Theories of Work Influence on Individual Motivation

Subject: Employee Management
Pages: 6
Words: 1453
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: College


In a work setting, the culture of the relationship between employers and employees draws great influence from the job motivations and rewards accrued in the process. Most successful organizations boast of strong employee motivation cultures with rewards and salaries based on performance. Employers’ cultures on work organization, methods of leadership, and designs and job specifications play critical functions in defining the levels of employee motivations in organizations. From the above indicators of organizational culture, the management team stands better chances of developing both vertical and lateral cooperation among staff members to augment productivity. This paper develops an in-depth understanding of the underlying factors that influence work motivation among employees in different organizational settings. Likewise, the paper elucidates these factors in relation to existing theories of work motivation.


In the study of human resource management strategies, several scholars continue to develop clear and vivid definitions of motivation. Mitchelle Peters, for example, defines motivation as the degree to which an individual harbors the desires and abilities to practice certain behaviors (Miner 2007, p. 78). Campbell and Pritchard describe motivation as a set of variable relationships that explain the direction, amplitude, and persistence of an individual’s behavior under a constant state of effects arising from aptitude, skills, job understanding, and problems within the job setting (Cartwright 2002, p. 63). On the other hand, Atkinson defines motivation as the resultant influence on direction, vigor, and persistence of individual actions. Despite these different definitions, Chartered Management Institute (CMI) presents the most comprehensive definition that describes motivation as “the creation of stimuli, incentives, and working environment that enables people to perform to the best of their abilities” (Cartwright 2002, p. 67). The institute goes further to explore the driver of motivation as the desire to give human resources their core demands within the job specifications, thereby improving productivity, quality, and service delivery.

Characteristics of motivation

As described by CMI, motivation remains under the sole control of workers, and, therefore, is considered intentional. Similarly, motivation harbours two components namely – arousal and direction. Arousal defines the drives or factors that make individuals feel motivated while direction, also known as choice of behaviour, describes the power of an individual to develop certain behaviours. Even though motivation and behaviour are independent and different phenomena from workers’ performances, they influence the actions and forces that define the trends on individual behavioural trends within the work setting (Latham 2007, p. 28).

Theories of motivation

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory

In developing this theory, Abraham Maslow relied on the basic proposition that individuals hold ever-desiring characteristics. Satisfaction of one need leads to the desire to satisfy a relatively superior need. Due to this need continuity, Maslow developed an argument that human needs exist in a series of levels depending on the previously satisfied need. Even though he developed an eight-tier level in the satisfaction of human desires, the hierarchy exists on five major levels with psychological or basic needs at the lowest level of the pyramid. Above the basic wants exists safety needs, followed by love needs, esteem desires, and final self-actualisation tier in that order. Developed in a pyramid style, the arrangement of the needs often assumes the existing scenario with the largest number of populations across the world taking the wider base of basic needs, and the elites on self-actualisation taking the highest, yet narrowest level of the pyramid (Maslow and Stephens 2000, p. 136).

This theory plays a vital role in defining the role of motivation at the workplaces. For example, a management team may consider entry-level of employees, as those lying within the lowest level of the pyramid may need psychological/basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, water, and sleep. Maslow and Stephens further claim that under the esteem tier, prestige, self-esteem, self-respect, and social status set in as the desires of the employees. Therefore, employers need to factor in social recognition, job titles, high status jobs, and adequate feedback mechanisms within the motivation strategies to keep these types of employees. The self-actualisation group is found at the peak of employment pyramid. Drawing inspiration from growth, advancement, and creativity, this group requires constantly challenging jobs specifications, adequate opportunities for creativity, advancement in the organisation, and proper recognition for their achievements at the workplaces (Kanfer 2008, p. 47). All these different levels of needs and desires necessitate different motivational strategies within an organisation. Therefore, it is imperative for employers to understand the different cadres of employees in order to develop proper tools for their motivation to improve productivity and service delivery (Scheuer 2000, p. 94).

Critique of Maslow’s theory

Different people have different preferences in needs’ satisfaction. Equally, people do not satisfy their needs on a common order, especially the higher-level needs. This implies that not all human needs require work for satisfaction. In essence, employers require adequate understanding of the other satisfiers of human needs, especially on the private and social setting irrespective of the type of behaviours presented at work (Darity 2008, p. 48). Similarly, Maslow fails to explore and develop a vivid time specification between the end of one tier of needs and the desire to move to the next level of needs. Depending on the individual employees’ abilities, developing a motivation culture collectively for a specific job group discriminates against the personal and societal needs of individual employees (Kinicki and Williams 2008, 107).

Individual differences translate to differences in the value on identical needs. For instance, some individuals prefer working in a comparatively safer setting in a bureaucratic employer than a highly paying job with limited job security. Likewise, salaries and remuneration fall within all the tiers of the pyramid despite Maslow’s desires to consider it only at the basic level of needs (Rogelberg 2007, p. 58). Despite all these criticisms and lacunas on Maslow’s theory, it offers the basic understanding of human trends in satisfaction levels at different employment echelons. Clearly, the theory gives management teams a starting point for evaluating the motivating factors within organisations (Hirsch and Hirsch 2004).

McClelland’s Achievement Motivation Theory

This theory draws inspiration from the analysis of the relationship between desire for food and the level to which imagery food dominated thought processes. Notably, understanding this theory revolve around adequate analysis of the motives behind achievement, power, affiliation, and avoidance. Closely related to the Maslow’s theory are the achievement, power, and affiliate motives (Grant 2004, p. 91).

Traits of people with high achievement needs

Preference to moderate task difficulty

In his analysis of the achievement desires among different types of people, McClelland claims that people with high desires for achievement prefer moderate task difficulties as incentives for task achievements. In cases where the task in question is difficult and highly risky, there exists a lower chance of success and satisfaction. Easy and less risky tasks, on the other hand, offer minimal challenges resulting in little satisfaction from success (Thomas 2000, p. 14).

Personalised performance

This group of individuals enjoys personal contribution to success. When engaged in teamwork, little work output is experienced, hence reducing their productivity levels. Talented and skilled people fall under this group, hence creating the intensive focus on individuals’ abilities and efforts as opposed to collective success stories. To this group of people, motivation demands close recognition of personal traits and an individual’s contributions to the service offered to the organisation (Harvard Business School 2003, p. 35).

Demands for precise and clear feedback

Clearly defined feedback mechanisms help this group of individuals evaluate their performance. From these feedback structures, individuals within this group define their output levels in relation to the available resources and job descriptions. While assessing the accomplishment of goals based on the feedback, individuals in this group develop better and creative methods of rectifying their failures and improving on the areas of success. Satisfaction derived from the accomplishment of goals act as the best motivating factor within this group of employees (Miner 2005, 119).


Work motivation remains a vital facet for employers, employees, and scholars in the human resources management department. Motivation within the workforce drives the desire for success, innovation, and creativity in productivity, thus defining the success of an organisation. For example, Thomas Edison’s invention of light bulb, Florence Nightingale’s desire for improved nursing practices, and Benjamin Franklin’s creation of fire and police departments are some of the inventions that came out of motivation at the workplace. Since work motivation elucidates major collective accomplishments in the employment sector, adequate understanding of the drivers of such an important facet of productivity remains vital. The theories discussed above explaining the core underlying factors indicate that there exists a variety of different drivers of employee motivation, which help employers understand the best possible method of motivating their employees to derive the greatest performance levels.


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