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Organizational Motivation And Leadership In The Workplace

Updated on September 12, 2012

The goal of an organization is to find and choose the best people for each position available. This may become a process of recruiting potential employees by advertising the organizations open positions in the newspaper or on the internet. Also, they may post their open positions within the company or hold job fairs in order to recruit potential employees. After hiring the best candidates, and once they are fully staffed, the organization depends on their employees to basically make sure the business is profitable by bringing in new clientele or establishing repeat customers. Within an organization, there are many different titles or positions. For instance, retail organizations such as my current employer, Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse, have employees on a corporate level who concentrate on several stores in an entire region. In each store, there are upper managers, which are typically salary based employees. Also, there are department managers, customer service associates, and cashiers, which are all usually the hourly employees. Often in retail organizations, the upper managers are considered the leaders in the company. They tend to make sure that all of the employees are punctual and that the employees are finishing their tasks in a timely manner. Sometimes employees are late for work or absent. This usually is the point where management may have to warn or possibly write-up employees who are continuously late or absent. Typically, if an employee is late or absent consistently, they will be terminated by management. I am going to examine and discuss how motivational theories could be applied to absenteeism, while analyzing the role of organizational leadership in absenteeism as well as evaluating the role of power and influence in absenteeism.

Motivational Theories

There are four general areas of motivational theory: need-based theories, job-based theories, cognitive process theories, and the behavioral approach. According to Jex (2002), “need-based theories explain work motivation in terms of the extent of which employees satisfy important needs in the workplace.” Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs falls under the need-based category. His theory consists of five areas of need: self actualization, esteem, love, safety, and physiological needs. “All of [Maslow’s] basic needs are instinctoid, equivalent of instincts in animals. Humans start with a very weak disposition that is then fashioned fully as the person grows” (Simons, Irwin, & Drinnien, 1987). In the situation of absenteeism, the managers of an organization such as Lowe’s may first attempt to motivate their employees who are late or absent to make it to work on time before reprimanding them. Once a new employee comprehends and understands the importance and need for being punctual and not being absent, they may grow personally and as an employee. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, this may be in the category of “love” because the managers attempt to give the new employees a sense of belonging, which may help them be punctual rather than absent.

Job-based theories “propose that the key to understanding motivation lies in the context of employees’ jobs” (Jex, 2002). Basically, certain factors of a job contribute to a person’s motivation within their position. Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene theory falls under the job-based theories category. Motivation-Hygiene theory says “the primary source of motivation in the workplace was the content of people’s jobs” (Jex, 2002). According to Herzberg’s theory, the workplace can be divided into two areas: hygiene factors and motivational factors (Jex, 2002). Hygiene factors include things such as “pay, fringe benefits, relations with co-workers, and essentially everything else that is distinct from the content of an employee’s work” (Jex, 2002). An organization’s employees may be motivated to work harder if they are being paid well; receiving great benefits or have good relationships with their co-workers. For instance, I have a very good relationship with my co-workers, and they make it easier to come to work rather than being absent. “Motivators include things such as the amount of challenge inherent in one’s work, the amount of discretion one has in carrying out one’s job tasks, and perhaps how intrinsically interesting the work is” (Jex, 2002). Some employees enjoy a challenge and take great pride in their work in order to overcome the challenge. Also, if an employee finds the work to be interesting, they may be more motivated to work hard so they are able to finish. For example, I enjoy working for my current employer. Because I find my job interesting and enjoy it, I am less likely to be absent.

Cognitive processes also play a role in an employee’s motivation in the workplace. “Employees make judgments about how fairly they are being treated, choose where they will direct their efforts, and are able to anticipate future rewards associated with different levels of goal accomplishment” (Jex, 2002). These cognitive processes give us a better understanding of employee motivation (Jex, 2002). For instance, if an employee feels as if they are being treated unfairly, they may lose their motivation and find interest doing something else outside of work. However, if an employee feels they are being treated fairly, they are more likely to be motivated to be at work on time and do the work while they are there. “Equity theory is a type of social exchange theory that focuses on how people determine the fairness of social exchange (Adams, 1965, Jex, 2002). It basically refers to how much effort we put in comparison to what we receive. For example, when a person is being interviewed for a position by a potential employer they may provide a copy of their resume in order to give the employer an idea of their education, work history, and job related skills. Based on the interview, if a potential employee feels as if they have not been compensated well enough based on these factors, they may be less likely to take the job. Also, if the potential employee decides to take the position, he or she still may be bitter about the lack of compensation, which may cause them to be less motivated to be present and work hard.

