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Employee Motivation Theories in 3rd Rock from the Sun Essay


In management, motivation is one of the main drivers of success. Planning in business includes goal setting, which works best with the employment of motivation of the workers. Motivation serves to encourage the employees to take more effort to achieve the final goal. There are a number of ways to practice motivation. An employer may motivate the workers using force, fear, or intimidation. In this case, the stimuli serving to motivate the employees are mainly negative; they create a tense environment at the workplace and are likely to become the reasons of low job satisfaction, turnover, employee shortage and loss of skillful and high performing people. To successfully and effectively motivate the workers the employers use monetary rewards. The compensation professionals work out complex systems designed to predict and satisfy various needs of the employees. Compensation and benefits may include monetary bonuses assigned for exceptional performance, different kinds of material compensation such as medical insurance, long and short term benefits rewarding the employees for various achievements, and bonuses stimulating loyalty and assigned when an employee stays at the company for many years.

Besides, there are perks, the benefits serving to improve the employees’ comfort at the workplace. All of these are tangible positive ways to motivate the workers. Moreover, there are intangible ways to motivate the employees. These include praise and appreciation from the side of the managers, recognition of the employees’ achievements. Such intangible motivation factors are highly important even though they are immaterial; they satisfy the workers’ need for approval and provide the feeling of inclusion helping to maintain harmony and balance at the workplace. This paper is focused on the examination and discussion of a video case – an excerpt from a TV series called “3rd Rock from the Sun”. The interactions of the characters of the taken scenes are studied from the point of view of expectancy, ERG, and equity theories.

The first theory to be explored in the paper is called expectancy theory. This theory has been first introduced by Victor Vroom, the Professor of Yale University. In 1964 Vroom noted that the workers are likely to show better results when they expect to receive a certain reward (Neck, Lattimer and Houghton 348). The final reward serves as a strong motivational factor that keeps the workers going until they reach the desired goal. Expectancy theory works under a condition that the final reward for the employees is truly desired. This is why the managers setting certain goals and assigning rewards for them need to think through about the kinds of benefits would be preferred by the workers the most. The reward needs to be timely, besides, it has to be sufficient and desired. For example, when an employer asks the workers to double their efforts and increase their performance by fifty per cent, and then establishes a small bonus as a final reward, this opportunity is likely to be ignored by the workers who would not want to do exceptionally hard work and then receive an insufficient reward.

In such cases the reward is simply not worth the effort required from the employees. Moreover, the final goal needs to be reachable. To perform successfully, the workers need to have an idea what has to be done for the achievement of the final goal. This way, when the goal seems too unrealistic, the employees would not be likely to risk working extremely hard and then getting nothing in the end. The manager using the expectancy theory needs to know their employees, their existing level of motivation and what exactly would be a good stimulus for them to improve their performance and start to actively pursue the final goal.

In the excerpt from “3rd Rock from the Sun” Dick Solomon’s first interaction with the waitress could be studied from the point of view of expectancy theory. Trying to establish rules from the very beginning, Dick makes an attempt to rationalize the process of tipping and to make it as fair as possible, according to his idea. He explains the rules to the waitress, yet the oral language he employs is rather ineffective because Dick positions himself as a person superior to the waitress. Dick says, “Every time you please me, you will see the pile grow (Pourbakhtiar). This way, Dick and the waitress are not equal partners engaging into a mutual reciprocity where the waitress provides services, and the customer provides a reward. The wording Dick employs demonstrates the inferiority of the waitress, as if she is Solomon’s servant and is to please him and be on her best behavior, while he gets to evaluate the quality of her job just because he is the owner of the pile of one-dollar bills representing her potential tip. As a result, the waitress’s need for respect is not fulfilled from the very beginning, which makes the monetary motivation Dick establishes look like a mix of a disciplinary measure and an open criticism on her performance, instead of being a desired reward. If this happened at an actual workplace where Solomon was an employer and the waitress – an employee, this would have worked as a negative motivation. Yet, in the video case, Dick is the customer of the waitress, and this puts him in a position where he has no right to humiliate her just because she is the service deliverer.

The next theory that can be applied to the video case and an excerpt of “3rd Rock from the Sun” is ERG theory. This theory of motivation was developed by Clayton Alderfer after the well known Hierarchy of needs by Maslow has been released. Alderfer’s ERG theory is a modification of Maslow’s hierarchy (Neck, Lattimer and Houghton 375). This theory includes only three basic elements, whereas Maslow’s pyramid of needs is built of five sections. In fact, the abbreviation ERG represents the three elements of Alderfer’s theory of motivation – existent needs, relatedness needs, and growth needs (Neck, Lattimer and Houghton 375). The first category of needs includes the needs for safety, comfort, psychological requirements. The second category represents the need for harmony in the relationships with others, absence of tension or conflicts. The last category stands for one’s desire for improvement, fulfillment and development. Our psychological needs are not met when there is some kind of disturbance that prevents us from performing our professional duties properly. Our relatedness needs are not met when we are in a state of conflict with someone at the workplace, and this creates a lot of job dissatisfaction. Finally, our growth needs are not met when the employer we work for does not provide us with the opportunities to progress, so we feel like we are at the dead-end job. These categories of needs are extremely important, and none of them can be overlooked.

