Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

3.1 Compare and contrast two theories of motivation with examples.

ryanrori January 5, 2021

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Employee Motivation: Theory and practice

The job of a manager in the workplace is to get things done through employees. To do this the manager should be able to motivate employees. But that’s easier said than done! Motivation practice and theory are difficult subjects, touching on several disciplines.

In spite of enormous research, basic as well as applied, the subject of motivation is not clearly understood and more often than not poorly practiced. To understand motivation one must understand human nature itself. And there lies the problem! Human nature can be very simple, yet very complex too. An understanding and appreciation of this is a prerequisite to effective employee motivation in the workplace and therefore effective management and leadership.

Motivation theorists and their theories

Although the process of management is as old as history, scientific management as we know it today is basically a twentieth century phenomenon. Also, as in some other fields, practice has been far ahead of theory. This is still true in the field of management, contrary to the situation in some of the pure sciences. For instance, Albert Einstein formulates a theory, which is later proved by decades of intensive research and experimentation. Not so in the field of management.

In fact this field has been so devoid of real fundamental work so far, that Herbert A. Simon is the first management theoretician to win the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1978. His contribution itself gives a clue to the difficulty, bordering on impossibility, of real fundamental work in this field concerned with people. In order to arrive at a correct decision, the manager must have all the information necessary relevant to the various factors and all the time in the world to analyze the same.

This is seldom, if ever, the case. Both the information available and the time at the manager’s disposal are limited, but he or she must make a decision. And the decision is, therefore, not the optimum one but a ‘satisficing’ one – in effect, a satisfactory compromise under the real conditions prevailing in the management arena’.

Traditional theory ‘X’

This can best be ascribed to Sigmund Freud who was no lover of people, and was far from being optimistic. Theory X assumes that people are lazy; they hate work to the extent that they avoid it; they have no ambition, take no initiative and avoid taking any responsibility; all they want is security, and to get them to do any work, they must be rewarded, coerced, intimidated and punished. This is the so-called ‘stick and carrot’ philosophy of management. If this theory were valid, managers will have to constantly police their staff, whom they cannot trust and who will refuse to cooperate. In such an oppressive and frustrating atmosphere, both for the manager and the managed, there is no possibility of any achievement or any creative work. But fortunately, as we know, this is not the case.

Theory ‘Y’ – Douglas McGregor

This is in sharp contrast to theory ‘X’. McGregor believed that people want to learn and that work is their natural activity to the extent that they develop self-discipline and self-development. They see their reward not so much in cash payments as in the freedom to do difficult and challenging work by themselves. The manager’s job is to ‘dovetail’ the human wish for self-development into the organisations need for maximum productive efficiency. The basic objectives of both are therefore met and with imagination and sincerity, the enormous potential can be tapped. Does it sound too good to be true? It could be construed; by some, that Theory ‘Y’ management is soft and slack. This is not true and the proof is in the ‘pudding’, for it has already proved its worth. For best results, the persons must be carefully selected to form a homogeneous group. A good leader of such a group may conveniently ‘absent’ from group meetings so they can discuss the matters freely and help select and ‘groom’ a new leader. The leader does no longer hanker after power, lets people develop freely, and may even (it is hoped) enjoy watching the development and actualization of people, as if, by themselves. Everyone in the organisation, gains as a result.

Theory ‘Z’ – Abraham Maslow

This is a refreshing change from the theory X of Freud, by a fellow psychologist, Abraham Maslow. Maslow totally rejects the dark and dingy Freudian basement and takes us out into the fresh, open, sunny and cheerful atmosphere. He is the main founder of the humanistic school or the third force which holds that all the good qualities are inherent in people, at least, at birth, although later they are gradually lost. Maslow’s central theme revolves around the meaning and significance of human work and seems to epitomize Voltaire’s observation in Candide, ‘work banishes the three great evils -boredom, vice and poverty’. The great sage Yajnavalkya explains in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad that by good works a man becomes holy, by evil works evil. A man’s personality is the sum total of his works and that only his works survive a man at death. This is perhaps the essence of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, as it is more commonly know.

