A Study On Motivational Theories: What Motivates People To Work

A Study on Motivational Theories

Motivation can be defined as a driving force within a person, which can help in the self-voluntary effort of achieving or directing towards a goal (Barnet, n.d). Motivational theory is then the study of how, why and when these behaviours in human are triggered. In, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1954), the motivation of a person begins at the lowest psychological level. In this report, we gather several motivational theories but select the key motivational theories which influences the employees affective and behaviour processes to a greater level. Also, explore Campion and Thayer’s (1987) motivational approach to design Job to motivate employees.

Motivational Theories

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs Theory (MASLOW, 1954)

According to Maslow’s (1954) theory, people are motivated according to the pyramid of needs which starts from their physiological level and go all the way up to the level of self-actualization (MASLOW, 1954).

Maslow's Pyramid
Figure 1: Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, Source: (McLeod, 2014)

Hierarchy of Needs
1. Physiological Needs (Food, Water)
2. Safety (shelter, protection)
3. Belonging (Relationships, Family, Community)
4. Self-Esteem (Recognition, Achievements)
5. Self-Actualization (Realizing Potential, Fulfilment)
(McLeod, 2014)

Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory (Herzberg, 1966)

In the motivation-hygiene theory, also known as the two-factor theory, proposed by Frederick Herzberg (1966) suggests that fixing all the job factors which causes dissatisfaction will not guarantee job satisfaction (Teck-Hong, 2011). Herzberg divided the job factors into two, as shown below –

  • Hygiene Factors

These are the job factors which must be present in a workplace for motivation to exist. In short, they help in preventing dissatisfaction in a workplace.

  • Motivational Factors

Motivational factors are the factors which actually motivates employees to work efficiently and perform well.
(Herzberg, 1966)

Hygiene Factors Motivational Factors
Salary Recognition
Policies Sense of accomplishment
Working Environment Opportunities to Grow
Job Security Responsibility

(Herzberg, 1987)

  • McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

This motivational theory proposed by Douglas McGregor (1957) assumes that there are two types of human behaviour at work. First, Theory X, which presents negative view of individuals in a workplace and second, Theory Y, the positive view (McGregor, 1957).

  • Equity Theory

This motivational theory was developed by John Stacey Adams (1963) and is similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Herzberg’s motivational theory. Equity theory suggests that factors which are delicate and variable affects the way an employee look at their job (Adams, 1963). In other words, more the sense of equality in an employee more motivated he will be.

  • Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

Unlike other motivational theories, Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory (Vroom, 1964) states the motivation of an individual to perform in his/her workplace can be directly related to the reward which is followed after the accomplishment of a task or work (Ferris, 1977).

  • Alderfer’s ERG Model

In this theory of motivation, Clayton Alderfer (Alderfer, 1969) simplifies Maslow’s hierarchy of needs into three class’s

  1. Existence
  2. Relatedness
  3. Growth

(Caulton, 2012)

  • McClelland’s Achievement Motivation Theory

According to David McClelland’s achievement motivation theory (1961) there are three needs on which behaviour of an individual is depended upon, those are –

  1. Need for Achievement (McClelland, 1958)
  2. Need for Power
  3. Need for Affiliation

(McClelland, 1961)

Motivational Theories Which Influences Employee’s Affective Processes and Behavioural Processes

From all the above motivational theories mentioned above, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1954) and McClelland’s Theory of Needs (1961), in my opinion, can influence an employee’s affective processes and behavioural processes the most. Maslow believed that, an employee must be satisfied at his most basic level i.e. his physiological needs, before he can be motivated at a higher hierarchical levels of needs. For example, in an organization, if the employees do not have job security they cannot be motivated at a higher level (Skills, n.d). The constant feel of fear could affect their performance and behaviour. Now, if an employer can provide a sense of security, the employees can motivate themselves to let go off this fear.

Once this level of security need is met, they can now move to a higher level, which is belonging or social aspects, shown in Figure 1. In this hierarchical need, employees can be motivated to work in teams, build good relationships with colleagues or managers etc. Having a good relationship among everyone can foster a good working environment, which in-turn can foster a feeling of happiness (Skills, n.d).

Now, once good relationships are built, the employees can move up the ladder to have a feeling of self-esteem. At this level the employees can be motivated through a good reward system which could help them to gain recognition among others, which help them to meet the required need “self-esteem”. When all the levels are met, the employee can now focus on self-actualization or self-fulfilment. According to Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs, shown in Figure 1, this is the top most level in which employee can be motivated to look for opportunities to learn more and focus on self-improvement (Skills, n.d).

