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Doublas McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Herzberg's Two Factor Theory
Alderfer's ERG Theory
McClelland's Achievement (Goal-setting) Theory
Three Needs Theory
Goal Setting
Vroom's Expectancy Theory
Adam's Equity Theory
Reinforcement Theory
Bibliography and further reading

Everyone wants to know how to motivate employees. Motivate comes from the Latin verb, 'movere', which means to cause movement. Basically, we want to cause our employees to move toward some objective. Psychologically, motivation deals with employees' needs. Unsatisfied needs cause a tension which leads to a drive to satisfy the need. The drive leads to search behaviour and an examination of alternative ways of potentially satisfying the need. The need is either satisfied or frustrated in which case the search behaviour continues.

Doublas McGregor's Theory X and Theory Y


The Theory X and Theory Y of motivation was popularised by Doublas McGregor. According to the Theory X model, managers believed that workers disliked work and were basically lazy. Therefore, they need to be told what to do and how by autocratic managers. Theory Y is the contrast to this theory. According to Theory Y, workers enjoy work and especially crave involvement and meaningful work. Workers want responsibility and thus the correct way to lead is through delegation. While Theory Y is widely believed to be the better operation system, please note that not all workers want responsibility and autonomy. This dichotomy between autocratic and participative leadership, however, permeates the motivation and leadership literature.

As for the other motivational theories, they can best be grouped under the categories content and process theories of motivation.

Content theories of motivation answer the question, "What things motivate people?"

Content theories look for external or extrinsic motivators.

Process theories of motivation answer the question, "How are people motivated?"

Process theories look at internal or intrinsic processes of motivation.

Content Theories

Process Theories

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Vroom's Expectancy Theory

Herzberg's Two Factor Theory

Adams' Equity Theory

McClelland's Achievement Theory

Reinforcement Theory

Alderfer's ERG Theory

Theory X Assumptions:

People inherently dislike work.

People must be coerced or controlled to do work to achieve objectives.

People prefer to be directed

Theory Y Assumptions:

People view work as being as natural as play and rest.

People will exercise self-direction and -control towards achieving objectives they are committed to.

People learn to accept and seek responsibility

(Douglas McGregor, The Human Side of Enterprise, 1960)

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Abraham Maslow was a practising psychologist who noted through his experience that people seemed to have certain categories of needs. In fact, he defined five specific levels of needs, Self-Actualisation, self-esteem, Social, Security and Physical, and said that they were organised in a hierarchy.

Starting with physical needs, people are motivated by anything that assures them of food and shelter. Once these needs are satisfied, they "move up" the hierarchy and become motivated by security issues. At the organisational level, for example, the health benefits or pension plan may be motivational at this level. Once satisfied, the person again moves up the hierarchy to the "social needs" level where good interpersonal relations are motivational. Many of our social needs to belong and feel needed are played out at work where we spend so much of our time. When these needs are met, the individual becomes motivated by self-esteem which considers such things as recognition, opportunity for growth and autonomy. Even the keys to the proverbial executive washroom may be an element of self-esteem as they demonstrate recognition. At the top of the hierarchy, often depicted as a pyramid or ladder, is self-actualisation. At this level, the individual is free from all mundane concerns and may pursue their dreams, become all that they can be. It is doubtful that many of us ever reach this level.

Maslow's theory is the most popular motivational theory ever. It is easy to understand but lacks either a research base or confirmation by other studies. Yet, Maslow's theory does tells us two important things:

  1. That not all people are motivated by the same thing.
  2. That the same person is not always motivated by the same thing since their needs change over time.

These two insights are extremely important to managers.

