Top 3 Motivation Theories in Management

There are many motivation theories in management, all focused on offering insight into what motivates or drives a person in the workplace. Motivating staff is a critical factor in the success of any business. But people are fundamentally different, and not everyone responds in the same way to a particular situation or environment. It’s important for organizations to not only understand the different characteristics of their employees but also to know what drives these particular personalities. Armed with this information, organizations can tailor the way they motivate or encourage staff, and dramatically improve engagement and motivation levels in the workplace.

So what are the main theories of work motivation? We’ve selected three high-profile theories that offer an interesting take on what motivates different individuals: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, McClelland’s Three Needs Theory, and Herzberg’s Motivation Theory.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

One of the often-cited theories of work motivation is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory. This motivational theory, developed by Abraham H Maslow, says that humans have a hierarchy of needs and they work their way up through these needs. As each need is satisfied, they move on to the next.


Five needs in Maslow’s theory of work motivation

  1.   Physical: the lowest need is for the fundamental basics – food, clothing, and shelter. These needs closely correlate to a person’s salary.
  2.   Security: the need to feel safe. In the workplace, this could translate to a feeling of job security and even simply needing to be in a safe work environment.
  3.   Social: the need to belong in a group. Humans are a social animal, they will seek to form groups and want to feel like a valued member of that group.
  4.   Ego: to achieve recognition or status. Individuals will look to feed their ego or boost their self-esteem by being successful in their job.
  5.   Self-actualization: once an individual has ticked all the other needs off, they will move into a stage where they become more creative or growth-oriented.


McClelland’s Three Needs Theory  

David McClelland’s motivation theory of management suggests that each person has three basic needs: the need for power, achievement, or affiliation. In this employee motivation theory, McClelland says that a person’s particular need will have a significant impact on their behavior.

  • Need for Power: this person is motivated by having a position of power or control. They are typically strong leaders and are self-disciplined.
  • Need for Achievement: this person is motivated by success or achieving objectives. They thrive on challenging situations and typically set themselves hard to reach goals and work to excel at them.
  • Need for Affiliation: this person is at home in a group or collaborative environment. They work well with others and seek out social interactions.


Herzberg’s Motivation Theory

Herzberg’s Motivation Theory, which is also known as Two-Factor or Hygiene Theory, is another one of the more renowned employee motivation theories. It suggests that individuals have two categories of needs when it comes to work – Hygiene and Motivators.  Hygiene refers to a person’s work environment, including working conditions, wages, workplace relations while Motivators are the factors that motivate people to work harder – job recognition, promotion, achievement.

Herzberg suggests that if people are not happy at work it comes down to the work environment, and when they are happy at work it’s because they feel fulfilled or motivated.

Companies looking to create a workplace with satisfied and motivated employees need to find the balance between building a harmonious work environment offering competitive wages and job security while creating rewarding work and fostering opportunities for employees to make their way up the career ladder.

Motivating employees is an important, but challenging, part of a manager’s job. In the early twentieth century, pay was considered a key motivator in the workplace, but we now know there’s more to motivating staff than money. The first step is to understand what drives your staff members and then work towards developing relevant programs or opportunities. 

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