Explain need-based theories of worker motivation
What you’ll learn to do: Explain need-based theories of worker motivation
In this section we will look at four main theories about how human needs are satisfied: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Alderfer’s ERG theory, Herzberg’s two-factor theory, and McClelland’s acquired-needs theory.
· List the levels of needs in Maslow’s hierarchy
· Explain the impact that Maslow’s levels of needs have on worker motivation
· Summarize the changes to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in Alderfer’s ERG theory
· Explain the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in Herzberg’s two-factor theory
· Describe how employees might be motivated using McClelland’s acquired-needs theory
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Human motivation can be defined as the fulfillment of various needs. These needs can encompass a range of human desires, from basic, tangible needs of survival to complex emotional needs surrounding an individual’s psychological well-being.
Abraham Maslow, a social psychologist, was interested in a broad spectrum of human psychological needs, rather than individual psychological problems. He is best known for his hierarchy-of-needs theory. Depicted in the pyramid below, the theory organizes the different levels of human psychological and physical needs in order of importance.
The pyramid shows five levels of needs. From bottom to top, they are: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self actualization, transcendence.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Managers can apply Maslow’s hierarchy to better understand employees’ needs and motivation, and address them in ways that lead to high productivity and job satisfaction.
At the bottom of the pyramid are the physiological, or basic human survival needs: food, shelter, water, sleep, etc. Once physical needs are satisfied, individual safety takes precedence. Safety and security needs include personal security, financial security, and health and well-being.
After they have basic nutrition, shelter, and safety, people seek to fulfill higher-level needs.
Connection: The Third Level of Need
The third level of needs—love and belonging—are the desire to share and connect with others. Neglect, shunning, or ostracism can impact a person’s ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships. Humans need to feel a sense of belonging and acceptance, whether from a large social group or a small network of family and friends. Without these attachments, they may be vulnerable to loneliness, social anxiety, and depression.
The fourth level is esteem—the normal human desire to be valued and validated by others—as well as self-esteem. People with low self-esteem may find that external validation by others—through fame, glory, accolades, etc.—only partially or temporarily fulfills their needs at this level.
Finally, at the top of the pyramid is self-actualization. At this stage, people feel that they have reached their full potential. Self-actualization may occur after reaching an important goal or overcoming a particular challenge, and it may be marked by a new sense of self-confidence or contentment. But it is rarely a permanent state. Rather, self-actualization is an ongoing need for personal growth and discovery that people have throughout their lives.
Hierarchy of Needs and Organizational Theory
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is relevant to organizational theory because both are concerned with human motivation. Understanding what people need—and how their needs differ—is an important part of effective management. For example, some people work primarily for money (and fulfill their other needs elsewhere), but others like to go to work because they enjoy their coworkers or feel respected by others and appreciated for their good work.
In the workplace, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests that if a lower need is not met, then the higher ones will be ignored. For example, if employees lack job security, they will be far more concerned about their financial well-being and paying their bills than about friendships and respect at work. However, if employees receive adequate financial compensation (and have job security), meaningful group relationships and praise for good work may be more important motivators.
Consequences of Unmet Needs
When their needs aren’t met, employees can become very frustrated. For example, if someone works hard for a promotion and doesn’t get the recognition it represents, she may lose motivation and put in less effort. Also, after a need is met, it will no longer serve as a motivator: The next level up in the needs hierarchy will become more important. Therefore, keeping employees motivated can seem like a moving target. People seldom fit neatly into pyramids or diagrams; their needs are complicated and often change over time.
Assessing Needs Accurately
Maria is a long-time employee who is punctual, does high-quality work, and is well liked by her coworkers. However, her supervisor begins to notice that she is coming in late and seems distracted. He concludes that Maria is bored with her job and wants to leave. But when he raises these issues in her semiannual performance appraisal, he learns that Maria’s husband lost his job six months ago and, unable to keep up with mortgage payments, the couple has been living in a hotel. Maria has moved down the needs pyramid and, if the supervisor wants to be an effective manager, he must adapt the motivational approaches he uses. In short, a manager’s best strategy is to recognize this complexity and try to remain attuned to what employees say they need.
Alderfer’s ERG Theory
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Clayton Paul Alderfer, an American psychologist, used Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in developing the Alderfer’s ERG theory, which refers to core needs in three areas:
These three areas align, respectively, with Maslow’s levels of physiological, social, and self-actualization needs.
