Everything you need to know about the theories of employee motivation.“Motivation represents an unsatisfied need which creates a state of tension or disequilibrium, causing the individual to move in a goal directed pattern towards restoring a state of equilibrium by satisfying the need.”

According to the Encyclopedia of Management, “motivation refers to the degree of readiness of an organisation to pursue some designated goal and implies the determination of the nature and locus of the forces, including the degree of readiness.”

There are several theories on motivation. The significant among them are- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory, Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, Alderfer’s ERG Theory and the Porter and Lawler’s Expectancy Theory and Equity Theory of Work Motivation.

This will further help you to learn about:


A: Motivation theories can be classified into two broad categories namely – 1. Content or Need Theories 2. Process Theories.

B. Theories of employee motivation can be broadly categorized into the following heads – 1. Chris Argyris’s Immaturity—Maturity Theory 2. The Content Theories of Work Motivation 3. Process Theories.

C: The most popular theories of employee motivation are as follows – 1. Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchy of Needs 2. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory 3. Alderfer’s ERG Theory 4. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation 5. The Porter and Lawler Model Expectancy Theory 6. Equity Theory of Work Motivation.

D: The various theories of motivation are as follows – 1. Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory 2. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory 3. McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y 4. Daniel Pink’s Theory.

Learn about the Most Popular Theories of Employee Motivation

Theories of Employee Motivation – Content and Process Theories

Motivation theories can be classified into two broad categories namely:


1. Content or need theories, and 

2. Process theories.

The needs theories of Motivation seek to address the motives that drive individual behavior. Need theories argue that an individual’s behavior is completely dependent on the internal needs which one attempts to satisfy. Need theories put forward the answer to “what” question of motivation, specifying the content of the needs of an individual.

1. The Content or Need Theories:


The needs theories also called content theories of Motivation answer the question of what motivates an individual. It helps the managers determine the exact needs of the individuals so that the offerings can be attuned accordingly to meet the needs of the employees.

The content theories of Motivation are discussed as follows:

i. Abraham Maslow’s Need Hierarchy:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory is based on two underlying principles. It argues firstly that human needs may be arranged in a hierarchy of importance, proceeding from a lower to a higher order of needs and secondly, a satisfied need no longer serves as a primary motivator of behavior.


The hierarchy of needs theory talks about five levels of needs namely:

a. Physiological needs that is the basic needs of an individual that of food, water, shelter representing the basic concerns of survival and biological functions. In organizations, these needs are satisfied by providing adequate wages and creating an ideal work environment and developing employees in maintaining this.

b. Safety needs offer protection by providing an encouraging physical and emotional environment. These needs can be satisfied in the work place by job stability, a sound grievance redressal system, and retirement benefits.

c. Social needs include the need for belongingness and association. These needs are satisfied by family and community relationships. Organizations can ensure the fulfillment of social needs by allowing social interaction, and enabling employees to be a part of a team or a work group and this can develop their potentials also.


d. Esteem needs comprise of two different sets of needs viewed from two perspectives namely the need for a positive self-image and self-respect, and the need for recognition and respect from others. These needs can be addressed by providing a variety of extrinsic symbols of accomplishment, like job tide, recognition and rewards, assigning challenging job assignments and all are an intrinsic part of HRD process.

e. Self-actualization needs are formed when an individual realizing one’s own potential is seeking self-fulfillment and self- development. These needs are most difficult for a manager to address as it has to be met entirely by the individual himself. But managers can help by promoting a culture wherein self-actualization is possible.

By giving the employees, a chance to participate in making decisions, about their work, and the opportunity to learn new things about the work, and the organization byway of HRD practices can help achieve these needs. HRD modules can act as a vehicle for addressing the self-actualization needs of the individuals.

ii. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory:


Herzberg conducted a study by interviewing 200 accountants and engineers in order to know, what makes the individuals feel satisfied or dissatisfied at the work place. His findings indicated that peoples’ levels of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are influenced by two independent sets of factors – motivation factors and hygiene factors.

The motivators were the content factors and hygiene factors related to the context of the job. Motivators were generally achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and growth, which are related to job satisfaction. Hygiene factors deal with external factors like company policy, supervision, administration and working conditions, salary, status, security and interpersonal relations.

This theory has enormous value since it challenged the traditional way of thinking. It was believed that one is either dissatisfied or satisfied but this theory said that if one is not dissatisfied it never meant that he was satisfied; there was a possibility and zone of no satisfaction also that existed. Further, Herzberg was of the view that a manager who tried to motivate the employee, by using only the hygiene factor, such as – pay and good working conditions, was not likely to Succeed.

To motivate employees and produce a higher level of satisfaction, managers could also offer other factors such as – higher responsibility and provide an opportunity for advancement, as motivational factors. This theory has implications for HRD practitioners as these deals with basic tenets of human behavior.


It is believed that these two sets of factors correspond to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The motivating factors relate to the highest level – esteem and self- actualization needs, and hygiene factors relate to lower-level needs of physiological, safety and social needs.

iii. Clayton Alderfer’s Existence – Relatedness – Growth (ERG) Theory:

ERG theory emphasizes more on three expansive needs of existence, relatedness and growth. Its premise is that there may be more than one need operating at the same time. Existence needs relate to the desires for material and physical well-being. These needs can be satisfied with food, water, air, shelter, working conditions, pay, and fringe benefits.

Relatedness needs are the desires to establish and preserve interpersonal relationships and are satisfied by relationships within the kin, associates, supervisors, subordinates, and co-workers. Growth needs are the wishes to be creative, make useful and productive contributions and to have prospects for personal development.

Alderfer states that when a higher level need is exasperating, the individual desires to fulfill lower level needs. Thus, while Maslow talked about satisfaction-progression, ERG theory contains frustration-regression dimension. Frustration at higher level need may lead to regression towards fulfillment of lower level needs.

This theory is important since it is more consistent with the common knowledge of differences among people and tries to tune the offerings according to the needs of people. It is important from HRD perspective since, it discusses the main three areas of human life that of existence, growth and relatedness and these are innate to any human development.


