Organizational behavior includes the study of behavior in the work environment. One topic of interest to managers and researchers is work motivation. Attempts to categorize work motivation theories fails because there is no single all-purpose theory that explains all the factors involved in creating a working theory to include self-motivation, external motivation, and the social aspects of human behavior. This is why it is so important to study motivation as it applies to the work environment.



Motivation: Set of forces that cause behavior that is goal-directed.

Model of Motivation:

Need Þ Drive Þ Behavior Þ Goal

Ý ß Need/Drive Reduction Ü

An internal state of deprivation (such as not eating for six or more hours) results in a drop in blood sugar (need). This creates a psychological interpretation of the need (e.g., hunger) or a "drive" causing an organism to focus its behavior on obtaining only the goal that satisfies the need (e.g., food!). After eating, the need is eliminated and the drive is reduced (at least for the time being).

Originally, motivation theorists studied physiological or internal reasons for motivation (hunger, thirst, sexual desire, etc.). Later they emphasized how behavior could be externally motivated through the creation of needs created by an appealing or available goal (e.g., an attractive member of the opposite sex).

Later motivation theorists (associated with the humanistic movement) distinguished motivation common to animals and humans (based largely on needs related to survival) from motivation unique to humans (for psychological growth and fulfillment). Psychological "needs" are considered to be the product of experience rather than genetic or biological factors, and are not necessary for survival in the sense of subsistence.

Basic Characteristics of Work Motivation

Work Motivation: The psychological forces that determine the direction of a person's behavior in an organization, a person's level of effort, and a person's level of persistence.

(Keep in mind that motivation determines what behaviors workers choose to perform, how hard they work, and how persistent they are in the face of difficulties.)


Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsically Motivated Work Behavior: Behavior that is performed for its own sake (or motivated by internal "needs").

Extrinsically Motivated Work Behavior: Behavior that is performed to acquire material or social rewards or to avoid punishment (or motivated to obtain or avoid some "goal").

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motives

Intrinsic Motives


Extrinsic Motives



The need theories are the first three theories of motivation that will be considered in this section. They specify the needs that people have and the way they contribute to motivation and thus affecting job performance. These needs include psychological and physiological wants and desires that people need to satisfy in order to achieve their goals.


Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Need theories are concerned with what factors motivate workers. The opposites of the need theories are the process theories, which deal with how different factors cause workers to become motivated. A manager can use these two theories, together, to motivate their workers.

Back in the 60’s, Abraham Maslow struck a responsive chord with the compelling idea that human growth and development needs form a predictable hierarchy: First a layer of survival issues, then a layer of security matters, and so on through a series of increasingly complex human needs. Each layer in the hierarchy builds on the previous, and all of them together form a triangle shape, with "self-actualization" as the final layer—the top of the hierarchy, the tip of the triangle.

Before Abraham Maslow, the psychological world was awash in behaviorism and psychoanalysis. Maslow changed all this by popularizing psychological humanism. Famous people like Abraham Lincoln were subjects of study instead of people with broken brains. One of Maslow's most important contributions to psychology was his theory of human needs, developed in the 1970's. This theory explained that human needs are hierarchical in nature.

Maslow, a humanistic psychologist, believed that people are not merely controlled by mechanical forces (the stimuli and reinforcement forces of behaviorism) or unconscious instinctual impulses of psychoanalysis. Maslow focused on human potential, believing the humans strive to reach the highest levels of their capabilities. People seek the frontiers of creativity, and strive to reach the highest levels of consciousness and wisdom. People at this level were labeled by other psychologists as "fully functioning" or possessing a "healthy personality". Maslow called these people "self-actualizing" persons.

Maslow set up a hierarchical theory of needs in which all the basic needs are at the bottom, and the needs concerned with man's highest potential are at the top. The hierarchic theory is often represented as a pyramid, with the larger, lower levels representing the lower needs, and the upper point representing the need for self-actualization. Each level of the pyramid is dependent on the previous level. For example, a person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied.

