Motivation in the Workplace

I'm sure we have all experienced low moods and a lack of motivation at work or during our studies. But what happens if this lack of motivation is constant? We might experience dissatisfaction with our jobs and responsibilities. So, how can organizations foster motivation in the workplace and avoid dissatisfaction? Well, numerous motivation theories can help. Read along to learn more about how organizations can motivate employees through intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. 

Motivation in the Workplace Motivation in the Workplace

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Table of contents

    Motivation in the Workplace Definition

    The concept of motivation plays a significant role in organizational behavior. Motivating an entire company can be difficult; however, the benefits of having a motivated workforce pay off. To understand the definition of motivation in the workplace, let's first examine the meaning of motivation.

    Motivation describes an individual's drive or willingness to achieve something.

    As a result, we define motivation in the workplace as follows.

    Motivation in the workplace is an individual's drive and persistence to take action and achieve an organizational goal.

    Therefore, motivation plays a huge role in various areas of organizational behavior, including working in teams, group dynamics, human resources, and organizational culture.

    Check out our Organizational Culture Management and Working as a Team explanations to learn more.

    Importance of Motivation in the Workplace

    So, why is it important for employees to stay motivated in the workplace? Motivation can lead to higher job engagement, resulting in increased employee performance.

    Job engagement is an employee's emotional, physical, and cognitive commitment to the organization, its mission, and its objectives.

    In other words, job engagement refers to the degree to which employees are invested and involved in the job, including their responsibilities. Engagement and motivation are critical as individuals who are highly engaged with their jobs are likely to perform better within the organization.

    Motivation in the Workplace Theories

    Let's now take a look at some of the primary motivation in the workplace theories. In the following section, we will explore a combination of historical and modern theories of motivation.

    Hierarchy of Needs

    Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is an established motivation theory you might already be familiar with. Maslow argued that all humans are motivated by five hierarchies of needs. Figure 1 below outlines the five needs, which are as follows:

    1. Physiological needs - include basic human needs like food, shelter, water, and other standard bodily needs.

    2. Safety needs - include anything to do with physical and emotional safety, such as health, protection, resources, etc.

    3. Social needs - refer to our emotional and social needs, such as love, friendship, belonging, acceptance, etc.

    4. Esteem needs - include our needs for self-esteem, respect, autonomy, recognition, etc.

    5. Self-actualization needs - the final level of the hierarchy includes creativity, growth, and achieving our full potential.

    Check out our Human Resources and Maslow's Theory explanations to learn more about the hierarchy of needs.

    Herzberg's Theory of Motivation in the Workplace

    Frederick Herzberg developed another significant motivation theory known as the two-factor theory. Figure 2 below shows Herzberg's model. Let's examine it in more detail.

    Herzberg's two-factor theory is based on motivation and hygiene. Motivation factors aim to engage employees and increase their workplace satisfaction. On the other hand, hygiene factors can lead to workplace dissatisfaction.

    Two-factor theory is also known as the motivation-hygiene theory.

    Herzberg argued that simply because employees are not dissatisfied with their jobs, it does not mean they are satisfied either. As a result, he suggested that the opposite of dissatisfaction is not satisfaction but rather "no dissatisfaction". Therefore, hygiene factors can lead to dissatisfaction or no dissatisfaction (on one continuum), and motivation factors can lead to satisfaction or no satisfaction (on another continuum).

    Managers should remember that it is not enough to remove the factors that lead to dissatisfaction (hygiene factors) to encourage satisfaction. Hygiene factors may include supervision, policies, work conditions, etc. Therefore, by increasing motivation factors, there is a higher chance of job satisfaction. Motivation factors may include giving employees more responsibilities, growth and development opportunities, promotions, rewards, etc.

    Theory of Needs

    The final historical theory of motivation includes McClelland's theory of needs. McClelland's theory is constructed similarly to Maslow's - it is based on individuals' different needs in the workplace. However, McClelland narrowed it down to three specific motivational needs:

    1. Need for achievement (nAch) - Someone with a high need for achievement will have the drive to succeed and excel and aims to be on top.

    2. Need for affiliation (nAff) - An individual with a high need for affiliation will strive for close interpersonal relationships and control over others.

    3. Need for power (nPow) - An individual with a high need for power will demand loyalty and for others to behave in a way that suits them.

    McClelland argued that although these motivations might not be inherent, we develop at least one throughout our lives due to our experiences.

    Self-Determination Theory

    Self-determination theory suggests that intrinsic motivation is more effective than extrinsic motivation, as people strive to be in control of what they do. The theory also indicates that if people are free and in control of what they do, conducting a task feels less like an obligation. Self-determination theory is based on two assumptions:

    1. People strive for growth, which drives behavior.

    2. Intrinsic motivation is vital.

    Self-determination theory has also led rise to another motivation theory focused on the effectiveness of intrinsic motivation called cognitive evaluation theory.

    Cognitive evaluation theory argues that extrinsic rewards might decrease motivation for previously intrinsically rewarded activities.

    Self-Efficacy Theory

    Another contemporary motivation theory is the self-efficacy theory. Let's first take a look at its definition.

