How An Entrepreneur Applied Expectancy Theory To Increase Employee Engagement

Expectancy Theory to increase employee engagement

Practice and research driven literature have carved numerous definitions of engagement, but in essence, employee engagement as stated by Tamara Erickson concerns with

“The desirable condition having an organisational purpose, connoting involvement, commitment, passion, enthusiasm, focussed effort, and energy; thus attributing to both attitudinal and behavioural components.” (Erickson, 2005)

Again, from another viewpoint, engagement and motivational strategy according to Maslach and Greiner respectively are

“A concept with a sparse and diverse theoretical and empirically demonstrated nomological net.” (Maslach, 2001)

‘A motivational strategy is any effort to induce employees to initiate and sustain activities that can directly or indirectly improve service and productivity.’ (Greiner, 1986)

Motivation is rather a complex phenomenon that varies from person to person concerns both qualitative and quantitative output (Flynn, 2013). Primary factors such as food, clothing, and housing, other basic amenities, etc. act as motivators for almost every individual (Maslow, 1968). The key is to understand and decipher the secondary needs and necessities that triggers out maximum engagement of an employee within the organisation. Quite a few theories have been attempted to explain how motivation works. When we consider a management circle, the needs of an individual will be used to explain motivations (Panay, 2004).

Motivational Theories

Historically, the content theories (or need theories) have had the greatest impact on management practice and policy because they are generally associated with a view that concentrates on the importance of determining ‘what’ motivates an employee. It highlights the specific factors that motivate an individual. Even though these factors are found within a person, extrinsic factors can also affect these individuals. Based on the hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow (1968) hypothesised the pyramid essentially existing to meet an employee’s needs. It conceptualises on the pyramidal presence of the deficiency needs concerning psychological needs, safety and social necessities stacked over by the growth needs constituting esteem and self-actualisation. The icing on the top deals with self-actualisation and relates to achievements of an employee’s full potential but never saturates out, since realization of that potential happens coherently (Maslow 1954).

Further, Douglas McGregor (1960) expanded Maslow’s concept and specifically applied it to the workplace. In the first category, which he termed as Theory X, the dominant management approach was maintained, and it was based on assumptions such as employee’s dislike towards work, avoidance of responsibility, lack of ambition and simply seeking security. For such cases, rules were enforced, and punishments were implemented (McGregor, 1960). Alternatively, Theory Y proposes work to be assumed as a natural as possible with no external control and full of organisational objectives exercised in a self-controlled and self-directional way. McGregor advocated that the application of Theory Y, would meet both organisational requirements and needs of employees (Indabawa, 2014).  According to him, Theory X at its best only met Maslow’s deficiency needs, while Theory Y also met the growth needs (McGregor, 1960). Thus, the management would have more motivated employees on adopting Theory Y. A third theory, Theory Z, was developed by Dr. William Ouchi (1978). His model proposes that group work and social interaction is needed to be encouraged to motivate employees in the workplace.

Clayton Alderfer (1972) revised Maslow’s theory and reduced the levels in his hierarchy of needs from five to three and termed these as existence needs, relatedness needs, and growth needs. However, he altered Maslow’s concept of a one-way progression up the hierarchy to one that allowed for failure to lower levels if these needs are no longer being met which Alderfer called the frustration-regression principle. This is a more realistic approach because it realises the fact that a need, although met, doesn’t mean it will remain met, forever. For example, if salary in a firm is exponentially increased every year, it can’t occur for eternity? (Alderfer, 1972).Thus, here ERG theory appears more real than Maslow’s concept.

Prof. David McClelland’s (1961) acquired needs theory is based on three types of motivational needs such as achievement, authority and power; and affiliation and recognises that employees with a high drive to succeed are more likely to have added motivation than employees with a low zeal to achieve. McClelland associated every need with a distinct set of work preferences, and employers could mould the fitting atmosphere to meet these needs. He also deemed that individuals are not instinctive with these needs, but that they are educated about these needs experiencing different life situations. He also maintained that, work situations and conditions when arranged to accomplish high motivational benefits from those with a high need for achievements, starting by employing people with a high need for achievement (McClelland, 1961).

In the late 1920s, the Hawthorne Effect was developed by Elton Mayo through a series of experiments. This effect suggested that employees are more productive when they knew that their performance was being measured and studied (Mayo, 1945). Further, Mayo concluded that productivity of employees increased when they provided the feedback related to the concerned studies and allowed to provide input into the work process. Mayo believed that workers needed recognition for a job well done and reassurance that their opinion mattered in the workplace as a tool to motivate them (Mayo, 1945).

