely because it is understood that low pay acts as a de-motivator. Money may make us feel better about our work but does it truly make us work harder? 

Non-Financial Rewards

Non-financial incentives are those rewards, which may be more intrinsic or social in nature. At an intrinsic level, people may be motivated because they care about the work that they do. For example, a nurse may genuinely enjoy their work and gain intrinsic motivation from knowing they are helping others. Intrinsic motivation is also a part of individuals such as Richard Branson who continue to work despite financial goals being met. At a social level, individuals may become motivated by a sense of team spirit within the organisation and a sense of belonging. Social rewards may therefore help individuals to be motivated in otherwise monotonous workplaces. Social forces within the organisation are important and consequently this points towards an understanding that motivation is more than financial rewards alone.

Non-financial rewards may take various forms and include praise from management, attention from leaders and an opportunity to develop and progress within an organisation. This in turn highlights that financial rewards alone are not enough and that there is a need to consider social factors of motivation especially when an individual has enough money to live comfortably. An important and relevant question here often used by motivator researchers is the lottery question. Quite simply the lottery question asks would you give up your work if you won the lottery tomorrow? In the UK, research has suggested that 63.8% of the UK population would continue work where as in Japan this is substantially higher at 93.4%. Take a moment to think about what you would do if you won the lottery and how your motivation at work would impact this decision?

Job Design

Job design is defined by the CIPD as:

‘The process of deciding on the contents of a job in terms of its duties and responsibilities, on the methods to be used carrying out the job, in terms of techniques, systems and procedures, and on the relationships that should exist between the job holder and his superior subordinates and colleagues’ (CIPD, 2016:1).

This is a useful definition and one that highlights how through job design companies aim to offer a challenging workplace needed to enhance feelings of job enrichment and commitment. Motivating employees through job design has been well researched with many writers arguing that the design of the job is a major influencing factor on the motivation level of an individual.

Aspects of job design may include:

  • Skill variety
  • Task identity
  • Autonomy
  • Feedback
  • Job Rotation

The above is considered to influence the psychological state of an individual to stimulate motivation and satisfaction in individuals. One of the most contemporary ways to motivate an individual through job design is through empowerment. Empowerment is ‘the removal of conditions that make a person powerless’ and thus managers seek to empower, through autonomy, their workers. Managers may move away from a focus on tight supervision to autonomy or workers may be empowered to believe that their work is valued and appreciated with triggers motivation. Creating a climate of empowerment is important to organisations and this needs to take place across the whole organisation. An example of an organisation, which has created good levels of empowerment, is the Louis Vuitton factory where employees are given the autonomy to stop the production line if there is a fault.

Job Satisfaction

The very study of job satisfaction has long been linked to job performance and more recently work has been carried out to understand the link between job satisfaction and life satisfaction. Interplay emerges between job and life satisfaction where there are three relationships, which emerge.

1). Spill over: where job experiences spill over into working life with this spill over having the potential to be negative or positive.

2). Segmentation: job and life experiences are separated and not linked in anyway.

3). Compensation: individual seeks to overcome dissatisfaction in a job by seeking fulfilment in other aspects of their personal life i.e. through leisure.

Work/life balance is an important area of study and is where a balance is aimed to be struck between work and home life. However, whilst a greater attention is directed towards studies of work/life balance fuelled by flexible working hours and practices, attention is also directed towards how something such as technology influences the extent to which a worker is ever able to clearly separate work and home life e.g. work emails on their smartphone.

Any dissatisfaction in the workplace could result in detrimental outcomes for the organisation notably high turnover or low employee morale. People who are dissatisfied in their work are more likely to quit their job and leave the organisation, which ultimately can be costly to the organisation.

Job satisfaction can be influenced by cultural dynamics in the workplace, both organisational culture (see previous chapter) but also national culture and how different cultural groups interact in the workplace. To promote job satisfaction there is a need to encourage effective cultural diversity where employees are focused upon the vision and mission of the organisation in question.

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As discussed in this chapter, motivation is a complex topic and this has resulted in varying definitions as to what is meant by the term motivation. It is a complex topic due to it being centred upon individuals who, as we know are all different and psychologically orientated. Where there is difference comes complexity and this has resulted in a variety of studies being directed towards how employees can be motivated. Content theories (Maslow and Herzberg) provide a functional approach to motivation, which aligns best to a one size, fits all approach. Whilst such theories have value in their identification of motivating forces, they are limited in the extent to which they are able to align to the dynamic, modern organisation. This perhaps is best summed up with the lack of empirical support for Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. On the other hand, process theories offer a more individualistic approach to motivation where individual difference begins to shine through. As discussed in this chapter, there are both advantages and disadvantages to each approach considered and this has resulted in a recent trend towards holistically orientated approaches to motivation where more social factors come into consideration.

In summary; the following factors are of importance when analysing an employee’s motivation:

  • The employee themselves and their intrinsic drive for motivation e.g. career aspirations, desired and current economic status, general satisfaction in oneself.
  • The environment: job design, working conditions all hygiene factors which if not addressed have the power to fuel dissatisfaction.
  • Responsibilities/autonomy: motivating factors, which offer a more intrinsic approach to motivation to stimulate success.
  • Fairness and Equity - equality in the workplace in terms of rewards. Effort and reward need to be well matched and consistent.
  • Goals: Challenging, SMART goals to trigger a motivational response linked to productivity.
  • Rewards and reinforcement: behaviourist interpretations of motivation, which link something such as a positive, reinforce to behavioural outcomes.


CIPD (2016) Job Design [online]. Available from:

http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/factsheets/job-design.aspx [Accessed 27.10.16].

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological review, 50(4), pp. 370-396.

Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., Synderman, B.B. (1959). The Motivation to Work, 2nd Edition, London: Chapman and Hall.

Pinder, C. C. (2014). Work motivation in organizational behavior. Psychology Press.

Vroom, V. R. Work and motivation. New York: Wiley, 1964.

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