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Employee Motivation Theories and Concepts

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Management
Wordcount: 2061 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Motivation can be defined as the driving force resulting to a determined behaviour targeted towards a defined goal. This involves an individual’s persistent intensity directed towards the betterment of the organisation.

The concept can be understood through 3 main components:

Willingness, which direct the way by deciding to initiate a particular behaviour; the effort , which can be seen in the vigor that goes into pursuing the desired goal and finally the determination, which defines how far the change is carried in spite of all obstacles.

The best means to understand Motivation in daily life could be to reflect through the theories in psychology.

An instinct, which is the inclination of a being towards a particular behaviour, is one of the factors in motivation. These involve biological emotions such as love, hatred, greed, fear, etc. In such situations, humans tend to act in a particular manner without any cognition, to reach the end.

Drive theory suggests that people are motivated to achieve their biological needs for survival.  The simplest way to explain this would be the drive for hunger and thirst. You are motivated to get food and water to satisfy these needs.

Arousal theory suggests that we are motivated to react to situations in a way which helps us to maintain an ideal balance in our behaviour. For example, when you are bored, you would seek activities that could rise up the level of excitement such as adventure sports or you would indulge into activities like listening to soft music, going for a walk, when you would want to lower your arousal levels.

Cognitive approach suggests that humans are motivated by ambition, rewards, thoughts or simply the satisfaction achieved by doing a particular thing. This is further divided into,

Intrinsic approach i.e. doing things involving self satisfaction or enjoyment. You go for shopping simply because it feels good to shop.

Extrinsic approach i.e.  Motivation to do things to get something in return. You study hard to get good grades. Cherry, (2018)

Work motivation can be simply defined as the opportunities and circumstances provided by the organisation or the employer, in order to motivate the employees to perform thoroughly in their work. It is directly proportional to the employee’s productivity in work. The purpose is to enhance the employee’s morale to increase the output generated.

 The various means through which the employers motivate the employees for their determination and better productivity.

Incentive based motivation involves more than just the regular salary. This includes yearly bonuses, paid leaves, medical and travel insurance, paid food and transportation, travel perks and many more.

People often like to be recognised for the effort they put in their work.  Merely a few words of appreciation would motivate the employee to work harder. Lisa Quiroz. The vice president of Time Warner said in an interview that after sharing the success story of one of their subordinate channel, all employees felt the pride, regardless of which one they worked for.

Another means of recognition based would be to promote the employees to a better position, giving them the opportunity to prove their leadership skills and boosting their confidence to work harder.

Implementing different strategies within the organisation. Introducing various friendly competitions within the employees for different set of targets, team building activities, grouping the employees into units; this would encourage the employees to prove their worth within a team and at an individual level. Batton, (2018)

After understanding the concept and different means of motivation, it is imperative to gain knowledge about different content and process theories that have been established over the years.

Content theories focus on needs and wants of an individual.

Frederick Herzberg’s theory suggests that the two major factors, affecting the motivation, would be Job-satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Although, logic says that these factors do not work separately from each other but Herzberg’s theory was based on real life study of 200 engineers and accountants. His study revealed various characteristics of a job based on the two factors. The first group of factors termed as Motivators were achievement, recognition, work itself, growth, advancement and responsibility. The second group of factors were termed as hygiene-factors. These were company policies, supervision, and work environment, relations with peers, salary, status and security.

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The existence of motivators led to job-satisfaction but did not lead to dissatisfaction in the absence. On the other hand the absence of hygiene factors led to dissatisfaction but their existence did not lead to satisfaction. Both these factors lead to fulfilment of employee needs but the motivators undermine the hygiene factors by leading to efficiency in performance and in turn better results.

The theory by McClelland, focuses on three needs i.e. achievement power and affiliation. The need for success can be described as the driving force which leads the individual towards the excellence and the desired goals. The need for affiliation, is seeking to build healthy work relationships, the willingness to accept and be accepted. The need for power can be defined as the need to gain control over situations and fellow employees.

People who are highly motivated tend to have higher drive of success than the people who have the less drive to success. Employing people with high need of achievement and then creating a challenging environment for them would certainly benefit the organisation.

Process theories deal with the application of motivating processes.

