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

October 17, 20191:50 pm
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Motivation is important because when someone has no motivation at work, he will have no willingness to finish assignments and run errands, thus, there won’t be any accomplishments. Just like what Lou Woltz said, “Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.”

However, the job of “managing” motivation is not as easy as it sounds. In order to bring and maintain it, leaders should understand what makes employees happy and driven them to constantly perform well on a daily basis. This task turns out to be more challenging because different individuals are motivated by different factors, meaning that leaders need to know the characteristics of their subordinates.

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Therefore, in this article, we share a light reading of the psychology of motivation to help you find the core problem and generate practical solutions for fostering motivation.

Motivation theory of needs

In this theory, employees will try hard and demonstrate goal-driven behaviour in order to satisfy needs. To illustrate, if there is an employee in your office who is always walking around and talking to people, he might have a need for companionship. Thus, he behaves like that to satisfy his needs. 

There are four categories that can be placed in this theory of needs, namely Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ERG theory, Herzberg’s two-factor theory, and McClelland’s acquired-needs theory. Let’s dive further about each of these theories and how it motivates your employees.

a. Maslow’s Theory

Maslow’s theory is based on 5 hierarchy of needs from psychology to self-actualisation. According to Maslow, these are the basic of all human beings, so after one person has fulfilled and felt satisfied with a lower need, they will start looking to satisfy higher-order needs. 

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs

From Maslow’s theory of needs, we can understand the different needs of employees. For instance, employees might give different reactions when they receive similar treatment. Employees who are trying to satisfy their esteem needs may feel gratified when the supervisor praises them for their accomplishments. On the contrary, employees who are trying to satisfy social needs might resent being praised by upper management in front of peers if the praises set them apart from the rest of the group.

In conclusion, you can learn to understand the different type of group in your team. For those who are satisfied by paycheck, they might be inclined to safety and esteem needs. People who like company meetings and events might look for social needs. By making the effort to satisfy the different level of needs, you can ensure a highly motivated workforce.

b. Existence, Relatedness and Growth (ERG) Theory

This theory is a modification from Maslow’s theory of needs. The difference is that ERG theory does not rank in particular order like that on Maslow’s. The theory also has a “frustration-regression”, indicating that individuals who failed or unfulfilled in their needs might regress to another.

As an example, Andi is unfulfilled with growth opportunities in his job. So, he progresses toward career goals by spending more time socialising with co-workers.

The implication of this theory is that HR leaders must recognise the multiple needs that might be driving individuals at a given point to understand their behaviour and properly motivate them.

c. Herzberg two-factor theory

This theory is founded by Frederick Herzberg. Different from the two theories above, Herzberg studied individuals and asked them what satisfy and what dissatisfied them. Then, he concluded that aspects that satisfy them are very different from aspects that dissatisfied them. In his study, he wrote labelled factors causing dissatisfaction as part of the content in which job was performed.

There are two factors Herzberg proposed, including hygiene factors which include company policies, supervision, working conditions, salary, safety, and security on the job. Another factor is motivator which covers intrinsic elements such as achievement, recognition, interesting work, increased responsibilities, advancement, and growth opportunities.

From Herzberg theory, we can conclude that improving the environment in which the job is performed goes only so far in motivating employees. However, managers should remember that solely focusing on hygiene factors will not be enough. Managers should also enrich jobs by giving employees opportunities for challenging work, greater responsibilities, advancement opportunities, and a job in which subordinates can feel successful.

d. McClelland theory

Most experts agree that this theory is the best among others. Based on this theory, employees acquire three types of needs as a result of their life experiences, namely need for achievement, need for affiliation, and need for power. All these needs are not working separately but they should be combined to drive employee behaviour.

The need for achievement focuses on a strong need to be successful with the themes of success, meeting deadlines or coming up with brilliant ideas. Once these needs are achieved, individuals might want to achieve higher needs for achievements.

McClelland theory of need for affiliation has a relation with being accepted and liked by others. This needs might serve as a disadvantage in a higher position because individuals tend to be overly concerned about how they are perceived by others.

The last theory need of power focuses on getting work done by influencing other people or desiring to make an impact on the organisation. Individuals want to influence others and control their environment. This theory of influence can, in fact, be a destructive element in the relationship with colleagues if it takes the form of seeking and using power for self-prestige. On the contrary, McClelland believed that these needs can also benefit when individuals change the way things are done.

In summary of this McClelland theory, you can understand that people who have a high need for achievement might respond to goals. Those with a high need for power give more attempts to gain influence over. And those who have a higher need for affiliation might be motivated to gain the approval of their peers and supervisors.

Take home note

The key takeaway for motivation theory of needs is that each of the theories explains the characteristics of a work environment that motivates employees. Those theories of needs also pave the way to process-based theories that explain the mental calculation employees make to decide how to behave. In addition, understanding need-based theories help you identify what people need, thus, you can make the work environment a means of satisfying these needs.


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