Physiological Needs. These needs are biological, and consist of the needs for oxygen, food, water, and a relatively constant body temperature. These needs are the strongest because if deprived, the person would die.

Safety Needs. Except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting), adults do not experience their security needs. Children, however often display signs of insecurity and their need to be safe.

Love, Affection and Belongingness Needs. People have needs to escape feelings of loneliness and alienation and give (and receive) love, affection and the sense of belonging.

Esteem Needs. People need a stable, firmly based, high level of self-respect, and respect from others in order to feel satisfied, self confident and valuable. If these needs are not met, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.

Self-actualization Needs. Maslow describes self-actualization as a person's need to be and do that which the person was born to do. It is his "calling". "A musician must make music, an artist must paint, and a poet must write." If these needs are not met, the person feels restlessness, on edge, tense, and lacking something. Lower needs may also produce a restless feeling, but here is it much easier to find the cause. If a person is hungry, unsafe, not loved or accepted, or lacking self-esteem the cause is apparent. It is not always clear what a person wants when there is a need for self-actualization.

Maslow believes that the only reason that people would not move through the needs to self-actualization is because of the hindrances placed in their way by society. For example, education can be a hindrance, or can promote personal growth. Maslow indicated that educational process could take some of the steps listed below to promote personal growth:

Alderfer’s ERG Theory

Clayton Alderfer developed another need theory that streamlines Maslow’s. Alderfer does not disagree with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs completely. He suggests that as more concrete needs are satisfied, less concrete need become more important. Instead of the five deeds that Maslow believes should be satisfied, Alderfer says there are only three important needs: existence, relatedness, and growth.

Clayton Alderfer’s ERG theory differs from Maslow’s theory in three respects.

First, the theory collapses Maslow’s five need categories into three.

1. Existence needs are desires for physiological and material well being.

2. Relatedness needs are desires for satisfying interpersonal relationships.

3. Growth needs are desires for continued personal growth and development.

Second, whereas Maslow’s theory argues that individuals move up the hierarchy as a result of the satisfaction of lower order needs. ERG theory includes a unique frustration - regression component. This suggests that an already satisfied need can become activated when a higher need cannot be satisfied. Thus, if a person is continually frustrated in his or her attempts to satisfy growth needs, relatedness needs can again surface as key motivators. ERG theory offers a more flexible approach to understanding human needs than does Maslow’s strict hierarchy.


There are some differences between the ERG theory and the hierarchy of needs theory. For one, the ERG theory does not believe in levels of needs. A lower level need does not have to be gratified. This theory accounts for a variety of individual differences, which would cause a worker to satisfy their need at hand, whether or not a previous need has been satisfied. The second difference is that if a more important need is not gratified, the desire to gratify a lesser need will increase. However, the frustration of higher-order needs might lead workers to regress to a more concrete need category. The two major motivational premises that the ERG theory gives are: the more lower-level needs are gratified, the more higher-level need satisfaction is desired; the less higher-level needs are gratified, the more lower-level need satisfaction is desired.

McClelland’s Theory of Needs

In the late 1940s, psychologist David I. McClelland and his coworkers began experimenting with the Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) as a way of measuring human needs. The TAT is a projective technique that asks people to view pictures and write stories about what they see. McClelland identified three themes on such TAT stories, with each corresponding to an underlying need that he believes is important for understanding individual behavior. These needs include:

The Preferences for persons high in needs for achievement, affiliation, and power include:

People having these needs have certain ways of dealing with their jobs. People who are high in the need for achievement tend to be mostly concerned with performing better than others perform. They usually are more innovative and prefer long-term goal involvement. People with high need for affiliation are more concerned with establishing interpersonal relationships with other people. They tend to communicate more frequently. Finally, people with a high need for power wish to make an impression or influence others. They are very concerned with personal prestige. Therefore, McClelland believes that managers can motivate workers by knowing what kind of needs they have and provide them with a job that matches that need.

