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Defining Motivation and Employee Satisfaction Essay

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Updated: May 21st, 2019

The definition of motivation hinges around words like drive, inspiration, and impetus. It is about what makes a person interested in performing a certain task or engaging in a particular activity. Pepitone and Bruce (1998) defined motivation as the reason why individuals participated in certain endeavors. This view of motivation implies that motivation is essentially an emotional state.

While it is the more prevalent view, there is another way to look at it. This other way, proposed by O’Neil and Drillings (1994) sought to include aspects of cognition into the state of motivation of an individual. They contended that there is a thinking process to it, with clear decision making opportuinities. As such, they argued that motivation is not purely an emotional process but a composite process involving cognitive apects.

The discussion of employee satisfaction reflects the thinking presented by Kermally (2004) that identified employee happiness as an important factor influencing their productivity. If employees are unhappy, they lose the motivation to apply themselves meanigfully to their work, which in the end, compromises the quality of their output.

Kermally argued that employees perform tasks assigned to them on the basis of their interest in it, which always improved when they were happy with their work. As such, the purpose of this litererature review is to examine the common theories of motivation, to review aspects and the need for motivation, and to uncover the applications of motivation in conventional organizations.

Motivation Theories

Interest in motivation, as an area of study is not a modern concept, but one that attracted the attention of many leaders and philosophers from ancient times. The ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu produced a work that has important lessons in the art of motivation because it describes tactics a commander can apply in various situations to maintain morale in his or her army.

The emergence of motivation as a separate field of study came about because of specialization of disciplines that accompanied the advent of the modern era. Its current scope spans elements of behavioral psychology, social science, and management science, among others.

Because of this interest in the subject, several scholars developed theories to explain motivation. Three theorists stand out because they presented nearly distinctive perspectives on motivation. They are; Abraham Maslow, Henry Herzberg, and David McClelland.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

Abraham Maslow is famous for his theory on the hierarchy of needs. He described a hierarchical sequence of needs that motivates individuals to engage in particular activities in order to fulfill their most pressing prevailing needs. In Maslow’s hierarchy, the need in one level ceases to be a source of motivation once satisfied. Among the five levels that Maslow identified, physiological needs are the basest of them all.

All human beings do their best to rid themselves of hunger and cold. There is a high degree of motivation to get food, clothing, and some form of shelter. The second class of needs is the desire for safety and security from harm. The elements that constitute this need are safety from the elements, personal danger, and want. The third tier of needs identified by Maslow was the need to belong. This is the desire to be part of a society.

This need, the theory postulated, drives people to join various groups so that they get a sense of belonging. Maslow called the fourth level of needs, the esteem needs. It escalates from simply belonging to a group or society into being a significant part of it. At the third level, it is ok to belong, but at the fourth level, it is not enough. Self-actualization concludes the hierarchy of needs identified by Maslow.

It transcends all other needs and seeks to answer the question of the whole purpose and meaning of life. A person at this level seeks to achieve inward significance in life, not just outwardly in society.

Philanthropy is an often given example of an expression of this need. Maslow explained that all human beings are at a certain level of motivation at any one time and the key to getting the most out of them is to provide them with the opportunity to fulfill their most eager need.

Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Henry Herzberg put forward a theory known as the motivation-hygiene theory. This theory explains that motivation stems from two issues. There are factors that motivate people to do certain things while there are certain factors which contribute to the demotivation of individuals. The things that contribute towards the comfort of an individual in a given place are what he called the hygiene factors.

These are the factors without which people in a given organization get demotivated. Motivational factors on the other hand refers to those factors that actually make them to want to do something. The theory contends that the factors are not mutually exclusive. This means that in any work environrment, there are motivators and demotivators at play.

The actual state of motivation is therefore the result of the relative strength of these two factors. Doing away with one set of factors does not render the other factors inoperable . This means that dealing with demotivators does not automatically lead to motivation. It only averts demotivation.

Adair (2006) held the view that Maslow’s and Herzberg’s theories were too individualistic and did not take into account external factors. He said that they made it look as if each person is fully responsible for their state of motivation, disregarding the role of environmental factors. In this case, the two theorists concentrated on the intrinsic elelments of motivation to the point that they appered to diregard the extrinsic elements.

McClelland’s Achievement Motivation Theory

David McClelland developed the achievement motivation theory. This theory pins motivation to personality. It postulates that what motivates individuals is unique to them and normally comes from their subjective experiences in life. According to McClelland’s theory, as someone participates in various activities, they learn to associate the processes and outcomes with certain feelings.

Accordingly, the potential for the process to elicit the desired feelings act as a motivator for that particular individual. The person becomes predisposed to high motivation towards participating in the activities that elicit feelings of pleasure and achievement, while they avoid activities that at some point in their experience led to disappointment and pain.

This behavioral view of motivation also assumes that behavior is an acquired aspect of life. McClelland’s argument appears to be in support of an individually based motivation plan. His theory discounts group motivation theories and exercises.

Other Theories

The three theories cover different aspects of motivation from different viewpoints, and present a general overview of the major ways of looking at motivation. However, they are not the only theories of repute in the study of motivation. For instance, Kurt Lewin’s personality theory of motivation provided the basis for the development of McClelland’s achievement motivation theory.

The job satisfaction theory developed by Hackman, Lawler, and Oldham is another important theory that looks at job satisfaction as a key component of motivating individuals. This theory takes into account Kermally’s (2004) concern that happiness is a key aspect of motivation at the workplace.

Another significant group of theories referred to as the expectancy theories also occupy an important place in the theories of motivation. Various scholars developed these theories but they are associated more with Vroom, Porter, and Hackman. What they have in common is that what someone expects out of a process is the real reason why they remain motivated to participate in the process.

