Motivation in the Workplace


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Executive Summary

As highlighted herein, employees in the contemporary world are seeking different ways in which they can motivate their employees. Therefore, this report outlines the meaning of motivation as it applies in the workplace environment. It further discusses the issue on whether a manager can instill motivation or it occurs as a process that draws something from the employees. Similarly, the report provides a map of the various theories of work motivation and an explanation that serve as a guide. These are coupled with the discussion of other theories applied in the description of how employees can motivate their employees and one of the models discussed entails John Holland’s approach of personality and job-fit. Lastly, the report describes the salient differences between a content and process theory as they relate to motivation.










Table of Contents

1.      Outline the Meaning of Motivation as it applies in the workplace……………….4

2.      Can a manager instill motivation or is it a process of drawing something from employees?…………………………………………………………………………………………………6

3.      Coaching management in motivating employees………………………………….7

4.      A Map of various theories of motivation…………………………………………..8

5.      John Holland’s Theory of Personality and Job-fit………………………………..13

6.      The Difference between a content theory and process theory of motivation…….14

7.      Reference List…………………………………………………………………….16











The meaning of Motivation as it applies in the workplace

People tend to ask why there is a need for managers and leaders within an organization to spend time on motivating their employees, but the answer entails to retain and extend their existence. Employees are one of the essential assets within an organization, and if they lack organizational commitment, then there is no incentive to excel at their jobs. In most cases, organizations struggle to attract new employees or retain the current ones, which ultimately results in financial losses as well as the loss of knowledge and experience the individuals may possess (Burton, 2012). Nevertheless, such costs and losses can be avoided or lessened by motivating employees by keeping them involved and committed to the organization. In this case, motivation in the workplace refers to the willingness to exert high levels of effort toward organizational goals conditioned by the ability to satisfy some individual needs (Parvez, 2019).  Although it is derived from the word motive, which means desires, needs, drives, and wants within individuals, motivation describes the process of stimulating people to take action towards the accomplishment of organizational goals.

However, the achievement of this goal necessitates the incorporation of psychological factors that stimulate the behavior of the employees within the organization. Some of these factors include the urge to succeed, the desire for money, recognition, teamwork, and job satisfaction, to mention a few. Consequently, the most crucial function of the management team entails creating willingness among the employees in a way that drives them to perform in the best of their abilities. Arguably, the leaders in the organization are tasked with the role of arousing interest in the performance of the personnel in their jobs, a process that consists of three stages. These stages include a need or drive, a stimulus that arouses the needs identified, and the satisfaction or accomplishment of goals (Heryati, 2019). Therefore, motivation, as it applies in the workplace, refers to a psychological phenomenon which implies that the needs and desires of the individuals have to be adequately addressed by framing an incentive plan.

 Can motivation be instilled, or is it a process of drawing something from the employees?

Often, the idea of happy employees is confused with that of motivated staff members, and although they may be related, motivation describes the level of desire the workers feel to perform, irrespective of their level of happiness (Heryati, 2019). On the one hand, employees who are adequately motivated to perform, tend to be more productive, engaged, and feel more invested in their work. This feeling allows them to perform at the best of their ability, thereby leading to their success and that of the organization in general. On the other hand, managers and leaders who motivate their employees to accomplish their tasks appropriately tend to succeed in similar measure. It thus indicates that motivation in the workplace refers to a process through which managers encourage employees to be active and productive. For instance, in a retail setting, a motivated cashier who is processing the transactions will most likely be friendly in a way that creates a pleasant environment that makes the clients return. Alternatively, the motivated cashier is likely to process the transactions quickly, which implies that the store can attend to and serve more customers within a day (Parvez, 2019). These may be coupled with the likelihood of suggesting an additional item that the client would like to purchase, thereby increasing the sales within the store. Seemingly, such an employee is productive and focuses on delivering a high-quality output based on their level of desire or need.     