McClelland’s Achievement-Motivation Theory of Motivation:

McClelland identified three types of motivation needs as follows:

a. Need for Achievement is the desire to realize a goal effectively. Employees with a high degree of need for achievement, have a desire to assume greater personal responsibility, set difficult goals, have a desire for specific and immediate feedback and are preoccupied with their task.

b. Need for affiliation is the desire for human camaraderie and acceptance. People with a strong need for affiliation, prefer a job which demands social interaction, and that offers an opportunity to make friends.

c. Need for power is the desire to be influential in a group, and to control one’s environment. It has been observed that people with a strong need, are likely to be superior performers, have good attendance records, and occupy supervisory positions.

Therefore when HRD modules are to be designed, proper knowledge of what motivates is important for fine tuning the modules to suit the needs of the employees. A review of the four need theories shows that these theories stress the significance of higher-level needs as sources of motivation which relates to HRD. Understanding growth needs are particularly important in the present day complex business organizations with growing needs of innovative ideas, improved quality and greater capacity to implement the needed change.

2. Process Theories:


The theories that are concerned with the mechanics of motivation are referred to as process theories of motivation. These answer how the motivation process takes place and focus on why employees choose certain ways to behave over others in order to satisfy their needs, and how they evaluate their level of satisfaction after attaining these goals. Most popular process theories are the expectancy theory and the equity theory.

i. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory:

It states that the level of motivation depends on two things – wanting and getting. Expectancy theory is based on three motivational factors – Valence, expectancy and instrumentality. And motivation is said to be a product of Expectancy, Instrumentality and Valence.

Expectancy is the individual’s insight of the likelihood, which efforts lead to high levels of performance. Instrumentality is the individual’s perception that performance will lead to a specific outcome. Valence is a key that states, how much value is attached to a particular outcome, by an individual. If the individual desires the outcome, its valence is positive. The expectancy theory holds that individuals judge all the three elements- valence, expectancy and instrumentality in choosing whether or not to put forth effort in a particular direction.

ii. Adam’s Equity Theory:

As the name itself suggests this theory was proposed by J. Stacy Adams. This theory states that people are motivated to search for social equity in the rewards they obtain for performance. They tend to compare their rewards with those of others in the same rank. Equity or inequity occurs in the job, when the individual perceives that the rewards are more equitable; then outputs > inputs, are equitable; then outputs = inputs. The individual perceives they are under rewarded; then outputs < inputs.


How to motivate is an important answer from the point of view of the manager as it is directly linked to performance which is linked to HRD. No development is possible without active role of the employees and that is only possible if they are suitably motivated.

Theories of Employee Motivation – Top 3 Theories (With Evaluation)

1. Chris Argyris’s Immaturity—Maturity Theory:

Chris Argyris (1962) has examined industrial organizations to determine what effect management practices have on individual behaviour and personal growth within the environment. Argyris proposed two different value systems- (a) bureaucratic or pyramidal value systems, and (b) humanistic or democratic value systems.

According to Argyris, following bureaucratic values leads to poor, shallow, and mistrustful relationships. Such values do not permit the natural and free expression of feelings, and reduce interpersonal competence. They lead to intergroup conflict and a decrease in organizational success.

If humanistic values are adhered to, authentic relationships develop among people as also increased interpersonal competence, intergroup cooperation, and flexibility. In a democratic environment, people are treated as human beings; organizational members as well as the organization itself are given an opportunity to develop to the fullest potential.

Argyris further examined the impact of managerial practices and concluded that the concepts of formal organization lead to assumptions about human nature that are incompatible with the proper development of maturity in human personality. He sees a definite incongruity between the needs of a mature personality and the formal organization.

He also challenges the management to provide a work climate in which everyone has a chance to grow and mature as individuals, as members of a group by satisfying their own needs, while working for the success of the organization. Argyris also proposes changes in the personality characteristics of the individual when they have to move from immaturity to a maturity dimension.


The implication of the theory is that there is a tendency on the part of the individuals to move towards maturity with age. However, the role of culture, individual personality, and management practices do play a significant role. Argyris views that immaturity tends to exist not because of their nature of laziness, but because of organizational setting and management practices.

When an individual joins the organization, he or she is given little opportunity to control the environment and is encouraged to be passive, dependent, and subordinate, and hence behave immaturely.

Argyris has suggested that a healthy organization is one which is realistic about itself and its situations, flexible, and is able to summon its resources to meet whatever challenges it may encounter. He proposes a programme of gradual phasing out of the existing pyramidal organizational structure to create a humanistic system, and replacing the existing management system with a more flexible and participative management system.

The latter would definitely provide individuals the opportunity to grow mature and keep them psychologically healthy.

As the number of human problems facing the management started to mount, the limitations of the traditional human-relations approach to motivation began to surface. Starting around the beginning of the 1960s, those concerned with work motivation began to search earnestly for a new theoretical foundation and to attempt to devise new techniques for application.

In particular, humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was adapted to work motivation. Next came the two-factor theory of Herzberg. Later Alderfer recognized the Maslow hierarchy as three groups of core needs—existence, relatedness, and growth (ERG).


Because of the lack of research for content approaches, Vroom presented an alternate theory of work motivation based on the expectancy model. Recently attention was focussed on the potential contribution that the attribution theory locus of control and equity theory can make to work motivation.

At present, the content and process theories have become established explanations for work motivation, and there is continued research interest on attribution theories. However, there is no agreement over all theories. We will now examine the content and process theories in detail.

2. The Content Theories of Work Motivation:

These theories attempt to determine what it is that motivates people at work. Motivation for content theorists arises from operation of needs. The theorists are concerned with identifying the needs or drives that people have and how these are prioritized. They are also concerned with the type of goals and incentives that people strive for in order to satisfy their needs.

i. Maslow’s Need-hierarchy Theory:

The need-hierarchy model of motivation as espoused by Abraham Maslow (1951) is one of the classical and original theories. Originally, Maslow stated his need theory in the context of describing the nature of the human personality. In his famous book Motivation and Personality, Maslow further elaborated his need-hierarchy model.

The theory may be summarized as follows:

i. The functional disposition of human beings is their needs. They determine their behaviour.

ii. Human being is a composition of needs.

iii. Accordingly, human beings prioritize their needs, which they operate in a hierarchy. Hence the name of the theory is ‘hierarchy theory’.

iv. A person advances to the next level of hierarchy only when the lower-level need is satisfied.