Herzberg's Two Factor Theory


Also in the early 1950s, Frederick Herzberg, another psychologist, studied motivation among accountants and engineers in the greater Pittsburg area. He and his team asked people to relate critical incidents about when they felt most satisfied and motivated on the job and when they felt most dissatisfied. He found that these questions received two different types of answers. Thus, the two-factor theory was born. One factor Herzberg called hygiene factors. These were things that made people very unhappy when they weren't taken care of but did not motivate them when they were. In other words, hygiene factors, or maintenance factors as Herzberg sometimes called them, prevented dissatisfaction but did not lead to motivation. Hygiene factors include a safe working environment, salary, and satisfactory working relationships with peers and superiors.

Hygiene factors, those whose absence can create job dissatisfaction:

The other factor, Herzberg called motivators. These were the things that, when present, cause motivation, but when absent, cause a lack of motivation--not dissatisfaction. Motivators were such things as the work itself, autonomy, authority, and responsibility. Note that Herzberg's motivators are roughly equivalent to Maslow's "higher order needs" of self-esteem and self-actualisation. Herzberg's hygiene factors are roughly equivalent to Maslow's "lower order needs" of physical, security, and social.

Motivator factors, increase job satisfaction:

Herzberg's theory has been widely studied. It has its own research base and it has held up only moderately well under replication studies. The placement of money as a hygiene factor is particularly controversial since many feel that money is still a good basic motivator.

Herzberg went on to describe a process he calls "job enrichment" which motivators into the job.

Alderfer's ERG Theory


Clayton Alderfer essentially modified Maslow's model by condensing the five levels of needs into three categories:

E = Existence
R = Relatedness
G = Growth

Existence needs are roughly equivalent to Maslow's physical and safety needs; relatedness equates to Maslow's social needs; growth refers to self-esteem and self-actualisation.

Alderfer sees needs as moving back and forth, not just upward in the hierarchy. Because of the recognition of forward movement, i.e. progression from lower needs (existence) to higher needs (growth), Alderfer's model is called a "need progression" theory. Maslow's model does the same. However, where Maslow's model generally portrays motivation as moving in one direction--up--Alderfer feels that we move back and forth among these 3 needs as situation change. Thus, it is possible to regress from being motivated by growth to being motivated by relatedness. This backward or downward movement means that Alderfer's theory is also a "frustration regression" theory.

Results suggest that Alderfer's model more closely approximates reality than Maslow's.

McClelland's Achievement (Goal-setting) Theory


David McClelland looked at motivation from another perspective. McClelland also was a psychologist and he devoted much of his time to studying the need for achievement. He felt that people had either a high need for achievement, affiliation, or power and that this motivation would result in different behaviours in the workplace.

Specifically, McClelland felt that high achievers only made up 10-15% of the population, but that these people were the real high producers in organisations. He found that high achievers had the following characteristics:

  1. They love moderate challenge (They don't like to fail so high challenge or risk is out! Low risk or challenge is boring!)
  2. They seek concrete feedback. They want to know how they are doing and they want to know that you, the supervisor, know how they are doing also.
  3. High achievers want to take personal responsibility for the work. They will be very productive; they are not necessarily good managers.

To determine who is a high achiever McClelland used a clinical test called the TAT for Thematic Apperception Test. It consists of a series of line drawings that allow for multiple interpretation. McClelland felt that high achievement was largely learned in childhood as we modelled ourselves after high achieving adults. He also felt that managers could have influence over encouraging high achievement by urging people to have goals, face challenges, take risks, enjoy personal responsibility, etc.

Three Needs Theory


1. Need for Achievement.

Need for Achievement
Personal responsibility
Moderate risk

2. Need For Power.


3. Need for Affiliation.

Acceptance and Friendship

(David McClelland, The Achieving Society, 1961)

Goal Setting

There has been much research on the usefulness of concrete goals in motivating employees to higher productivity. Studies conclude that employees with challenging, concrete, measurable goals tend to be more productive than those who do not have these goals. Employees also need feedback on how they are doing as they try to attain their goals. The concept of "self-efficacy" also enters here. Self-efficacy refers to one's perception that he or she is able to do a given task. If a person has concrete goals that he or she accepts, believes they have the ability to do the job, and are receiving adequate feedback from their supervisor or through self-monitoring techniques, then you are likely to have a higher degree of motivation than when these variables are not present.