A person’s behavior is not determined by needs alone. A person’s values, habits, skills, and environmental opportunities are also factors. McClelland says that there is not a one-to-one correspondence between needs and behavior.

Research Support for Need Theories

Finding people need and fulfilling have proven to be a hard job. In addition, the need theories are not the easiest ones to test. They are hard to predict. However, for a better understand, we will discuss the conclusions about their usefulness. There are two important hypotheses. First, the five main need categories that Maslow proposes. Those five categories are physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization. Maslow points out that the hierarchy is dynamic; the dominant need is always shifting. For example, the musician may be lost in the self-actualization of playing music, but eventually becomes tired and hungry so he or she has to stop. Moreover, a single behavior may combine several levels. Such as eating dinner is both physiological and social. The hierarchy does not exist by itself, but is affected by the situation and the general culture. Satisfaction is relative. Finally, he notes that a satisfied need no longer motivates. Like a hungry man may be desperate for food, but once he eats a good meal, the promise of good no longer motivates him. Some have noted that Maslow’s hierarchy follows the life cycle. A newborn baby’s needs are almost entirely physiological. As the baby grows it needs safety, then love. Toddlers are eager for social interaction. Teenagers are anxious about social needs, young adults are concerned with esteem and only more mature people transcend the first four levels to spend much time self-actualizing. These recent finding gives some roundabout encouragement for the compressed need hierarchy found in Alderfer’s ERG theory. Several tests indicate fairly good support for many of the predictions generated by the theory, including expected changes in need strength.

Alderfer’s ERG theory allows for frustration regression, addresses concerns of hierarchical nature of needs and existence. The flexibility of ERG theory depicts people’s need structure better than Maslow’s theory, which is much more difficult to understand.

McClelland’s need theory has created many predictions about many aspects of human motivation. Recently, a researcher found that American males with high in achievement come more often from the middle class than from the lower or upper class. They have better memory for incomplete tasks and more apt to volunteer as subjects for psychological experiments. They are more active in college and community activities, choose experts over friends as working partners and more resistant to social pressure. They also cannot give accurate reports of what their "inner concern" with achievement is. Therefore, it might be assumed that such subjects – the "highs" – would always do better at any kind of task under any circumstances. Other research has suggested that appealing for cooperation leads those in the group who have strong in affiliation to work harder, rather than those with high in achievement.

Managerial Implications of Need Theories

Intrinsically motivated behaviors are behaviors, which a person engages in to feel competent and self-determining. The primary effects, therefore, are in the tissues of the central nervous system rather than in non-nervous-system tissues. Intrinsically motivated behaviors will be of two general kinds. When there are no stimulation people will seek it. A person who gets no stimulation will not feel competent and self-determining. He will probably feel "blah." Therefore, he seeks out the opportunity to behave in ways that allow him to feel competent and self-determining. He will seek out challenge. The other general kind of intrinsically motivated behavior involves conquering challenges or reducing incongruity. Only when a person is able to reduce incongruity, and only when a person is able to conquer the challenges which he encounters or creates, will he feel competent and self-determining. Many activities are intrinsically motivated. People spend large amounts of time solving puzzles, painting pictures, and engaging in other play activities for which there is no external reward. They are also intrinsically motivated to do challenging work, which requires resourcefulness and creativity. The rewards for these activities are mediated within the individual. He engages in the activities not because they lead him to an external reward but rather because they bring about certain kinds of internal states which he finds rewarding.


Expectancy Theory

A process theory about work motivation that focuses on how workers make choices among alternative behaviors and levels of effort.

Expectancy Theory - Key Terms

Valence: the desirability of an outcome or set of outcomes (e.g., pay, recognition, stress, etc.) to an individual.

Instrumentality: a perception about the extent to which performance of one or more behaviors will lead to the attainment of a particular outcome.

Expectancy: a perception about the extent to which effort will result in a certain level of performance.