It may be observed that basic or physiological needs and safety or security needs together may be considered as basic needs or B needs and the other needs, that is, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization needs as growth needs or G needs. Each of the needs is now briefly discussed.

a. Physiological Needs:

The most basic needs required for the survival of the organism are hunger, thirst, sleep, protection from extreme temperature, and sensory stimulation. They are responsible for the biological maintenance of the organism and are universal in the sense that they are common to all species in the universe. Another characteristic feature is that they are instinctual in nature, implying that they are involuntary, personal, and universal.

Physiological needs are crucial to the understanding of human behaviour. For example, in moments of crisis such as war, it is the physiological needs that are of prime importance to the homeless refugees, and they would, in all probability, not be overly concerned about higher-order needs.

b. Safety Needs:

Once the physiological needs are satisfied, the next level in the hierarchy, that is, safety needs get activated. Just like physiological needs, safety needs also have an instinctual base. Protecting oneself from the environment and other extreme dangers is a common phenomenon observed in all species. Safety or security may have as well as physical emotional connotations.

An infant feels secure in the company of its mother and research conducted on other species like chickens, ducklings, and monkeys further reiterates this fact. It is also observed that man continually indulge in behaviours which are safety-seeking mechanisms. According to Maslow, once the safety needs are satisfied they no longer act as motivators.

c. Belonging Needs:

Once the basic physiological needs are satisfied, human beings turn their attention to the group, community, or society to which they belong. Man is a social animal. This statement is true in the sense that human beings would like to be loved, share their feelings, affiliate with a group and establish an identity with the group.

These feelings usually begin with the family and extend towards the peer group and into other social situations of life. We may say that these may form a link between basic needs and other growth needs.

d. Esteem Needs:

The esteem needs represent the higher needs of human beings. Esteem may be interpreted here as the desire to achieve competence, confidence, and also experience feelings of ‘worth’ about one’s self. It means not only the desire to achieve, but also to get it reinforced by the group to which one belongs. In other words, there is a desire for recognition.

e. Need for Self-Actualization:

This is the highest level in the hierarchy. It is the culmination and the ultimate which people seek in their lives. According to Maslow, people who have attained self-actualization are self-fulfilled and have realized their potential. Rogers (1961) believes that the basic force motivating the human organism is self- actualization—’a tendency toward fulfillment, toward actualization, toward maintenance and enhancement of the organism’.

The characteristics of self- actualized individuals have been studied by Maslow. Maslow began his investigation in an unusual manner by selecting eminent historical figures and included in the list were Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Madam Curie, and Bernard Shaw. After studying their lives, Maslow arrived at a competitive picture of a self-actualizer.

Later Maslow extended his study to a population of college students. He selected the students who fitted into his description and found them to be in the healthiest 1% of the population and were making effective use of their talents and capabilities. Listed below are the personal qualities of self-actualizers and the behaviours he considered important to the development of self-actualization.

Characteristics of Self-Actualizers:

Perceive reality efficiently and are able to tolerate uncertainty, accept themselves and others for what they are, spontaneous in thought and behaviour, problem-centred rather than self- centred, have a good sense of humour, highly creative, concerned for the welfare of humanity, capable of deep appreciation of the basic experience of life, inclined to establish deep interpersonal relationships with a few, and are able to look at life from an objective viewpoint.

Behaviours Leading to Self-Actualization:

i. Experience life as a child does with full absorption.

ii. Try something new.

iii. Listen to your own feelings rather than the voice of tradition and authority, or the majority.

iv. Be honest and avoid pretence or game playing.

v. Assume responsibility.

vi. Be prepared to be unpopular with your views.

vii. Work hard at whatever you do.

viii. Try to identify your defences and have courage to give them up.

The need for self-actualization is distinctive and elusive. The more satisfaction of it a person obtains, the more important the need for it becomes. Though ill human beings have a natural desire to realize their potentials, usually only about one per cent of the population fulfills the need for self-actualization.

Maslow did not intend that his need hierarchy be directly applied to work motivation. It was Douglas McGregor, in his widely read book The Human Side of Enterprise, who popularized Maslow’s theory in management literature. The need hierarchy had a tremendous impact on the modern management approach to motivation. In one sense, Maslow’s need hierarchy theory can be converted into the content model of work motivation.

At the initial level, basic needs may be interpreted as pay and safety needs as related to job security matters such as seniority plans, insurance, pension plans, etc. Social needs may be satisfied by associating with formal and informal groups, work teams, committees, and so on.

Satisfaction of esteem needs is usually experienced as in receiving awards, tides, status symbols, promotions, and so on. When individuals strive towards personal growth and make attempts to realize their potential, then it may be interpreted as striving towards self- actualization.

Evaluation of the Theory:

Maslow’s theory is the most popular and widely appreciated. Even though later research did not provide much insight into it or support it, it is still acclaimed as one of the classical theories. No doubt we depart from Maslow’s viewpoint that needs operate in a hierarchy and that satisfied need no longer acts as a motivator.

Maslow himself ten years later clarified that gratification increases the need rather than reducing it. He also recognized that human behaviour is multidetermined and multimotivated.

ii. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory:

Focussing on needs as activators of behaviour, Herzberg presented his theory on work motivation. His theory originally was stated as the job-satisfaction theory, and since it dealt with two sets of factors which act as motivators, his theory is also popularly known as the two-factor theory.

Like Maslow, Herzberg also directed his research on what are the factors on the job and also the contextual factors that lead to motivation of the individual. Herzberg, Mausner, and Snyderman (1955) conducted a study on 200 accountants and engineers employed in Pennsylvania. They used the critical-incident method of obtaining data.

The subjects of the study were asked essentially two questions- (a) when did you feel particularly good about your job, and (b) when did you feel exceptionally bad about your job?

Responses obtained from this method were interesting and fairly consistent. It was observed that good feelings were generally associated with job experiences and job content. For example, when an employee was associated with a challenging project, he took pride in his work and was gratified when it led to successful results. Reported bad feelings were associated with work environment or context factors.

