Top 4 Theories of Motivation Explained

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The study of motivation theories has become increasingly significant for both researchers and managers to understand and influence individual and organizational behavior. There are two streams in which the approaches to motivation may be classified namely the monistic approach and the pluralistic approach.

Monistic approaches assume that an individual’s behavior is motivated, directed, and sustained by factors within him that increase his monetary rewards.

Pluralistic approach assume that an individual are driven by a variety of needs. An individual’s decision making and behavior are heavily emphasized in this approach. An individual’s motivation is influenced by four groups of factors, namely: influences operating within the individual; influences operating within the organization; job characteristics; and influences operating within the organization.

Many theories of motivation have been developed to assist managers at various levels in keeping a motivated workforce by incorporating a variety of approaches to motivation. The most important theories are

  1. Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory
  2. Douglas Mcgregor’s Theory X and Theory Y
  3. Herzberg‘s Two Factor Theory
  4. McClelland‘s Achievement Theory

Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory

There exists a hierarchy of needs for all individuals, so it is necessary to satisfy the basic or lower needs before satisfying the higher needs. There are five layers of needs in this hierarchy: physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization. As each need is met, the next level becomes relevant for the individual.

Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory

Physiological Needs: A person’s physiological needs are based on his or her physiology, such as the need for food, water, and air.

Safety or Security Needs: Physical and economic security are basic needs that may motivate a person to choose a particular job. The individual would choose a job where layoffs are unlikely.

Social Needs: Once an individual has satisfied the above basic needs, social needs become important. As a result, he finds satisfaction in the company of his fellow humans, and feels deprivation when he is left alone. A person seeks meaningful associations with colleagues in the organization as social needs become increasingly prevalent.

Esteem or Ego Needs: Having met one’s social needs, an individual needs others to respect and recognize the individual’s worth, resulting in an expression of dominance and power. Self-respect and worthiness are the components of self-esteem.

Self Actualization or Self Fulfillment Needs: A person’s self-fulfillment/ actualization is the act of fulfilling oneself and realizing one’s abilities to the fullest extent possible. In order to be happy as a writer, he must write and continue to write until he is satisfied with the results. The highest level of need is met after the lower levels are met.

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Douglas Mcgregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

A manager’s style of managing his subordinates is mainly determined by his assumptions about human behavior. Theory X is a negative, traditional, and autocratic approach to managing his subordinates, whereas theory Y is a positive, participatory, and democratic approach. These two theories are based on contrasting assumptions about human behaviour.

Theory X

Theory X is based on the following assumptions.

  • That employees dislike work,
  • Lack ambition,
  • Avoid responsibility,
  • And must be directed,
  • Resist change,
  • Are self centered and
  • Coerced to perform.
  • Presents a negative view of human nature.

Theory Y

Theory Y is based on the following assumptions.

  • Employees like work,
  • Seek responsibility,
  • Are capable of making decisions,
  • Exercises imagination and creativity,
  • Exercises self-direction and self-control when committed to a goal.

Difference between theory X and theory Y

Theory XTheory Y
Theory X assumes human beings inherently dislike work and are dissatisfied towards work.Theory Y assumes that work is as natural as play or rest.
Theory X emphasizes that people do not have ambition and they shrink responsibility.Theory Y assumes just reverse. Given proper conditions, people have ambitions and accept responsibility.
Theory X assumes that people in general have little capacity for creativity.According to Theory Y, the creativity is widely distributed in the population.
According to Theory X, people lack self motivation and require be externally controlling and closely supervising in order to get maximum output.In Theory Y people are self directed and creative and prefer self control.
Theory X emphasizes upon centralization of authority in decision making process.Theory Y emphasizes the decentralization and greater participation in decision making process.

According to this theory, humans are prone to conforming to other people’s perceptions of them, but every individual has his own identity. McGregor supported Theory Y and proposed participatory decision making. People cannot be characterized as good or bad based on their behavior. Employees behave in a certain manner based heavily on other people’s/manager’s perception of him. This theory has a significant effect on his motivation level. The theory emphasizes the role of non-monetary incentives in motivating employees.

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Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory

In an attempt to better understand work motivation, Herzberg’s two factor theory relies on Maslow’s need hierarchy theory. When certain job factors are absent, workers tend to be dissatisfied. However, these same factors do not motivate them. They serve merely as a means of curbing absenteeism and employee turnover. Herzberg regarded these factors as hygiene or maintenance factors because they contribute to maintaining job satisfaction.

There are many factors to consider, including company policy and administration, supervision, relationship with supervisors, peer relationships, subordinate relationships, salary, job security, personal life, good working conditions, and status. When factors are adequate, people won’t be dissatisfied. These factors are also called extrinsic factors and their non-compliance is associated with dissatisfaction.

A second set of factors related to job satisfaction is intrinsic factors. Herzberg referred to these factors as motivators. Opportunities include the chance to accomplish something new, recognition for noteworthy achievements, advancement opportunities, opportunities to grow and develop on the job, opportunities for increased responsibility, and the job itself. In the absence of fulfilling these factors, dissatisfaction does not occur.

In Herzberg’s view, these job factors do not act solely because of themselves but also because of the individual’s personality, which might be either a “motivation seeker” or a “maintenance seeker.” An individual who seeks motivation is inert to environment factors and is affected by the nature of the job. A maintenance seeker is one who is motivated by the nature of the environment and has little influence on the quality of his own assignment.

Based on this theory, a person can be motivated to do better if he is given more responsibility, a positive approach. In order to improve the output of the system, feedback is important. This theory was developed based on data from a small sample of 200 accountants and engineers, so its generalizability is questionable.

Also Read: 13 Types Of Leadership Explained In Detail

McClelland’s Achievement or Need Theory

According to Harvard psychologist David McClelland, there are three major motivations in workplaces. These motives are:

  1. The Need for Achievement i.e., strives to succeed.
  2. The Need for Affiliation i.e., warm relationship with others.
  3. The Need for Power i.e., controls other people.

McClelland proposed that all motives are acquired except pleasure and avoiding pain. He argued that people acquire these need for achievement, power, and affiliation over time. These needs motivate workers on the job, and managers can recognize these needs and use them in order to motivate employees.

A Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) was used by McClelland to study human needs. In the TAT process, respondents are asked to look at pictures and write about what they see in them. It is then analysed to determine which themes represent different human needs.

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