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How manager motivate and demotivate their staff

Updated on June 5, 2012


This document aims to provide an insight into the effectiveness of leadership styles on motivation in the modern workplace, and those which have been out-dated by technology, lifestyle or new leadership styles. Through this it is possible to see which theories display Evangelical qualities, and have survived the test of time making them a solid foundation for managers to use on a day to day basis dependant on organisational structure.


Evaluating literature used to depict leadership styles implemented by the armed forces seems a strong starting point as it will contain some real world validity. This is because it is an organisation that requires correct decisions due to severe consequences if misjudgements are made. In one piece of writing Kurt Lewins describes three main styles of leadership used. The three major styles of leadership are:

-Authoritarian or Autocratic

-Participative or Democratic

-Delegative or Free Reign

Lewins suggested that a good leader uses a combination of all three approaches depending on the situation. This is because each category shifts the control of the situation from manager to employee. The level of employee capability can play a big part in the manager’s decision to share or distribute responsibility. For example the Authoritarian style would suit a new employee who is learning the process, Participative for a group of workers who are competent at their jobs and Delegative for an individual or group that have a better understanding of the specific task than the manager. If a manager takes these factors into account correctly motivation can be increased, but they are limited by environmental and structural limitations e.g. workers in a warehouse doing repetitive work would not work productively in a Free Reign environment. On the other hand a highly skilled product design team (i.e. Apple) would benefit from creative licence that the Delegative style provides.

One negative evaluation of Lewins model is that it could be viewed as Reductionist, confining leaders to only three decisions leaves little room for imaginative management. However if viewed as a spectrum in which other sub-categories can be implemented it becomes a much more adaptable system of control.

Maslow and Herzberg

There are two primarily debated structural models upon which motivational behaviours are based, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Herzberg’s two-step theory. Firstly Maslow relates to the changing factors that motivate individuals depending on their current circumstances. This implies that different environmental changes need to be implemented periodically as people work their way up the hierarchy to create optimum motivation. These stages range from basic Physiological needs (Food and Water), up through Safety, Social belonging, Self-Esteem and finally at the pinnacle Self-Actualisation. Benefits of becoming a fully developed self-actualising individual are explained in one of many relevant quotes from the book The Third Force: The Psychology Of Abraham Maslow: “…self-actualizing people enjoy life more—not that they don’t have pain, sorrow, and troubles, just that they get more out of life. They appreciate it more; they have more interests; they are more aware of beauty in the world. They have less fear and anxiety, and more confidence and relaxation. They are far less bothered by feelings of boredom, despair, shame, or lack of purpose”.

By identifying and categorising the needs of the individual Maslow gives a set of characteristics which managers would benefit from meeting depending on the group of individuals they are attempting to motivate. This can be tied in with Lewins’ 3 styles if the creative aspect of the work increases up the hierarchy and therefore the shift of control from basic following orders to vibrant experimentation of the working process. E.g. Repetitive manual work in a warehouse to earn enough money for food could be associated with Authoritarianism, whereas an Individual (whose physiological, safety and social needs are already fulfilled) running a whole department and coming up with innovative new time and money saving functions for personal development could be linked in with Participative and Delegative styles.

However due to the nature of a Hierarchy it rules out the possibility of Individual differences because if individuals had different priorities in terms of career (as they do in the real world) the classification of sections in the hierarchy would have lesser relevance, for example individuals putting up with lower wages for positive enforcement towards a future goal. Nor does it take into account the possibility of more than one condition being important to an individual at any one time therefore partially discrediting the process of moving up the pyramid of success.

Secondly Herzberg’s two factor theory contains two main components derived from analysis of two hundred accountants and engineers about their emotional dispositions toward their work. These are Hygiene factors that set the standard for a sterile work place, where the employees are not dissatisfied but are also not motivated. These include many reflections of Maslow’s Hierarchy such as Wages, Working conditions and job security. Motivational factors are built upon Hygiene factors and increase satisfaction and motivation. These are factors such as Status, recognition and Responsibility, which link in with the higher end of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

There are several positive logical aspects of Hertzberg’s Two Theories. Essentially it implies that we work more professionally in an environment that feels well structured. Building upon this aspect of professionalism the greater the opportunities (or less “dead end” the occupation feels to the individual) the greater the sense of importance and necessity to maintain a high work rate. Managers could utilise this by allowing their staff to know about possible promotions, pay rises or opportunities to impress to increase motivation. This idea is supported by finding from research carried out by Hawthorne into the effect of being observed during work. Hawthorne found that no matter what experimental influence was applied work was increased with observation from which he concluded that the structure of a working group can affect the level of individual motivation and that social influence was much more prevalent than he previously assumed.