Herzberg concluded that job satisfiers are related to the job and job dissatisfies to the job context. The former were labeled as ‘motivators’ and the latter as ‘hygiene’ factors. ‘Hygiene’ factors are those that prevent dissatis­faction but do not motivate per se. However, their absence leads to dissatisfaction.

We find a lot of similarities between Maslow and Herzberg. Both of them focus on needs and their operation in motivating the organism. Upon close examination, we find that Maslow’s basic needs are somewhat related to hygiene factors and the growth needs to motivators.

While Maslow speaks with reference to a hierarchy, Herzberg’s model does not have a hierarchy. Probably we may also classify individuals as motivation seekers and mainten­ance seekers. Those who are concerned about hygiene factors are maintenance seekers and those who are achievement oriented are motivation seekers.

Evaluation of the Theory:

Herzberg’s main contribution is identifying the motivators. The aspects which if present in the nature of the task would certainly motivate the individual. Later organizations did take the cue from here and designed their jobs to include at least some aspects of this theory.

On close examination, we observe that motivators as well as hygiene factors contribute to satisfaction and dissatisfaction. The theory does not focus on situational variables. It is more a description of job satisfaction rather than motivation.

iii. Alderfer’s ERG Theory:

Alderfer’s is yet another content theory, where ERG stands for existence, relatedness, and growth. These are again needs in operation, which motivate the individual. The departure from Maslow’s dimension is that while Maslow arranged the needs in a hierarchy, Alderfer placed them in a continuum.

At the beginning of the continuum, we have existence needs, which when satisfied lead to relatedness needs, followed by growth needs.

Comparison of Maslow’s and Alderfer’s Theories:

The similarity of Alderfer’s theory to Maslow’s theory can be drawn from the fact that the existence needs are the same as the basic or physiological needs and the relatedness needs as the social needs, and the growth needs have the same meaning in both the theories.

Theoretically, one set of needs may lead to another but in reality the striving of individuals might differ.

Evaluation of the Theory:

When compared to Maslow’s theory, Alderfer’s theory appears to be more practical as it explains individual differences in pursuit of development regardless of whether or not other needs are satisfied. It is a little difficult to predict human behaviour on the basis of this theory as we are not sure as to what motivates individuals.

iv. McClelland’s Achievement Motive Theory:

David C. McClelland (1961) and his associates conducted research in the area of motivation in Harvard University. He identified three fundamental needs—the needs for achievement, power, and affiliation as existing in all individuals and acting as prime motivators of behaviour.

All three needs are present in all human beings, but differ in degree and intensity. The result is that some people are success or result oriented, some are people oriented, and others are power oriented. This explains individual differences in work settings.

A brief description of these three needs follows:

a. Need for Achievement:

Individuals with a high achievement motive are success oriented and would like to excel in a competitive situation. They have a strong, innate urge to excel and be successful.

The characteristics of high-achievement-oriented individuals may be summarized as follows:

i. Predisposition to challenging tasks with moderate difficulty level.

ii. Love for autonomy and independence while executing a task.

iii. Goal-directed action and perceiving each success as a stepping stone to higher goals.

iv. Interest in getting immediate feedback of their performance so that they are aware of their drawbacks.

McClelland postulated that even though achievement motive is a need, it can also be developed through the process of learning and training. All the background and environmental factors, such as family, peer group, school and college education, socioeconomic aspects, and cultural background, play a decisive role in the development of this need.

Research studies have shown a high positive correlation of 60% between mother and son on the dimension of the achievement motive. Also, in economically backward societies, if the need to achieve is cultivated, it would result in a large group of people aiming to be success oriented. Further, a high-achieving society may be developed, which would contribute to the overall development of the state at large.

That the need for achievement can be developed was demonstrated in the then famous ‘Kakinada Project’. The businessmen in Kakinada had undergone training in the development of achievement motive, which proved to be highly beneficial, and a reassessment after ten years showed that the results were exceptional.

In a work setting then, we have some individuals who are high in their achievement motive, and strive for their personal satisfaction, and thereby contribute to organizational growth. It is desirable that most employees possess this need to some degree.

b. Need for Power:

Persons who are high on the need for power derive satisfaction from the ability to control others. They also seek positions where they can exercise and wield authority. They would like to influence and control not only people but also decisions. People high on this need generally opt for positions in the military or politics.

c. Need for Affiliation:

Individuals who are high on this need seek people-oriented tasks or situations. Their actions always take them towards people and they experience a high sense of belongingness in a group. Given a choice or opportunity, they prefer to work or move in situations involving others.

Evaluation of the Theory:

We may say that it is a different kind of need theory since it focusses on three major ones. The interpretation of this theory in relation to the work setting may be tough in that employees with different motives choose their professions accordingly. Hence, we see a close relation between motivation and satisfaction in this theory.

Nevertheless, the theory is criticized—how can motives be trained or learned? Secondly, the permanence need is also questioned. Lastly, in a typical socially backward society, how much of an achievement motive can be expected to be there among the members of the community?

3. Process Theories:

Content theorists by and large focused their attention on innate needs and their operation in motivating individuals. However, they did not take into consideration the contextual or situational factors. Work in the organizations takes place in relation to the environmental aspects. These aspects wield a powerful influence in motivating the individual.

The process theories, of which we will discuss the following, made their contribution in this regard:

i. Vroom’s expectancy model

ii. Adam’s equity theory

iii. Porter-Lawler’s performance satisfaction model

i. Vroom’s Expectancy Model:

The expectancy theory is one of the most popular and accepted theories of work motivation. It has its base in cognitive psychology and in the works of Lewin and Tolman. Cognitive psychology places emphasis on awareness, action sequences, and expectations. The understanding of a situation leads to certain expectations and when those expectations are reinforced, individuals tend to repeat the behaviour.

The three constructs of Vroom’s theory are (a) valence, (b) instrumentality, and (c) expectancy.

(a) Valence:

Valence refers to the degree of desirability of outcomes as perceived by the individual. In other words, it refers to the strength of an individual preference for a particular outcome. A valence of 0 indicates neutrality or indifference to the outcome.

