November 11, 2014
Theories of Motivation
Motivation theories can be classified broadly into two different perspectives: Content and Process theories. Content theories explain the specific factors that motivate behavior. (Catherine, 1999) Content Theories deal with “what” motivates people and it is concerned with individual needs and goals. Maslow, Alderfer, Herzberg and McClelland studied motivation from a “content” perspective.
Process Theories deal with the “process” of motivation. They address the “why” and the “how” of human behaviors. Vroom, Porter & Lawler, Adams and Locke studied motivation from a “process” perspective. Two major process theories that can be used to describe motivation in the workplace would be Adam’s equity theory and Vroom’s expectancy theory. These theories propose that individuals are capable of calculating costs and benefits in chooses their courses of action. (Stecher, M & Rosse, J, 2007)
None of these theories have been conclusively shown to be valid. Knowledge of motivation theories, however, are helpful in providing a contextual framework for dealing with individuals. This is especially true when dealing in compensation and theorizing what types of compensation is ore motivating to different individuals.
Implementation of Motivation Theories
I feel that each theory may have people that it works for and people that it does not. I remember I went to a motivation training once and the opening activity was the training put two pieces of tape parallel from each other across the front of the room. She told us to imagine it was a 18” steel beam spanning from the top of one skyscraper to another. On the other side was your favorite meal. Who would walk across. A couple people did, who then admitted they were “risk-takers” and “thrill seekers.” She then said to picture there was a million dollars. About half of the room went and walked across the beam. Finally, she said that the person you love most in the world is on the other building, dying of poisoning and you are holding the antidote. Would you walk across the beam? Of course everyone walked across the beam.
Although this training was quite a few years ago, that activity really stuck with me. I think that understanding the content of motivation and what motivates people is the first step. If people feel like they are contributing to the great good, are personally invested in the success and have an emotional connection, they will be more motivated for success. In the education industry, many teachers will point to their motivations to help children and contribute to society as a reason why they are willing to be paid less since they are “making a difference.” McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y would help explain this as well since teachers typically truly enjoy their interactions with children and look on it as a pleasurable experience, therefore contrasting the typical negative feelings towards work. (Firestone, 2014)
The process theories then dive into why people are motivated. From a HR and compensation perspective this is important information as it will help us to design more relevant compensation packages and working toward more extensive employee engagement. For example, according to content theories, it is important for employees to have a sense of justice in the workplace. According to process theorist this would be because perceptions of injustice would interfere with the employees ability to be motivated since they do not see the outcomes of disciplinary action to be fair to all employees. (Stecher & Rosse, 2007)
Intrinsic versus Extrinsic Motivators
Extrinsic motivation theory assumes that people respond to extrinsic incentives, including money and compensation. This theory focuses on what people should receive money for. (Firestone, 2014) Because extrinsic motivations require for a manager or supervisor to distribute the compensation/bonuses appropriately, many require extensive