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Academic Word List: Exercise 24

Read the following text, paying particular attention to the highlighted words.

2 Early Motivation theories


These approaches can be categorised under three headings.

Satisfaction theories. The assumption here is that a satisfied worker is a productive worker.

Incentive theories. The assumption of these theories is based on the principle of reinforcement, what might crudely be called the 'carrot' approach. Individuals will work harder given specific reward or encouragement for good performance.

Intrinsic theories. Man is not an animal, say these theorists. He will work best if given a worthwhile job and allowed to get on with it. The reward will come from the satisfaction in the work itself.

2.2 Satisfaction theories

There is very little evidence that a satisfied worker actually works harder. However there is strong support for the suggestion that a satisfied worker tends to stay in the same organisation. There is also evidence that satisfaction correlates positively with mental health. This suggests that paying attention to conditions of work and worker morale will reduce staff turnover and absenteeism but will not necessarily increase individual productivity. Herzberg's findings suggest a reason for this.

Under this heading can be grouped those theories that hold that people work best when they like their leader, or are satisfied with their work group.

It has been suggested that where satisfaction does correlate with productivity, it may be the productivity that caused the satisfaction rather than the other way round.

2.3 Incentive theories

Incentive theories suggest that the individual will increase his efforts in order to obtain a desired reward.

Although based on the general principle of reinforcement, most of the studies in this area have concentrated on 'pay' or 'money' as a motivator. To some extent this concentration is justifiable in that money acts as a 'stand in' for many other rewards such as status and independence. This situation may, however, be more true of America, where most of the studies were done, than of Europe.

Incentive theories undoubtedly can work if:

  1. The individual perceives the increased reward to be worth the extra effort;
  2. The performance can be measured and clearly attributed to the individual;
  3. The individual wants that particular kind of reward;
  4. The increased performance will not become the new minimum standard.

These theories often work well for the owner-manager or, at the worker level, in unit or small-batch manufacturing. If, however, any of the first three conditions does not apply, the individual will tend to see the reward as an improvement to the general climate of work and will react as under Satisfaction theories. Condition (d) of course, if violated, will only create a serious credibility gap.

2.4 Intrinsic theories

These theories derive their raison d'Ítre from some general assumptions about human needs along lines originally advocated by Maslow. Maslow categorised human needs as follows:

  • Self-actualisation needs;
  • Esteem needs;
  • Belonging and love needs;
  • Safety needs;
  • Physiological needs.

He postulates that needs are only motivators when they are unsatisfied. He further suggests that these needs work, roughly, in the kind of hierarchy implied by the listing above. The lower-order needs (physiological and safety) are dominant until satisfied, whereupon the higher-order needs come into operation. There is considerable intuitive support for this conceptualisation. If you are starving, your needs for esteem or status will be unimportant; only food matters. When adequately warm, further heat will not motivate you, i.e. the need does not operate as a motivator. Unfortunately the research evidence does not support the idea that needs become less powerful as they are satisfied, except at the very primitive level. Aldefer, who has simplified Maslow's needs down to three categories - the need for existence, the need to relate. to others and the need for personal growth - is at pains to point out that each of us may have different levels of each kind.

The assumption of the intrinsic theorists (e.g. McGregor and Likert) is that the higher-order needs are more prevalent in modern men and women than we give them credit for. In particular that we can gain a lot of satisfaction from the job itself, provided that it is our job, i.e. we have some degree of freedom in determining what the job is and how we will do it. This approach would say that involvement or participation will in general tend to increase motivation, provided that it is genuine participation. Rewards tend to lie in the task itself or in the individual's relations with the group. The ideal is to create conditions where effective performance is a goal in itself rather than a means to a further goal. The manager is a colleague, consultant and resource, rather than a boss.

These theories are appealing but there is evidence to suggest that they do not work too well when:

The technology prevents the individual from having control over his or her job design, i.e. at shop-floor level in process, mass or large batch production;

The individual does not have strong needs for self-actualisation, or alternatively likes authoritarian masters.

One would expect therefore to find these intrinsic theories working best where individuals of intelligence and independence were working on challenging problems, e.g. in R and D laboratories or in some consulting firms. The evidence supports this supposition.

2.5 Underlying assumptions

These theories all stem from some underlying assumptions about people. To a large extent unproven, they tend to represent the dominant mood or climate of opinion at that time. Schein has classified them as follows, and it is interesting to note that the categories follow each other in a sort of historical procession, starting from the time of the industrial revolution.

The rational-economic assumption. We are primarily motivated by economic needs. We are essentially passive animals to be manipulated, motivated and controlled by the organisation. Our feelings are essentially irrational; organisations must be so organised that these feelings and unpredictable traits are controlled (McGregor's Theory X Assumptions). But, fortunately, not all of us are like this. There are those who are self-motivated, self-controlling and in charge of their emotions. This group must assume responsibility for the management of the others.

The social assumption. We are essentially social animals and gain our basic sense of identity from relationships with others. As a result of the necessary rationalisation of work much of the meaning has gone out of work itself and must be sought in the social relationships of the job. Management is only effective to the extent that it can mobilise and rely on these social relationships. Issues of leadership style and group behaviour are therefore of great importance.

The self-actualising assumption. We are primarily self-motivated and self-controlled. We seek to be mature on the job and are capable of being so. External controls and pressures are likely to be seen as reducing our autonomy and therefore will affect our motivation. Given a chance, people will voluntarily integrate their own goals with those of the organisation.

The complex assumption. Schein comes down in favour of what he calls 'complex man' . People are variable. We have many motives which have at any one time a hierarchy, but the particular hierarchy may change from time to time and situation to situation. We do not necessarily have to find fulfilment of all our needs in any one situation. We can respond to a variety of managerial strategies. Whether we will or not, will depend upon our view of their appropriateness to the situation and to our needs.

The psychological assumption. This is a category suggested by Levinson, following Jacques and Zaleznik. A person is a complex, unfolding, maturing organism who passes through physiological and psychological stages of development. We evolve an ego ideal towards which we strive. The most powerful motivating force in us, over and above such basic drives as hunger, sexuality, aggression, is the need to bring ourselves closer to our ideal. The greater the gap between our perception of ourselves in reality and our ego ideal the more angry we are with ourselves and the more guilt we feel. Work is part of our identity, our ego ideal, and opportunities must be provided for us to work towards our ego ideal in work if we are to be 'motivated'.


The kind of theory that we subscribe to will colour all our views about management and people in organisations. Satisfaction and incentive theories, assumptions that people are rational-economic, will lead to a bargaining approach, to preoccupation with the extrinsic conditions of work, money and fringe benefits. Believers in intrinsic theories, in self-actualising or psychological theories, will be more concerned with creating opportunities for individuals to develop and realise their talents, with providing the right climate for work and the right type of work.

At this point it might be helpful to the reader to pause and reflect upon his or her assumptions about people and the appropriate theory of motivation. For we are now going to complicate the whole issue, to pour more variables into the mix than are assumed even by Schein's complex assumption or Levinson's psychological one. Working from a basic model of a person's decision-making process we shall proceed piecemeal towards a better and fuller understanding of how people answer the three questions posed at the beginning of this chapter. The resulting picture will be complicated and intricate. This is only in line with the intricacies of reality, but for most operational purposes psychological reality is too complex. We are reduced to thinking in stereotypes or over-simplifications in order to get anything done and to avoid the paralysis of analysis. This process of reduction is, however, a better base for action if we understand the underlying complexity and if we confront our other prejudices, assumptions and stereotypes along the way.

(Understanding organisations by Charles Handy)

Now try the exercises. Exercise a, Exercise b, Exercise c


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