Motivation Theories: Critique and Comparison

This article is a discussion on the effect of bosses to employees’ motivation. A survey of close to 400 Human Resource Managers in Canada concludes that there is a relationship between employee motivation and the attitude of the boss. The cause of disagreement is how much Managers should get involved in an employee’s work life affairs. The survey says that employees felt that it is easier for managers to engage them in decisions pertaining to the company. It should be the management’s responsibility. This is because it would be hard for an employee to propose something to management. On the other hand, it would be much easier for an employer to ask an employee for suggestions and to listen to their complaints.

The survey divided areas employers should take a more active role into four. This includes listening to employees, creating opportunities for leadership, growth and development, recognizing and praising employees and communication of expectations. In all these, according to the study, the Managers fell short of what the employees expected. In summary, Managers performed poorly when it comes to listening to employees. However, they performed fairly in provision of learning, growth and development opportunities.

The study is current since the author commissioned it in 2011. It offers suggestions such as the need to engage employees more in making decisions. Although, it does not touch on anything else apart from the management’s contribution to employee motivation, it brings out the issue quite clearly. It is important to note that motivation may come from other areas other than management.

Analysis of Applicability of Theories and Concepts

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow prioritized human needs according to importance. This article clearly captures what Maslow tried to put forth. Although the employees may be getting high salaries (the study does not indicate this), they want more than just that. A good salary is basic. Self-actualization is the fact that the employees enjoy what they do. The environment should be conducive for the employees to enjoy working. They should grow, learn and feel that they contribute in decision-making.

This study does not bring out many dimensions that Maslow discusses in his Hierarchy of Human Needs. It only captures the highest in his list. Therefore, we may not conclusively say that management does not include them in decision-making. This is because this decision-making may be salaries. In this regard, most employees feel that employers should pay them more. This is the trend world over. What I am arriving at is that the study should have expressly stated that the employees were happy with all the other things. This includes relationships, salaries, organizational culture and the overall working environment. This would inform us whether what the author discusses is exactly the decisions that employees felt they should have a hand.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the most detailed look at employee motivation. It captures all the needs a person may want from work. Employers and management strive to meet all these expectations from employees. In most cases, however, it is impossible to meet all of them. The fact is that resources may not be enough. Additionally, some factors are beyond the control of the management. A question arises as to what management should do to motivate an employee whose de-motivation emanates from a situation beyond managements control such as family. This is a question, which is hard to answer. Hence, it is plausible to say this theory is too generalist.

Expectancy Theory

This Vroom Expectancy Theory suggests that employees earn motivation from what they expect in terms of rewards. The theory bases its argument on operant conditioning. The employees look at the rewards. If the reward is good, the employees put in effort to earn it. This effort leads to good performance. The study above does not mention the issue of rewards in the facial sense. However, the employees want rewards in terms of intangible benefits. This includes special recognitions, learning and development, involvement in making critical decisions, prompt and detailed feedback and most importantly listening from management.

According to this theory, if employees feel that when they perform well they will get the above-mentioned rewards, they feel motivated to perform. The theory uses terms such as expectancy, instrumentality and valence. Valence is the attachment that an employee feels towards the reward. Therefore, management should create such an environment to ensure these rewards. These rewards should be valuable and have the ability to generate an emotional attachment in employees. For example, fully paid one-week holidays to exceptional destinations. However, this is only true if employees are already satisfied by basics such as remuneration, safety and cleanliness. The study does not mention these aspects.

Operant conditioning is an old theory that seeks to know the needs of employees. It derives from classical conditioning. Although Expectancy Theory omits the fact that employees do not really want tangible things to look forward to, the study above explains this very well. The author says that employers should seek to know what employees look forward to from them. Additionally, the environment should be conducive to enable employees to state what they want. He says that this should be the employer’s initiative. This is because leaving this responsibility to employees is challenging. The study and the theory agree on this fact. This is because employees do not have power to structure their work in a different way.

Employee Recognition Programs

These systematic organizational programs reward employees’ performance. They are different in every organization. Many theories suggest that they are a source of motivation for employees. The basic principle is to recognize exceptional performance from employees. They are competitive. This fact means that employers should carry them out carefully. This is because they can also be sources of hatred and sour relationships between employees. Recognition should not include promotion.

These programs include mentions in important forums by special people in the organizations. For example, the CEO, directors or top management staff. Secondly, it involves use of trophies. Other organizations use special titles or job names.

In the study above, employees answer questions regarding recognition by their employees. Overall, the management does not score well in this department according to the study. In its recommendations, the author points out that it is paramount to consider this as a source of motivation. However, he does not go to specifics as implementing these programs depends upon factors such as organizational culture and the size of the organization. Additionally, the study does not point out the downside of using this method to motivate employees. The organizations that use this method report better employee reception to tasks and responsibilities. It also fosters internal competition. This competition is critical because it prepares an organization to meet external competition. It also increases quality of the products that an organization produces.


The study brings out a very critical part in employee motivation. Clearly, an organization cannot motivate employees from this point of view alone. Many factors contribute to employee motivation. The author may have had an interest in these factors only. On the other hand, it is possible that he chose Human Resource Managers whose companies had done enough to motivate employees using all the other methods. Although motivating employees using higher pays denotes that they do not have emotions, this is an old school of thought according to me. In the current context, motivation using money should be the first motivational gesture employers embrace.

Employees are struggling to meet needs such as mortgage payments amid an economy crisis. Hence, the author loses the point of context. The area of interest to me, as an employee, is the assurance that I will have pay at the end of the month. This will ensure that I continue to meet all the other engagements. Consequently, it will reduce psychological stressors and make my work environment more motivating. The author disdainfully discounts this issue by calling it amorphous.

On a brighter side, the author captures what seems to be an ignored area by employers and management. The four issues that he points out are critical to organizational human resource growth. The four issues surround employees’ engagement. This means that many employers and top management employ passivity when dealing with employees. Although it suggests causation, the author may have used case studies to prove his assertions. This would have given it more credibility.