(b) Instrumentality:

Instrumentality refers to the awareness of the individual as to what behavioural sequences need to be undertaken in order to realize the goal. The action sequences leading to expectations are manifest and may be observed by one and all. For example, an employee may be working hard. He has set his eyes on promotion.

The fact that he or she is working hard is being observed and the employee also understands that the organization values hard work. Working hard is the first-level outcome and getting a promotion is the second- level outcome.

(c) Expectancy:

Expectancy refers to the belief that the action sequences will lead to the desired second-level outcome. The individual would make an estimate as to the probability of the outcome based on the effort involved. Hence, it differs from instrumentality in that while expectancy refers to, the belief system, instrumentality refers to the action sequences. The individual will not contemplate undertaking an activity if his expectancy level is low.

In essence, we may say that the probability that an individual will undertake certain actions depends upon not only the strength of the motive, but also on the estimate of the individual about the occurrence of the outcome.

Evaluation of the Theory:

Vroom’s theory has highlighted the process involved in understanding the nature of work behaviour. The outcomes influence the work values of the employees depending upon what is important to them and the way in which each individual sequences his work-life activities.

However, the generalization of the theory in all contexts is questioned. Often employees may not have a clear idea about organizational values and support systems. Further, even though we assume that instrumentality leads to expected behaviours, there are numerous instances when the contrary has taken place. Nevertheless, the theory has found application in organizations, such as in management by objectives, goal setting, etc.

ii. Adam’s Equity Theory:

The equity theory has its origin in Starry Adam’s theory in the field of economics. The world ‘equity’ denotes balance, fairness, etc. The theory advocates that individuals expect to be treated equitably in their work relationships. Fairness in treatment is meted out in terms of wages and other fringe benefits.

Employees make constant comparisons with other’s inputs and other’s rewards and efforts are made to restore balance in the same direction.

Evaluation of the Theory:

The theory focuses more on rewards as managed by the organization. As the individual moves towards equity, it results in job satisfaction and better performance. The theory also has a cognitive base and puts emphasis on an employee’s ability to understand and evaluate the situation accurately. There has been lot of research on this theory, and the findings have supported it.

iii. Porter and Lawler’s Performance-Satisfaction Model:

The entire work-motivation theory hinges on the fact that motivation leads to high performance, thereby resulting in satisfaction on the job. Porter and Lawler, in their classic theory, for the first time treated them as separate variables and relate them in ways different from what has traditionally been assumed.

The theory has some similarities to Vroom’s theory. At the first step, we have effort as invested by the individual. Effort is again mediated by abilities and results in performance. Performance on the job would naturally be reinforced by the organization in the form of rewards. Rewards again may be experienced by the individual as extrinsic rewards in the form of pay or other benefits or as intrinsic satisfaction, etc.

Here we have a similarity to Vroom’s theory in the sense that the value an individual attaches to the rewards would again influence the effort invested by the individual. At times, there may be high performance, but the employee may or may not experience satisfaction.

Evaluation of the Theory:

The theory for the first time separated the variables of motivation—perform­ance and satisfaction. It generated considerable research and raised further questions as to how satisfaction may be related to commitment and employee morale, etc.

General Evaluation of the Theories:

All the theories need to be appreciated in the context and time in which they were stated. The content theorists, in general, focussed on the individual, the operation, and prioritization of needs and the factors that need to be present on the job to create motivation.

McClelland’s theory is unique in the sense that he postulates that motivation can be developed from the early stage of one’s life through conditioning and socialization practices. The process theorists, on the other hand, focussed on the mechanisms that operate on the job. Hence, there was a shift from individual needs to job content and work environmental aspects.

Hence, we see that in the implication of motivation theories, all these aspects are taken into consideration. Specific applications are found in job designing and job-enrichment programmes, which have a direct relation to Herzberg’s theory.

Theories of Employee Motivation – Maslow’s, Herzberg’s, Alderfer’s, Vroom’s, Porter, Lawler and Equity Theory of Motivation

There are several theories on motivation. The significant among them are- Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg’s Two-factor Theory, Vroom’s Expectancy Theory, Alderfer’s ERG Theory and the Porter and Lawler’s Expectancy Theory and Equity Theory of Work Motivation.

(1) Maslow’s Theory of Hierarchy of Needs:

According to Maslow, human needs form a hierarchy, starting at the bottom with the physiological needs and ascending to the highest need of self-actualisation. He says when one set of needs are satisfied they no longer work as motivators as a man seeks to satisfy the next higher level needs.

The Need Hierarchy:

(i) Physiological Needs:

These are the basic necessities of human life — food, water, warmth, shelter, sleep and sexual satisfaction. Maslow says that until these needs are satisfied to the required level the man does not aim for the satisfaction of the next higher level needs. As far as work organisation is concerned these needs include basic needs like pay, allowance, incentives and benefits.

(ii) Security/Safety Needs:

These refer to the need to be free of physical danger or the feeling of loss of food, job or shelter. When the physiological needs are satisfied man starts thinking of the way by which he can continue to satisfy these physiological needs. Security needs spring up the moment he makes an effort in the direction of providing himself the source of continuity of physiological needs.

This is exactly the reason why attitude towards security is an important consideration in choosing the job. These needs as far as work organisation is concerned include-conformity, security plans, membership in unions, severance pay etc.

(iii) Social Needs (Affiliation or Acceptance Needs):

When the physiological and security needs are satisfied these social needs begin occupying the mind of a man. This is exactly why he looks for the association of other human beings and strives hard to be accepted by its group. Social needs at work place include: human relations, formal and informal work groups.

(iv) Esteem Needs:

These needs are power, prestige, status and self-confidence. Every man has a feeling of importance and he wants others to regard him highly. These needs make people aim high and make them achieve something great. These needs for employees include status symbols, awards, promotions, titles etc.

(v) Self-Actualization Needs:

This is the highest need in the hierarchy. This refers to the desire to become what one is capable of becoming. Man tries to maximise his potential and accomplish something, when this need is activated in him.

Critical Analysis of Maslow’s Theory:

The first question that arises is “do needs follow hierarchy?” Studies and surveys conducted by experts reveal that needs do follow hierarchy to some extent. But it should be remembered that it cannot be generalised in the sense that needs do not necessarily follow the same hierarchy among all people at all times. It also depends on the cultural values and personality of the individuals and their environment. But it is true that psychological needs would emerge only after the physiological needs are satisfied.