Another theory that has an effect on motivation is the behavioral approach. “The underlying assumption of the behavioral approach to motivation is that behavior is largely a function of its consequences” (Jex, 2002). We behave in certain ways based on what is going to happen after our behaviors. In a work setting, employees tend to try to behave in constructive ways in order to produce positive outcomes and avoid negative outcomes (Jex, 2002). Organizations may use many different things in order to reinforce an employee’s behavior. For instance, the company I currently work for offers bonuses or incentives for employees who stop theft. Because they put a monetary value on stopping theft, the employees are motivated to stop thieves from stealing merchandise from the store. When an employee is late or absent from work, the company may use some form of punishment such as a write-up in order to keep employees from lying out of work. Also, organizations often use feedback to help motivate their employees. If a new employee does something wrong without realizing it, a manager or veteran employee may provide them with feedback so they do not make the same mistake again. Each of these areas in the behavior approach helps to prevent their employees from being absent.

Organizational Leadership

In absenteeism, organizational leadership plays an integral role. Leadership may be defined as “behaviors that are enacted by the group leader, [which] may include organizing the work, obtaining resources for the group, providing encouragement to group members, and ultimately evaluating the group’s output (Guzzo & Shea, 1992, Jex, 2002). It is important for an organizational leader to help each employee understand the importance of their position and job. Leaders within a company typically provide and encourage their employees to take pride in their work and their hard work will pay off. Sometimes leaders will lead by example. While this is a good rule of thumb for a leader, it does not always prove to be beneficial. For instance, at my current job a manager who is considered a leader was an hour late for work. There was no punishment for his behavior. This may have taught some other employees that it is alright to be late or absent from work. Leaders in an organization are typically in a position to give the employees direction and vision as well as motivate them and enforce the rules and regulations. If a leader does not or is not able to do these things, some employees will take full advantage of the situation.

Power and Influence

“Power represents a person’s potential or capacity to influence others” (French & Raven, 1959). There are three potential outcomes to influence: compliance, identification, and private acceptance (Jex, 2002). Compliance refers to a situation where a leader’s influence is successful and the employee does what is asked of them. For instance, if an employee has an unexcused absence from work and an influential leader speaks to the employee about the incident, causing the employee to bring in a doctor’s excuse for their absence. This may be something that the leader intended. Identification refers to an employee doing what a leader asks because they like the leader on some level even though they do not want to comply (Jex, 2002). For example, an employee may help their favorite manager with paperwork in order to help that manager avoid being in trouble. Private acceptance is when “the employee does what the leader wants because he or she believes it is the right thing to do” (Jex, 2002). In the situation of absenteeism, a leader may have influence over their employees, which might keep an employee from being late or absent from work.


Organizational motivation and leadership are very broad topics. There are many types of theories of motivation such as need-based theories, job-based theories, cognitive processes theory, and the behavioral approach. Each theory has a slightly different view of a leader’s and employee’s motivation. There are many ways in which leaders are able to have an influence and motivate other employees. Sometimes an employee’s motivation is self-produced while other times it may take reinforcement or punishment to cause an employee to become motivated. In the case of absence at work, leaders may use their power and influence to motivate other employees to avoid being absent at work. With more research of motivation and leadership, we may be able to find a solution for absence from leadership and motivational factors.


Adams, J.S. (1965). Advances in experimental psychology. New York: Academic Press .

French, J., & Raven, B. H. (1959). The bases of social power. In D. Cartwright (Ed.), Studies in

social power (pp. 150-167). Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for SocialResearch.

Guzzo, R. A. & Shea, G. P. (1992). Group performance and intergroup relations in organizations. In M. D. Dunnette & L. M. Hough (Eds.), Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 3: 269-313.

Jex, S. M. (2002). Organizational psychology: A scientist-practitioner approach . Hoboken, N. J: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Simons, J.A., Irwin, D.B., & Drinnien, B.A. (1987). Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Psychology – The Search for Understanding. West Publishing Company, New York, 1987.


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  • Jason Matthews profile image

    Jason Matthews 8 months ago from North Carolina

    As someone who has taught leadership, I really appreciated hearing your thoughts on the subject. Pairing motivations with positions and leadership styles is critical. Thanks for sharing such rich information!

  • serenityjmiller profile image

    Serenity Miller 22 months ago from Brookings, SD

    Great information. I've been reading up a lot more lately about the behavioral approach, which is receiving corporate attention with my current employer as we look at embracing a "high-performance workplace" mentality across all levels (with approximately 2,900 employees in multiple locations). It's challenging - and sometimes discouraging - to consider the vast spectrum of change that needs to happen from the bottom up in order to connect theory with action in a larger organization. Yet I've worked with small companies of 5-10 employees that are even more deadset against improving the company culture. People are nothing if not interesting. :)

  • A Perfect Chef profile image

    John Smith 6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

    Thanks for the comments. I will have to start putting bold print more often. I hadn't really considered it. Thanks again.

  • ecoggins profile image

    ecoggins 6 years ago from Corona, California

    This is a very informative hub about leadership and motivational theories at the workplace. Many corporate managers and leaders fail to take into consideration the factors that go into an employee's job performance. Often they deal with their subordinates out of rote instinct rather than handling situations in an intentional manner. This hub helps supervisors think through possible mindsets at the workplace before reacting to behaviors. Voted up and useful.

    In order to get a better position on search engines you might consider adding bold titles in between each one of the motivational theory types.

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