From Workplace Motivation Theory To Practical Employee Programs

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Application of motivation theory in the workplace - more than creating a compensation structure

One of the most basic hurdles business organizations have is employee motivation. Workplace motivation is constantly challenged by corporate changes in policies, employee benefits, work conditions and a host of other factors. Sure compensation, rewards, reinforcements and punishments are in place but it takes more than these to motivate an employee to become productive.

Through the years, there are prominent workplace and behavioral psychologists who delved into motivation theory and how it affects the organization. Here are some of the theories. Moreover, here’s how they can be instruments for increasing employee motivation and improve workplace relationships and productivity.

Thorndike’s Reinforcement Theory

Simply put, the reinforcement theory of Edward Thorndike explores the cognitive process involved in shaping employee behavior by controlling the consequence of such behavior. In addition, the theory uses rewards and punishments to reinforce desired behavior or extinguish undesirable ones. The focus of Thorndike’s theory is the relationship of the behavior and the consequences associated with it. Moreover, a key component of in this theory is the timing of the consequences - Fixed interval, fixed ratio, variable interval, and variable ratio.

Reinforcement Theory in Action

  1. Fixed interval – Reinforcement is given after a fixed period of time. A good example is the regular pay checks given to employees.
  2. Fixed ratio – Reinforcement is given after a certain number of behavior occurrence. Sales target bonus is a good example. Once a certain sales target is reached, a specific bonus is given.
  3. Variable interval – Reinforcement is given at special period without specific timings. Employee citations and promotions are good examples.
  4. Variable ratio – Reinforcement is given at varying instances of behavior. Special awards and incentives for specific performances are samples.

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Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

Victor Vroom's motivation theory stresses that employees are motivated to choose a behavior based on the desirability of the reward. Understanding Vroom’s Expectancy Theory entails understanding that each employee has his own personal goals. Likewise, there exists 3 basic elements that managers need to consider when creating employee benefits and rewards program.

Three basic elements of the theory:

1. Valence: Relative importance of the reward to the employee. How important is the reward for the employee? Is it worth doing the good behavior?

2. Expectancy: This is the idea whether the effort of the employee is enough to perform as expected to receive the rewards. Decision makers need to look at the employee skills, knowledge and even confidence to actually do a certain behavior.

3. Instrumentality: How sure is it that when the employee performs as needed he/she will receive the promised reward? Management must be true to its word when it comes to giving rewards to employees.

Expectancy Theory in Action

Companies must learn what the employees need. This way benefits and rewards are meaningful to employees. Whether it is financial, career improvement, psychological rewards or combinations, all behavior outcomes must be desired by employees. As such, realigning rewards and employee needs is an integral step.

Another important step that companies should take is to provide ample skill and knowledge to its employees to actually perform as they are expected. Both performance and competency gaps need to be bridge in order to give employees the know-how and confidence to perform properly.

Instrumentality encompasses everything from allocating the appropriate budget and resources to career path planning and succession planning are instrumental to employee motivation.

Adam’s Equity Theory

John Stacey Adams went beyond the individual employee. His Equity theory incorporates comparing one’s situation with another person. An employee not just looks at his own condition but compares it with others. If he feels unfairly treated then work motivation plumets.

Adams used the idea of “give and take” as a motivational construct. Employees ask themselves if the amount of work they are putting in is commensurate to the rewards that they receive. The balance of effort and reward must be established in order to motivate the person.

Equity Theory in Action

Companies must research on industry standards when it comes to pay and benefits of a particular position or rank. This is why many companies highlight that they have above average salary compensation during the hiring process. However, there are other factors to consider apart from the basic pay. Incentives, stock options, profit shares etc. make a huge difference when it comes to enticing employees to remain in the company.

Having a salary schedule that details minimum and maximum pay for a rank/position will help control huge salary discrepancies in the organization.

Having standard benefits for all and special ones will alleviate the idea of having favoritism. Moreover, having clear-cut policies on who can receive these special benefits needs to be communicated at all levels of the organization. Transparency on the benefits and rewards policies will dispel questions about favoritism.

Motivation in the workplace is vital to the survival of the business. It’s not easy task to keep employee motivation at high levels. As such, companies must provide programs based on well-researched theories and strategies and not simply shoot from the hip. A sound program is one that addresses employee needs while maintaining high productivity and profitability.

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Comments 17 comments

MelChi profile image

MelChi 4 years ago from Cape Town, South Africa

Many companies don't realize just how important staff are to the survival or growth of their business. They are the most important asset, and they need to be looked after and motivated. Even a simple pat on the back and a "Thanks, you did great work today" ever now and then can be the difference between an employee leaving their job, or staying. More often than not, it has to do with feeling appreciated and increasing skills, as opposed to getting a larger salary. It's time companies woke up and started realizing this. Great article!