Vroom's Expectancy Theory


Victor Vroom took a different approach to studying motivation. He looked at the internal, cognitive processes that people go through in order to satisfy needs. Basically, Vroom explains that the behaviour we decide to display depends upon what we expect to achieve from that behaviour.

An individual will act in a certain way based on the expectation that the act will be followed by a given outcome and on the attractiveness of that outcome to the individual.

Effort -------> Performance linkage (How hard will I have to work?)

Performance -------> Reward linkage (What is the reward?)

(Victor Vroom, Work and Motivation, 1964)



First Level

Outcome: Performance


Second Level

Outcome: Rewards (Valence)

According to the Expectancy Theory model, the individual effort you are motivated to exert depends on your judgement of how well you can perform (first level) and what you think that performance will earn you (second level outcome. To be more specific:

"Expectancy" is the probability that the level of effort you put in will achieve for you the desired level of performance. E.g., if you work hard, you have 80% expectancy that you will achieve high productivity. Expectancy is a number between 0 and 1.

"Instrumentality" is the probability that performance (first level) will lead to the desired second level outcome or reward. Instrumentality is also measured on a scale of 0 to 1.

"Valence" is the value of the reward or how much you want or do not want the second level outcome. Valence can be measured from -1 to +1. Thus, if a promotion brings with it a move to another city, it may either be very attractive to you (+1) or totally unacceptable (-1). More likely, it is somewhere in between.

Expectancy theory seems quite logical, we have just so much time and we have to decide where we can best put our effort, in other words, where is the biggest payoff? We turn our attention to the things that are most important to us and often to those things we figure we can control--in other words we have a high expectancy of getting results!

Adam's Equity Theory


John Stacy Adams says that motivation comes and goes for the individual employee at least in part by his or her perception of equity in the workplace. Thus, says Adams, the individual compares his or her inputs (skills, experience, time on job, for example) and outputs (job title, benefits, salary, responsibility, for example) with the inputs and outputs of a "referent "person. Depending upon that comparison, the individual concludes that his or her owns input/output ratio is equitable or inequitable.

When inequity is perceived the employee will feel ill at ease and probably try one of two things. First, he may reduce his own inputs ("I'm not working any more overtime!). Secondly, she may increase her own outputs ("I'm taking more of the credit from now on!)

Inequity may arise from faulty perception in which case the manager needs to correct the inaccuracy. If, however, true inequity exists, the manager needs to examine the situation carefully and find a remedy. Inequity is a hot issue in today's workplace.

If the employee perceives inequity, she/he will act to correct the inequity:

 Lower productivity
 Reduced quality
 Increased absenteeism
 Voluntary resignation.

(J. Stacey Adams, 1965)

Reinforcement Theory


Reinforcement theory is based on concepts of how people learn. The expectation of a consequence determines a person's behaviour. One names in this area is B.F. Skinner who made the concept of "behaviour modification" famous. Behaviour modification depends upon various types of reinforcement techniques with the basic belief that you tend to get the behaviour you reinforce.

There are four basic reinforcement techniques as follows:

  1. Positive Reinforcement: A technique used to increase the incidence of a desired behaviour. Telling someone they are doing a good job or giving someone a raise are examples of positive reinforcement.
  2. Negative Reinforcement. Also designed to increase the incidence of a desired behaviour. If someone does something wrong or damaging and the manager jokingly chide him or her. The person will likely be embarrassed into not repeating the action. On the other hand, the person may love the extra attention and continue to misbehave.
  3. Punishment: Designed to decrease the incidence of an undesired behaviour, punishment does not fit in well with today's values and may breed frustration and resentment. Examples of punishment include scolding someone in front of his or her peers or sending someone home from work. Naturally, there are some incidents, which do deserve immediate punishment such as violence in the workplace.
  4. Extinction: This strategy also serves to decrease the incidence of an undesired behaviour. Extinction entails simply ignoring a given behaviour and hoping it will disappear. It is often an appropriate response for a minor behavioural problem.



