Employee Motivation
Results in Overall Improvement

Employee motivation is one of the important factors that can help you to improve performance of both employee and organization.

Having a motivated workforce provides the competitive advantage that your organization needs. Better employee performance helps your organization achieve higher productivity. Higher productivity can result in higher profits.

Writers present theories with different definitions or with modifications.

Try to have a good understanding of these theories to determine the direction that your organization will take.

Theories of Motivation

These theories can shed light on how your organization can increase employee motivation and, thus, improve propensity to perform their job better.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper proposed 'A Theory of Human Motivation'.

His hierarchy of needs is depicted as a pyramid with five levels.

The lower in the hierarchy is the need the more powerful is its influence on the person's behavior.

Starting from the lowest level, the five levels are:

  • Physiological needs. Physiological needs are basic human needs such as air, food, water, sleep and shelter. The non-satisfaction of any of these needs affects your employee's focus on the job at hand. You may have seen the lower employee performance when tired or when they are agitated due to hunger and cold.
  • Safety needs. Safety needs include personal security, financial security, health and well-being, employment, family, property ownership, and protection from arbitrary exercise of authority.
  • Social needs. Social needs are the needs of people for family, love and friendship, and the feeling a sense of belonging. Employees need to feel that they belong and can identify with the rest of the workforce. Satisfy these needs to prevent or reduce anxiety and stress among employees. You can improve employee productivity when you do this.
  • Esteem needs. Esteem is derived from recognition resulting in feelings of acceptance, prestige and status.
  • Satisfaction of employees' esteem needs can result in feelings of adequacy, confidence and competence. This gives them a sense of importance.

    Provide them with opportunities to contribute.

    People also need to feel self-confidence and a sense of achievement, to respect others and to be respected in return.

    If you do not fulfill esteem needs, your people will feel discouraged and inferior.

    This affects their enthusiasm and performance level.

  • Growth needs. Growth needs are your employees' needs for growth and self-actualization.
  • Self-actualization is where your people can achieve their full potential in their personal life and in their career.

    Employees want to realize their aspiration and to attain the highest possible level in their job.

    People need opportunities to express their creativity and their ability in problem solving.

    Give them the opportunity to do so.

    Maslow contended that growth needs have lasting effects on employees, helping them to maintain and improve their work performance.

The needs from the second to the fifth level are psychological needs. It is said that satisfaction of these needs are not as powerful as the first level of needs in influencing people's behavior.

The needs at any particular level are not all satisfied at the same time.

The need for self-actualization is the highest level of needs. This has profound effect on employee interest and commitment.

However, in 1970, Maslow added two further higher needs in his motivation theory. These are aesthetic needs and cognitive needs.

Aesthetic needs are the needs of people to create and experience beauty, and balance in life.

Cognitive needs are people's needs for knowledge acquisition and to understand the origin of that knowledge.

These are relevant to your training activities and employee commitment.

Judging from these motivation theories, it is not easy to plan which employees' needs you need to focus on in order to improve employee motivation.

See to it that you choose the best combination of the methods to obtain maximum benefits.

Use compensation strategy to improve employees' readiness and willingness to work

Ensure that employee commitment is one of the objectives of your compensation strategy.

Click HERE on the role of Human Resources Performance Management.

Other Theories Applicable to Employee Motivation

These other theories may have some bearing on employee motivation.

McGregor's X-Y Theory

    It is stated that "McGregor's X-Y Theory remains central to organizational development and to improving organizational culture."

    Theory X refers to an "authoritarian" style of managing people.

    Based on this motivation theory, the average employee does not like work. Only the threat of punishment forces him or her to perform.

    This type of person prefers being directed. If possible, he or she tries to avoid responsibility at every opportunity.

    This can create a lot of stress in the work place.

    Theory Y is a participative management style.

    Employees self-direct themselves to pursue the achievement of organizational objectives. They have the self-driven urge to seek additional responsibilities. They are self-motivated.

    Here, rewards are designed to induce commitment in achieving organizational objectives.

    Under this style of management, creativity in solving problems is encouraged.

    This need has some similarity to Maslow's growth needs.

Herzberg's Motivation-Hygiene Theory

    Another theory is Herzberg's Two Factors Theory. According to him, there are factors that cause job satisfaction.

