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Expectancy Framework in Theory and Practice Essay

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Updated: Jul 20th, 2022

Since the beginning of history, group leaders and managers have always been interested in finding ways to increase the productivity of their subordinates. However, only during the last century worker motivation has been recognized as the main reason behind increased output with full seriousness. According to Lloyd & Mertens (2018), the 1960s can be considered the golden age of motivation theories as the most prominent frameworks were introduced during that time. One of such theories is considered to be Vroom’s expectancy theory which was first introduced in 1964. Unlike previously developed approaches, the author sought to establish the link between peoples’ anticipations regarding their work and its outcome (Vroom, 1964). Decomposition of motivation into three constructs, namely expectancy, instrumentality and valence, and relative ease of measurement, makes the approach theoretically attractive and practically beneficial. As for the latter, even the knowledge of a worker’s preference towards outcome rewards (valence) can help to significantly increase his/her satisfaction, reduce employee turnover rate and improve organizational culture.

The expectancy theory seeks to explain the peoples’ underlying psychological processes when facing the spectrum of alternative behaviors (Kiatkawsin & Han, 2017). Vroom (1964) argues that a person’s incentive to act is based on his/her belief in the positive and desirable outcome of inputted efforts. It includes expectancy, instrumentality, and valence constructs, which in combination constitute motivation force. The expectancy variable represents the perceived probability of success resulting from certain behavior (Baumann & Bonner, 2017). It is positively associated with workers’ confidence in their abilities, adequate job difficulty, and perceived control over tasks. Instrumentality is an individual’s perception concerning desired or undesired rewards that may follow his/her performance. Finally, valence includes the perceived satisfaction with obtained rewards in exchange for inputted efforts. It is highly influenced by an individual’s personal and career goals as different people place various values for similar outcomes.

An Individual’s motivational force is usually measured as Expectancy * Instrumentality * Valence, where the first two variables can take values from 0 to 1, and the third one can be equal to -1, 0, or 1. Therefore, to be motivated, a worker “must believe that a certain level of effort leads to performance (expectancy [= 1]), that performance leads to particular rewards (instrumentality [= 1]), and the rewards received outweigh the costs associated with the effort (valence [= 1])” (Zboja et al., 2020). On the contrary, the overall 0 result means that the worker is indifferent to the activity, whereas -1 would signify that the employee would like to avoid the task.

However, McGrath & Bates (2017) argue that even though it is not always practically reasonable to measure motivation numerically, managers should still pay attention to all the mentioned factors. For example, they can seek to determine what the employee wants, whether the task is not too difficult for him/her, and which rewards would bring him/her satisfaction. The latter should be of special importance to the leaders as constant addressing of wrong values of employee would lead to his/her dissatisfaction with the work. On the contrary, the correctly determined motivating outcomes would increase workers’ happiness and, thus, lead to a reduction in turnover rate and improve organizational culture.

In summary, the three pillars of expectancy theory were determined, namely expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. It was found that motivation is measured as their multiplication, where the first two variables can be equivalent to 0 or 1, and the third one can take values -1, 0, or 1. As a result, it was concluded that among other factors, only valence could be the reason for negative motivation, which is believed to lead to worker dissatisfaction when practiced on a daily basis. In turn, dissatisfaction can increase employee turnover rates and negatively affect an organization’s culture. On the other hand, managers’ attention toward subordinates’ values and career goals can help avoid or improve the latter issues.


Baumann, M. R., & Bonner, B. L. (2017). An expectancy theory approach to group coordination: Expertise, task features, and member behavior. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 30(2), 407-419.

Kiatkawsin, K., & Han, H. (2017). Young travelers’ intention to behave pro-environmentally: Merging the value-belief-norm theory and the expectancy theory. Tourism Management, 59, 76-88.

Lloyd, R., & Mertens, D. (2018). Expecting more out of expectancy theory: History urges inclusion of the social context. International Management Review, 14(1), 28-43.

McGrath, J., & Bates, B. (2017). The little book of big management theories:… and how to use them. Pearson UK.

Vroom, V.H. (1964). Work and motivation. Wiley.

Zboja, J. J., Jackson, R. W., & Grimes-Rose, M. (2020). An expectancy theory perspective of volunteerism: the roles of powerlessness, attitude toward charitable organizations, and attitude toward helping others. International Review on Public and Nonprofit Marketing, 17(4), 493-507.

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