Psychological Theories Behind Motivation

Motivation is equally important when we are thinking about our productivity. We all want that driving force that will keep us moving in our daily lives. Social scientists have been digging deep into motivation to understand the theory behind human motivation. They tried to establish what motivates human beings, why they are motivated and why the phenomenon has that significant effect on the human motivation. Scientists have studied and found dozens of theories decade over decade. Here are the ones which are considered to be the most effective:

McGregor’s Theory X, Theory Y Model

Psychologist McGregor in the 1960s developed a theory about individual motivation. He produced two different approaches that he believed affected managerial behaviors in the workplace. The theory states that there are two existing ways of managing and motivating employees to work more and be more productive. He suggested that most of the managers lean towards theory X with mediocre results. Others considered having better managerial skills lean towards theory Y and attain appealing results. Theory Y helps the business to accomplish more goals at the same time growing and developing the employees.

This theory relates to the modern understanding of the Psychological Contract. The contract identifies that there are many ways of understanding the unhelpful nature of the X theories and the helpful nature of Y theory. McGregor first explained x and Y in his book-‘’The Human Side of Enterprise’’. They refer to the authoritarian Theory X and the participative Theory Y.

Theory X
It states that an average person will not like work. People will avoid working at all costs. What follows is that the majority of them are forced to work through threats of punishments. The average person feels the need to be guided. If, as a manager, you think that your employees dislike work and have little motivation to work, then you will likely be forced to use the authoritative style of management that McGregor named as theory X. It involves micromanaging people‘s work.
Managers who use this style usually believe that their people are unmotivated and will probably not work if they are not prompted, rewarded or punished. The theory assumes that the employees actively try to avoid responsibilities and therefore they need constant direction. They need to be controlled and overseen to ensure that they will undertake their duties. It also assumes that the employees have no ambitions or incentives to work and hence they should be enticed by rewards to achieve their goals.

According to him, this approach when adopted by organizations often leads to substantial operational costs of hiring countless managers and supervisors to oversee the employees. Fortunately, this approach is gradually vanishing and may completely disappear in the years to come. However, some of the large corporations find it unavoidable to use this method due to their operational structures.

Theory Y
On the other hand, if managers believe that their employees love their work and they consider it a challenge, then the managers will be more likely to use a participative style of management. McGregor named this as Theory Y. Managers who adopt this style of management trust their employees and give them the freedom to choose what they want to do.

The managers usually encourage their employees to develop their skills. In this theory, the managers and the executive team usually delegate their responsibilities and accommodate opinions and suggestions from their subjects. As opposed to theory X, organizations encourage open communications rather than high control of the staff. This management style is most prevalent among companies and is assumed to be highly effective in managing and motivating the workforce.

McGregor later concluded that the approach that you adopt in managing your employees would have a significant impact on the productivity of your business.

The Observer Effect

Henry A. Landsberger in 1950 noticed a tendency of some people to work harder while being observed and he wrote about it in his 1950s work. Hawthorne effect is the alteration or change of behavior by people due to their awareness of being watched. The original study posits that the uniqueness of being subjects of an observer and the increased attention from such activities could bear a temporary increase in productivity.

This effect on worker motivation was brought forward after a series of studies led by Professor Elton Mayo who was by then a lecturer in Harvard Business School. The research started over by examining the environmental and the physical influences of the workplace. They later moved to the psychological effects that can affect the worker’s productivity. Some of the mental forces that were found to impact on the worker motivation level include job pressure, the working time, the breaks between the working time and the managerial leadership.

One of the ultimate findings is that the productivity of employees appeared to improve expressively regardless of the experimental manipulation employed. The conclusion is that the employees were pleased to receive attention from researchers who conveyed an interest in them.

What the observer effect suggests, is that employees would be more productive if they know that they are being observed. Showing them that you care so much about their well-being and their working conditions can increase the worker productivity.

McClelland’s Need Theory

The need theory is another well-known theory that was developed by McClelland and his associates. He developed this theory based on Henry Murray’s long list of motives and needs. Henry Murray was another researcher who for a long time did several studies on personality.

In this particular theory, McClelland believed that needs are either acquired or learned by those events that people experience in their environment and culture. It stated that people who either discovered or acquired a particular need behave differently from their counterparts. The theory centered around the three primary needs of Murray study. Those are Power, affection, and achievement. The need for achievement is the personal drive to excel – to achieve success according to an individual’s standard.

The need for power is concerned with having some significant influence over other people. It is the desire to influence other people and the desire to make a difference in life. On the other hand, the need for affection is the desire to create and keep a warm and healthy relationship with other people around you. This need is the same as Maslow’s Social needs.

Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

Victor Vroom developed the expectancy theory in 1964, and it demonstrates the link between expected results and rewards. He stated that the productivity of an employee depends on how much he/she wants an outcome. If someone is really in need of a specific offer, then the employee will work harder to attract it.

Managers should, therefore, strive to set goals that can be achieved and link appropriate rewards on them. This will inspire the team members and make them work more towards the achievement of the company goals.

He believed that staff motivation resulted from conscious choices among alternatives whose purpose is to maximize pleasure and satisfaction and at the same time minimize pain. Vroom stated in his book that the relationship between employee performance and their goals is something more than scientists formally believed. Victor expressed that the performance of an employee in the workplace can be influenced by their personality, experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities.

There needs to be a definite and positive association between effort and performance; the increased energy will lead to increased production, and increased performance will lead to better rewards. In a nutshell, if a worker sees that a particular prize is in line with the achievement of his/her personal goal, that person will work harder to obtain that reward.

Argyris’s Theory

This theory focuses on demonstrating how management practices affect the behavior of the employees. Argyris suggested that seven changes take place in an individual’s personality that makes him or her more mature.

In his view, immaturity exists in individuals due to organizational settings and management practices. Few of the management practices that can affect an individual behavior include their chain of command, alignment of direction, the span of management and the task specialization.

He suggested that to make people mature and make them more productive; the company has to work on changing the existing pyramidal organization structure to a more humanistic system. They have to review the management style and adopt a more flexible and participative approach. He added that those situations would satisfy their psychological and safety need.

It will also motivate them and make them more willing to exploit their potential to the fullest towards the organization’s success. Employees should be projected to an excellent working condition to make them more productive. Their working environment, in turn, impacts their behavior positively.

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