    This theory is related to Maslow's theory on 'Hierarchy of Needs'.

    Herzberg places emphasis on the satisfaction of higher-level psychological needs.

    This includes the needs for 'achievement, recognition responsibility, advancement, and the nature of the work itself.'

    He adds a two-factor model.

    To Herzberg, we need to attend to two sets of job characteristics that lead either to satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

    Motivators give positive satisfaction. These include giving employees challenging work, recognition and entrusting them with higher responsibilities.

    This is related to Maslow's satisfaction of growth needs.

    To Herzberg, Hygiene factors such as status, job security, salary and benefits do not give positive satisfaction.

    But their absence creates dissatisfaction.

    An employee's expectation that a certain act will bring a certain result or condition, determines his or her choice of means and efforts.

    Herzberg's theory is criticized based on the method used. It was also questioned for ignoring personality traits.

    In addition, a satisfied employee need not necessarily work harder.

    However, management can apply scientific methods to understand problems at work.

Vroom's Expectancy Theory

    Vroom proposes a motivation framework based on expectation.

    Unlike Maslow's and Herzberg's theories, Vroom's theory:

  • is able to handle differences
  • focuses on the present and future, while Maslow's and Herzberg's theories look to the past
  • relates behavior to goals, and
  • ability

McClelland's Theory of Needs

    David McClelland proposed that specific needs of a person are acquired over time. Life experiences shape these needs.

    These include the needs of an employee for achievement, affiliation, power, and influence over his or her job performance.

John Stacy Adam's Equity Theory

    Based on this motivation theory, the feeling of being fairly treated can influence your employees' behavior. This may lead to better employee motivation.

    When they feel that they are being treated unfairly, they are likely to feel disaffected and to lose the drive to perform their work.

Goal-Setting Theory by Locke

    In the mid-1960s, Edwin A. Locke began to examine this idea. He derived it from Aristotle’s form of final causality.

    Locke made his observations on performance improvement goals, that -

  • they are difficult to achieve
  • easily-attained goals correlate more to lower performance level
  • vague goal appears unlikely to enhance performance, and
  • goal can become more specific through quantification or enumeration
  • The limitations include:

  • Your employee's goal may not align with the goals of your organization.
  • They come into direct conflict. As the result, your employee's performance and that of your organization will suffer.
  • Goal-setting for complex tasks may impair performance. More time and effort are used in meeting the goals, not performing the tasks.

Frederick Taylor's Scientific Management Theory

    In 'The Principles of Scientific Management', Taylor states that scientific methods can optimize the way tasks are performed and simplify them.

    He presents four principles, namely,

  • Conducting a scientific study of the tasks
  • Using scientific method to select, train and develop every employee
  • Ensure that employees follow the scientifically-developed system, and
  • Divide the work more or less equally between managers and workers
  • This method can increase productivity but it can also increase work monotony.

    Taylor's theory offered tremendous help in the industrial development especially after the economic depression of the 1970s.

    However, scientific management can result in employees acting like robots.

Elton Mayo Theory of Motivation

    To Elton Mayo, "people's work performance is dependent on both social issues and job content."

    From his investigations, he found that job satisfaction depended a lot on the informal work pattern.

    If an employee's need for importance is satisfied, he or she is more likely to cooperate with fellow workers, resulting in higher output.

    He concluded that physical conditions or financial incentives had little motivational influence. This may apply to employee motivation.

    He further suggested that employees' sentiments and managers' emphasis on cost and efficiency can lead to conflict.

Signs of Employee Motivation, Commitment and Engagement

It is said that motivation is "the reason" why people behave in a certain manner. The same is true of workers.

You wish that employees will not only perform their tasks well but continue to improve the standard of their performance.

You may have employees who demonstrate behaviors that you expect to find in good and productive employees.

