Motivation Theories in Business


This paper is based on the topic of theories of motivation. It seeks to explore the most powerful and helpful theory in explaining how motivation works. It is argued that the human relations theory of motivation is the most powerful and helpful because it is based on an experiment conducted by Elton Mayo. From the experiment, Mayo concluded that employees were motivated by three major things namely good communication, involvement of managers in employees’ lives and teamwork. Mayo’s theory of motivation is the opposite of Taylor’s scientific management theory which is considered as mechanistic in nature. The paper is in reference to an organisation known as Southwest which deals with protection of civil rights of minority groups in the United States.

Theories of Motivation

Motivation is the process of encouraging or influencing people to behave in a particular manner, which they would have otherwise not behaved without the encouragement or the influence. There are four categories of motivation theories namely classical, human relations, neo-human relations, and the systems theories. Classical theories include the scientific management theory by Taylor, the bureaucratic theory by Weber, and the administrative theory by Fayol. Human relations theories constitute mainly of the Hawthorns studies by Elton Mayo while neo-human relations theories comprise mainly the Maslow hierarchy of needs theory, MacGregor’s theory X and theory Y, and the hygiene theory by Herzberg. The systems theories constitute the human relations, contingency, social technical, and the goal setting theories (Aquinas 2006).

The Human Relations Theory of Motivation

The human relations approach is mainly characterised by a shift from the scientific to the humanistic approach in the motivation of employees. The approach places more emphasis on the work environment and perceives employees as social beings with social, psychological, and financial needs. It also acknowledges that employees have the potential of being creative in their work. The approach also values the synergy found in teamwork, the reasoning being that employees are able to come up with group norms and rules which govern their work. The approach also recognises the importance of employees interacting with their managers in a friendly way without fear of victimisation. When employees fear their managers, they tend to work with their bodies but their minds and hearts are usually far away (Fox 2009).

The Hawthorne Experiment

The human relations theory of motivation is based on the famous Hawthorne experiments done by Professor Elton Mayo from 1927 -1932 in Chicago. The professor was interested in studying the effects of the work environment to employees’ motivation and levels of productivity. He first embarked on an experiment which was aimed at determining the relationship between the physical environment in the workplace and employees’ productivity. This particular experiment entailed changing the levels of brightness at the workplace. One group was exposed to dim working conditions and the other to bright working conditions. Mayo expected to find variations in terms of performance and productivity of the employees in the two groups. He also expected the group which was exposed to bright conditions to perform better than the one which was exposed to dim working conditions. Paradoxically, both teams recorded increased performance and productivity (Envision Software 2009).

Elton Mayo moved his experiments a notch higher to study the psychological effects of employees on their productivity. The experiment involved singling out two female employees and instructing each of them to select other two from the rest of the employees to make up a sum of six. The six were assigned the task of assembling telephone relays. They were also assigned a supervisor who was friendly to them (Envision Software 2009).

During the experiment, new changes in the work environment were introduced from time to time. Such changes included changing the mode of compensation from monthly rates to hourly rates, increasing or reducing the number of breaks and break durations, and shortening or lengthening the working hours. The supervisor sat with the girls throughout the experiment which lasted between four to twelve weeks and discussed with them before introducing any change in the working set up. The supervisor also sought advice from the girls regarding their work and also listened to their complains (Envision Software 2009).

Mayo noted that any change in the working environment was accompanied by increased productivity. He also realised that the girls shared and discussed among themselves about their work and also had informal meetings outside the work environment. They also became friends at the work and even suggested to the supervisor what they thought was necessary to be done to regulate their work. They also came up with some informal rules regarding their time of arrival and departure (Envision Software 2009).

The findings of the experiment were conclusive that personal aptitudes and capabilities play an insignificant role in determining the potential of employees to perform well. Instead, social factors and the work environment determine the productivity of employees. The experiment also found that employees do not necessarily need to be supervised closely but need autonomy to make decisions pertaining their work (Envision Software 2009).

The girls came up with some group norms and extended their relationship beyond the workplace. The group norms enabled the girls to embrace teamwork which created a conducive environment for increased productivity. The workplace was transformed from a formal system characterised by formal rules, procedures, and relationships into a social system based on mutual understanding and cooperation (Envision Software 2009).

The experiment also found that employees are motivated by being recognised and appreciated. At the start of the experiment, two girls were singled out from the rest of the employees and were instructed each to choose two others. The singling out of the girls made them feel important and recognised by the managers and the organisation. Employees therefore need to be appreciated and shown that they are valuable and important to organisations which they serve (Envision Software 2009).

