Workplace Motivation and the Brain

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

The article presents the findings of an empirical study that identified motivational priorities among a sample of respondents over a five year period of time. The hypothesis was based on current neuroscience research in the area of brain development. Additional theories in the areas of emotional labor, needs-based motivation, humanism and transpersonal psychology are discussed. The study provided evidence to support a developmental model of work life development. The author concludes with suggestions for practicing managers based on the findings of the study.


Human motivation concepts are certainly important for understanding the dynamics of workers' attitudes. Attitudes have to do with the willingness of workers to perform tasks, duties and responsibilities, which require them to expend energy (Tesone, 2005). Certain enterprises, such as the hospitality and health care sectors of service-based industries consist of workers who interact as hosts with visiting guests or patients. These customers have come to expect employees to display certain hospitable behaviors that include emotional expressions during service encounters (Ashforth and Humphrey, 1994). This is not the case with assembly line workers and others affiliated with manufacturing or distribution enterprises (Krebs, 2005).

This article reports the findings of an empirical study that identified motivational priorities among a sample of respondents (n=567) over a period of five years. Participants in the study were graduate and undergraduate business and hospitality management students who were either current practitioners or individuals with declared intentions to enter these service-based industries. The article provides a progressive review of the literature to establish the theoretical foundation of the study. Next, it provides a description of the study and its findings. Finally, the article provides suggestions for practicing managers based on the implications of the study.

Emotional Labor

Most positions in hospitality and health care organizations require workers to expend both physical and emotional energy in the course of performing job functions. These employment scenarios led earlier scholars to engage in an area of research called 'emotional labor' in order to investigate concepts related to the management of emotional displays through normative behavior in organizations (Hoschild, 1983). It has been anecdotally noted that some service industry managers believe in hiring for 'attitude' and training for knowledge and skills. Researchers in the field of emotional labor seem to focus on attitudinal factors from the standpoint of employee recruitment, selection, organizational policies, and incentives (Ekman and Friesen, 1975; Goffman, 1959; Rafaeli and Sutton, 1987). Certain investigations have placed emphasis on relationships between internal mental states and displayed emotional behaviors with mixed results, similar to earlier work in the field of cognitive consonance/dissonance (Morris and Feldman, 1996; Watson and Clark, 1984; Wharton, 1983). Other attitudinal studies presented findings concerning positive and negative 'affective responses' to emotional labor expectations within organizations (Eisenberger, Fasolo and Davis-LaMastro, 1990; Eisenberger, Armeli, Rexwinkel, Lynch, and Rhoades, 2001; Shore and Wayne, 1993; Watson, Clark and Telegen, 1988; Weiss and Cropanzano, 1996). Still other investigations considered 'coping' strategies that were reported by workers who experienced states of emotional dissonance in business enterprises (Aldwin, 1994; Lazarus and Launier, 1978; Moos and Billings, 1982; Pearlin and Schooter, 1978; Snyder and Dinoff, 1999). It would seem that one major contribution of the emotional labor perspective is the acknowledgement that workers are emotive beings.

Emotions and Organizational Behavior

Studies from the field of emotional labor seemed to foster interest among organizational behavior (OB) researchers to pursue broader investigations concerning the emotional aspects of people in organizations (Ashforth and Humphrey, 1995). …


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