The Equity Theory by J.S Adams advocates on the idea that employees are motivated or unmotivated based on their perception over how they are being treated in the workplace (Adams’ Equity Theory, n.d.). In an organization, this involves providing employees with recognition for their work and giving every employee equal chance to advance or earn awards based on performance and not personal preferences (Adams’ Equity Theory, n.d.).

Motivation-Hygiene Theory developed by Frederick Herzberg (1987) differentiated between factors that satisfied and/or dissatisfied an employee. Challenging work, recognition, responsibility, achievement and advancement were listed as Motivation factors and he correlated them back to Maslow’s Growth needs (Gawel, 1997). This theory mainly argued on the feature that providing hygiene factors (more money, better-working conditions, etc) doesn’t create greater motivation, rather lesser dissatisfaction. Essential hygiene factors must be identified to ensure an employee’s pleasure and preservation (Herzberg, 1987). For higher efficiency, the employer-friendly environment must be provided. Explicit motivation factors differ from employee to employee and must be identified and implemented accordingly. The employer is needed to recognise the driving force of his or her employees and thus, create the ideal situation for them to perform at their finest (Riley, 2005).

Maslow, post-Maslow and Herzberg’s approach are inclined towards observing the relationship between internal needs and coherently advance towards the resultant endeavour, expended to meet them; Vroom’s expectancy theory detaches effort (which arises from motivation) from performance and outcomes (Vroom, 1999). Victor Vroom’s Expectancy theory assumes motivation as the function of an individual’s expectancy and effort delivered by an employee accompanied with instrumentality, the judgment which would eventually aid in performance resulting to a certain outcome, and valence of outcomes (Miyamoto, 2007). The potency of expectancy theory is that it is realistic, easy, simple to relate and most importantly, the theory is applicable (Quick, 1988).

It’s a five-step approach that assists in motivating their employees. The steps include

  • State the expectation
  • Create work value
  • Craft the task feasible
  • Offer regular comment
  • Reward employees when expectations are met.

(Panay, 2004)

Furthermore, Igalens and Roussel’s (1999) approach claimed that the expectancy theory evidently specified that attitudinal features throughout the motivational process influence the individual to produce an effort to deliver improved performance. Attitudinal factors can be clubbed as extrinsic or intrinsic rewards that are offered to the employee based on the expectancy of failure and success in his or her assignment. Therefore, to get the better out output the organisation or employer must utilise these factors to motivate the employees which could initiate the person to achieve more (Thomas, 2009). Thus, for higher performance or enhanced effort from the employee’s end, the employer may either choose to discuss the rewards that he/she desires or have two-way communication during the process of job execution to note if the employee had encountered any moments of crisis. This way the employer can attempt to resolve the problem, thus lowering the employee’s expectancy that the project might fail (Thomas, 2009).

The drawback of expectancy theory is that the correlation between effort and performance is not always ideal since it is dependent on factors like one’s skills and awareness in regards to the problem and by the level of difficulty of the task encountered (Ferris, 1978). An individual with more skill and more knowledge would have comfort in executing the job than an employee with lower familiarity towards the problem. However, the difficulty of the task can only be analysed by the employee’s own perception since level of skills and knowledge varies from employee to employee and that the employee must not assume that the current task which seemed easy for a certain employee would be of equal ease for the other employees (Ferris, 1978). Critically, Vroom’s expectancy theory is based on the principles of perception (YourCoach BVBA, n.d.). So, even if the organisation believed they have provided an adequate environment for motivation, and it worked with most people within the system, it does not confirm the fact that it might not be sufficient for a certain individual whose expectation from the organisation may be different from the rest (YourCoach BVBA, n.d.).

Another downside of the expectancy theory is that the description of an outcome from some selection of task behaviour has additional complexity and extrications (Connolly, 1976). At times, organisations often limit themselves by assuming that by proposing several positive outcomes it would be sufficient to trigger motivation within the employees; however, this may not be completely correct because one outcome may result to another and so forth in a lengthy system (Connolly, 1976). For example, selecting to work harder might be related to desire for increment in salary; however this demand never fall static and keeps on multiplying on regular basis which the organisation might fail to understand and cope, if there is improper channel of the two-way communication or using the means of regular feedback from the employee (Nicholson, 2003).

Thus, expectancy theory appears to offers pertinent to a traditional-attitude task condition where the extent of motivation of an employee depends on whether they expect reward as a bargain for better performance or whether they consider the notion that extra effort eventually would lead to that better reward. However, it might on parallel apply to a certain circumstance where an individual does something expecting a positive outcome. For example, if an employee is an environmentalist he/she would recycle paper because of one’s stance on environmental issues (valence) (Gagne, 2005). Further, this belief encouraged them to outpour greater effort into reusing and this results in more recycling (expectancy). Finally their approach may be extrapolated as a notion where he/she considers that the more paper they would reuse, the lesser resource would be wasted (instrumentality) (Gagne, 2005). Thus, Vroom’s, expectancy theory of motivation is not about self-interest in rewards but it is the personal connections they create in their minds about the end result and their role in achieving those end results or achievements (YourCoach BVBA, n.d.).