Most fundamentally, studies have shown that employee motivation is a critical aspect of the workplace as it leads to the improved performance of the various departments and the organization in general. Motivation among employees should thus be done regularly, but unfortunately, numerous entities fail to understand its importance. For instance, Heryati (2019), postulates that most companies have continuously disengaged their employees with low motivations and only 13% of remain committed to their work. Similarly, other studies have pointed out that the motivation of an employee(s) is the direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager(s). As mentioned herein, motivation is a psychological phenomenon that necessitates addressing the needs and wants of the employees by framing an incentive plan (Heryati, 2019). It is thus an impulse or the drive to act and do whatever it is that the individual intends to do.

Nevertheless, motivation is not an emotion that can be instilled, but instead, it is the purpose of all emotions that serve to motivate individuals to perform some action. According to Parvez (2019), an individual’s feelings give him, or her energy and the willingness to partake in certain activities lead to motivation. As the saying goes, “behind every action, there is a motive, and behind every motive, there is a need” (Parvez, 2019). This implies that needs are the essential triggers of motivation regardless of whether they are psychological, such as hunger, or social such as the drive to be accepted. All requirements are the factors that induce motivation among individuals, and they drive most of their behavior. These aspects thus exemplify the fact that motivation is a process of drawing something from employees as it requires managers to identify the needs of the workforce and arouse interest in the performance of their jobs (Parvez, 2019). On the one hand, the process of motivation necessitates a need or drive and a stimulus which needs have to be aroused. On the other hand, when the employees’ needs are satisfied, they become motivated and focus on the accomplishment of the various goals. 


Coaching Management Styles in motivating employees

According to the definition provided above, motivation is a process of drawing something from employees through the identification of their needs and arousing interest in the performance of the different tasks in the workplace. This description exemplifies a coaching style of leadership and management that focuses on the consideration of the employees’ needs, training, motivation, and development of their abilities. As a relatively new and guiding leadership style, coaching evokes skills such as the ability to develop and improve the performance and competencies of the employees within an organization (Kokemuller, 2013). Most fundamentally, the basis of the coaching style of leadership entails the dynamic interaction between the managers and the workers.

On the one hand, the leaders in the coaching technique clearly define the roles and tasks of their followers, but further, consider seeking the input and suggestions of the latter. On the other hand, although the final decision is left to the leaders, communication between them and their follower is entirely two-way. Resultantly, the effectiveness of coaching leaders is portrayed in settings where performance or results require improvement. Studies have shown that in such environments, leaders help their followers to advance their skills through building bench strength and providing a lot of guidance (Kokemuller, 2013). This, in turn, evokes responsibility, commitment, and the drive to accomplish various tasks based on the directions and guidance provided. The achievement of this objective further occurs through the provision of encouragement and inspiration to help motivate the followers hence creating a positive workplace environment.


A Map of the various Theories of Work Motivation

The main theories of motivation can be classified into two primary categories, namely the content and process models. These categories may be distinguished based on their applicability in addressing the needs of the workers within an organization. For instance, one of the notable differences between content and process motivation theories entails the fact that the former focuses on the what while the latter delves into the determination of how human behaviors are motivated (Burton, 2012). On the one hand, content theories, developed earlier and also referred to as need theories, have a significant impact on management practices and policy. They focus on the identification of what the needs of the employees within an organization are and subsequently relate motivation to the fulfillment of the issues pointed out. However, they have been proven ineffective by the fact that they cannot entirely explain the factors that motivate or demoralize employees (Andriotis, 2018). On the other hand, processes theories emphasize how motivation occurs and what kind processes influence employees’ motivation. Similarly, these theories do not explain all aspects of people’s motives or lack of them.

The models included in the content theories of motivation include the Maslow’s need hierarchy, Alderfer's ERG theory, McClelland’s achievement motivation, and Herzberg’s two-factor theory. On the other hand, the assumptions in the process approach include Skinner’s reinforcement model, Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory, Adam’s equity theory, and Locke’s goal-setting model.