Finally, Douglas McGregor proposed two sets of assumptions about human nature and called them theory X and Theory Y. Each of them represents the disposition of a leader. Theory X leaders assume that on average people are lazy and require threatns in order to for them to work. On the other hand, theory Y leaders assume that people generally love to work and only require encouragement.

Motivation Review

Indeed, the development of theories in the field of motivation remains an ongoing effort. New views emerge discounting or affirming established theories. Each theory has an important place in the development of the understanding of how to motivate individuals to achieve job satisfaction. In some cases, the theories have undergone much transformation losing their original thrust.

Dye, Mills, and Weatherbee, (2005) identify Maslow as one such theorist. Despite very clear articulation of his theory, it has undergone stretching in every imaginable way to cover as much ground as possible in the application of motivation in both academic and non-academic circles. They also point out that some theorists such as Maslow have received undue attention, not because of merit but because of the fame.

One of the consequences of this situation is that the theory stands unchallenged and practitioners simply assume that since it is widely quoted, then it must be true. This is not necessarily a problem if the theory makes possible the attainment of desired results, but it robs the adherents of the benefit of a wider selection and understanding.

The Need for Motivation

The performance of an individual directly correlates to the degree of congruence between the person’s skills, capacity and talent, and the job in question. Organizations find it necessary to find ways of motivating their employees to ensure they attain a healthy bottom line. In addition, business growth and continuity in the face of ever-increasing global competition calls for the retaining of highly motivated employees.

Globalization has made it important for employers to ensure that they continue receiving the best possible output from their employees because competition is no longer localized . Employers know that there is an increase in work performance that is the result of a high level of organizational motivation. Organizational motivation is the overall effect of the individual motivation levels of the staff.

The working conditions in a particular institution may lead to the development of resentment and the emergence of a pool of difficult employees. The only way to ensure this does not choke an organization is to ensure every employee remains motivated.

Another reason for taking an interest in organizational motivation by employers is social dynamics brought about by an increase in the number of women in all levels of corporate and organizational leadership. With this increase, there is a realization that the motivational requirements of women differ in some ways from that of men, therefore requires more research.

On a general scale, men are more competitive and combative in their approach to issues. On the other hand, women are more collaborative in their approach making them uniquely qualified to fill leadership positions in business because they have a natural flair for teamwork.

Types of Motivation

There is general agreement that there are two sources of motivation for any individual. When the source of motivation is from within a person, the motivation is intrinsic and when it is from a secondary source, it is extrinsic. Adair’s (2006) fifty-fifty rule is a way of looking at these two sources of motivation.

He contends that in as much as an individual is responsible for their own intrinsic motivation, no one really operates in isolation and some degree of external motivation plays a significant role. However, the role and influence of extrinsic and intrinsic factors still elicits dispute.

Maslow and Herzberg seemed to subscribe to the mainly-intrinsic view of motivation. Theory X and theory Y on the other hand present a situation where all employees are either hardworking or lazy, and therefore may require external motivation to get the job done.

Approaches to Motivation in Organizations

Organizations use several approaches to motivate staff. The methods may use negative motivation like the instillation of fear or positive motivation using aspect such as money, promotion, or recognition (Adair, 2006).

One of the key challenges in the state of research in the area of motivation is that there is a lot more research on what motivates individuals compared to what motivates groups. This puts at risk the efficacy of methods that organizations use to motivate their staff. Positive results of the application of the methods at the individual level are not proof that they will be equally effective when applied at the group level.

Many organizations use various models of performance appraisal to gauge the effectiveness of each employee in performing assigned duties. The popular version of this approach is a quarterly based system where an employee evaluates their performance against benchmarks set at the beginning of the quarter and compares their self-assessment with that of their immediate superior.

Depending on the outcome, the company grants promotions and other incentives. However, dependence on performance alone may fail to identify and reward strategic actions an employee undertakes because the results are still out of view. Balance is critical for successful performance appraisal.

Bruce (2002) identified three critical factors that all employers need to have in mind regarding employee motivation. The first factor is that while motivation depends on the individual employees, there are certain things in the hands of the employer which they can do something about to boost employee morale. They include the conditions of work, nature of assignments, remuneration and work benefits.

Secondly, it is the employer’s responsibility to define perfomance, and to communicate what it means to individual employees. Otherwise, there may be sincere wasted effort as a result of different views between an employer and the employees regarding what constitutes exemplary perfomance.

The third ingredient is explicit communication regarding expectations at all times. Bruce (2002) contended that the clearer the communcation of the expectations to an employee, the greater the likelihood of them meeting and exceeding those expectations.


In conclusion, the literature reviewed potrays motivation and employee satifaction as parts of the same coin. The area is evidenced by the development of multiple theories which means that there is still a desire to explore the area more and arrive at a unified view of the field.

The literature also shows that the theories are in use in various organizations, informing their reward systems. These reward systems use the theories as the philosophical bedrock on which their reward schemes rest. The impact of these theories and their application is a very significant fact in organizational development.


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Chopra, S. (2002). Motivation in management. New Delhi: Sarup & Sons.

Dell, T., & Michael, G. (1993). Motivating at work: Empowering employees to give their best. Melno Park CA: Course Technology Crisp.

Dye, K., Mills, A. J., & Weatherbee, T. (2005). Maslow: Man interrupted: Reading management theory in context. In D. Lamond, Management Theory (pp. 1375-1380). Bradford: Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.

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O’Neil, H. F., & Drillings, M. (1994). Motivation: Theory and research (Illustrated ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Routledge.

Pepitone, J. S., & Bruce, A. (1998). Motivating employees. Blacklick OH: McGraw-Hill Professional Book Group.

Motivation and Employee Satisfaction

Motivation and Employee Satisfaction
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