A Deep Dive Into Workplace Motivation

What is Human Motivation?

  • Motivation is the reason for the actions, desires and goals of individuals which directs their behavior and causes individuals to want to repeat a behavior. 
  • Motivation is dynamic internal state in which it was influenced by personal and social factors. 
  • Motivation has impact on behavior rather than job performance.  Table shows the terminology related to human motivation

Motivation may be clustered into three categories:

  • Personality-based perspectives
  • Cognitive/choice decision approaches
  • Goal-self-regulation perspectives

From personality-based perspectives, motivation has impact on lasting personal characteristics in which it effects goal choice and striving. Personality-based work motivation is related to theories of personality such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. Behavior in the workplace is determined by the needs of persons and personality of individuals.

Cognitive/choice decision perspectives for work motivation explains two determinants of choice and action: expectations and subjective valuations of the consequences related to each alternative. This perspective included individual differences in personality and self-regulation that may impact on motivational processes.

Goal self-regulation perspectives of work motivation explains the factors that impact on goals and work behavior. Here, the main idea is that goals set determines high performance in which intention related goals are major determinant of task-related motivation. The effectiveness of goal setting is determined by the task demands, self-efficacy, task orientation and goal commitment in which those influence effective goal striving and performance (Wiley, 1997).

Theories Provide a Basic Understanding of What Motivates Employees

Five theories provided perspectives for work motivation:

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory
  2. Alderfer’s ERG Theory
  3. Reinforcement Theory
  4. David McClelland’s Socially Acquired Needs Theory
  5. Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory

According to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory, five hierarchy of needs existed: (1) physiological needs are basic issues of survival such as salary, (2) security needs are stable environmental issues such as safe work environment, (3) belongingness needs are related to social acceptance in which it demonstrates cooperation on the job, (4) esteem needs are related to self-image in which it reflects recognition issues such as position, (5) selfactualization needs are achievement issues including autonomy at the workplace. These needs affect goal choice and striving at the workplace (Stum, 2001). 

Alderfer’s ERG Theory reduces number of needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory. Three levels of needs proposed by Alderfer are (1) existence needs of survival, (2) relatedness needs which consisted of social and external esteem such as recognition and status from others, and (3) growth needs which are internal facets of ego fulfillment such as development of autonomy and success. By focusing on overall needs in ERG model, managers may successfully motivate employees and could get positive benefit from this situation (Arnolds & Boshoff, 2002).

Reinforcement Theory analyses behavior and its consequences in which it focuses on changing the job-related behaviors of employees by means of immediate rewards or punishment. Reinforcement is described as anything that cause inhibition or repetition in behavior. Positive reinforcement supports rewarding consequence of following behavior. For instance, an employee who arrived the workplace on time is shown to praise will increase the likelihood of its good behavior to repeat again. On the other hand, a negative reinforcement will be helping to removal of unwanted behavior in which an employee will learn not to do right thing by avoiding unpleasant conditions. Punishment is the third tool in the reinforcement theory in which it ranged from verbal reprimands to firing. Finally, in extinction is the withdrawal of positive reward in which the idea of not to repeat the behavior again is imposed to the employees (Daft & Marcic, 2016).

According to David McClelland’s Socially Acquired Needs Theory, specific needs of individuals are acquired over time and life experiences shape these needs. The affiliation, achievement and power impact motivation and effectiveness of people. For instance, higher goals are set by the employees with a high need for achievement in comparison to employees with a low need for achievement (McClelland, 1965).

On the other hand, Hezberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory suggested that motivation is included in two factors: (1) job-related factors in which in the absence of them dissatisfaction occurs. These factors are named as hygiene factors which prevents employee from dissatisfaction such as pay, status, interpersonal relations, company policies and (2) jobrelated motivational factors named as satisfiers in which these motivators encourage growth such as recognition, sense of achievement, meaningfulness of work (DeShields Jr, Kara, & Kaynak, 2005). 

Managers can utilize mentioned theories to encourage their employees, increase motivation and efficiency occurring at the workplace. The theories above provided profound impact for organizations and career development.

Theories Provide Basic Understanding of What Motivates Employees
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory
Alderfer’s ERG Theory
Reinforcement Theory
David McClelland’s Socially Acquired Needs Theory
Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene Theory

What Motivates Employees?

If a company know how to motivate employee to work, then they will perform well at the workplace (Kovach, 1987). A survey done by Herzberg targeting US workers also found that 80% of the factors which satisfies job opportunities result in from the intrinsic elements of the job including achievement, recognition and the work (Herzberg, 1987). Full appreciation is another contributor in which employees are motivated.  

