Business / What Are The Motivating Characteristics Of Work? Discuss With Reference To Well-Known Theories Of Work Motivation.

What Are The Motivating Characteristics Of Work? Discuss With Reference To Well-Known Theories Of Work Motivation.

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Autor:  anton  30 June 2011
Tags:  Motivating,  Characteristics,  Discuss,  Reference
Words: 2274   |   Pages: 10
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Motivation is a very important aspect of our everyday life, as our motives are major determinant of our behaviour in work, at home, everywhere. The subject of motivation covers many question from different areas e.g. areas associated with business: �What stimulates people at work?’ �What drives people to do the things they do in their job?’, to questions about our regular life: �Why am I going to People and Organization lectures?’, �Why did I choose to write my essays on this topic?’. There are many answers for all of those questions but in all of them we will be able to find motivation as the main force of our course of action.

If motivation is so important, to what does it then refer? Motivation derives from the latin verb �movere’, meaning �to move’. Movement implies action and, in order to act, energy and effort are required from the individual, therefore the level of motivation is depended on the amount of effort and energy people put into their work. In order for a person to generate energy and effort, they need to be stimulated by the work they, environment they work in. Most of people are highly motivated when they are well matched to their job. It is the fit between people and their jobs which determines an individual’s level of motivation.

The fit of job to an individual is not the only motivating characteristic of work. Accordingly to Huczynski and Buchanan there are other important characteristics in form of work motivation theories, which can be divided into three distinct but related perspectives, from which we can explore motivation: content theories, process theories and job enrichment theories .

First perspective from which we can examine motivation characteristics of work are the content theories, which ask: �What are the main motives for our behaviour?’. This means they look for specific things that motivate e.g. wealth, status and power. The content theories view motivation in terms of goals that people follow and desire.

On of many theorists who have described the needs individuals have, was Abraham Harold Maslow. His comprehensive attempt to classify needs, motivating characteristics of work consisted of two parts. The first concerned classification of needs in classes, the second how these classes are related to each other.

He divided needs into five types placed in a hierarchy, starting with physiological needs (such as food, warmth, good working conditions), through safety needs (organised and orderly environments), affiliation needs (sense of belonging) to esteem needs (achievement, competence in the eyes of ourselves and others). At the highest level, the need for self-actualisation is found which reflects each individual’s desire to utilise his full potential.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs rests on four basic assumptions. First stats that lower level needs must be satisfied before higher level needs become strong enough to stimulate behaviour. Second that a satisfied need is not a motivator, as it declines in importance and the next level of the hierarchy increases importance. Third argues that when individual reaches the highest level need, satisfaction of this need increase in importance. The last assumption suggests that, there are many more ways of achieving and satisfying higher level needs than to satisfy lower level needs.

For many people in business world Maslow’s theory of motivating characteristics of work can have a huge recognition in motivating individuals, as it gives us a clear message: Find out which level each individual is at and choose suitable rewards. Unfortunately, we can encounter some problems and limitations when applying the theory to practice. Research supports that Maslow’s view that, until the basic needs are satisfied, people won’t be concerned with higher level needs. However, there is a little evidence which supports the view that people must meet their needs in the sequence defined by Maslow’s hierarchy.

For instance, not everyone satisfies social needs before moving on to satisfy self-actualization needs. Some people pay little attention to social needs as long as they are free to do what they do best. Furthermore, some levels do not appear to exist for certain individuals, while some rewards appear to fit into more than one class. Money, for example for some people can be seen only as means used to purchase �essentials’ such as food (satisfying physiological needs) but it can also be seen as a status symbol or an indicator of personal worth (satisfying esteem needs). Additionally Maslow’s theory is more of a social philosophy reflecting white American middle-class values and the needs can vary according to age and stages in an individual’s life cycle.

Nevertheless criticism, which can be attached to Maslow’s theory, his idea remains highly influential, as it recognised that the behaviour depends on a range of motives, in areas of modern management practices such as rewards policy, management style and job enrichment.

David McClelland is another representative of content theorists. In his theory he argues that many motivating characteristics of work are not as universal as Maslow proposed, they are social acquired and vary from culture to culture. McClelland recognises three types of socially acquired motives: the need for achievement, which reflects the desire to meet task goals by taking high responsibility and risks, the need for affiliation, reflecting the desire to develop good interpersonal relationships, teamwork skills and the need for power, reflecting the desire to influence and control other people by persuading, or leading them.

He also argues that people usually do not change their needs once acquired, and if they do so, the changed is very difficult to overcome. Therefore to make a correct judgement about the individuals needs, it is important to diagnose motives at the selection, recruitment stage, when managers can try to match persons with particular needs to positions where these can be best satisfied. For example an individual with high need for power may be a weak team player but can be a perfect manager in charge of a shop floor or a functional department, on the other hand a person with high affiliation motive have a need to relate to others and will try to gain acceptance of their superiors or colleagues, therefore showing characteristics of a team player but not a leader.

McClelland’s theory is not as good as it seems at matching people with particular needs to positions where these needs can be satisfied. Compared with other theories, McClelland’s work looks more towards senior managers’ development. Rather than focus on management skill, he argues that attention should be given to developing the drive for achievement. Another weakness of this theory is that the TAT (thematic apperception test) test, is not a very accurate tool in an assessment of people’s drive, ambitions and self-motivation. Once you find out what the TAT is all about, it is easy to influence the score. The scoring of the test is not objective as some parts of it involve subjective interpretations.

