Discuss Evolution of Motivation

10 October 2016

In response, a series of theories were explored to in areas of job satisfaction and motivation. In consideration in ways in which motivation might make individuals more effective, both theory and empirical studies will be discussed. In the next section, first an account of traditional models will be presented and then following an account of contemporary models will be presented. Early theories of motivation started to be studied during the 1950’s and 60’s, and it was this period that saw four key theories formulate to provide explanations of motivation.

These include the Hierarchy of Needs Theory (Maslow, 1954), Theory X and Theory Y (McGregor, 1960), the Two Factor Theory (Herzberg, 1966) and McClelland’s Theory of Needs (McClelland, 1961). To begin with, in 1954, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory hypothesised that within every human being, there exists a hierarchy of five needs. These include: Physiological (at the bottom), Safety, Social, Esteem and Self-actualisation (at the top). He believed that as each need becomes substantially satisfied, the next need above in the hierarchy would then become the dominant need.

It seems that because of the simplicity of Maslow’s theory and, in fact, the intuitive logic that the theory presents, it has remained popular in organisations. It has, however, attracted much criticism on the basis that there is very little evidence to support theories such as, that unsatisfied needs motivate, or that a satisfied need activates a new level of need. In 1960, McGregor suggested two distinct views of human beings, Theory X (Negative) and Theory Y (Positive). These allocated two assumptions. Theory X assumed that employees dislike work, are lazy, dislike responsibility and must be coerced to perform.

In contrast, Theory Y assumed that employees like work, are creative, seek responsibility and can exercise self-direction. From his findings he believed that Theory Y was more valid than Theory X and suggested ideas such as participative decision making and challenging jobs to maximise an employee’s job motivation. Much like Maslow’s theory, unfortunately McGregor too lacks any empirical evidence to support his theories and hence there is no confirmation that by following his view to accept Theory Y and altering actions to comply with it, would be lead to more motivated workers.

Then, in 1966, Herzberg proposed his Two Factor Theory, also widely known as the Motivation-Hygiene Theory. The theory relates intrinsic factors to job satisfaction and associates extrinsic factors with dissatisfaction. Herzberg therefore recommended job enrichment which would be created through greater freedom and independence. Indeed Herzberg’s theory stimulated much more research in the time that followed, however again, it is apparent that the theory is ultimately flawed for several reasons.

In 1961, of the all of traditional theories, it was McClelland’s Theory of Needs that had the best research support, and stated that achievement, power and affiliation are three important needs to help explain motivation. The research has been mainly focused on the need for achievement and consistent results show that people with high achievement need are interested in how well they do personally and not in influencing others to do well. McClelland’s, however, argued that the three needs are subconscious meaning that measuring such data is not easy.

In order to measure the needs of individuals is, in fact, time consuming and expensive and therefore many organisations have not invested in measuring McClelland’s theory. It is clear that, for the most part, the issue with the traditional theories is that evidence to back up the theories is in short supply and it therefore becomes an idea without much credibility to back it up. There are a number of contemporary theories that, unlike the traditional theories, have some valid supporting documentation, and the following section will consist of these ideas.

Firstly, the Cognitive Evaluation Theory states that allocating extrinsic rewards for behaviour that had previously been intrinsically rewarding tends to decrease the overall level of motivation. Ryan et al. (1983) looked at 96 college students and tested them on working out puzzle-solving activities where various reward conditions were in effect where that supplying rewards undermined the intrinsic motivation of the subjects.

This particular study mentioned does well to back up much of the research that has been conducted and draws similar conclusions, although it can be said that the small sample is questionable, and indeed the type of sample, ie students, does not reflect that of the real world. In the grander scheme of research provided on this subject, however, it is widely accepted that providing challenging goals will lead to higher productivity.

That said, the theory does not consider absenteeism, turnover or satisfaction. Reinforcement Theory (Skinner, 1961) says that behaviour is a function of its consequences meaning that the reinforcement forms the behaviour. This theory addresses some of the issues that were not considered in the previous study, e. g. absenteeism, however it does not deal with issues including employee satisfaction or the decision to quit, and surely these are things to keep in mind when thinking of a motivated employee.

It could be that positive results come from reinforcement theory and yet satisfaction, and hence motivation have are negatively affected. Equity Theory says that individuals compare their job inputs and outcomes with those of others and then respond to eliminate any inequities. When keeping employees motivated, it is important for managers to consider the model of organisational justice that provides explanation on what an employee may consider when comparing their job income-output ratio.

Distributive Justice (perceived fairness f outcome), Procedural Justice (perceived fairness of process used to determine outcome) and Interactional Justice (perceived way of being treated) combine to create Organisational Justice (overall perception of fairness in the workplace). It seems that in order to achieve high satisfaction and motivational levels by applying Equity theory, an organisation and the management within need to be as transparent and honest with their staff as possible while showing no bias towards individuals.

Finally Vroom’s Expectancy Theory (1964) says that employees will be motivated to exert high levels of effort when they believe that the effort will lead to organisational rewards such as bonuses, salary increases, promotions etc. The theory focuses on three relationships that include effort-performance relationship, performance-reward relationship and rewards-personal goals relationship. While Expectancy theory has valid points associating behaviours that people consider expected outcomes, few people perceive a high correlation between performance and rewards and therefore the theory becomes idealistic.

It is believed by the theory that companies should reward individuals for performance; however in reality managers are restricted to organisation criteria that takes into account other factors such as seniority, effort and job difficulty. In conclusion, the evolution of motivational theory has gone from a period of traditional theories that were largely unproven or too expensive and time consuming to consider adequate research, to a plethora of empirical studies that, while still open to criticism, have contributed to the widely accepted contemporary theories that I have previously mentioned.

While individually, it can be said that each of the contemporary theories focuses on a specific area of research, and hence does not consider certain areas of interest. But by combining all of the theories in order to insert resolved problems from one theory to address an unresolved from another, it begins to create a much more solid theory in itself.

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