In the scene from “3rd Rock from the Sun” Solomon seems to provide the waitress with an opportunity of growth when he demonstrates her “potential tip” and puts it down on the table so she could follow the size of it and its changes (Pourbakhtiar). To optimize the structure of tipping Dick applies merit-based method of rewarding that is supposed to be very clear and accurate. It is a rather transparent way to reward someone for their performance, and it allows a worker to monitor the size of their final bonus. Yet, Dick makes a crucial mistake, he does not include fair criteria for the evaluation of the performance of the waitress. Instead, he bases the rewards on his individual perceptions. This way, the waitress is introduced to a new system of rewards and fines, but she has absolutely no power to affect some of the aspects causing fines. For example, the fact the restaurant ran out of monkfish was reflected on the waitress’s tip, or when the quality of food served by the restaurant was included into the final reward (Pourbakhtiar).

This puts Solomon in total control of the size of the tip, allowing him to alter it according to his own capricious nature. As a result, Dick’s attempt to provide the waitress with a growth opportunity ruins the possibility to meet her existence and relatedness needs, because she is immediately put under the constant pressure of satisfying a spoiled and unpleasant customer, with whom she cannot get along and find harmonious communication. Besides, when Solomon lets the outer factors such as food quality or the presence of certain ingredients in the kitchen influence the tip, this creates a serious de-motivating effect on the waitress, since she becomes aware that Dick’s lack of desire to reward makes him do anything to fine her and take away more bills from her potential tip. As a result, merit-based rewards provided by Dick are completely unclear and reduce the efficiency of his communication with the waitress.

The theory that has the best explanation as to why Dick and Mary’s drinks tasted funny in the end of the scene is equity theory. The data provided by the studies focused on the examination of a various workplaces demonstrated that the vast majority of the employees have a certain perception of equality concerning the rewards and bonuses they are given by the employers. The researchers documented the changes that tend to occur when employees are promoted or demoted at their workplaces. This way, the workers that are assigned to higher positions tend to improve their performance and work harder in response to a larger compensation, whereas the employees whose ranks are demoted tend to decrease their productivity reacting to the lower compensation (Neck, Lattimer and Houghton 389). This happens because the perception of a fair and equitable compensation remains fixed in the employees’ minds, so they adjust their performance according to the level of rewards assigned to them. The research also showed that in case if the standard pay the employees always receive at their workplaces is temporarily reduced by some per cent, the workers react in a fascinating way beginning to steal from the workplace in order to restore the balance and re-gain the missing part of the compensation by means of theft (Neck, Lattimer and Houghton 389). This example demonstrates that the employees and the employers are in the state of constant communication, and compensation and bonuses provided by the workplace serve as the media of communication through which the leaders inform the employees about their value and show appreciation for the provided work.

In the excerpt from the show called “3rd Rock from the Sun” during the very first interaction between Solomon and the waitress Dick describes the rules according to which he intends to rewards the waitress for her professional performance and makes his first order – two glasses of wine for him and Mary. The wording he employs trying to explain a seemingly fair system of tipping he has invented is rather unsuccessful. Thinking that he is being clear and logical, Dick sounds demeaning and rude. He reduces the waitress to the status of a servant creating a situation where she is supposed to please him for one-dollar bills. This reminds of a process of training of animals, when they are rewarded with pieces of sugar or cookies each time they please the trainer. Logically, the waitress is insulted from the very first moment; she leaves for the kitchen and soon returns delivering the wine for Mary and Dick. The wine remains untouched for a while as Dick continues to “train” the waitress adding and taking away from her tip. The waitress clearly looks unhappy; every time Dick asks her a question she anticipates another motive for a fine. She does not enjoy the unfair treatment. Besides, she has certainly had experience with other customers who were much more pleasant and respectful, so her brain already contains a frame of equity at the workplace, she knows how she should be treated by the customer, and she sees that Dick’s attitude is humiliating and unfair. As a result, the waitress feels the need to restore the fairness, and takes her revenge ruining the drinks of Dick and Mary and they end up “tasting funny” (Pourbakhtiar).

The example of an interaction between the worker and an employer demonstrated by the scene from “3rd Rock from the Sun” makes it clear that it is better for the employer to establish the atmosphere of respect, inclusion, and professional partnership instead of treating the workers as slaves. In reality, often the job providers forget that their relationships with the employees work both ways – the workers offer services, and the employers offer rewards, so it is a kind of a partnership where, under the fair circumstances, everyone benefits. The problem occurs when the employers start to believe that the employees owe them much more effort than they already provide for the given compensation. Unfair treatment and insufficient compensation ruin the workplace motivation. Demeaning attitude makes the employees’ existent and relatedness needs unfulfilled. Unreasonably strict system of fines takes away the opportunity of professional growth. All of these aspects together create a massive imbalance in the employees’ perception of balance and equity at the workplace and make them adjust to these unpleasant circumstances and try to restore the balance reducing their productivity or taking revenge on the company and the employers.

Works Cited

Neck, Christopher P., Charles L. Lattimer and Jeffrey D. Houghton. Management, Binder Ready Version: A Balanced Approach to the 21st Century. Hoboken: Wiley, 2013. Print.

Pourbakhtiar, Hooman. “Dick Learns Tipping.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube. 2014. Web.

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"Employee Motivation Theories in 3rd Rock from the Sun." IvyPanda, 17 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/employee-motivation-theories-in-3rd-rock-from-the-sun/.

1. IvyPanda. "Employee Motivation Theories in 3rd Rock from the Sun." June 17, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/employee-motivation-theories-in-3rd-rock-from-the-sun/.


IvyPanda. "Employee Motivation Theories in 3rd Rock from the Sun." June 17, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/employee-motivation-theories-in-3rd-rock-from-the-sun/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Employee Motivation Theories in 3rd Rock from the Sun." June 17, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/employee-motivation-theories-in-3rd-rock-from-the-sun/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Employee Motivation Theories in 3rd Rock from the Sun'. 17 June.

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