  • Your employees are more dedicated to their jobs and seek new responsibilities. They give their best at work.
  • Their achievement is better than expected
  • They seek new ways in improving their work, and ask for training which they believe can make them better workers.
On the other hand, you may see some employees who demonstrate negative behaviors.
  • Lack of initiative and energy
  • Absenteeism or lateness in reporting for duty
  • High instances of leaving work stations unattended
  • High labor turnover, that is, employees' resignation occur very frequently
  • Low quality of work
  • Frequent mistakes or oversights made at work
  • Increased wastage and the number of tasks that require redoing
  • Teams do not perform to expectation

Comparison with Job Satisfaction

Avoid the mistake of thinking that employee motivation leads to job satisfaction. But job satisfaction may lead to it.

Employees have job satisfaction when they obtain the things that they want.

But it is also said that happy employees, that is, satisfied employees, are not necessarily productive. There is ground for understanding employee motivation better.

Reasons Why Employees Leave

Let us dwell a bit more on labour turnover.

Research results show that one of the main reasons why employees leave is poor supervision. But we are not going to duel on this matter at this time.

You may realize that one other reason why employees choose to opt out is that they believe they are not being paid based on the worth of their jobs, the standard of their skills, the level of their performance, and so on.

You may not feel the loss when a poorly performing employee or someone who is often giving you problems leave.

But what if you lose a key employee, someone who is truly skilled at doing his or her job? Can you imagine the effects when such a person is the head of a particular section that is undertaking an important assignment at that point in time?

How will you cope when you cannot find an immediate replacement who is as good if not better?

You may have to shut down a certain operation or to reduce activities in a particular sector. Loss of capability may force your organization to lose out to others in terms of competitiveness.

So what can you do to prevent employees from leaving? If they leave anyway, how do you minimize the negative impacts?

The reasons why people leave contain the seeds of preventing or reducing employee turnover. Watch out for the symptoms. Listen to what employees are talking about and find out what they mean between the lines.

If they are complaining about the fairness of the compensation system, study it to find ways of improving it.

If they are raising objections to salary raises as not reflecting performance on the job, the solution may lie in ensuring that your performance management system is properly designed and that the performance appraisal is carried out fairly.

See to it that you conduct a regular job analysis to determine the worth of each and every job among a host of other objectives. In this way you ensure that every employee is getting paid for what the job is worth and the performance output, and not how popular the job is.

Even then it may not motivate some employees including good ones to stay. Your plan may not always work due to unforeseen circumstances.

Minimize the impacts by doing the following.

  • Make it a policy that at least two employees are skilled and knowledgeable about a certain job especially when the job is specialized or very technical in nature.
  • Immediately identify the most capable person after the employee who had left and send him or her for a short intensive program aimed at upgrading skills and enhancing knowledge. Thereafter, enroll that employee on a course held at night or during the weekends to ensure continued improvement.
  • Conduct an immediate search for a skilled replacement or adopt a "headhunting" approach.
  • Conduct a research on the future potential of the sector or activities affected by the resignation. If there is a fairly high possibility of a slowdown or unfavourable impact of a new entrant who has all what it takes to take over the competition, then you may want to consider closing that sector or reducing such activities.

These are among the many things that need looking into in order to improve employee motivation.

What Motivate Employees' Commitment

  • The structure of job design in your organization
  • Your organization's Incentives and Rewards System
  • Your corporate culture
  • Management style
  • Employee's personality and attitude
  • Employee skills and knowledge. Coaching forms an important method in employee development.
  • Leadership quality and vision
  • The diverse cultural background of your employees
  • Whether your organization is providing adequate and the right skill training to employees
  • Providing sufficient resources to assist employees in the effective and efficient performance of their job

Employee motivation must take its place among important matters that your organization must continually oversee and improve.

Address the issues as they arise.

An effective benefits system plays an important role in employee motivation

Implement a system of employee benefits that truly motivates employees to perform to the best of their ability and develop their full potential.

Deliberation on Employee Motivation Plan

Some of these theories are already accepted by many organizations.

These motivation theories provide you with the knowledge necessary to prepare your employee motivation plan.

Consider your present corporate leadership, organizational culture, management, employee diversity, workplace environment, and external conditions in the light of each of the respective theory.

Make use of this information to make your people more committed. Commitment gives some indication of higher level of employee motivation.

Prepare your employee motivation plan after considering every aspect with the ultimate purpose of improving the quality of human resource management. Avoid doing things that have the effects of demotivating employees.

Whenever you make a promise or whatever you decide, make you walk the talk.

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