    Self-efficacy theory relates to an individual's belief in their ability to execute specific behavior to conduct a task.

    According to Albert Bandura, the creator of the self-efficacy theory, we can increase self-efficacy through the following:

    • Enactive mastery,
    • Vicarious modeling,
    • Verbal persuasion, and
    • Arousal.

    Dive deep into this topic through our Self-Efficacy Theory explanation.

    Reinforcement Theory

    Reinforcement theory is another crucial motivation theory we can apply to the workplace.

    Reinforcement theory implies that behaviors are shaped by their consequences. In other words, behavior is a function of its consequences.

    Reinforcement theory is interesting as it somewhat contradicts the goal-setting theory, which argues that a person's drive or objective will influence their actions.

    Interested in comparing and contrasting these two theories? Head over to our explanation of Reinforcement Theory.

    Expectancy Theory

    Finally, for our last motivation theory of the day, let's examine the expectancy theory. Victor Vroom is the researcher behind expectancy theory, which we define as follows.

    Expectancy theory suggests that individuals are motivated to perform well when they earn rewards that align with their expectations.

    There are three fundamental beliefs to note when discussing this theory:

    1. Expectancy - Employees may have different expectations and confidence about what they can accomplish. As a result, the organization must uncover the types of resources, training, and rewards it should allocate to employees.

    2. Valence - The degree to which people want and value intrinsic or extrinsic rewards provided by the organization.

    3. Instrumentality - Refers to employees' perceptions of whether they will actually receive a reward or desired outcome if they perform well.

    Learn more about motivation in our Expectancy Theory explanation.

    Extrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

    Now that we understand the theory behind employee motivation, let's find out how companies can foster employee motivation in the workplace. There are two broad categories of organizational motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. We describe them both below.

    Extrinsic motivation comes from outside. It is an external form of motivation, meaning it is related to factors outside of the employee's internal emotions. Some examples of extrinsic motivation in the workplace are as follows:

    • Job structure/job design: The job characteristics model outlines five factors that impact employee motivation. The factors are task significance, skill variety, task identity, autonomy, and feedback. The higher the score on each factor, the higher motivation an employee will experience.

    • Job redesign: Job rotation (employees shifting between different tasks) and job enrichment (increasing responsibilities) can also motivate the workforce.

    • Alternative work arrangements: Flexible working hours, job sharing, working from home, etc., may also play a role in employee motivation as individuals can construct their schedule around what works best for them. Flexible work arrangements may also promote a healthy work-life balance.

    • Payment-related rewards: A fair pay structure, bonuses, or stock ownership are extrinsic rewards that could motivate employees to increase their performance.

    • Benefits: For example, private health insurance, flexible holidays, pension plans, and flexible benefits structures may also increase employee motivation, especially when employees can choose which benefits they value the most.

    Intrinsic Motivation in the Workplace

    On the other hand, organizations might reward employees with intrinsic motivation tactics. This technique refers to motivating employees from within. Some examples are as follows:

    • Recognition programs: Recognizing employees when they have achieved something outstanding, e.g., an employee of the month, gratitude meetings, etc.

    • Leadership: Managers and leaders should be trained to recognize and compliment employees appropriately if they are doing a good job.

    • Learning and development: The organization should encourage employees to continue learning new skills that are not required for the job but satisfy the employee mentally.

    • Volunteering: The organization should also recognize how volunteering can fulfil and motivate employees personally and emotionally.

    Motivation in the Workplace - Key takeaways

    • Motivation in the workplace is an individual's drive and persistence to take action and achieve an organizational goal.
    • Job engagement is an employee's emotional, physical, and cognitive commitment to the organization, its mission, and its objectives.
    • Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Herzberg's two-factor theory, and McClelland's theory of needs are the three classic motivation theories.
    • Self-determination, self-efficacy, reinforcement, and expectancy theory are contemporary motivation theories.
    • There are two broad categories of organizational motivation: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Motivation in the Workplace

    Why motivation is important in the workplace?

    Motivation in the workplace is an individual's drive and persistence to take action and achieve an organizational goal. Motivation is important as it can lead to higher job engagement and overall performance. 

    What are examples of intrinsic motivation in the workplace?

    Some examples of intrinsic motivation in the workplace include employee recognition programs, supportive leadership, learning, development, or volunteering.

    Why is intrinsic motivation important in the workplace?

    Intrinsic motivation is important in the workplace as employees should be personally and emotionally satisfied beyond just their role. Intrinsic motivation provides employees a means for feeling good about themselves and fulfilling their passions unrelated to work. 

    What are examples of extrinsic motivation in the workplace?

    Examples of extrinsic motivation include alternative work arrangements, job redesign, payment-related rewards, and benefits.

    What are the benefits of motivation?

    The benefits of motivation in an organization include the fact that motivation can increase employee engagement and overall performance. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Motivation can lead to higher job engagement, resulting in increased employee performance. 

    ______________ is an employee's emotional, physical, and cognitive commitment to the organization, its mission, and its objectives.

    Maslow argued that all humans are motivated by _____ needs.

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