Vroom’s expectancy theory and Adam’s Equity Theory of Motivation could be linked. Such as, individuals often would also compare outcomes for themselves with others. Equity theory advocates that employees would modify the amount of effort they place into make it reasonable in comparison to others depending on their perceptions (Adams, 1963).

Similarly, the amount of individuality between people is not permitted by such other theories. Vroom’s theory considers an individual’s perceptions and thus subjective histories (Vroom, n.d.), which would approve a fruitfulness of reaction which is missing in Maslow or McClelland’s theories, which generalises every individual as same.

Vroom’s expectancy theory may perhaps also be overlapped over another such theory (e.g. Maslow). Theory of needs could be utilised to explain which outcomes would motivate employees and Vroom’s model to define whether their performances would be based upon their potential, knowledge and expectations.

Now let us see on how the application of Vroom expectancy theory is carried out using a case study (in a work place) and try to analyse what the implications may be.

Case Study

Prerequisites: Although, Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence seem as separate components, to feel motivated all of them must be met equivalently. Here’s an outline to the individual characteristics of expectancy theory and how they build up as the motivation.

Motivation = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence (Vroom, 1964)

Motivation is the force which directs specific behavioural alternatives. Expectancy is the perceived link between effort and performance; Instrumentality is the link between performance and outcomes and Valence is the belief about outcome desirability (Vroom, n.d.).

Introduction By applying the expectancy theory on the following case study, we would investigate the motivation problems at Tribeza and try to resolve it. To achieve this we would sketch the situation, bring forth the profiles, and link the various concepts of the theory to the concerned scenario. Then, we will study how expectancy theory will bring forth the motivation at Tribeza and discuss how the application and implementation of the theory would resolve the problem (Mueller, 2012).

Case Details: George Elliman, the administrator of Tribeza, a lifestyle magazine, evaluates his employees who were considered best in the business once, as unsupportive and lacking motivation. His company is based in Austin, Texas and covers arts, fashion, architecture and design, music, community events and cuisine (Mueller, 2012).

He has a considerable young team to work with, and some of the staffs have recently entered the domain of parenthood. George, being an enthusiastic entrepreneur was passionately involved in the selection of all the members because during the time of recruitment they had offered credible creativity, efficiency, and energy to the table (Penn_State_University, 2013).  Currently, even though the staffs seem well connected with advertisers and subscribers comparable, sales have dropped considerably. Among the staffs, lack of commitment towards their respective goals seemed to have reduced significantly in the recent past and teamwork does not seem like priority any longer.  The sense of self-centeredness has surpassed the sense of cooperation, even though George knows that members have collaborated on a project (Penn_State_University, 2013).

George came into conclusion that the decision of young members in getting married and starting families are the reason for this lack of motivation, he says. Also, since the magazine is quite new in the market, he is concerned that his staffs do not perceive much growth potential within the firm (Penn_State_University, 2013).

Application: To revive Tribeza’s accomplishments, the concepts of the expectancy theory was applied by George to save Tribeza. On study, George understood that there are three factors which govern the expectancy theory and must be met in order to enhance his employees’ motivation. The foremost in the equation is expectancy, this is the observed relation concerning an employee’s effort and their performance. Thus, firstly, to perform with higher efficiency, George’s staffs need to believe that they are supposed to apply greater effort with their tasks to get greater output (Penn_State_University, 2013).

George’s team at Tribeza may be concerned about the fact that in spite of their hard work, they might fail to perform their task function productively.  It’s upon George how he would convince his employees to trust to the fact that effort and accomplishment as directly proportional to each other, the greater the effort they provide to the task, the better the fruits of prosperity they would yield as outcome.  Interest towards a job play a pivotal role in this case and George must ensure that his team is interested towards the project and thus use their ability to the fullest while executing their tasks. Instrumentality is the next component to motivate an employee.  George must aid in creating situations where the employees are able to correlate job performance with specific outcomes (Penn_State_University, 2013).

Finally, to achieve maximum motivation, the above two components must be combined with valence. To restore Tribeza back to her old glory, George needed to decide what outcomes are appropriate for his employees. Only when the reward offered is connected to something that employee wishes for, employees would be compelled to employ maximum effort to deliver to their highest potential (Penn_State_University, 2013). In the firm, only certain members are keen about promotions and more tasks, others are only interested in more salary hike and more paid leaves. George need to figure that out and deliver accordingly. At Tribeza, when his team would attain high expectancy, instrumentality and valence in their own accord, their motivational force would naturally will go high. Thus, with these fresh exceedingly motivated team, Tribeza magazine would more likely to succeed (Penn_State_University, 2013).