McClelland’s Need Theory, as mentioned in the Motivational Theories section, there are three needs namely need for achievement, need for power and need for affiliation (McClelland, 1962). The need for achievement is one’s desire to excel by setting difficult goals, challenging themselves to achieve success in life. Need for power, is ones desire to control the environment they exist and influence other people’s behaviour. Lastly, the need for affiliation which is the need of one person to create relationship or social networking. According to the McClelland’s need theory, when any one of the three needs is more in an individual, the stronger need can motivate and influence the behaviour of one to reach a point of satisfaction (McClelland, 1962).

Characteristics of a Positive Work Environment

A positive work environment is essential factor to a company’s success. Such environment can help employees to work efficiently, provide motivation that is needed to work and feel good about coming to office every single day (Poh, n.d). A positive work environment can possess the below characteristics –

  • Open form of Communication

An open form of communication can help employees feel that their opinions are valued and help in promoting a sense of belonging in their company (English, 2015). This can motivate employees to think creatively and come up with ideas which could help the company grow further. It is therefore an absolute necessity that employers communicate with their employees clearly about the organizations goals, missions and values. This makes sure that everyone is on the same page and make them feel that they are working not only for their salary (Poh, n.d).

  • Work-Life Balance

In a positive work environment, employees can balance between their personal life and their work life. They do not have the fear of missing out on one area of their life apart from work, which could be friends, family etc (Poh, n.d). Once the need of belonging are met, employees will be motivated to gain confidence or self-esteem, as stated in Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchy (MASLOW, 1954). A self-confident employee tends to think creatively and out of the box. Therefore, employers or managers should reward those who keep a good work-life balance to motivate others to follow (Poh, n.d).

  • Training and Development Based

It is necessary for organizations to keep their employees up to date and trained to adapt to the ever changing business and technology (Poh, n.d). It is crucial that organizations invest on their employees by providing training, so that employees gets a chance to improve and be more productive (AllTopStartUps, 2016). In a world where those who cannot adapt and keep themselves up-to date with the changes get replaced, helping employees to tackle these with training and development needed to keep them abreast of the changes could motivate them repay the favour (Poh, n.d). Therefore, training and development focused organisation can foster a positive working environment by keeping everyone content with their self-fulfilment needs.

  • Recognition of Talents

According to Herzberg Two-Factor theory, recognition is a motivational factor which help an employee perform well and efficiently (Herzberg, 1966). By recognising and rewarding talents, employees can be motivated to continually do their best and help improve their satisfaction and productivity. It always does not need to be a monetary reward, a simple verbal recognition about their hard work can also help them realise that they are being appreciated and their hard work is recognised (Poh, n.d).

  • Good Working Environments

A good working environment can positively affect the way employees work. Just like when you visit a beautiful place, you feel happy and have a small smile on your face, the same can be achieved if the organisation can look into details like lighting, colour of the walls, flooring and basic necessities (AllTopStartUps, 2016). This could affect the behaviour of employees in a small manner and make them happy at where they work. Happy employees within the organisation could help increase the overall performance and productivity.

How Human Resource Design Jobs to Motivate Employees

According to businessdictionary.com (n.d),

Job design is the work arrangement executed to help prevent or overcome job dissatisfaction at workplaces due to repetitive or monotonous tasks done by an employee. The organization tries to raise the productivity level by offering its employees non-monetary rewards such as sense of accomplishment to meet the challenges through job design.

Job Design
Figure 2: Campion and Thayer’s Four Job Dimensions of Approach to Job Design. (Campion, 1987)

Human resource can use Campion and Thayer’s (1987) motivational approach among the four job approaches to design jobs which can motivate employees. Campion and Thayer’s (1987) assess the quality of job design through questionnaires. The following are some of the factors on which the questionnaires for motivational job design approach are developed –

  • Autonomy

Is there freedom in scheduling, improvement decisions and quality?

  • Task Significance

Is the job more important than any other job in the company?

  • Communication

Is there good access to communication channels in the job?

  • Recognition

Does the job have any recognition amongst others?

  • Job Security

Does the person holding the job post have a sense of job security?

  • Promotion

Is there any chance of promotion or advance to a higher level in the job post?

  • Social

Is there an opportunity to interact with team members?

  • Task Identity

Does the job require the incumbent to work only on a part of the work or gets to work from beginning till the end of the work?

  • Skill Level

Is the skill level required to do the job high?

(REDMOND, 2016)

Motivational Job Design Approach
Implemented for Professional Jobs
Job Design Technique used –

  • Job Enrichment
  • Job Enlargement
Pros Cons
  • Decline in Absenteeism
  • High Productivity
  • Motivated Employees
  • Employees are involved and satisfied
  • Training takes time
  • More vulnerable to stress
  • Likelihood of errors are more

Table 1. Motivational Job Design Approach from Campion and Thayer (1987).

The above method can help in addressing all the physical and emotional aspects of an employee to successfully design a job which motivates employees at their workplace (REDMOND, 2016).