Application in an Organisation

As mentioned in the introduction, Southwest organisation is an example which uses the human relation theory to motivate its employees. One of the aspects of the human relation theory which the management has implemented is the introduction of teamwork. The management has given the employees the permission to divide their work into small achievable tasks to be undertaken by groups of employees.

Teamwork leads to creation of self-managing teams. Through self-managing teams, organisations encourage employees to work in teams instead of working independently which enables organisations to benefit from the synergy found in teams. Working in teams gives employees an opportunity to exercise their creativity, innovativeness, skills, and talents. It also enables the team members to learn from the strengths and the diverse experiences of each other. When employees work in teams, they learn how to welcome positive criticism.

Teamwork is a necessary condition for employee motivation. Motivation may be intrinsic or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from the employees and is characterised by the need to achieve good results, passion in work, the ambition to acquire new knowledge, and the need to be successful at the workplace. Extrinsic motivation arises from things which are external to employees and include things like appreciation, rewards, good salaries or wages, promotions, and congratulatory messages. Working in teams enables the employees to generate new ideas which are implemented by an organisation thus increasing employees’ motivation because they feel that the organisation values their input. Motivation makes it possible for employees to learn new things from each other. They also learn new ways and strategies of doing things or improving their operations at the workplace (Murphy &Willmott 2010).

Teamwork enables employees of Southwest organisation to micromanage their work in order to boost efficiency and effectiveness thus increasing quality in organisational internal processes. In the spirit of teamwork, the employees are also involved in making decisions regarding their work with the aim of ensuring that organisational policies reflect their wishes (Tjosvold & Leung 2004).

The regular teamwork training conducted by Southwest management exposes the employees to various challenges and ways of dealing with those challenges. During the training, employees learn how to accept positive criticism from others. They also enrich each other with different ideas, views, and suggestions on how to improve their work. The ability to come up with solutions to various challenges transforms employees into transformational leaders (Schermerhorn 2010). The reason is that teamwork enables the team members to organise their work properly through development of work plans and schedules which are in harmony with organisational tasks. Teamwork also increases flexibility among the employees because they work as per their schedules. When given the permission to be flexible, employees become motivated and maximise their talents and commitment to their work which increases productivity (Rivera 2011).

The other aspect of human relation theory which the management of Southwest organisation has used is the introduction of a system of working in which the employees are less supervised and encouraged to be responsible, flexible, creative, and innovative in their work. The organisation has also done away with any rules and regulations which emphasise on procedures and regulations and replaced them with rules which emphasise on the end product irrespective of the means (Gill 2011).

Strong organisational culture has boosted organisational efficiency in Southwest because of the internalisation of what is required of each and every employee. The sharing of values and beliefs creates a good working environment free from confusion, ambiguity or lack of understanding among the employees. The good working environment not only increases efficiency but it also saves time because employees are able and free to consult each other without the fear of victimisation or intimidation especially by the senior managers. Employees also portray good behavior at work because they know what is right to be done and what is not right (Sims 2007).

Furthermore, strong organisational culture in Southwest has led to cohesion among various departments of the organisation which has led to harmonisation of all organisational procedures, policies, and practices in each and every department. This cohesion has led to proper utilisation of organisational resources without sabotage. It has also led to sound, logical, and relevant polices on how to coordinate organisational activities in a manner that maximises an organisation’s chances of realising its mission and vision. Cohesion among various organisational departments has also led to sharing of information by various departments which has increased the employees’ levels of understanding of how various departments work (Sakikawa 2012).

Strong organisational culture in Southwest enhances control, good coordination, and consistency in the organisation. The reason is that employees and management are in good terms and able to agree informally on various procedures and practices without compromising the quality of organisational practices and objectives. Having a good understanding between employees and management saves time because employees implement the changes which they find necessary without having to wait for bureaucratic board meetings and discussions to approve even the slightest change in procedures or practices (Mathew 2007).

Such a strong culture is conducive for innovation because the managers and employees of Southwest perceive each other as colleagues not as rivals. The employees also view the organisation as their personal business and put all their efforts to ensure that it becomes successful. Such loyalty stimulates the employees to think of new ways of doing things which eventually leads to innovation and increased competitiveness of the organisation (French 2011).


Motivation is an important component in the success of organisations. There are various theories of motivation and are classified as classical, human relations, and neo-human relations theories. The theories are considered as dynamic in that they keep on changing. The best theory which helps in explaining how motivation works is the human relations theory which is based on Elton Mayo’s experiments. The theory advocates for good communication between managers and employees, understanding of employees’ needs by managers, and having self-managing teams. As highlighted in the discussion, the Southwest organisation has been largely successful due to application of the human relations theory in the motivation of its employees.

Reference List

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