(2) Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory:

Maslow’s theory has been modified by Herzberg and he called it two-factor theory of motivation. According to him the first group of needs is such things as company policy and administration, supervision, working conditions, interpersonnel relations, salary, status, job security and personal life.

Herzberg called these factors as ‘dissatisfiers’ and not motivators. By this he means that their presence or existence does not motivate in the sense of yielding satisfaction, but their absence would result in dissatisfaction. These are also referred to as ‘hygiene’ factors.

In the second group are the ‘satisfiers’, in the sense that they are motivators, which are related to ‘Job content.’ He included the factors of achievement, recognition, challenging work, advancement and growth in the job. He says that their presence will yield feelings of satisfaction or no satisfaction, but not dissatisfaction.

Comparison of Maslow’s and Herzberg’s Models:

If we compare Herzberg and Maslow’s models we can see that Herzberg’s theory is not much different from that of Maslow. Most of the maintenance factors of Herzberg come under low level needs of Maslow. Maslow says when the lower level needs are satisfied they stop being motivators and what Herzberg says is the same in the sense that they are maintenance factors (not motivators).

But one particular difference that can be talked of here is that Maslow emphasises that any unsatisfied need, whether of lower or higher level, will motivate people and Herzberg clearly identifies certain needs and calls them as maintenance factors which can never be motivators.

(3) Alderfer’s ERG Theory:

Alderfer also feels that needs should be categorised and that there is basic distinction between lower orders needs and higher order needs. Alderfer identifies three groups of needs, viz., Existence, Relatedness and Growth and that is why his theory is called ERG theory. The existence needs are concerned with survival or physiological well-being. The relatedness needs talk of the importance of interpersonal and social relationships. The growth needs are concerned with the individual’s intrinsic desire for personal development.

This theory is somewhat similar to that of Maslow’s and Herzberg’s models. But unlike Maslow and Herzberg he does not assert that a lower level need has to be satisfied before a higher level need, nor does he say that deprivation is the only way to activate a need. So, a person’s background and cultural environment may make him think of relatedness needs or growth needs though his existence needs are unfulfilled.

(4) Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation:

Victor Vroom felt that content models were inadequate explanations of the complex process of work motivation and he developed relatively new theory of motivation. According to his theory, motivation of any individual depends on the desired goal and the strength of his expectation of achieving the goal. Vroom’s model is built mainly on three concepts — balance instrumentality and expectancy.


Vroom says that valance is the strength of an individual’s preference for a particular outcome. It can be taken as equivalent of value, incentive, attitude and expected utility. The valance to be positive the person must prefer attaining the outcome to not attaining. A valance of zero occurs, when the individual is indifferent towards the outcome. The valance is negative when the individual prefers not attaining outcome to attaining it.


Another major input into the valance is the instrumentality of the first level outcome in obtaining desired second level outcome. For example, assume that an individual desires promotion and feels that superior performance is a very strong factor in achieving that goal. His first outcomes are then superior, average or of poor performance. His second level outcome is promotion.

The first level outcome of high performance thus acquired a positive valance by virtue of its expected relationship to the preferred outcome of second level promotion. In this case the person is motivated to achieve superior performance because he has desire to be promoted. The superior performance (first level outcome) is seen as being instrumental in obtaining promotion (second level outcome).


The third major variable in the Vroom’s theory is expectancy. Though the expectancy and the instrumentality appear to be the same at the first glance, they are quite different. Expectancy is a probability (ranging from 0 to 1) or strength of a belief that a particular action or effort will have to a particular first level outcome. Instrumentality refers to the degree to which a first level outcome will lead to the second level outcome. Vroom says the sum of these variables is the motivation.

(5) The Porter and Lawler Model Expectancy Theory:

All the content theories assume that satisfaction leads to improved performance. However, it was later found that there is a very low positive relationship between satisfaction and performance. Lyman W. Porter and Edward E. Lawler exploded the complex relationship between motivation, satisfaction and performance.

According to them, performance is a function of three important factors, viz:

(i) If an employee wants to perform, he must be motivated.

(ii) Motivation alone does not ensure performance and hence a person must have the necessary abilities and skills as well.

(iii) An employee must have an accurate knowledge of the requirements of the job.

The following are the key variables in this model:

Motivation – Satisfaction and Performance.

Effort – Effort does not directly lead to specific levels of performance. Effort is only the amount of energy exerted by an individual to achieve a specific task. It is only the result of the attractiveness of the reward and how he perceives a relation between effort and pay off. The individual will exert greater effort if he perceives that there is a greater probability that his effort will lead to the reward. So motivation is seen as a force on the employee to expect effort.

Performance – Effort alone is not enough, as performance results only when the effort is continued with the ability. Effort and performance cannot be taken as the same.

Reward – A person gets intrinsic reward himself by performing a task well. Intrinsic reward will be a feeling of accomplishment. Extrinsic rewards like pay, promotion and status are offered by the organisation.

Satisfaction – The satisfaction depends on the perceived rewards and the actual rewards. If an individual feels that he should have received more for what he had done, it results in dissatisfaction and vice versa.

Thus, motivation and achievement result in satisfaction or dissatisfaction of an employee about the job, organisation and the like.

(6) Equity Theory of Work Motivation:

Credit of developing this theory goes to J. Stacy Adams. This theory argues that a major input into job performance and satisfaction is the degree of equity (or inequity) that people perceive in their work situation. Inequity occurs when a person perceives that the ratio of his or her outcomes to inputs and the ratio of relevant other’s outcome to inputs are unequal.

Both the inputs and the outputs of person and other are based upon the person’s perceptions. Age, sex, education, economic and social status, position in the organisation etc., are examples of perceived input variables. Outcomes consist of rewards like pay, status, promotion and intrinsic interest in the job.

If the person’s perceived ratio is not equal to the others, he/ she will strive to restore the ratio to equity. Thus, the work motivation of oneself depends upon other’s inputs, output and one’s perceived output.