Alderfer proposed that when needs in one category are not met, people will redouble their efforts to fulfill needs in a lower category. For example, if their self-esteem (an area of need in the growth category) is suffering, people will invest more effort in the relatedness category of needs.
Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory
American psychologist Frederick Herzberg is regarded as one of the great original thinkers in management and motivational theory. He set out to determine the effect of attitude on motivation by simply asking people to describe the times when they felt really good, and really bad, about their jobs. What he found was that people who felt good gave very different responses from people who felt bad.
The results from this inquiry form the basis of Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory, sometimes called Herzberg’s two-factor theory (1968), which hypothesized that two sets of factors govern job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction: hygiene factors, or extrinsic motivators, and motivation factors, or intrinsic motivators.
Hygiene factors, or extrinsic motivators, tend to represent more tangible, basic needs like those noted in both the existence category of ERG theory and in the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Extrinsic motivators include status, job security, salary, and fringe benefits. It’s important for managers to realize that not providing the appropriate and expected extrinsic motivators will sow dissatisfaction and decrease motivation among employees.
Motivation factors, or intrinsic motivators, tend to be less tangible. They are tied more to emotional needs like those identified in the “relatedness” and “growth” categories in the ERG theory and at the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Intrinsic motivators include challenging work, recognition, relationships, and growth potential. Managers need to recognize that while these needs may fall outside the traditional scope of what a workplace ought to provide, they can be critical to strong individual and team performance.
The factor that differentiates two-factor theory from the others is the role of employee expectations. According to Herzberg, intrinsic motivators and extrinsic motivators have an inverse relationship. That is, intrinsic motivators tend to increase motivation when they are present, while extrinsic motivators tend to reduce motivation when they are absent. This is due to employees’ expectations. Extrinsic motivators (e.g., salary, benefits) are expected, so they won’t increase motivation when they are in place, but they will cause dissatisfaction when they are missing. Intrinsic motivators (e.g., challenging work, growth potential), on the other hand, can be a source of additional motivation when they are available.
Chart showing the factors that contribute to job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction according to Herzberg’s two-factor theory. Job dissatisfaction is influenced by hygiene factors; job satisfaction is influenced by motivator factors.
If managers want to increase employees’ job satisfaction, they should be concerned with the nature of the work itself—opportunities for employees to gain status, assume responsibility, and achieve self-realization. If, on the other hand, management wishes to reduce dissatisfaction, then the focus should be on the job environment—policies, procedures, supervision, and working conditions. To ensure a satisfied and productive workforce, managers must pay attention to both sets of job factors.
McClelland’s Acquired-Needs Theory
Photo of a chess master contemplating his next move.
An achievement-oriented tendency is to strive for mastery.
Psychologist David McClelland’s acquired-needs theory splits the needs of employees into three categories:
Employees who are strongly achievement motivated are driven by the desire for mastery. They prefer working on tasks of moderate difficulty in which outcomes are the result of their effort rather than luck. They value receiving feedback on their work.
Employees who are strongly affiliation-motivated are driven by the desire to create and maintain social relationships. They enjoy belonging to a group and want to feel loved and accepted. They may not make effective managers because they may worry too much about how others will feel about them.
Employees who are strongly power-motivated are driven by the desire to influence, teach, or encourage others. They enjoy work and place a high value on discipline. However, they may take a zero-sum approach to group work—for one person to succeed, another must fail. If channeled appropriately, their motivation can positively support group goals and help others in the group feel competent.
The acquired-needs theory doesn’t claim that people can be neatly categorized as one of the three types. Rather, it asserts that all people are motivated by all of these needs to varying degrees. Also, needs do not necessarily correlate with competencies; it is possible for an employee to be strongly affiliation-motivated, for example, but still be successful in a situation that doesn’t meet her affiliation needs.
McClelland proposes that people in top management generally have a high need for power and a low need for affiliation. He also believes that although individuals with a need for achievement can make good managers, they are not generally suited to being in top management positions.
Check Your Knowledge
Answer the following questions to see how well you understand the topics covered in this section. This short quiz does not count toward your grade, and you can retake it as many times as you wish. Use this quiz to decide whether to study the section further or move on.
Choose the BEST answer.