Rounded Rectangle: Motivation Theories
Rounded Rectangle: Maslow's Hierarchy of NeedsRounded Rectangle: Alderfer's ERG Theory: Existence needs, Relatedness needs, and Growth NeedsRounded Rectangle: McClelland's Theory of Needs: Need for Achievement, Affiliation, and PowerRounded Rectangle: Herzberg's Two Factors TheoryRounded Rectangle: Skinner's Reinforcement TheoryRounded Rectangle: Vroom's Expectancy TheoryRounded Rectangle: Adam's Equity TheoryRounded Rectangle: Locke's Goal setting TheoryyH5BAEAAAAALAAAAAABAAEAAAIBRAA7










(Andriotis, 2018)

Content Theories

Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Model

Developed in 1943 by Abraham Maslow, this theory pigeonholes an individual’s needs into five basic categories that begin with the basic psychological needs and continues through safety, the sense of belonging and love, self-esteem, and self-actualization. This hierarchy depicts the fact that the lowest unsatisfied need ultimately becomes the dominant and significant one and, in turn, drives an individual to take action towards its fulfillment. It further stipulates that the behavior of humans is directed by their goals and motivation (Andriotis, 2018). Therefore, motivation plays an integral role in handling and tackling the various needs accordingly. Most fundamentally, the needs of an individual serve as the driving force in their behavior, and thus, managers need to understand the hierarchy of needs to address them appropriately.

According to the hierarchy, the most significant aspect entails the psychological needs that include food, shelter, water, and sleep, among others. These aspects are the most basic needs for human survival, and thus Maslow insisted that an individual’s mind and body cannot function well if these requirements are not fulfilled. The insufficiency of these basic needs in an individual’s life would lead to the urge or motivation to prioritize and fulfill the psychological needs first. Moreover, the second category of needs entails safety and security that occur after the fulfillment of psychological aspects (Stern, 2018). These needs describe factors such as the desire to have a reliable source of income, a place to live, good health, and well-being. They thus refer to an individual’s desire for security and protection which may be tackled by living in a peaceful, secure, and unwavering society that makes him or her feel safe from criminal assaults, unforeseen natural catastrophes, and burglary, to mention a few. The other needs in this theory include the urge for love and a sense of belonging which may be addressed through an individual’s integration into social groups, the ability to feel like part of a community, and engagement in loving relationships (Stern, 2018). Similarly, the other needs embedded in this theory include esteem and self-actualization that may be handled through the satisfaction obtained after an individual develops or grows to his or her best ability and fullest potential.

Alderfer’s – ERG Theory

This theory distinguishes an individual’s needs into three classes that include existence, relatedness, and growth. On the one hand, existence needs are defined as those that occur as a result of the desire for basic material necessities while the relatedness needs refer to those pertaining significant relationships and the sense of belonging (Stern, 2018). On the other hand, the growth needs are those involving the desire for self-development, personal growth, and advancement.

McClelland’s Theory- Need for achievement, Affiliation, and Power

Since its development in the early 1960s, this theory built on Maslow’s work through the definition of three human motivators. McClelland argued that humans acquire or learn their motivation factors over time, regardless of their age or gender. The motivators he propagated entailed the need to accomplish and demonstrate competence or mastery (achievement); the desire for love, relatedness, and belonging (affiliation); and the urge for control over one’s work or that of others (power).

Herzberg’s two-factor Theory

This theory states that several motivating factors lead to outcomes such as job satisfaction and fulfillment, on the one hand, and other hygiene aspects that cause dissatisfaction. Herzberg further points out that the factors that lead to job satisfaction focus on the elements involved in doing the job, whereas, job dissatisfaction emanates from factors that define the context of the tasks to be carried out (Strongman, 2013). Some of the factors highlighted for the previous section include achievement, recognition, the job itself, responsibility, and advancement, while those attributed to dissatisfaction include company policies and administration, supervision, salaries, interpersonal relationships, and working conditions.


Process Theories

Skinner’s reinforcement Model

According to Skinner, the reinforcement point of view occurs as a result of a condition theory which stipulates that its consequences can form behavior. For instance, appreciating or praising an employee at work through promotions, salary increment, or other rewards can increase the possibility of the rewarded behavior’s repetition, hence positive reinforcement (Strongman, 2013). It further points out that negative reinforcement may occur when an individual behaves in a rather unexpected manner.