Expectancy Theory Formula

Motivation = Expectancy X Instrumentality X Valence

Expectancy: is measured from zero to one

Instrumentality: is measured from -1 to one

Valence: is the sum of the positive and negative outcomes of working The Combined Effect of Valence, Instrumentality, and Expectancy In order for workers to be motivated to perform desired behaviors at a high level.

Valence: must be high (positive)

Instrumentality: must be high (positive)

Expectancy: must be high. If any component is zero, what will a person's level person's motivation be?


Determine what outcomes your subordinates’ desire. More specifically, identify outcomes that have high positive valence for your subordinates in order to motivate them to perform at a high level. Clearly, communicate what performance levels must be obtained for them to receive highly valued (positive valence) outcomes.

Once you have identified desired outcomes, make sure that you have control over them and can give them to subordinates or take them away when warranted. Let subordinates know that obtaining their desired outcomes depends on their performing at a high level (raise instrumentalities). Administer the high valence outcomes only when subordinates perform at a high level (or engage in desired organizational behaviors). Do whatever you can to encourage workers to have high expectancies: Express confidence in subordinates' abilities, let them know that others like themselves have been able to perform at a high level, and give them guidance in terms of how to perform at a high level. Periodically assess workers' beliefs concerning expectancies and instrumentalities and their valences for different outcomes by directly asking them or administering a survey. Using these assessments, make different outcomes available to workers, and clarify instrumentalities, or boost expectancies when necessary.

Inputs and Outcomes

Inputs: are the contributions that workers make to their jobs and organizations.

Outcomes: are the rewards and other satisfactions that they receive from their work. Outcomes may be intrinsic or extrinsic.

Equity Comparisons

Workers compare their situation (ratio of outcomes to inputs) to coworkers to determine whether they are being treated equitably. Workers usually do not have all information necessary to make an objective comparison. This is not necessary for the theory to work. It is the perception of equity that determines someone's level of motivation.

Positive inequity: your outcomes are greater for the same inputs, or your outcomes are the same for lesser inputs, as compared to a colleague.

Consequences: you feel guilty, you may work harder, convince yourself you deserve the extra whatever, or select a different colleague with whom to compare yourself.

Negative inequity: your outcomes are lesser for the same inputs or your outcomes are the same for greater inputs, as compared to a colleague.

Consequences: you feel angry, you may work less hard or ask for a raise, you may try to convince yourself that your coworker deserves her outcomes, or you may quit as soon as you can.

Positive inequity tends to result in self-justification (I deserve more stuff) not necessarily more work, whereas negative inequity often leads to poorer performance and turnover.

Ways to Restore Equity


Because inputs are likely to vary across workers, outcomes should also vary. Do not give all workers at a given level or holding the same job title the same level of outcomes unless their inputs are identical. Distribute outcomes to workers based on their inputs to their jobs and the organization. Because underpayment inequity or overpayment inequity can have negative organizational consequences, strive to maintain equity for maximum motivation. Because it is perception of equity or inequity that drives motivation, frequently monitor and assess workers' perceptions about relevant outcomes and inputs.

Realize that failure to recognize above-average levels of inputs has major motivational implications. In other words, openness and honesty about job qualifications and criteria for salaries, raises, and promotions is always the best policy.

Work Improvement Plans

Use a Work Improvement Plan when you have identified a performance problem and are looking for ways to improve the performance of an employee. The Work Improvement Plan plays an integral role in correcting performance discrepancies. It is a tool to monitor and measure the deficient work products, processes and/or behaviors of a particular employee in an effort to improve performance or modify behavior.

Key Items to Remember:






Untitled August 1998

Sources of Motivation and Motivational Inducement Systems March 1996

Work Improvement Plans May 1997

Deci, Edward. Intrinsic Motivation. Plenum Press: New York. 1996.

Fisher, Roger. Motivation in Organization.

Huitt, William. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.`whuitt/psy702/regsys/maslow.htm

Stoner, Yetton. Motivation.

Ury, William. Hierarchy of Needs.