Synthesis of Hackman and Oldham’s (1976) Job Characteristics and Employees’ Psychological States

The well-developed Job Characteristic Model by Hackman and Oldham (1976), which superseded the Two-Factor theory (Garg, 2006), says that the task itself provide motivation to employees. There are five main intrinsic job characteristics and three physiological states in Hackman and Oldham (1976) model and are given below –

  1. Skill Variety

This defines the different skills and knowledge that needs to be possessed by an employee.

  1. Task Identity

This defines whether the employee do a task from the beginning to the end or just a part of the task.

  1. Task Significance

This defines the level of significance their task holds both internally and externally. Internally, how critical is the task for the company. And externally, how proud are they to tell what they do in the society. (Garg, 2006)

  1. Autonomy

This defines the level of independence an employees have to do their job.

  1. Feedback

This defines the amount of feedback the employee receives in-regard to their performance.

(Hackman, 1976)

Psychological States –

  1. Meaningfulness of Work

The extent to which an employee thinks that what they do in the organization is making a difference and worth doing.

  1. Responsibility for Work Outcomes

The extent to which an employee perceives that they themselves are responsible for the outcome of the work they do.

  1. Knowledge of Results

It is the degree to which an employee believes the task they have been assigned are being done effectively.

(Hackman, 1976)

In the model, the intrinsic factors of task identity, skill variety and task significance will all aid in developing a psychological state of meaningfulness. Autonomy will provide the individual with a sense of responsibility for their work outcomes. And finally the feedback provide will help in creating awareness about their performance results (REDMOND, 2016). Figure 3 makes it simple to understand this statement.

Hackman and Oldham
Figure 3: Hackman and Oldham (1976) Job Characteristic Model. Source: (Garg, 2006)

The psychological states are responsible for the increased work motivation, satisfaction, productivity, and decline in the number of absenteeism and employee resignation rates (Garg, 2006).

Relationship between Maslow’s General Components and Job Characteristics

To discuss the possible relationship between Maslow’s General Component and Job Characteristics, let us first list all the Maslow’s general components with their respective needs of an employee in an organisation.

Maslow’s General Components in Relation with Need of an Employees at Work

Maslow’s General Components Examples Related to Job
Physiological Needs Food

  • Canteen
  • Coffee Machines
  • Cold/Hot Drinks


  • Air Conditioning
  • Heaters



  • Skill Required
  • Work Descriptions


  • Salaries
  • Fringe Benefits


  • Working Environment
Belonging Social Interaction

  • Good relationship with Manager
  • Team Spirit
  • Sense of Unity



  • Recognitions
  • Awards
  • ·Promotion



  • Challenging Job
  • Thinking out-of-the box


Table 2. Needs of an Employee according to Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs (1954). Source:(YourCoach, n.d)

Let us now compare these Maslow’s needs with that of the Job Characteristics side by side. As shown in Table 3.

Maslow’s General Component’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Job Characteristics
Realizing ones maximum potential, Self-Fulfilment Self-Actualization Accomplishment at Work, Challenging Tasks
Achievements, Recognition, Competence               Self-Esteem Recognition of Talent or Hard Work, Awards, Promotion
Relationships, Love, Family                Belonging Relationship with Managers, Colleagues and Customers
Shelter, Protection, Live Without Fear                  Security Medical Benefits, Fringe Benefits, Job Security
Food, Water              Physiological Coffee, Air Conditioning


Table 3. Relationship between Maslow’s General Components and Job Characteristics.

Source: (MASLOW, 1954), (Hackman, 1976),(Härtel, 2014).

From the above table 3, we can find some relationship between Maslow’s general Components (1954) and Job Characteristics. As proposed by Hackman and Oldham (1976), the five Job Characteristics are –

  1. Skill Variety
  2. Task Identity
  3. Task Significance
  4. Autonomy
  5. Feedback

In my own understanding, I could relate the five job characteristics of Hackman and Oldham (1976) in which they need to be satisfied according to the Maslow’s Hierarchy Pyramid as shown below –

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Five Job Characteristics
Self-Actualization Task Significance
Self-Esteem Feedback – Related to Recognition and Performance
Belonging Autonomy – Freedom in communicating and socialising
Security Skill Variety – Related to Job Security
Physiological Task Identity


This shows that just like the hierarchy of needs, where one need to be satisfied with the most basic needs before they can be motivated on a higher level (MASLOW, 1954), similarly, in an organisation to motivate employees, the employers or managers should fulfil the most basic needs of an employee to motivate them on a higher level.


            There are several motivational theories to motivate employees and in-turn increase their productivity and performance. However, management should review all the theories and select the one which closely aligns with the goals and missions of the organization. Similarly, the Human Resource should design jobs to motivate by understanding what is required from the job and the employee (Garg, 2006).  To conclude, organisations can motivate their employees both intrinsically and extrinsically, but having a balance and understanding of each methods, as they are not additive in nature and can be short lived, to effectively create a system to motivate can help in the affective processes of an employee (Pardee, 1990).


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