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

It focuses on the process as well as the content of motivation through the integration of needs, equity, and reinforcement models. The theory developed in 1964 by Victor Vroom sought to explain how people choose from the available actions and motivation entails a process that governs their choices among alternative forms of voluntary behavior. Most fundamentally, the underlying rationale behind this theory involved the fact that motivation emanates from the belief that decisions will lead to desired outcomes (Strongman, 2013). Therefore, expectancy occurs as a result of an individual’s belief that an increase in their efforts will lead to the achievement of success.

Adam’s Equity Theory

Adams (1965) postulated that individuals become motivated when they are treated equitably and receive what they consider fair for their costs and efforts. Its rationale is based on the social exchange approach which states that people tend to compare their contribution to work, costs of their actions, and the benefits likely to occur to the efforts and benefits of the reference person (Strongman, 2013). For instance, when employees at work perceive the ratio of their inputs-outputs to that of referent others as inequitable, they will be motivated to reduce inequity.

Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory

In 1990, Locke developed a goal setting theory that emphasized on an integrative model of motivation similar to the expectancy theory. However, it insisted that setting specific goals that challenged performance and the commitment o the employees are the main determinants of motivation. Locke stated that goals are used in the description of the desired future, and their establishment can drive behavior (Stern, 2013). Moreover, the achievement of these goals further motivates individuals to perform.

Similarly, these goals can be distinguished based on their specificity, acceptance, and difficulty. The procedure for setting these goals, as outlined by Locke, entails preparing challenging, but attainable objectives, establishing specific and measurable targets and obtaining commitment. These may be followed closely by the provision of supporting elements and prioritization on knowledge of the results.

John Holland’s Theory of Personality and Job-fit and its relation to work motivation

According to John Holland, most individuals fit into one of the categories of six personalities. The personalities he described included realistic, artistic, social, investigative, conventional, and enterprising. He further maintains that an individual’s selection of a career is based on preference for a job where he/she can be around other individuals who have similar personalities to theirs. On the one hand, a realistic character describes individuals who prefer working with animals, tools, and machines (Strongman, 2013). These types of people tend to avoid social activities such as teaching, healing, and informing others, but value practical tasks that they can touch or use.

On the other hand, integrative personalities entail people who like studying or solving mathematical and scientific problems. These are followed closely by artistic individuals who have a high preference for doing creative activities such as crafts, drama, and music, to mention a few. Social and enterprising individuals refer to those people who like doing things to help others and those who want leadership and persuading others, respectively (Career Key, 2018). Most fundamentally, conventional individuals are those people who like working with numbers, records, or machines in a set or orderly manner. These types of people value success in business and tend to perceive themselves as good at following a set plan. The theory thus stipulates that people become motivated when they work closely or are in the company of individuals with similar personalities and preferences.  

The Difference between a Content Theory and a Process Theory of Motivation

According to the definition highlighted above, the main difference between content and process motivation theories entails the fact that the former focuses on the what while the latter delves into the determination of how human behaviors are motivated. On the one hand, content theories, developed earlier and also referred to as need theories, have a significant impact on management practices and policy. They focus on the identification of what the needs of the employees within an organization are and subsequently relate motivation to the fulfillment of the issues pointed out. However, they have been proven ineffective by the fact that they cannot entirely explain the factors that motivate or demoralize employees (Career Key, 2018). On the other hand, processes theories emphasize how motivation occurs and what kind processes influence employees’ motivation. 


Andriotis, N. (2018, July 19). How to Motivate Employees in the Workplace in 5 Foolproof Ways. Retrieved from

Burton, K. (2012). A Study of Motivation: How to Get Your Employees Moving. SPEA Honors Thesis Spring 2012 Indiana University, 1-33. Retrieved from

Career Key. (2018). Holland's Six Personality Types. Retrieved from

Heryati, R. (2019, February 5). Why Employee Motivation Is Important (& How to Improve It). Retrieved from

Kokemuller, N. (2013, May 10). Coach Management vs. Boss Management Style. Retrieved from

Parvez, H. (2019). What is motivation? Retrieved from

Stern, M. J. (2018). Theories of motivation, cognition, and reasoning. Oxford Scholarship Online. doi:10.1093/oso/9780198793182.003.0004

Strongman, L. (2013). Theories of motivation in education and the workplace. PsycEXTRA Dataset. Doi: 10.1037/e651092013-032



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