Theories of Employee Motivation – Top 4 Theories (with Implications)

The various theories of motivation are as follows:

1. Maslow’s need hierarchy theory

2. Vroom’s expectancy theory

3. McGregor’s theory X and theory Y

4. Pink’s theory of motivation

1. Maslow’s Need Hierarchy Theory:

Maslow, in his need hierarchy theory, argued that humans are motivated by five essential needs: physiological, safety, social, self-esteem and self-actualisation. In other words, Maslow identified five sets (or types) of human needs and arranged them in a hierarchy of their importance and priority. He concluded that when one set of needs is satisfied, it ceases to be a motivating factor. Thereafter, the next set of needs in the hierarchy takes its place.

The set of needs in hierarchy can be compared to a pyramid. At the lowest level, there will be physiological needs (such as food, water, sleep, and warmth). This will be followed by safety concerns (like comfort, security, and stability), followed by social needs (such as sense of belongingness and friendship), followed by self-esteem needs (like positive self- image, prestige and status), with self-actualisation (feeling fulfilled through growth, advancement and creativity) at the top of the pyramid.

Implications of Maslow’s Theory:

i. Physiological needs include having a place to work, regular monthly salary, comfortable working environment and essential facilities such as a tea/coffee machines.

ii. Safety needs include having formal contracts of employment, benefits such as a pension scheme and sick pay, healthy & safe work environment.

iii. Social needs of employees can be satisfied by promoting group working, encouraging team building through various social activities.

iv. At the self-esteem level, respect for others and praise is important. A 360-degree feedback and appraisal system can help in recognising employees’ contributions to the organization.

v. At the highest level of the pyramid lies provision of training, mentoring, counselling and giving opportunity of further promotion to employees.

vi. In Maslow’s theory, employees whose lowest level needs are not met will make decisions based on compensation, safety, or stability concerns. Hence, it is important for HR department to ensure that these needs are fulfilled before others further up the pyramid.

vii. Maslow also introduced the idea that our needs constantly change: as one need is met, we desire something more than before. The pay rise we received last year ago won’t motivate us for the next five years, the training course we did three years ago won’t satisfy our need to learn new skills and knowledge now.

2. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory:

Victor Vroom’s theory is different from Maslow’s theory. Maslow’s theory of motivation depends on satisfaction of psychological, safety and self-actualization needs. On the other hand, Vroom’s motivation theory depends on the outcomes that employee expects to receive due to his behavioural choices. It also depends on employee’s personal preference for the outcome.

For instance, an employee will be more motivated to suggest ideas in a meeting, if there is a bonus attached to it. Vroom believes that employee will be motivated to select his behaviour based on the nature of reward he expects to get. In other words, Vroom’s theory helps to understand the decision process that employees use in order to determine how much effort they will expend on their jobs.

This theory is based on 3 main variables:

i. Valence:

It is the attraction (or repulsion) of an outcome for the individual. Valence is the value that employee assigns on the reward. The valence of any outcome varies from person to person. Valance is deemed to be positive for an employee, if he prefers attaining the outcome to not attaining it. Valence is zero, if the employee is indifferent towards the outcome. The valence will be negative if the employee prefers to let go off the reward and hence, he will not put extra efforts as the outcome is of not much value to him.

ii. Expectancy:

Expectancy is also referred to as the Effort-Performance Probability. It refers to the extent to which the person believes his efforts will lead to the completion of task. For instance, if employees believe that they won’t be able to reach their goals no matter how hard they work (because goals are too difficult or deadlines are unrealistic), they are unlikely to give their best effort on the job.

Employees will be motivated to perform well only when they have faith that better efforts will result in achieving the goal. Expectancy is influenced by factors such as possession of appropriate skills, availability of right resources, and access to crucial information and so on.

iii. Instrumentality:

Instrumentality is also referred to as the Performance-Reward Probability. It refers to the belief and expectation of a person that his performance will lead to a particular desired reward. Employees will be motivated to perform well only when they believe that a reward will be waiting when a goal is met.

For instance, if employees can reasonably expect to receive pay hike when they are able to hit performance targets, the organization is more likely to get their best effort on the job. Other kinds of rewards can include promotions, recognition, time-offs etc. Basically, employees need have to believe that the organization will follow through with promised offers when performance standards are met.


During post-war years, many of the industries in Japan had the motto of catching up and surpassing US industries. At such time, Toyota launched a creative idea suggestion system in 1951. Under this system, any employee who gives valuable suggestions would get richly rewarded and his idea would be quickly implemented. Any employee, regardless of the work they did, could give ideas and take home rewards. As a result, Toyota made some notable innovations over the years in comparison to its competitors.

Implications of Vroom’s Theory:

Employees must value the reward as desired and satisfactory. It is not the actual value of the reward, but the perceived value of the reward in the mind of employees which is important. For instance, a person who is more interested in getting recognition for the hard work will not have any valence for cash reward.

The expectancy model is highly useful in understanding employees’ behaviour. It explains how individual’s goal influences his efforts. The model can help the organization to take measures which are aimed at improving relationship between the individual and the organisational goals.

3. McGregor’s X and Y Theory:

McGregor first presented his ideas on “Theory X and Theory Y” in a classic article titled “The Human Side of Enterprise”. After studying and analysing the behaviour of different employees at work, McGregor came to conclusion that there are 2 types of employees. The employee falls either under Theory X or Theory Y.

Theory X and Theory Y are two approach models adopted by the management. Theory X is a traditional method while Theory Y is a professional method adopted by the management to manage and motivate its employees.

The theories are explained in detail below:

Theory X:

The assumptions of this approach (regarding the behaviour of employees) are as follows:

1. Dislike work – It is assumed that employees dislike work and are lazy by nature. Given an opportunity, they will prefer to avoid the work or try to shift the responsibility to others.

2. Avoid responsibility – It is assumed that employees prefer to be followers rather than being leaders. They try to transfer the responsibility onto others. In other words, employees prefer taking orders and following instructions of seniors.

3. Disinterested in achieving organizational goals – Management adopting this approach assumes that employees are only concerned about meeting their own needs and goals. They are passive and disinterested in achieving organizational goals.

4. Lack ambition – It is assumed that employees do not have any career or personal ambitions. They are satisfied with moderate pay, responsibility and job security. In other words, they are not motivated to move beyond their present status.