Resolution: George must ensure to honour rewards to the employees during the Instrumentality phase, providing the outcome of benefits like paid leaves, presenting them with the opportunity to work from home occasionally so that they can spend quality time to their families as well can fulfil their work commitments, etc. Through several surveys and face-to-face meetings George needs to understand what is his employees are looking for and reward policies must be created to satisfy those needs (Penn_State_University, 2013).

Finally, in the Valence phase George must be able to correlate the performance level and his employee’s needs. Thus, when the members of his staffs would realise that they are being offered what they are looking for and the goals set to are achievable their motivation level would rise, triggering a rise in the performance level (Penn_State_University, 2013).


As a summary to the above case study, it has been explained how George Elliman, an entrepreneur, has applied the expectancy theory to create motivation in his employees and thus increasing the overall employee engagement. On observation, it could be drawn that Expectancy is the perceived association of an individual’s efforts, execution and the desired outcome.

To conclude, through critical analyses and from the case study, in my opinion expectancy theory is an effective and applicable theory which can be used to increase employee engagement in an organisation.


Adams, J 1963, ‘Toward an understanding of inequity’. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67, 422-436.

Adams’_Equity_Theory n.d.

Alderfer, CP 1972, Existence, relatedness, and growth : human needs in organizational settings, New York, Free Press.

Connolly, T 1976, ‘Some conceptual and methodological issues in expectancy models of work performance motivation’. Academy of Management Review, 1, 37-47.

Erickson, TJ 2005. Testimony submitted before the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. In: MICHAEL B. ENZI, W. (ed.) HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR, AND PENSIONS. 109-136 ed. WASHINGTON: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Ferris, G 1978, ‘Social facilitation: A review and alternative conceptual model’. Academy of Management Review, 3, 338-347.

Flynn, RD. 2013. AN EXPLORATORY ANALYSIS OF THE ROLE OF MOTIVATION WITHIN THE WORKPLACE. MA in Human Resource Management, National College of Ireland.

Gagne, M, & Deci, El 2005, ‘Self-determination theory and work motivation’. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 26, 331-362.

Gawel, JE 1997, ‘Herzberg’s theory of motivation and maslow’s hierarchy of needs’. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 5.

Greiner, J 1986, ‘Motivational programs and productivity improvement in times of limited resources’. Public Productivity Review, 10, 81-101.

Herzberg, F 1987, One more time : how do you motivate employees?, Boston Harvard Business School.

Igalens, J, & Roussel, P 1999, ‘A study of the relationships between compensation package, work motivation and job satisfaction’. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 20, 1003-1025.

Indabawa, S, & Uba, Z 2014, ‘Human Relations and Behavioral Science Approach to Motivation in Selected Business Organizations in Kano Metropolis Nigeria’. European Journal of Business and Management 6, 168-173.

Maslach, C, Schaufeli, Wb, & Leiter, Mp 2001, ‘Job burnout’. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Maslow, A 1968, Toward a psychology of being, Princeton, NJ, Van Nostrand.

Mayo, E 1945, The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization, Arno Press.

Mcclelland, D 1961, The achieving society, Princeton, NJ, Van Nostrand.

Mcgregor, D 1960, The human side of enterprise, New York, McGraw-Hill.

Miyamoto, Y 2007, Organizational Behavior, Milton, John Wiley & Sons.

Mueller, M 2012. How to Manage (and Avoid) Entitled Employees

Nicholson, N 2003. How to Motivate Your Problem People

Ouchi, W, & Price, Rl 1978, ‘Hierarchies, clans, and theory Z: A new perspective on organization development’. Organizational Dynamics, 7, 25-44.

Panay, M 2004. 5 Psychological Theories of Motivation to Increase Productivity

Penn_State_University 2013. PSYCH 484: Work Attitudes and Job Motivation: Fall 2013 Expectancy Theory

Quick, T 1988, ‘ Expectancy theory in five simple steps’. Training and Development Journal, 42, 30.

Riley, S. 2005. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation Applied to the Motivational Techniques within Financial Institutions. Honors in Business Management Senior Honors Theses, Eastern Michigan University.

Thomas, K 2009. The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement

Vroom-Expectancy-Motivation-Theory n.d.

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

Vroom, V n.d. Expectancy Theory of Motivation – Victor Vroom

Vroom, VH 1999, Management and Motivation (Penguin business), UK, Penguin UK.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here