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Motivational Theories

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Five theories are of particular importance: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, McGregor’s theory X and theory Y, Ouchi’s Theory Z, Herzberg’s theory of motivation, and the expectancy theory.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs - According to Maslow, people work to take care of a hierarchy of needs. The pinnacle of their needs is self-actualization. People want to contribute, prove their work, and use their skills and ability. Five layers of needs, from the bottom-up, are:

  • Physiological - The necessities to live: air, water, food, clothing, and shelter.
  • Safety - People need safety and security; this can include stability in life, work, and culture.
  • Social - People are social creatures and need love, approval, and friends.
  • Esteem - People strive for the respect, appreciation, and approval of others.
  • Self-actualization - At the pinnacle of needs, people seek personal growth, knowledge, and fulfillment



McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y - McGregor's Theory states that management believes there are two types of workers, good and bad.

  • X is bad. These people need to be watched all the time, micromanaged, and distrusted. X people avoid work, responsibility, and have no ability to achieve.
  • Y is good. These people are self-led, motivated, and can accomplish new tasks proactively

Ouchi’s Theory Z - Ouchi's Theory Z states that workers are motivated by a sense of commitment, opportunity, and advancement. Employees learn the business by moving up through the ranks of the company. It also explains the idea of 'lifetime employment.' Workers will stay with one company until they retire because they are dedicated to the company that is in turn dedicated to them.

Note: If you need a way to keep the alphabetic theories separate, think of it like this:

X = bad
Y = good 
Z = better

Herzberg's Theory of Motivation - According to Herzberg there are two catalysts for success with people:

  • 1. Hygiene agents - These elements are the expectations all workers have: job security, a paycheck, clean and safe working conditions, a sense of belonging, civil working relationships, and other basic attributes associated with employment.
  • 2. Motivating agents - These are the elements that motivate people to excel. They include responsibility, appreciation of work, recognition, the chance to excel, education, and other opportunities associated with work other than just financial rewards.

This theory says the presence of hygiene factors will not motivate people to perform, as these are expected attributes. However, the absence of these elements will de-motivate performance. For people to excel, the presence of motivating factors must exist

Expectancy Theory - Expectancy Theory states that people will behave based on what they expect as a result of their behavior. In other words, people will work in relation to the expected reward of the work. If the attractiveness of the reward is desirable to the worker, they will work to receive the reward. People expect to be rewarded for their effort.

Note: Expectancy theory says two things. One, you get what you expect—self-fulfilling prophecy. The other is, if people think that their outcomes are going to be significant, if they think they are going to matter in terms of the organization, they will perform better. People like to be involved in something where they think they are making a difference. That is what expectancy theory is all about.



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