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Psychology of Motivation in the Workplace

Motivation is the force inside a person that brings about persistence to do voluntary work. Employees who are motivated are able to put extra effort for a certain period of time in order to achieve goals which are set. Motivation is an important driver of individual behavior that affects performance because; employees who are motivated work hard all the time with minimum supervision. Organization becomes competitive when the work force is productive and corporate leaders’ ensure that employees are encouraged to work hard all the time to achieve high quality production.

It is hard to get employees who are motivated to work hard because; motivating employees has many challenges due to information technology, globalization and changes that altered relationship in employment, thereby undermining commitment that help employees be more productive. In the past, companies used supervisors who would assess behavior of employees and how they perform. In situations where commitment was low, the boss was there to watch employees as they work. The work of supervisors was reduced when the organizational structure was flattened in order to reduce cost. The people who are employed today have made work place to have different expectations because, they are hardworking and receive rewards and appreciation from whatever they do which make them work tireless and apply their skills and experience for the benefit of organization as a whole. (Glinow, 2008)

Maslow’s Needs Hierarchy Theory

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was developed in the year 1940 by Abraham Maslow. Human beings have been applying this model in their day to day life without criticizing it because; it lives up to the way people predict it. Maslow’s theory of hierarchy of needs integrates many needs which are put into five categories such as: physiological needs which comprises of food, clothing, water, shelter and air and appear at the lower side of hierarchy. Next, we have safety needs where the environment where people live is expected to be secure, safe and stable with no diseases, threat or pain. A sense of belonging consists of affection, love and free communication with other people. Self esteem is obtained through achievements of people at individual level, while social esteem is being in a position to be recognized and respected by other people. Self actualization is at the top of hierarchy, where a person attains self fulfillment through realizing his potential and is able to achieve his best out of his abilities and expectations. Maslow describes desire to know and aesthetic beauty as needs that cannot be fitted within hierarchy. (Steven, 2008)

According to Maslow, people are simultaneously motivated by many needs but the one that is felt is lowest need that is not yet satisfied. When a need at the lower level is satisfied, the primary motivator becomes the next need in the hierarchy and remains as a motivator even if it is never satisfied. At the beginning, physiological need is most important and the first one to be satisfied. Next is safety needs followed by belongings. Self actualization is an exceptional because, as people become self actualized, there is demand for more of this need rather than less of it. This implies that, the first four needs from the bottom of hierarchy are deficiency needs due to the way they are activated if they are not fulfilled. Growth need is the name given to self actualization because, even if it is satisfied, people continue to desire it more and more. (Fincham, 2007)

What’s wrong with the Hierarchy theory

Scientists have not supported Maslow hierarchy of need because; research shows that, all the needs do not fit in the five categories of the hierarchy. Also, when one level of need is satisfied, this does not automatically motivate people to satisfy the next higher level need in the hierarchy. This is because, some people may be hungry and still consider fulfillment of social needs or to be self actualized even if their work environment is risky. Another assumption of the theory is that, the need that is given the first priority may change with time, whereas the significance of a given need may change depending on the situation at hand. (Steven, 2008)

Maslow had a holistic perspective when he said that, there is relationship between needs, making them to be studied together. Experts of motivation had put needs in different categories and each need was studied separately. The argument was that, isolation of needs that have narrow definition was not appropriate due to behavior of human beings which is initiated by many needs and drives with different degree of influence on behavior. When researcher emphasized on instincts of human beings that improve behavior and encourage employees, the argument of maslow was that, needs of the higher order are influenced by shared believes and value and culture but not instincts only. In other words, he was giving an explanation of thoughts of human beings as influence of motivation.

Maslow hierarchy of needs theory puts the needs of employees in single hierarchy. There is uniqueness in hierarchy of needs but not universal because; peoples needs depend on their own personal values. If we value self direction, we would consider self actualization. Alternatively; if we value achievement and power, then status would be of great importance to us. The connections that exist between our needs and what we value most are unique to every person and it is possible to have a change with time. (Steven, 2008)

Four drive theory

People who have experience in motivation have abandoned theories of hierarchy of needs but not how needs are relevant. The recent research on the way brain functions have made experts put into consideration integrated approach. According to neuroscience, emotional intelligence and anthropology, professors of business school came up with four drive theory in order to give an explanation of the way human beings are motivated. The model is considered to be holistic due to the way many drives are put together and considers social influence and thoughts of human beings rather than their instinct alone.

