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Employee motivation theories

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 — June 18th, 2018

Employee motivation theories

Finding new and interesting ways in which to challenge and motivate your team can seem like an impossible task, especially in today's rapid, sound-bite society, where trends come and go at the push of a button. With this in mind, here are five tried-and-tested models from the 20th century to help incentivize and motivate your team.

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Vroom's Expectancy Theory

Expectancy theory, developed in 1964 by Victor H. Vroom, is a three-step system that focuses on outcomes rather than needs, unlike later models. Vroom theorized that, regardless of individual goals, employees can be motivated by the following three criteria:

  • Valence
  • Expectancy
  • Instrumentality

Valence equates to value, and how managers must learn what the employee desires to attain (in terms of rewards and job satisfaction). Expectancy aligns closely with an employee's sense of self-confidence and capability and prompts management to uncover training, supervision, and resource needs. Finally, instrumentality revolves around ensuring that the expectancy alluded to in the valence phase is fortified in real-world terms. Vroom's theory pertains to the idea that, when all of the above phases are combined, the employee will be sufficiently motivated to perform their tasks.

Herzberg's Two-Factor Theory

The Two-Factor Theory, also known as motivation-hygiene theory, focusses on splitting the main components that govern employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction, emphasizing the former while working to eliminate the latter. This is, essentially, a two-step model.

Step one covers aspects of dissatisfaction (which Herzberg referred to as 'hygiene'), with fixes that involve creating:

  • Competitive wages
  • Job security
  • an inclusive, non-judgemental workplace

While step two covers conditions of job satisfaction, such as:

  • Recognizing contributions
  • Creating rewarding work
  • Providing opportunities for advancement and promotion

This model is designed to uncover how employees feel about their day-to-day tasks, working relationships, and their overall role within the company.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Next up is Maslow. This model, created by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943, is a needs-based theory presented as a five-tier pyramid program that addresses the fundamental needs of the individual.

Maslow's five steps, starting at the top of the pyramid, are:

  • Self-actualization
  • Ego
  • Social
  • Security
  • Physical

Each step covers a different attribute to your employees' well-being and contributes to their motivational drive.

Three-Dimensional Theory of Attribution

Developed by one Bernard Weiner in 1986, Attribution theory is an achievement-based, three-step model that focuses on four main areas: ability, effort, task difficulty, and luck. By applying a psychological model to our workplace behaviors Weiner suggests this theory as an effective way of working out why our employees act and react as they do, and what this can reveal in regards to motivating your team. As such, Weiner's theory can be applied across all levels of your business.

Job Characteristics Model

Finally, this one was thought up in 1975 by Oldham and Hackman, who based their research on the earlier work of Turner and Lawrence. It's a five characteristic approach pertaining to three psychological states which, when viewed via three moderators, lead to aspects of cognitive motivation which, in turn, can be applied to the individual to increase output and boost motivation.

The Five Characteristics are:

  • Skill Variety
  • Task Identity
  • Task Significance
  • Autonomy
  • Feedback

And the Three Psychological States are:

  • Experienced Meaningfulness of the Work
  • Experienced Responsibility for the Outcome of the Work
  • Knowledge of Results of the Work Activities

Oldham and Hackman's model supplies managers with a unique framework to help increase employee motivation, satisfaction, and performance via a series of targeted, enriching job characteristics. As such, it's a model that's been used time and again by researchers and a diverse and vast cross-section of businesses and professionals alike.

Whether using Vroom's Expectancy theory or opting for the all-inclusive Oldham and Hackman model, be sure to delve into the details and choose the right motivation theory for your company's needs. From Herzberg to Maslow you'll find tried and tested solutions that businesses have relied on time and again, and while popular trends may come and go, maybe it's time to look at the past in order to secure the future.

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