Employee Motivation

By Creech, Regina | Management Quarterly, Summer 1995 | Go to article overview

Employee Motivation


Creech, Regina, Management Quarterly


Psychologists define motivation as "that which gives impetus to our behavior by arousing, sustaining, and directing it toward the attainment of goals" (Wortman and Loftus, 353). Because I supervise five individuals on a full-time basis and twenty people in the absence of my manager, I am particularly interested in ways to motivate employees. The purpose of this article is to gain knowledge, so that I might assist others in performing their job duties to the best of their ability while maintaining their quality of work life.

The work of Abraham Maslow helps explain why the process of motivation is not a simple process that can be administered externally. Rather, according to Maslow, it is the result of needs within everyone that make people act the way they do. Under his hierarchy theory, people are first motivated by the desire to secure first-level needs of food and shelter for survival. After that, security and safety become major motivators, followed by assimilation into social groups where ego needs can be satisfied to the final step of self-actualization (Personnel, 3411-3412).

Examination of how this hierarchy fits into present-day society will explain why the tools of motivation have been forced to change from early industrial times. Employees today have basically satisfied their first- and second-level needs as assured levels of income and purchasing power have basically risen above survival requirements. For this reason, pay alone is no longer the universal motivator. Now the workforce is more educated and able to handle creative, mental work. In fact, the employees demand it in order to satisfy the upper-level needs they find themselves at (Personnel 3412).

So what motivates employees? The "rewards" an employee may seek from the employment relationship can have varying effects on attitude and performance. In one instance, they can actually motivate the worker to work better in an effort to achieve personal and company goals if they are assured to be realized through better performance. On the other hand, the "reward" that an employee receives may just tend to avoid dissatisfaction by maintaining an emotional status quo with little or no motivational impact on the employee to perform better. Under the classifications developed by Frederick Herzberg, the former set of influences is called motivators while the latter set of influences are labeled dissatisfiers (Personnel 3406).

Dissatisfiers refer to matters that have been used by management in attempts to keep employees happy and, to some extent, avoid unionism. They relate mainly to an employee's maintenance and hygiene needs by providing a work situation that allows employees to perform in as much comfort as possible. Dissatisfiers include pay, physical plant conditions, supervisory behavior, supplemental benefits, company policy and administration, fairness of work rule enforcement, vacations and other matters that are basically peripheral to the actual job of employees. While these job aspects can have some motivational value, it will be of short duration (Personnel 3406).

Motivators, on the other hand, are more closely related to the work an employee does and usually function independently of hygiene factors. The aspects of motivational factors are usually a result of the feedback generated between the employee and the job. According to M. Scott Myers, motivational factors can be grouped into categories of growth, achievement, responsibility, and recognition (Personnel 3406).

Growth refers to the mental abilities of employees. Mental growth should not be limited to the young rising stars within the organization itself. Older employees may still be able to learn new aspects of their job that can make them work smarter. Also, promotion should not be viewed as the only means of growth (though often it is the most tangible), as many employees do not have to move out of their current jobs in order to experience mental enrichment on the job. …

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