The four drive theory has four categories of drives such as drives to defend, acquire, learn and bond. Our brains are hardwired with the drives through gradual changes that take place in every person and depend on each other so that none of the drive is dependent, superior or inferior to others. According to the four drive theory, there is a complete set of four drives and there is no exclusion of fundamental drives. The other feature is that, three out of four drives are considered proactive since they are fulfilled regularly. (Steven, 2008)

Drive to acquire goes beyond water and food to include recognition and status. This forms the foundation for our desire to have esteem. The drive to acquire is considered to be insatiable since human motivation aims at achieving higher motivation instead of satisfying the physiological needs only. Drive to bond leads to formation of social relationship and commitment to mutual caring which shows how social identities are formed by people, through aligning their image with social groups. Drive to learn help to ensure that, our curiosity is satisfied in order for us to have understanding of ourselves and the surrounding. When we see something that we do not understand, we feel tensed and try to close the information gap. Drive to defend offer social and physical protection to us in our development. When we face danger, it brings about either fight or flight. This drive involves protecting ourselves physically, our relationship and what we belief. This drive is reactive if it encounters threat. (Links, 1997)

Theory of learned needs

Reinforcement strengthens needs through use of different parenting styles, childhood learning as well as social norms. David McClelland who is a psychologist did research about learned needs such as affiliation, power and achievement. The people who are concerned with achievement are able to set goals that are challenging and work hard to accomplish them. They prefer individual work rather than working as a team, where they choose jobs which are less risky. Committed higher achievers desire to be recognized when they succeed and get unambiguous feed back. Money is not a strong motivator if it lacks recognition and positive feedback. In the contrary, employees who are not hard working do better job if they are given money as incentive. Entrepreneurs who are committed establish goals that are challenging and compete with other organizations which produce similar products in order to be successful and achieve their objectives. There is need for affiliation where an individual seek approval from people, accept their wishes and what they expect from them in order to avoid confrontation and conflict. (Steven, 2008)

People who value affiliation work hard to get themselves a favorable image. They always support others and solve conflicts that arise in the workplace. Employees with high affiliation do good job through coordinating their roles and act as mediators in case of a conflict. When involved in sales, they develop long lasting relationship with customers in order to attract and retain them in their businesses. However, in situations where scarce resources need to be allocated, they are less effective and make decisions that can bring about conflicts. People who are involved in decision making require low affiliation to avoid biasness in their actions and choices that are made due to their need for personal approval.

Power is needed where people are able to control others and ensure they are in leadership positions. They use persuasive communication through giving suggestions during meetings and most of times evaluate their situations in public. In the exercise of power, some people use it for personal interest as a symbol of status making them to personalize their power. Other people feel that they should have social power, since they want to utilize the power to assist others. According to McClelland, leaders work effectively when they need social power instead of personalized power. They should have high social responsibility and be ready to face the consequences of whatever they do. The argument in learning need is that, need for power, achievement and affiliation can be made strong through learning, which led to development of programs that offers training. (McShane, 2008)

Practical implications of needs/drives-based theories

these theories give practical advice that motivates employees. The recommendation in four drive theory there are balanced opportunities in work places and jobs that are performed by individuals. This ensures there is fulfillment of the four drives such as drive to defend, acquire, learn and bond. The recommendations given are that, the four drives should be fulfilled by everyone on regular basis in every workplace. This is in contrast with hierarchy of needs theory which holds that, the need that motivates employees is only one at a given time. According to Four drive theory, fulfillment is sought all the time in the innate drives.

Workplaces that function well motivate its employees and increase their morale through rewarding them, ensuring there is social interaction and learning opportunities. Another recommendation is that, there must be balance in the four drives where organization avoid too much opportunity or too little opportunity in order to ensure all the drives are fulfilled. If a company fails to assist employees in fulfillment of all the drives, long term problem arise that are difficult to find solution. If organization considers drive to acquire and ignore drive to bond, it may be involved in organization politics as well as dysfunctional conflict. Change in the work place helps the drive to learn but if it becomes too much, drive to defend is triggered which make employees resist change. When a work environment extremely support drive to bond, diversity is undermined which calls for constructive debate for decisions to be made effectively.