If the Hygiene factors are not met they can be seen in trends such as poor customer service, low productivity and complaints over wages. Hertzberg implies this is because the situational factors are not satisfactory in the mind of the employees and they are therefore demotivated to perform. To target these problems managers should seek out the route of the problem, review their flexibility and therefore decide which of their options would most benefit the company in the long run. A real world example would be an employee strike over lack of breaks, the manager decides if it is financially viable to allow an extra 15 minute paid break. If this is plausible the change will occur, if it is not the manager will have to look at other options such as job enrichment or having to make particular individuals redundant due to lack of reasonable co-operation.


In 1960 Douglas McGregor released two interlinking theories involving two very different stereotypes. Theory X implied that people dislike work and that punishment and financial enforcement is the only reasons people will work. It can be linked to Authoritarian management. Theory Y on the other hand angles more towards people wanting to work for the sake of positive enforcement and personal improvement therefore assuming people want to be creative and are interested in being part of an organisation that can improve their status. It is more commonly associated with participative management style and partially Delegative. Both are concurrent with different sections of Maslow’s Hierarchy.

Building upon this Adams put forward the equity theory in which he stated “Individuals compare their inputs and outcomes with those of others and act to eliminate inequalities” which partially supports both theory X and Y on the basis that inequalities could be financial and/or status.

The Gilbreths

One very strong example of a combination of management structure is the Gilbreths scientific management theory. Frank and Lillian Gilbreth believed in extreme micro management to ultimately make every single part of a process work to its maximum efficiency ensuring the most product is produced for the lowest opportunity cost. All work within their production was strictly guidelines and no deviation was allowed showing qualities of absolute Autocratic management. However employees were encouraged to suggest ways of increasing efficiency through the motive of cash rewards, showing Participative management style. If the ideas were relevant and effective they would first be trialled in a controlled environment to ensure they showed a positive trend. Using the combination of these two techniques is somewhat encouraged by Lewins.

Negatives of the Gilbreths theory are that ethical and repetitive exacting work can cause low employee satisfaction and lead to demotivation. Psychological studies have also shown that a feeling of low control over occupation can cause depression and anxiety questioning if Autocratic leadership is ethical in the long term. However the techniques used display evangelical qualities as they are the basis upon which many machine based work is devised, with exacting processes and minimal margins for error.

Kretch, Crutchfield and Ballachey

The problem with most theories into motivation is that they tend to be reductionist and therefore take into account only a few factors that are relevant to the situation reducing real world validity. To counter this problem Kretch, Crutchfield and Ballachey devised the Group Analysis Model allowing managers to have an overall view of all rational impacts on the cause of motivation or demotivation. These are reduced down into three main influential categories; structural variables (communication, size of organisation), environmental variables (physical layout and relationship with other departments), and task variables (deadlines, complexity).These combine to create intermediate variables which is where decisions over leadership style ultimately affect the outcome; the dependant variable. Although this theory does not directly inform the manager what to do in a situation it does remind them to keep all factors in mind when making important decisions.

Henri Fayol

Division of labour is a theory developed by Henri Fayol which allows specialists to thrive in a company and be utilised thoroughly. The basic principles are that efficiency is the direct ratio between input and output and effectiveness should always be more important than efficiency. Based on Participative methods individuals can develop techniques that they otherwise would not be able to attain and therefore become more valuable to the company possibly causing promotion. At this stage Participative turns into Delegative as the manager feels the individual is capable to deal with the task by themselves.


Many of the studies looked at above can appear vague and un-clarified as to what action to take, but this is due to the lucid nature of management. Such studies should be viewed as developmental tools and not absolute law. Motivation is dependent on the individual, the current situational factors, company infrastructure and most importantly how the manager in charge tailors all of his available resources to get the best possible results from his/her staff. Very rarely are two situations exactly the same and therefore it is the individual managers prerogative to utilise their own initiative. When a manager has a willingness to adapt and accept new ideas into the fabric of the company due to economic, technological and social change the potential to create a positive and driven working environment increases. “Significant restructuring never stops”


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