The basic human needs, according to Maslow, are:

  • Physiological needs (Lowest)
  • Safety needs;
  • Love needs;
  • Esteem needs; and
  • Self-actualisation needs (Highest)

Mans behaviour is seen as dominated by his unsatisfied needs and he is a ‘perpetually wanting animal’, for when one need is satisfied he aspires for the next higher one. This is, therefore, seen as an ongoing activity, in which the man is totally absorbed in order to attain perfection through self-development. The highest state of self-actualization is characterized by integrity, responsibility, magnanimity, simplicity and naturalness. Self-actualisers focus on problems external to themselves. His prescription for human salvation is simple, but not easy: ‘Hard work and total commitment to doing well the job that fate or personal destiny calls you to do, or any important job that “calls for” doing’.

Maslow has had his share of critics, but he has been able to achieve a refreshing synthesis of divergent and influential philosophies of:

Marx – economic and physical needs;

Freud – physical and love needs;

Adler – esteem needs;

Goldstein – self-actualization.

Productivity Improvement

Force Field Analysis

Force field analysis is a management technique developed by Kurt Lewin, a pioneer in the field of social sciences, for diagnosing situations. It will be useful when looking at the variables involved in planning and implementing a change program and will undoubtedly be of use in team building projects,when attempting to overcome resistance to change.Lewin assumes that in any situation there are both driving and restraining forces that influence any change that may occur.

Driving Forces

Driving forces are those forces affecting a situation that are pushing in a particular direction; they tend to initiate a change and keep it going. In terms of improving productivity in a work group, pressure from a upervisor, incentive earnings, and competition may be examples of driving forces.

Restraining Forces

Restraining forces are forces acting to restrain or decrease the driving forces. Apathy, hostility, and poor maintenance of equipment may be examples of restraining forces against increased production. Equilibrium is reached when the sum of the driving forces equals the sum of the restraining forces. In our example, equilibrium represents the present level of productivity, as shown below.


This equilibrium, or present level of productivity, can be raised or lowered bychanges in the relationship between the driving and the restraining forces.For illustration, consider the dilemma of the new manager who takes over a work group in which productivity is high but whose predecessor drained the human resources.

The former manager had upset the equilibrium by increasing the driving forces (that is, being autocratic and keeping continual pressure on subordinates) and thus achieving increases in output in the short run.By doing this, however, new restraining forces developed, such as increased hostility and antagonism, and at the time of the former manager’s departure the restraining forces were beginning to increase and the results manifested

themselves in turnover, absenteeism, and other restraining forces, which lowered productivity shortly after the new manager arrived. Now a new equilibrium at a significantly lower productivity is faced by the new manager.

Now just assume that our new manager decides not to increase the driving forces but to reduce the restraining forces. The manager may do this by taking time away from the usual production operation and engaging in problem solving and training and development.

In the short run, output will tend to be lowered still further. However, if commitment to objectives and technical know-how of the group are increased in the long run, they may become new driving forces, and that, along with the elimination of the hostility and the apathy that were restraining forces, will now tend to move the balance to a higher level of output. Managers are often in a position in which they must consider not only output but

also intervening variables and not only short-term but also long-term goals. It can be seen that force field analysis provides framework that is useful in diagnosing these interrelationships.

Acquired Needs Theory

Need are shaped over time by our experiences over time. Most of these fall into three general categories of needs:

  • Achievement (nAch)
  • Affiliation (nAff)
  • Power (nPow)

Acquired Needs Theory is also known as the Three-Need Theory or Learned Need Theory.