Needs/drive theories give reward to employees according to their performance, at individual levels, but not the team. Even if drives are the same, people have different needs at different times. Therefore, there are unique experiences and system of values where some employees are interested in achievement while others are encouraged by use of social factors. (McShane, 2008)

Expectancy theory model

Expectancy theory model is where; the effort made will result to expected outcome. Employees believe that, there is a 1.0 probability that the task would be accomplished. In other situations, they expect more effort to be made in order to attain performance at desired level with probability 0.0. Performance to outcome expectancy is where specific level of performance brings about specific outcome through developing probability from what had been learned previously. For example, many of the students learn that, once they fail to attend classes, they may not be able to get good grades. When the situation is extreme, there is belief by employees that, once a given task is accomplished, the outcome will have probability of 1.0.

If success will have no effect on performance probability is 0.0. Probability to outcome lies between zeros to one. Probability is not evaluated in terms of all possible outcomes, since there are too many outcomes. Instead, one outcome is taken at a time where motivation to ensure a task is completed is fueled by having an opportunity to go out of job early. Also, one is motivated to finish job early so that his salary can be increased or get a promotion. Outcome valence is where whatever is anticipated is either satisfying or not satisfying. It is negative or positive and the range is not an issue. It can be from negative one to positive one or negative one hundred to positive one hundred. When an outcome is of positive valence, it satisfies needs and negative valence act as an inhibitor to fulfillment of needs. If a person need to have social interaction, group activities would be necessary in order to fulfill the need. (McShane, 2008)

Expectancy theory in practice

Expectancy theory has clearly explained guidelines on how employees are encouraged to continue working hard and be more productive. Expectancy gets influence from the belief by individuals that, it is possible to finish work successfully by informing employees that, they are competent and have necessary resources to increase their performance. Employees are assigned job according to their abilities and communicate about the tasks involved in the job. When job is performed well, there will be outcome of high value. This requires selection of people with knowledge and experience, provide training and ensure requirements for job are clarified. The time available for doing job should be enough and resources are readily available. At the beginning, employees should be given few tasks which are simple until they get used to them. Employees should be helped to develop confidence in their jobs, so that they succeed in everything they do. Encourage employees to perform their assigned duties well so that they can receive rewards as individual. (McShane, 2008)

Does expectancy theory fit reality?

Expectancy theory is the best theory in predicting effort put in work and encouragement given to employees. It has been applied in study to show the way students are motivated to work hard and pass their examinations. Employees are motivated to adopt the beliefs and values that are shared by employees in an organization for them to be productive and improve the quality of their work. One weakness of expectancy theory is that, it does not consider emotion in the effort put by employees and their behavior. This is because; every emotion needs attention, since it gives people energy to engage in activity. (Steers, 1991)

Goal setting and feedback

When goals are set and there is feedback, employees are encouraged to perform high. In goal setting, there is motivation of employees by clarifying the role they play in order to achieve their objectives. Performance by employees is improved by putting more effort in work and assigning employees different roles.

Effective goals should ensure everyone participate and there is commitment, the goals must be specific, challenging and provide the necessary feedback. If the goals are specified, employees work hard since the change is measurable for a given period of time. The goals set for each job should be relevant within the control of employees in production process. When the goals are challenging, employees work hard and put extra effort in their duties. Once a challenging goal is achieved, a person becomes self actualized and becomes more creative in achieving higher goals. Feedback helps to know whether the goals have been achieved or the right direction is being taken towards accomplishing the specific goal. Feedbacks acts as guidance on appropriate behavior necessary for a given situation and assist in correcting problems that may result to poor performance. Positive feedback encourages employees after they are recognized for good performance, since it acts as a reward by being constructive where it shows employees that they have the potential to perform even better. (Robbins, 2001)


Dowling P. and Festing M. international human resource management 5th edition: John Yates, 2007 pp17-24.

Fincham R. Organizational behavior, 4th edition: Paperback, 2007 pp23-27.

Links S: Motivation and contemporary socio-constructivist instructional perspectives: Educational Psychologist, Questa, 1997 pp12-17.

McShane, Steven L, and Mary Ann Vn Glinow. Organizational Behavior, 4th Edition New York: McGraw-Hill Irwin, 2008 pp01-20.

Robbins S. Organizational Behavior: Prentice Hall Englewood Cliffs, 2001 pp26-34.

Steers R. Motivation and work behavior: McGraw-Hill Companies, 1991 pp17-20.

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