Basic Theories of Motivation – A Bird’s Eye View

It is important to understand the fundamental theories of motivation because they form the basis of contemporary research and have lead to the conceptualization of innovative works. These age old theories are still implemented by the practicing managers in the old and traditional segments of business and interestingly even in moderately modern set-ups. They have stood test of time because of their ease of understanding and intuitive logic. A pioneer among these theories which should find its mention is the reference to an attempt put forward by Robert Owen which is of paternalistic nature. He was the owner of a textile mill in Scotland. Owen correlated workers as akin to machines. Both needed to be looked after and cared for in order to function well. He introduced housing colony and a company shop for his workers in the premises of the work place. Such amenities were considered revolutionary in the early 19th century when workers worked in the most unimaginable and worst conditions.

o “Carrot and Stick Approach” by Jeremy Bentham

Jeremy Bentham developed his ideas about workers in the early years of the Industrial Revolution around 1800. His opined people are inherently self-interested and all their actions are directed towards efforts to enhance pleasure and reduce pain. He observed that big rewards or threat to punishment or penalties solely induced the worker to execute his job. The theory takes its reference from the instance of the story on donkey that to make him work you either put carrot in his mouth else whip him with a stick on his back.

Inducements in some form of ‘carrot’ such as bonus, better pay packages, motivate the workers to apply effort whilst penalties in the form of ‘stick’ such as fear of losing job, demotions or regression of monetary benefits also force workers to perform.

o “Five Need Hierarchy Theory’ by Abraham Maslow:

Maslow observed that every individual is governed by hierarchy of five needs namely

1. Physiological needs which is geared towards satisfying his basic needs such as that of hunger, thirst, sex, shelter etc.

2. Safety or security needs to protect him from physical and emotional harm.

3. Social needs for which people seek friends, social groups to satisfy their need for belongingness, affections, relatedness and an inherent need to be accepted by others.

4. Esteem needs which come into force once people have their need for belongingness satisfied. They then want to hold in high esteem and seek to attain status, power, and prestige in their own eyes as well amongst others. Need for esteem is of two types. Internal esteem calls for factors as autonomy, achievement, self-respect and external esteem factors such as attention, recognization.

5. Self-Actualization which is the need to become what one is capable of becoming. It is the realization of ones actual potential and true worth and seeks to accomplish self-actualization.

Gratification of physiological and safety needs fall under the category of lower order needs whilst those of social, esteem and need for self actualization are classified under the higher order needs.

Although Maslow’s theory satisfies the intuitive logic and is very easy to understand however it finds no support in empirical research. Besides it says the lower order needs need to be satisfied first before moving up on the hierarchy. The theory calls for a rigid hierarchy.

In terms of employee motivation, the practicing managers must identify the level of hierarchy which the employee is currently holding and endeavor to satisfy those needs or needs above that level in accordance with the hierarchy of needs.

o Theory X and Theory Y by Douglas McGregor:

McGregor observed managers in organizations behave with employees based on their pre-conceived views on human nature. Category ‘X’ managers assume employees in the negative sense whilst the category “Y’ ones view human nature on a positive note.

Characteristics of ‘X’ Managers:

1. They assume employees to be lazy and will shirk work when ever given a chance.

2. They have to essentially be coerced, forced or threatened with dire consequences to make them show output.

3. They have tendency to stay away from responsibilities and will seek directions where ever necessary.

4. Employees put much importance to their own security over anything else and exhibit little ambition.

Characteristics of ‘Y’ Managers

1. ‘Y’ Managers view workers to be hard working and consider work as natural as play or rest.

2. They apply self-direction and self-control if they are committed to these goals.

3. They accept responsibilities and make efforts to solve all the problems in the organization.

o ‘Motivation-Hygiene Theory’ by Frederick Herzberg:

The theory postulates that factors such as achievement, recognization, and quality of work-content, challenging job, advancement and growth are some of the factors that are instrumental in motivating an employee to put extra effort to his work. These factors in job serve as motivators.

However according to Herzberg opposite of satisfaction is not always dissatisfaction, in organizational context it is no satisfaction and opposite of dissatisfaction is no dissatisfaction and these have found to have no role in inducing motivation amongst employees.

Factors such as company policies, supervision, administration, salary when exercised cause dissatisfaction in employees. In the event these dissatisfies are removed they have no impact in inducing satisfaction in employees. It is just there will be dissatisfaction any more. Removal of dissatisfiers only placates and brings peace to the situation.

However this is also subject to research as it gives no relationship between productivity and motivation. What is talks about is satisfaction.

Michael Ortiz

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