Equity theory suggests that the employees would seek fairness in their analysis and judgement with respect to their co-workers. An employee would use his education, experience, loyalty and his skills towards the betterment of the organisation and would expect for work privileges, job satisfaction and opportunities to grow, other than the basic pay scale. In case the employee starts to feel injustice, he would retaliate in a way which would not be healthy for the organisation. The pay scale and the feeling of satisfaction directly relate to the efforts, the employee is willing to put.

The goal-setting theory suggests that if the employee is directed towards achieving a particular target, he is motivated to perform in a better way. The desired goals can be set together by the employer and employee. This participation will ensure better productivity by the employee. Other factors which influence the performance would be the determination, capability and familiarity of the employee towards the set target. Regular feedback from the employer will also encourage the employee. This will also help in building the employer-employee relationships.  French, (1990)

These theories have also faced some criticism. The theories do not consider the disparities of different genders, age, religion, culture and other factors. Many of these theories haven’t been backed up with evidence and support. They have just been stated through generic opinions and observations. These theories do not take account of other factors, outside of the workplace which might affect the work lives of employees.  Humans’ needs and wants are ever-changing. A few concepts of these theories become irrelevant in such unsteady situations.

Despite of all the criticism, these theories have proved to be helpful for further research in this area and also have helped managers to orient themselves towards implementing the ideas. Attwood, (1989)

Challenges faced by the managers in application of these theories:

All the theories revolve around an individual’s needs and wants. Understanding what exactly motivates the employees could be a task  for employers as different people have different perceptions towards their job satisfaction and what they expect in return of their inputs. We always want more than we have, therefore what motivates us today, might not tomorrow. In the continual change of needs and wants of the employees, it is challenging for the managers to meet their ever-changing and clashing expectations. 

In such situations, managers fail to provide an environment where people develop the feeling of belongingness.

When an individual seeks an opportunity for a job, he is inclined towards the organisations with better brand value and market reputation. At times, people neglect the capabilities and willingness of the other organisations and employers to put efforts for their employees, over this brand value. Organisations associated with a smaller brand, might provide better learning and development opportunities especially in case of a fresher.

In some cases, employers are not able to provide the employees with resources due to reasons like financial stability, awareness, and realising the importance of effective resources. This affects the growth of the organisation and suppresses the employee motivation. The organisation’s set patterns and rules often hinder the process of motivation in employees. Employees, when not able to mould themselves according to the management, tend to get into defensive behaviour which leads to negative consequences. In such cases, it gets difficult for the managers to deal with his employers because of the hierarchy norms, the people who lay down these set of rules, are at the higher post and the managers are then answerable to them. Another challenge would be encouraging the employers to participate and be accessible to them involving healthy communication at all stages. Employers need to adapt to continuous changing strategies and distributing the work-load and ensuring everybody’s participation. In situations like these, employers often tend to either undermine or expect more than an individual’s capability. Ukessays.com, (2013)

To conclude, it is clear that throughout the different spheres of life, from parenting at home to the corporate life at workplace, understanding motivation is really indispensable. To motivate yourself, you need to formulate practices that drive the motivation of the people around you and strengthens your own motivation. Having the comprehension of various motivation factors and manoeuvring them has been contributing in management and the other aspects of industrial psychology.


  • Kendra Cherry. (2018). Motivation: Psychological Factors that guide behaviour. Available: https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-motivation-2795378. Last accessed 9thOctober2018.
  • Margaret Attwood (1989).Personnel Management. Hong Kong: Macmillan Education Limited. p73-77.
  • Michael Batton Kaput. (2018). Five different types of motivation that managers use to inspire employees. Available: https://smallbusiness.chron.com/five-different-types-motivation-managers-use-inspire-employees-32493.html. Last accessed 9th October 2018.
  • UKEssays. November 2013. The Challenges Faced In Employee Motivation Commerce Essay.(online). Available: https://www.ukessays.com/essays/commerce/the-challenges-faced-in-employee-motivation-commerce-essay.php?vref=1. Last accessed 9 October 2018.
  • Wendell French (1990). Human Resource Management. 2nd Ed. USA: Houghton Mifflin Company. p122-129.


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