There can be applied various motivational theories for trying to identify an answer for this curiosity: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Theory X and Theory Y, the expectancy theory, the equity theory, McClelland’s three needs theory or Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs holds that individuals have five levels of needs, placed hierarchical, according to their sophistication. As such, at the basis of the hierarchy of needs individuals display the physiological needs, which indicate primary necessities: food or salary. The next level advances the safety/security needs, which refer to individuals’ stability, associated in the organizational context with the employees’ pension plans. The feeling of belongingness is the following need, which manifests through establishing connections and friendships at work. Next, individuals need to feel esteem, which can be a social status or a job title, rewards and recognitions. Finally, at the top of the hierarchy there are the self-actualization needs, which reflect individuals’ achievements and the employees’ challenging job, which implies using the achieved abilities to the fullest.
In accordance with this theory, managers need to know on which hierarchical level the employees are situated. In order to understand this aspect, evaluations of employees’ work and personalities need to be developed on a regular basis (recommended every six month). Periodical evaluation would allow managers to identify the evolving needs of the employees and to understand how (through what organizational, managerial or human resources strategies) employers could motivate employees.
McGregor’s Theory X states that employees dislike working by their nature. According to this theory, managers need to take severe actions to force employees to work. Threatening or punishing employees for their lack of responsibility and for displaying little or no ambition are some coercive strategies that managers can adopt for forcing employees to work. However, obliging employees to work is an external act, which does not come from within them, but it is imposed by somebody else. Working out of fear of being fired or having the salary and other benefits reduced is unlikely to produce long-term performances, because fear generates stress which leads to burnout.
Theory Y, also formulated by McGregor, holds the opposite of Theory X. According to Theory Y, the employees consider work natural, are responsible and able to self-direct or to make decisions. Under this theory, managers need not motivate employees, because they are already motivated intrinsically.
Nevertheless, Theory X and Theory Y need to be customized by managers on each employee, In accordance, they need to design specific measures to avoid the lack of responsibility or ambitions (specific to Theory X) or to award the initiative and responsibility (attributes of Theory Y). Motivation need to come in a natural manner, inherent to individuals for producing long term positive outcomes. This desiderate can be achieved through creating a thorough job design, establishing working policies, generating an organizational culture and exerting the role of manager for infusing inner determination.
Managers can succeed in motivating the employees by applying the principles of the expectancy theory as well. This theory indicates that employees apply decision-making processes for achieving the desired rewards. By putting effort into their actions, employees expect to reach performances. They further instrument performances for attaining the desired outcomes. In the end, they value the gained outcomes, evaluating if they correspond or not with their expectations. Should employees not receive the desired awards as a result of the effort that they exert, they will become demotivated and will no longer exert similar effort. Managers need to know what are the employees’ needs in terms of rewards; they need to identify what employees expect to receive as a result of their effort made. Accordingly, if the employees are entitled to obtain the sought rewards, the employers need to be able to provide them, for further encouraging the workers’ performances. By awarding the subordinates’ efforts, but most importantly, their performances obtained through their efforts, managers inform the employees that their work was appreciated and that their efforts will be appreciated each time new performances will be achieved. In this case, the rewards act as external factors that maintain the inner motivation of the employees.
Another employee motivational theory is the equity theory, which indicates that workers consider motivation as generated by perceived fairness. In the organizational context, perceived fairness refers to a social comparison between what employees receive for their inputs as compared to what co-workers receive for similar inputs.
However, applying this theory for motivating the employees can be troublesome for managers. In the nowadays organizational environment, firms practice a policy of non-disclosure of salaries offered to employees and there are organizational policies that discourage employees to discuss about how much they earn. Moreover, as this theory is based on a social comparison with the co-workers, applying it to motivate employees would generate competition. Competition among co-workers can often lead to conflicting estates that can generate tensions in the workplace, hence, an unproductive working environment. Therefore, from this point of view, it is suggested that the equity theory not to be used for motivating employees.
With reference to the working condition and the interpersonal relations between employees, Herzberg’s motivator-hygiene theory is significant for understanding how managers can motivate employees. The hygiene factors include pay, status, security, working conditions, policies and interpersonal relations. These factors can make the difference between dissatisfaction and no dissatisfaction. Similarly, the motivator factors: meaningful and challenging work, recognition of performances, feeling of achievement, responsibility, development opportunities and the job itself can make the difference between satisfaction versus no satisfaction.
This theory asserts that the nature of work not the rewards motivate employees. In this case, managers need to make the job attractive and appealing, hence meaningful for the employees. One modality for making jobs meaningful is to assign significant tasks that require a diverse range of skills. Delivering in-house trainings and courses for enriching the employees’ skills is desired for increasing the attractiveness of the workplace. Moreover, assigning autonomy and providing constructive feedback are strong motivators for employees, according to this theory.
However, McClelland’s three needs theory states that not the job itself, but the employees professional needs motivate them. The achievement, affiliation and power are needs that employees seek to fulfill, which motivate their organizational behavior. Identifying which need prevails in each employee is the key to motivate them. As such, if the achievement need is dominant, managers need to provide challenging task and constructive feedback. In case the affiliation need is higher than the other two, managers need to design projects for working in groups. For the employees who seek to accomplish their need for power, managers must motivate them by offering them the chance to make a difference.
My curiosity is no longer a puzzle. Through the research conducted it seems that managers have various tools available for assessing where employees stand and what they need to be motivated. Motivation can be intrinsic and extrinsic, but when it is intrinsic employees behave according to the organizational goal that they seek to attain for a longer period of time. Managers need to make sure that their needs are fulfilled in order to maintain employees motivated. In this case, they need to apply various motivational theories for understanding what employees need in specific moments. Because employees evolve within organizations, so do their needs. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are five levels of needs that employees can escalate and at each level their needs change and managers need to adjust their strategies for motivating workers. Similarly, the managers need to understand whether the employees feel motivated by the job itself (in which case they need to maintain it attractive and challenging) or by external rewards (in which case they need to understand what are the employees’ expectancies). Highly important for motivating various employees is to understand what is the need that dominates the professional personality of each employee: achievement, affiliation or power and to create a working environment that facilitates the prevailing need. There is no general receipt that can be applied as a procedure for motivating employees collectively, because they have different personalities, are driven by distinct needs and seek dissimilar outcomes from their work. The key to motivating different employees working in the same company is to get to know them individually for understanding their needs and for answering those needs in a customized manner.