We have different preferences

We will tend have one of these needs that affects us more powerfully than others and thus affects our behaviours:

  • Achievers seek to excel and appreciate frequent recognition of how well they are doing. They will avoid low risk activities that have no chance of gain. They also will avoid high risks where there is a significant chance of failure.
  • Affiliation seekers look for harmonious relationships with other people. They will thus tend to conform and shy away from standing out. The seek approval rather than recognition.
  • Power seekers want power either to control other people (for their own goals) or to achieve higher goals (for the greater good). They seek neither recognition nor approval from others — only agreement and compliance.


Identifying preferences

A common way of discovering our tendencies towards these is with a Thematic Apperception Test, which is a set of black-and-white pictures on cards, each showing an emotionally powerful situation. The person is presented with one card at a time and asked to make up a story about each situation. 


So what?

Using it

  • Challenge achievers with stretching goals.
  • Offer affiliation-seekers safety and approval.
  • Beware of personal power-seekers trying to turn the tables on you or use other Machiavellian methods. Make sure you have sufficient power of your own, or show how you can help them achieve more power. 


  • Understand your own tendencies. Curb the excesses and, especially if you seek affiliation, beware of those who would use this against you and for their own benefit alone.

Attitude-Behaviour Consistency


Our attitudes (predispositions to behaviour) and actual behaviours are more likely to align if the following factors are true:

  • Our attitude and behaviour are both constrained to very specific circumstances.
  • There have been many opportunities to express attitude through behaviour.
  • We have a history of attitude-behaviour consistency.
  • The attitudes are based on personal experience, rather than being copied from others.
  • The attitudes are proven by past experience.
  • There is no social desirability bias, where the presence of others will lead us into uncharacteristic behaviour.
  • We are low in self-monitoring, so we do not distract 
  • The attitude is strongly held and is around core beliefs.

So What?

Using it

If you want people to behave in a certain way, check out the above list before assuming their attitude will actually lead to the desired behaviour.


Beware of causing confusion and sending mixed messages if you act outside of your visible attitudes.

Consistency Theory


When our inner systems (beliefs, attitudes, values, etc.) all support one another and when these are also supported by external evidence, then we have a comfortable state of affairs. The discomfort of cognitive dissonance occurs when things fall out of alignment, which leads us to try to achieve a maximum practical level of consistency in our world.

We also have a very strong need to believe we are being consistent with social norms. When there is conflict between behaviours that are consistent with inner systems and behaviours that are consistent with social norms, the potential threat of social exclusion often sways us towards the latter, even though it may cause significant inner dissonance.

Ways we achieve consistency between conflicting items include:

  • Denial or ignoring : ‘I didn’t see it happen.’
  • Rationalization and excuses : ‘It was going to fall anyway.’
  • Separation of items :’I don’t use my car enough to make a difference .’
  • Transcendence : ‘Nobody is perfect.’
  • Changing item : ‘I’ll be more careful next time.’
  • Persuasion : ‘I’m good, really, aren’t I?’


If you make a promise, you will feel bad if you do not keep it.


So what?

Using it

Highlight where people are acting inconsistently with beliefs, etc. that support your arguments. Show how what you want is consistent with the other person’s inner systems and social norms.


You will always be inconsistent in some areas. When changing to fit in with the inconsistencies that someone else is pointing out, think about the other, potentially more serious, inconsistencies that you will be opening up.

Expectancy Theory


As we constantly are predicting likely futures, we create expectations about future events. If things seem reasonably likely and attractive, we know how to get there and we believe we can ‘make the difference’ then this will motivate us to act to make this future come true. 

Motivation is thus a combination of:

  • Valence: The value of the perceived outcome (What’s in it for me?)
  • Instrumentality:  The belief that if I complete certain actions then I will achieve the outcome. (Clear path?) 
  • Expectancy: The belief that I am able to complete the actions. (My capability?)

Of course you can have an unpleasant outcome, in which case the motivation is now one of avoidance. Expectancy Theory is also called Valence-Instrumentality-Expectancy Theory or VIE Theory.


So what?

Motivate people to do something by showing them something desirable; indicating how straightforward it is to get it, and then supporting their self-belief that they can get there.