Clayton Alderfer’s ERG theory is a modification of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs because it states that human needs can be grouped into three instead of five categories. __ is not one of the ERG categories.
Herzberg hypothesized that two different sets of factors governing job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction. These are
financial needs and safety needs
hygiene factors and motivation factors
existence and relations needs
David McClelland’s acquired-needs theory splits the needs of employees into three categories. These categories are
achievement, affiliation, and power
belonging, responsibility, and achievement
autonomy, mastery, and purpose
Herzberg, F. (1968). One more time: How do you motivate employees? Harvard Business Review, 46(1), 53–62.
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Introduction to Need-Based Theories from Introduction to Business by Linda Williams and Lumen Learning is available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. UMUC has modified this work and it is available under the original license.
Need-Based Theories from Introduction to Business by Linda Williams and Lumen Learning is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. UMUC has modified this work and it is available under the original license
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What you’ll learn to do: Explain process-based theories of motivation
In this section we will discuss three process-based theories of motivation: equity theory, expectancy theory, and reinforcement theory.
Photo of a statue of woman holding the scales of justice.
· Describe the role of inputs and outcomes in equity theory
· Explain the implications of equity theory for business managers
· Describe the ways managers can use expectancy theory to motivate employees
· Explain how reinforcement theory can be used as a management tool
In contrast to the need-based theories we have covered so far, process-based theories view motivation as a rational process. Individuals analyze their environment, develop reactions and feelings, and respond in specific, predictable ways.
Equity theory attempts to explain relational satisfaction in terms of perceived fairness: That is, people evaluate how fair or unfair distribution of resources is within their interpersonal relationships. Regarded as one of many theories of justice, equity theory was first developed in 1963 by John Stacey Adams. Adams, a workplace and behavioral psychologist, asserted that employees seek to maintain equity between their inputs and rewards from a job, and the perceived inputs and outcomes of others.
Equity theory proposes that people value fair treatment, which motivates them to maintain a similar standard of fairness with their coworkers and the organization. Accordingly, equity structure in the workplace is based on the ratio of inputs to outcomes.
Inputs are the employee’s contributions to the workplace. They include time spent working and level of effort but can also include less tangible contributions such as loyalty, commitment, and enthusiasm.
Outputs are what the employee receives from the employer. They can also be tangible or intangible. Tangible outcomes include salary and job security. Intangible outcomes might be recognition, praise, or a sense of achievement.
A Workplace Example
For example, let’s look at Ross and Monica, who both perform similar jobs for a large magazine publishing company. If Ross received a pay raise but saw that Monica was given a larger raise for the same amount of work, Ross would evaluate this change, perceive an inequality, and be distressed. However, if Ross perceived that Monica was being given more responsibility and, therefore, relatively more work along with the salary increase, then he would see no loss in equality status and would not object to the change.
An employee will feel that he is treated fairly if he perceives the ratio of his inputs to his outcomes is equivalent to those around him.
Equity theory includes the following primary propositions:
· Individuals will try to maximize their outcomes.
· Individuals can maximize collective rewards by evolving accepted systems for equitably apportioning resources among members. As a result, groups will evolve such systems of equity and will attempt to induce members to accept and adhere to these systems. In addition, groups will generally reward members who treat others equitably and punish members who treat others inequitably.
· When individuals find themselves in inequitable relationships, they will become distressed. The more inequitable the relationship, the more distress they will feel. According to equity theory, the person who gets “too much” and the person who gets “too little” both feel distressed. The person who gets too much may feel guilt or shame. The person who gets too little may feel angry or humiliated.
· Individuals who discover they are in inequitable relationships will attempt to eliminate their distress by restoring equity.
When an employee compares his input/outcome ratio to his fellow workers’, he will look for others with similar jobs or skill sets. For example, Ross would not compare his salary and responsibilities to those of the magazine company’s CEO. However, he might look outside the organization for comparison. For example, he might visit a job search website to check salaries for positions like his at other publishing houses.
Pay, whether hourly or salary, is a central concern for employees and is therefore the cause of equity or inequity in most, but not all, cases. In any position, employees want to feel that their contributions and work performance are being rewarded with fair pay. An employee who feels underpaid may experience feelings of hostility toward the organization and perhaps coworkers. This hostility may cause the employee to underperform and breed job dissatisfaction among others.