Empowerment is a key managerial concept in today's workplace. Gone are the days when the autocratic supervisor makes the rules and tells everyone how to do things. For one thing, we have realised that such a system does not make the best use of our valuable human resources. The concept of empowerment delegates much of the traditional management authority to the line employees who are doing the production or service work.

Empowerment fits right in with Herzberg's job enrichment theory. It also relates closely with McClelland's Achievement Theory, and Goal-setting. Empowerment provides the "Motivators" that Herzberg identified. High achievers love the additional challenge and participation. Workers generally want to be empowered and shoulder more decision-making responsibility but when things are going wrong!

Work Teams

As opposed to a group, a "team" is a group whose members must rely on co-operation in order to achieve their goals. One of the hottest topics in the 90s is teamwork. It appears certain that teams, especially self-directed teams, are a growing force in American business. It is therefore going to be imperative that managers know how to create and nurture effective teams. Creating a team organisation requires managers to give up some of their traditional authority. By far the hottest topic regarding teams today is self-managed teams.

Self-Managed Teams

A self-directed or self-managed team is simply a team that is jointly responsible for a whole job or discrete section of a job. Such teams become involved in many non-traditional areas concerning their task, such as dealing with vendors and customers, quality control, decision making, and even hiring new members for the team. In recent years, many corporations have instituted self-directed work teams, including General Motors, General Electric, Xerox, and Colgate Palmolive.

Organisations that employ self-managed teams typically have fewer layers of management, and leaders and supervisors act as coaches or facilitators rather than as planners and controllers. Reward systems tend to be skill based rather than seniority based. Information is widely shared among employees rather than hoarded by top management, and employees are cross-trained to learn all aspects of the team job rather than just a narrow span of individual job duties.

The traditional relationship of boss to subordinates is now gone. The supervisor instead must act in the role of coach to encourage productivity, lead group meetings and decision-making, and recognise good performance.

Benefits of the Team Environment

According to executives whose companies have begun team programs, there are at least seven good reasons for doing so; -

Bibliography and further reading


Bowman, C (1992) ‘Interpreting competitive strategy’ in D Faulkner & G Johnson (eds.) The Challenge of Strategic Management London: Kogan Page Ltd.

Forster, J & M Browne (1996) Principles of Strategic Management Melbourne: Macmillan Education Australia Pty Ltd

Hassard, J & M Parker (1993) Postmodernism and Organisations London: Sage Publications

Baker, Betsy and Beth Sandore. "Motivation in Turbulent Times: In Search of the Epicurean Work Ethic." Journal of Library Administration 14, no. 4 (1991): 37-50.

DeLisi, Peter S. "Lessons from the Steel Axe: Culture, Technology, and Organisational Change." Sloan Management Review 32, no. 1 (autumn 1990): 83-93.

Walton, Richard E. "Promoting Organisational Commitment and Competence." In Up and Running: Integrating Information Technology and the Organisation, 73-90. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1989.

Hingston, Peter (1985) "The Greatest Little Business Book." Hingston, Scotland. ISBN 0 906555 01 9

Liddane, Joe, BA, FCA. Consultant editor. (1987) (Various contributors) "The Manager's Handbook". Sphere Books, London.

Ratzburg, Wilf H. (1999) "Organisational Behaviour." Geocities, Athens.

Sharma, Shikha (1995) "Motivation Theory" Faculty of Information Studies, University of Toronto.

Herzberg, Frederick (1966) "Work and the Nature of Man."

Clayton, Alderfer. "ERG Theory"

Wellins, Byham, and Wilson, (1991) "Empowered Teams" Jossey-Bass Publishers,

Harrison, Lee Hecht (1997) "Beyond Downsizing: Staffing and Workforce Management for the Millennium"