Employment Status

Part-timers demonstrated more value on good working conditions whereas full-timers placed more value on personal loyalty to employees as motivational factors. 


When gendering conditions are considered, women demonstrated greater importance on appreciation for work done. In addition, women also demonstrated more value on good working conditions. On the other hand, males showed more emphasis on interesting work. 

Age Group

Age groups except the 55 and over age group were motivated by good wages indicating that good pay is an important contributor.


Lower and middle-income groups differed significantly in the motivation of good physical working conditions. Working conditions are motivated middle-incomers less in comparaison to low-income group. 

As a result, five factors motivated employees in their jobs (Wiley, 1997):

  1. Good wages
  2. Full appreciation for work done
  3. Job security
  4. Interesting work
  5. Growth in the organization

Chart shows factors motivates employee in their jobs

How to Manage Employee Needs?

Spitzer’s list of human desires which was rooted from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs demonstrated that everyday needs and wants as (1) Employees strive to be active and engaged and to enjoy life, (2) Individuals wants ownerships, (3) Employees have desire for power, (4) Employees seek for affiliation, (5) The desire for competence is important for employees, (6)

Employees have desire for achievement, (7) Employees show desire for recognition (Spitzer,

1995). Therefore, leaders must understand how to coordinate and manage of employees needs in order to reach company goals. According to Nelson (1996) ten things that should be considered by managers in terms of motivating individuals:

  1. Personally thank employees when they performed a good job. 
  2. Take time to meet them regularly and listen employees as they want.
  3. Show off specific feed-backs about the performance of individual, or department.
  4. Have an effort to make the working environment open, fun and trusting.
  5. Provide information about the company’s strategy for the person to be fit in overall plan.
  6. Involve employees in decisions.
  7. Provide ownership to employees in relate to their work.
  8. Recognize, promote and reward employees so that they can improve themselves.
  9. Provide chances to employees to grow and learn new skills. 
  10. Celebrate success of company by building strong relationships with employees (Nelson, 1996).

More Than Motivation: Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation


Arnolds, C. A., & Boshoff, C. (2002). Compensation, esteem valence and job performance: an empirical assessment of Alderfer’s ERG theory. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 13(4), 697–719.

Daft, R. L., & Marcic, D. (2016). Understanding management. Nelson Education.

DeShields Jr, O. W., Kara, A., & Kaynak, E. (2005). Determinants of business student satisfaction and retention in higher education: applying Herzberg’s two-factor theory.

International Journal of Educational Management, 19(2), 128–139.

Herzberg, F. (1987). Workers’ needs: the same around the world. Industry Week, 21(9), 29–


Kovach, K. A. (1987). What motivates employees? Workers and supervisors give different answers. Business Horizons, 30(5), 58–65.

McClelland, D. C. (1965). Toward a theory of motive acquisition. American Psychologist, 20(5), 321.

Nelson, B. (1996). Dump the cash, load on the praise. PERSONNEL JOURNAL-BALTIMORE THEN COSTA MESA-, 75, 65–70.

Spitzer, D. R. (1995). SuperMotivation: A blueprint for energizing your organization from top to bottom. AMACOM Div American Mgmt Assn.

Stum, D. L. (2001). Maslow revisited: Building the employee commitment pyramid. Strategy & Leadership, 29(4), 4–9.

Wiley, C. (1997). What motivates employees according to over 40 years of motivation surveys. International Journal of Manpower, 18(3), 263–280.

Caglar Cil hakkında
Türkiye'nin kendimce en güzel şehirlerinden birinde, Denizli'de, dünyaya geldim. Liseyi Denizli Anadolu Lisesi'nde okudum. İzmir Yüksek Teknoloji Enstitüsü (İYTE) Moleküler Biyoloji ve Genetik mezunuyum. Glasgow Üniversitesi'nde İmmunoloji ve Enflamatuvar Hastalıklar üzerine yüksek lisansımı burslu olarak yaptım. Lisans hayatım boyunca Lodz Üniversitesi, Göteborg Üniversitesi ve Toronto Üniversitesi'nde araştırmalara katıldım. Bu çalışmalar sonucunda Cardiovascular Research ve Journal of Dental Research'te yayınlanan çalışmalarımız var. Öykü yazmayı seviyorum. Öykü Fanzin'de yayınlanan öyküm ve İYTE'de almış olduğum bir "birincilik" bir de "ikincilik" ödülüm var. Almanca öğreniyorum, İngilizce konuşabiliyorum, keman çalmayı öğreniyorum. Amacım Türkiye okuyucusuna bilimi sevdirmek, zaman buldukça eğlencesine bilimsel haberleri paylaşmak.

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