Subtle or intangible compensation also plays an important role in equity. Receiving recognition and being thanked for strong job performance can help employees feel valued and satisfied with their jobs, resulting in better outcomes for both the individual and the organization.
Equity theory has several implications for business managers:
· Employees measure the total of their inputs and outcomes. This means a working parent may accept lower monetary compensation in return for more flexible working hours.
· Different employees ascribe different personal values to inputs and outcomes. Thus, two employees of equal experience and qualification performing the same work for the same pay may have different perceptions of the fairness of the deal.
· Employees are able to adjust for purchasing power and local market conditions. Thus, a teacher from Vancouver, Washington, may accept lower compensation than his colleague in Seattle if his cost of living is different, and a teacher in a remote African village may accept a totally different pay structure.
· Although it may be acceptable for more senior staff to receive higher compensation, there are limits to the balance of the scales of equity, and employees can find excessive executive pay demotivating.
· Staff perceptions of inputs and outcomes of themselves and others may be incorrect, so perceptions need to be managed effectively.
Expectancy theory, initially put forward by Victor Vroom at the Yale School of Management, suggests that behavior is motivated by anticipated results or consequences. Vroom proposed that a person decides to behave in a certain way based on the expected result. For example, people will work harder if they think the extra effort will be rewarded.
In essence, individuals make choices based on their expectations for the results of a given behavior. This process begins in childhood and continues throughout life. Expectancy theory has three components: expectancy, instrumentality, and valence.
Expectancy is the belief that effort will lead to the intended performance goals. It describes a person’s belief that “I can do this.” Usually, the belief is based on an individual’s past experience, self-confidence, and the perceived difficulty of the performance standard or goal. Factors associated with a person’s expectancy perception are competence, goal difficulty, and control.
Instrumentality is the belief that meeting the performance expectation will result in a desired outcome. Instrumentality reflects the person’s belief that, “If I accomplish this, I will get that.” The desired outcome may be a pay increase, promotion, recognition, or sense of accomplishment. Having clear policies in place—preferably spelled out in a contract—guarantees that the reward will be delivered if the agreed-upon performance is met. Instrumentality is low when the outcome is vague or uncertain, or if the outcome is the same for all possible levels of performance.
Valence is the unique value an individual places on a particular outcome. Valence captures the fact that “I find this particular outcome desirable because I’m me.” Factors associated with a person’s valence are needs, goals, preferences, values, sources of motivation, and the strength of their preference for a particular outcome. An outcome that one employee finds motivating and desirable—such as a bonus or pay raise—may not be motivating and desirable to another (who may, for example, prefer greater recognition or more flexible working hours).
Expectancy theory, when properly followed, can help managers understand how individuals are motivated to choose among various behavioral alternatives. To enhance the connection between performance and outcomes, managers should use systems that tie rewards closely to performance. They can also use training to help employees improve their abilities and their belief that added effort will, in fact, lead to better performance.
A Note of Caution
It’s important to understand that expectancy theory can run aground if managers interpret it too simplistically. Vroom’s theory entails more than just the assumption that people will work harder if they think their effort will be rewarded. The reward needs to be meaningful and take valence into account. Valence has a significant cultural as well as personal dimension, as illustrated here:
When Japanese motor company ASMO opened a plant in the United States, it brought in a large Japanese workforce but hired American managers to oversee operations. The managers, seeking to motivate the workers with a reward system, initiated a costly employee-of-the-month program that included free parking and other perks. The program was a huge flop, and participation was disappointingly low. Why? The program required employees to nominate their coworkers to be considered for the award. Japanese culture values modesty, teamwork, and conformity, and to be put forward or singled out for being special is considered inappropriate and even shameful. To be named Employee of the Month would be a very great embarrassment indeed—not at all the reward that management assumed. Especially as companies become more culturally diverse, the lesson is that managers need to get to know employees and their needs—their unique valences—if they want to understand what makes the workers feel motivated, happy, and valued.
Photo of a small dog doing a trick, standing on his hind legs to catch a tennis ball.
The basic premise of the theory of reinforcement is both simple and intuitive: An individual’s behavior depends on the consequences. It’s simply cause and effect: If I work hard today, I’ll make more money. If I make more money, I’m more likely to want to work hard.
Reinforcement theory is based on the work of B. F. Skinner in the field of operant conditioning. The theory relies on four primary inputs, or aspects of operant conditioning, from the external environment: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment.
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