5. Lack creativity – It is assumed that employees are not creative. They are dull, lack reasoning skills and do not use their common sense while dealing with problems.

6. Resist change – It is assumed that employees are inflexible or stubborn. They do not co-operate in introducing new system or methods as it makes them uncomfortable and may require them to learn new skills. Instead, employees prefer doing their routine and monotonous job.

7. Lack self-motivation – It is assumed that employees by themselves are not interested in taking additional responsibilities and initiatives. Mostly, they are forced to take up responsibilities and they need to be closely supervised by seniors.

8. Opportunities – It is assumed that employees do not take full advantage of the career opportunities available to them. They prefer to do their routine work. In other words, they tend to resist taking new challenges and higher job role.

9. Orthodox by nature – It is assumed that employees are satisfied with their current job and work environment. They do not support introduction of new ideas or innovative methods.

10. Lower level needs – It is assumed that employees are dominated by lower level needs such as job security, basic amenities and so on.

Since employees are not self-motivated and tend to avoid work, management adopts autocratic style of leadership. In other words, Theory X places emphasis on centralisation of authority. Further, management needs to maintain constant and close supervision over employees’ work. Generally, reward and punishment method is used to motivate employees to perform better.

Theory Y:

The assumptions of this approach (regarding the behaviour of employees) are as follows:

1. Attitude towards work – It is assumed that employees do not resist work. If comfortable work environment and good opportunity is provided to them, employees take active interest and initiative in work.

2. Creative – Management adopting this approach assumes that employees are creative. They use their intelligence and mental skills to deal with difficult situations. Further, employees tend to utilise their skills and abilities at work if they are properly guided by the superiors.

3. Self-motivated – It is assumed that employees are responsible and sincere. They are self-motivated to complete the assigned job on their own without any force or punishment. Hence, they need not be closely supervised by the seniors.

4. Interested in achieving organizational goals – It is assumed that employees take initiative and actively participate in achieving organizational goals. Further, employees realize that their growth depends on the growth and success of organization.

5. Ready to learn and contribute – It is assumed that employees are ready to learn and contribute more to the organization, if they are provided with good work environment and adequate growth opportunities.

6. Ambitions – It is assumed that employees have career ambitions and higher goals. They are motivated to work harder and make the best use of their abilities and take opportunities to achieve their goals.

7. Leaders and initiators – It is assumed that employees prefer to be leaders rather than followers. In other words, employees prefer to lead and give orders rather than working under the control & instructions of other people.

8. Opportunities – It is assumed that employees take complete advantage of the career opportunities available to them. They have the desire to grow and develop over time. Such employees are given proper guidance, training and opportunities to exhibit their skills and potential.

9. Encourage change – It is assumed that employees are flexible in nature. They are ready to adjust as per the changing needs of the organization. They support introduction of new ideas and methods to improve performance and productivity.

10. Higher level needs – It is assumed that employees are dominated by higher level needs such as self-esteem, self-fulfillment and so on.

Since employees are assumed to be self-motivated and ambitious, management adopts situational and democratic style of leadership. The management holds that their employees are reliable and responsible and do not require constant control and supervision. Instead, management focuses on providing comfortable work situations, career opportunities, counselling sessions and training to employees.

Implications of McGregor’s Theory:

Theory X and Theory Y are two approach models used to manage and motivate employees. A particular style of management or leadership is not suitable for all employees. Employees vary in behaviour, attitudes, goals and ethics. Hence, this theory is developed on the basis of distinct nature of human behaviour. The managers can use one or both the theories depending on their outlook towards employees.

The managers follow Theory X model when they have negative expectation from employees. They adopt strict control and supervision and use reward and punishment method to motivate employees to work. Those managers that have positive expectations from employees follow Theory Y model. The managers focus on providing comfortable work environment and suitable growth opportunities for the employees. Such approach is more suitable for the organizations in modern times.

4. Daniel Pink’s Theory:

Daniel Pink argues that traditional “carrot and stick” approach to motivation are becoming out-dated, and do not adequately address the needs of the innovative workplaces of the 21st century. He focuses on the effectiveness of three intrinsic elements of motivation at work- autonomy, mastery and purpose.

He accepts that money is a motivator at work, but once people perceive that they are paid fairly, then they become much more motivated by these intrinsic elements. Pink agrees that for simple, straightforward tasks, traditional financial rewards do serve the purpose of motivating employees. However, once people are paid fairly, they seek to acquire something more than monetary benefits from work.

The three intrinsic elements of motivation are explained below:

i. Autonomy:

Autonomy is the desire to direct our own lives. Pink argues that allowing autonomy to employees is contradictory to the traditional view of management. In traditional style of management, the employees are expected to comply with the instructions of the management.

However, if managers seek higher involvement & active participation from employees, then allowing autonomy (self-direction) to employees is desirable. Giving autonomy also becomes necessary as the tasks become more complicated. Pink asserts that autonomy could be given to employees in terms of four aspects: time allotment, technique adopted to complete the task, the team chosen to complete the task and choosing the task itself.

ii. Mastery:

Mastery is the desire to continually improve at something that matters. Pink argues that humans love to ‘get better at stuff, i.e., they enjoy the satisfaction from personal achievement and progress. Allowing employees to enjoy a sense of progress at work motivates them & leads to improvement in their performance. By contrast, lack of opportunity at work for self-improvement or personal / professional development makes employees feel bored and demotivated.

iii. Purpose:

It is the desire to do things having great value, i.e., desire to do something that really matters. When employees feel that they are working toward something larger and more important than themselves, they are motivated to perform better. Basically, employees intrinsically want to do things that matter. For instance, entrepreneurs are often intrinsically motivated to ‘make a difference’ rather than simply aiming for profit maximisation.

Implications of Pink’s Theory:

The organizations give autonomy to employees through flexible working hours, facility of working from home, freedom to spend time on developing new ideas/ innovating solutions and so on. In order to aid employees to gain mastery, managers set tasks for them that are neither too easy nor excessively challenging.

Such tasks push employees beyond their comfort zones and allow them to develop their skills further. Adding purpose to work ensures that organisational goals are properly communicated to employees. This understanding helps them to appreciate how their work fits into what the organization is all about.