GiblinGirl profile image

GiblinGirl 4 years ago from New Jersey

So true. Employees need to feel their contributions are valued. Everyone has different motivations and companies need to figure out what resonates with their employees.


JustCrafty 4 years ago

I work for 12 different companies and none of them offer raises, health insurance, vacation time or retirement or anything motivational and if you ask or mention any of the above they all have the same reply. If you don't like your job quit. Nice motivation day in and day out.

The supervisors can't seem to see why the performance of the long and short term employees seems to be mediocre to poor and all the supervisors do is issue threats and scream at people.

You don't get a nice job, thank you, or any type of positive feedback from them because they are all for themselves and they don't realize if you have happy employees under you their bosses would have happy supervisors below them.


Hawaiian Scribe profile image

Hawaiian Scribe 4 years ago from Hawai'i

Thank you for your hub. An important reminder that taking care of employees is a company's primary responsibility. Satisfied employees make for satisfied customers. And it ultimately costs a lot less to keep employees engaged in the business and fully involved, than to have a steady turnover rate and unhappy staff. Voted up, useful, interesting.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello Melchi. Many employees take a job because of the financial benefits. However, many leave because of how dismal they feel. employee programs must include affective components. Thanks for your insights.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi there GiblinGirl,

What companies offer and what employees need and want should be a match. Otherwise the incentive program of the company will be of no use. Thanks for dropping by. See you around.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hi JustCrafty,

I'm sorry you have to experience such poor working conditions. IF companies are like that, attrition rate of employees will be high. Although there are many seeking jobs, it is still a waste of time and resources training new employees. Also, it is difficult to create a productive corporate culture when conditions are like that.

I appreciate your inputs on the topic. See you around.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Hello there Hawaiian Scribe,

True taking care of employees is paramount to the company's success. Many do not realize the financial impact of high turn over rates. Investing in people is one of the best investments a company can do. Thanks for your comments and the positive feedbacks


JustCrafty 4 years ago

All of the companies that I work for have managers who are what is in it for me to offer the least amount of pay and benefits.

Employees are the last thing that the companies I work for think about, they think about how much they can make off the employees and they suffer high turnaround.

These companies think people are a dime a dozen and if you don't like the pay quit and they will hire someone else and then when they figure out they aren't getting treated good they quit.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Are there any labor related agencies protecting the employees from such companies?

It's always nice to know the reputation of the company before signing up with them. During the interview I often ask how long the position I am applying for has been vacant. I also ask how long the last person stayed with the company. There are many times when I talk to some employees and those previously employed before making my decision.


JustCrafty 4 years ago

Not really, I tried to get an attorney involved and she didn't want to do any leg work.

I contacted the Employee Rights in my state and they wouldn't get involved unless you are getting less than the minimum wage.

A couple of the companies have class action lawsuits brought against them but nothing seems to change except they tell you to quit because they can't fire you while the lawsuit is active or it might make them look like they are retaliating.

My state is not a state that really cares about it workers. Criminals and welfare recipients get better treatment than workers in my state.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

JustCrafty, what's your HRD doing? They're supposed to be the one looking after you. Do you have a union representative? Perhaps that person can help.


JustCrafty 4 years ago

We don't have any unions in our line of work.

We do vendor work for major companies part-time because they won't hire full time because they would have to give benefits so they hire more part-time so no one makes any money.

The HRD are just as bad as the supervisors and managers, they make things look like you are the problem. They pass your complaints and questions back to the managers and then you get the nastygrams from them and told not to go over their heads.

I am trying to get out of this line of work but have been doing it for 18yrs so it isn't easy to just find a different line of work that you don't start back on the bottom at minimum wage.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

Having to endure that kind of condition is just horrid JustCrafty. I'm sure the 18 years that you've been working you've developed different skills and expertise. You can bank on this plus your experiences.


JustCrafty 4 years ago

I have been applying for different types of jobs but not having any luck in other fields as of yet.

I know the economy is not hiring friendly right now and that is why I just grin and bear the conditions for the time being and try to absorb every bit of information and suggestions that I can as there aren't career centers or any type of places that help you with changing jobs, the state closed them up to save on money and put those people on unemployment and welfare great idea.


jpcmc profile image

jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines Author

JustCrafty, that's pretty darn weird for the state to do that. You really have to hang in there until you get better options. I just hope conditions become better in your workplace - or is that too much to ask?


JustCrafty 4 years ago

The line of work that I am doing now and have been doing use to be a great type of work.

About five years ago it was a job you looked forward to going to and you could make really good money. This was before the government got greedy and decided to let the US go down the tube for workers.

I don't see any real change unless the government lets working class people keep some of what they earn and enjoy it rather than fund everything that working people don't have. Employers tend to be greedy and stingy when the economy isn't doing well.

Working american are spending americans and as soon as the US brings manufacturing jobs back to the US and cuts welfare things will pick up.

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