HR Knowledge: Psychology Theory of Work Motivation (Chapter II)

October 18, 20194:31 pm4030 views

Motivation at work is vital to both the organisation and individuals. Without it, there won’t be accomplishments or profits generated. Managing the motivation, however, can be a pain in the neck. Therefore, we present this light reading on the theory of motivation to help you find the core problem of what does and does not motivate employees and create practical solutions of fostering motivation.

Chapter I can be read here

Process-based theory

In process-based theory, employees might view work motivation as a rational process. They analyse the environment, develop thoughts and feelings, and react in certain ways. The theory looks at the attempt individuals make when demonstrating motivated behaviour. The theory is divided into three categories, namely equity, expectancy, and reinforcement.

a. Equity theory

To put it simply, equity theory describes individuals who feel motivated by a sense of fairness in their interactions. The sense of fairness is generally a result of social comparisons they make. For instance, Tony is a hardworking employee and he always arrives on time. He is flexible and always manages to do an excellent job. When Tony fails to get the promotion he has always wanted and sees that someone less capable than him get a better role, do you think he will be as motivated as before?

See also: Staying Off the Monday Blues at Work: Motivational Tips for a New Work Week

To be a fair employer and maintain employee’s motivation at work, you should follow these acts.

  • When distributing rewards, make sure to pay attention to different contribution levels of employees.
  • Sometimes you might have to disregard people’s contributions to distribute certain rewards.
  • Pay attention to how you make a decision. It is better to ask the opinions of others before making a final decision.
  • Pay attention to how you talk to people – treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • Remember that justice is in the eye of the beholder, meaning that while you might think something is fair, others might perceive differently. Thus, pay attention to being perceived as fair.
  • We cannot assume that people only care about their own perspective. According to this theory, individuals do care about the justice level perceived by others. 

In conclusion, injustice is harmful to employee’s mental health and well-being thus leading to stress. Therefore, encouraging a higher level of justice within an organisation can help employees commit better to an organisation.

b. Expectancy theory

Expectancy theory is a well-accepted theory that has received a lot of research attention. There are three major perceptions here. First is a person who believes that high levels of effort will lead to outcomes of interest which are labelled as expectancy. Second is the degree to which a person believes that performance is related to subsequent outcomes which are labelled as instrumentality. And third is labelled as valence for people who are concerned about the value of rewards.

Let’s say that one of your marketing staff successfully bring 1000 subscribers a day. Then, the manager asks her to reach a higher number. Each of the perceptions will give different reactions, such as:

Expectancy: can I do it? If I try harder, will I reach what is expected? – To influence this person, you can give positive feedback and encouragement for better motivation.

Instrumentality: What is it for me? What is going to happen if I achieve a higher number? Will the manager give me more incentives? – To influence this type, you can highlight and reward the performance, and performance only.

Valence: How do I feel about the outcomes in questions? Do I feel pay raise is desirable? Will I be named an employee of the month? – To motivate this person, you should reward the employee with an attractive gift or incentive.

Those three perceptions can lead HR leaders to better understand employees and how to motivate them based on their characteristics.

c. Reinforcement theory

The theory is based on a simple idea that if an employee takes initiative to work harder and finish a project early, then the employer will take them to a lunch meeting, thus the initiative is reinforced. The said employee will continue demonstrating the same behaviour in the future and even work harder. On the contrary, if an employer and no one else said nothing to their hard work, he will be less likely to demonstrate similar behaviour in the future.

To be effective in your discipline and increase the likeliness of reinforcement theory to drive motivation, here are some practices you can do.

  • Consider whether punishment is the most effective way to modify behaviour (if there is any wrongful behaviour)
  • Be sure that your punishment fits the crime
  • Be consistent in your treatment of employees. Have disciplinary procedures and apply them in the same way to everyone.
  • Document the behaviour in question
  • Be timely with discipline. When you allow a gap in behaviour and punishment, it becomes less effective in reducing undesired behaviour because the connection between them is weaker.

The bottom line

All in all, process-based theories focus on the mental process of employees as the key to understanding employee motivation to work. Unlike the theory of needs, you should reinforce proper tying rewards to positive behaviours, eliminating rewards following negative behaviours, and punishing negative behaviour. This way, leaders can increase the frequency of desired behaviours. Learning from the process-based theory also can leader design better reward system within a company.


Read also: Uncovering Secrets to Motivational Differences of Men and Women in the Workplace

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