Accordingly to Huczynski and Buchanan: �content theories fail to recognise either individual choice or social influence. Maslow’s is a universality theory, which applies to everyone, and thus cannot readily explain differences between individuals and between cultures’.

The theories recognising individual choices, which look on how we make choices with respect to desired goals are known as process theories and deal with a question: �Why do we choose to pursue certain goals?’. Process theories rather than examine innate traits, aim to link several variables that make up motivation. It views motivation in terms of the cognitive decision-making processes concerning the choice of goals and the means by which to pursue them.

Perhaps the simplest process theory was constructed by J. Stacy Adams (1963). In his Equity theory Adams argued that people are motivated to maintain a balance between what they think they put into a present situation and what they get out of it: �a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’. If inputs and output balance with each other the actual level of workers commitment will be maintained. If inputs ale less than outputs (e.g. workers are paid to much), they will tend to work harder to restore the balance (increase input). If inputs exceed output (e.g. workers are paid too little) they will tend to work less restore the balance (decrease input). As we can see people try to reduce the inequity by balancing inputs and outputs. Inputs are factors, which are applied by an individual to a specific situation e.g. education, experience, effort, competency etc.. Outputs are factors, which are received by an individual e.g. pay, prospects, benefits, recognition etc..

Equity theory plays an important role in motivation characteristics of work as it can help managers to solve tension among workers, concerned with the level of inequity, even if the inequity is limited. On example of this is given by Huczynski and Buchanan. The tension can by build when employees try to compare pay, basing only on assumptions or rumours, thus are being subjective and imprecise. Therefore, the access to accurate information about rewards, and the links between effort and rewards is essential in solving some of the problems.

As the limitation of Equity theory we can see the lack of evidence in argument that if our input is smaller than output we are motivated to increase input in order to maintain balance. In most of the cases individuals tend to keep their input constant, when the output is too small. Another problem of the application of this theory into practice is the deficiency of practical guidance in improving motivating characteristics of work.

Motivating characteristics of work are also described by other process theory developed in 1975 by Locke, called Goal-setting theory. Goal theory assumes that goals play a large part in determining individual’s behaviour. Some studies suggest that people who work to agreed output or time standards perform better than those who are motivated by their supervisors oral statements such as: �Do your best!’ and that difficult goals will produce better performance than easy goals. The main motivation characteristics of work included in the Goal-setting theory (Locke and Latham, 1990) are:

- Goal difficulty - goals for work performance should be set at levels which encourage employees, but which are not beyond their ability

- Goal specificity – goals should be expressed in clear and precise way, not vague

- Participation – employees should take part in the goal setting process, in order to increase their commitment

- Feedback – employees should be provided with results of their performance in order to improve in the future.

However, Yearta, Maitlis and Briner report that most research on goal setting concerns just one aspect – the link between goal difficulty and performance. Almost all research has taken place in laboratory conditions and has examined single-goal settings, what does not match with the practice. A further problem with the results is that experiments include measures of performance which often do not apply. Yearta and colleagues by examining 170 scientists and supervisors in research centre (a real organization) found out that performance declined when a goal became more difficult. In response to the above criticism of goal-setting theory Locke, cited four independent studies in real organizational settings in which performance improvements were quickly obtained without use of rewards or penalties.

The third perspective views motivation as a social influence process and is addressed by job enrichment theories. The job enrichment theory was first developed by Frederick Herzberg in 1966, when he formulated a �two-factor theory of motivation’, which consisted of motivator factors and hygiene factors. Both factors affect motivation at work, hygiene factors prevent dissatisfaction but do not promote more satisfaction even if provided in excess e.g. pay, status, security, working conditions. Motivators, or growth factors, push the individual to greater performance e.g. achievement, growth, responsibility, recognition, advancement.

The Herzberg theory is easy to value and readily applicable in organisations. However some points are not satisfactorily considered. First, certain factors, in particular money, can be both satisfiers and dissatisfiers. Second, the two-factor model has been criticized because of flaws in its research methodology and the failure to consider differences in individuals’ needs.

Motivation is a vitally important concern. Its importance arises from the simple but powerful truth that poorly motivated people are likely to perform poorly at work. Depending on what problems are perceived, it is possible to work out suitable approaches to improving the motivational levels of personnel in the organisation, by using appropriate motivation characteristics of work expressed in some of the well-known motivation theories. There is not a set of universal work characteristics, which can be applied to all motivation problems. In each case we need to choose our own set, consisting of motivating characteristics included in theories illustrated in this essay or in theories equally important but not analysed in this piece of work and use them as a provider of tools which can be used to analyse practical proposals and understand their likely consequences.


• Hellriegel D.and Slocum J.W. Jr., (1996) Management 7th edition, South Western College Publishing: Cincinnati, Ohio

• Naylor John (1999), Management, Financial Times Pitman Publishing, UK

• Huczynski A.and Buchanan D. (2001), Organizational Behaviour, Financial Times: Prentice Hall, UK

• Kakabadse A., Ludlow R. and Vinnicombe S. (1988), Working in Organisation, Penguin Books: London

• Whyte I. and Plenderleith J. (1990), Management, Bankers Book Limited: London

• Yearta, Shawn K., Maitlis, Sally and Briner, Rob B.. (1995), �An exploratory study of goal setting theory and practice: a motivational technique that works?’, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, September, 237-52 Cited in:

Huczynski A.and Buchanan D. (2001), Organizational Behaviour, Financial Times: Prentice Hall, UK

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