Motivational Theories


Motivational Theories Essay, Research Paper

Equity, Expectancy, and Goal setting are the three motivational theories discussed throughout this paper. Equity theory is defined as social comparisons to others in the workforce. Here we review a field experiment of 198 employees and their relation to being reassigned in different offices that are either overpaid or underpaid. This gives us an idea of how environmental factors effect job performance. Expectancy theory is also discussed in terms of job enrichment. We see that the people, who volunteered, had both high locus of control and higher order need satisfaction. Also employee involvement programs were found to have the same characteristics as those who perused job enrichment. Goal setting theory, which is based on developing and setting up achievement objectives, is reviewed in sense of the relationship in the complex and dynamic organizational setting. Here we review the research of over 550 subjects involved in the study and see if there is any conclusive evidence between participation and performance. This paper aims to review the articles so that it can be better understood, give some insight on what other research should be done, and the application of this research to organizations.

Discussion of Theory

Motivation is the degree to which an individual is personally committed to expending effort in the accomplishment of a specified activity or goal (Eisenberg & Goodall, Jr., 1997, pp. 244-45). Organizations strive motivate their employees by using different applications. The Equity theory can be describe as the ratio of effort to reward. The employee will compare their ratio with the other workers ratio. If the employee sees himself or herself as under compensated, they could correct the matter by declining their quality, productivity, and increasing their absenteeism. Quality of work is hard to measure because of communication in the workforce. Every worker is different, thus communication for each worker has to relate with his or her personality. It would be easy for another co-worker to take the conversation out of context. The organization has successfully accomplished this theory when employees fell that their ratio is equal to their co-workers.

Expectancy theory makes the assumption that if I perform really well, I will get a reward. Given this explanation, the employee will act in a certain way according to the expected reward. Managers within the organization have control over the rewards. Motivation will increase when there is a clear-cut understanding of the reward. Each worker will differ in their intensity of motivation based on whether they feel they have the required skills to accomplish the task. I would argue that this in conjunction with goal setting is the most productive way of motivating workers in any organizational setting.

One of today s most used motivational techniques includes the goal-setting theory. This theory, in conjunction with the concept of management by objectives, seeks to include the manager and employee to set clear and specific goals. The communication between the manager and employee allows for feedback and offers the feeling of importance to the employee. Goal setting will only be most effective when management can provide enough feedback to the employees. This feedback will assure the workers of their continued progress towards their goals.

Application of the Equity theory in the workforce

Jerald Greenbergs study of Equity and Workplace status: A field experiment, took 198 employees in a large underwriting department of an insurance company and randomly reassigned them offices of different status. All of the employees had the same job as they did before, other than the size of the policies they could approve. Greenberg tested the hypothesis, derived from the equity theory, that the status value of the temporary offices would create increases, decreases, or no change in organizational out come levels (Greenberg, 1998, p.606). The employees were able to randomly select from a drawing what office they would be reassigned to. The office had three different status-rankings, underwriter trainees, associate underwriters, and underwriters. The characteristics of the offices ranged from a small desk with limited room to a larger desk with added room. Greenberg administered a questionnaire three times: a week before the reassignment, a week into the reassignment, and one-week after the reassignment to help measure their performance. MSQ was used to measure job satisfaction as well as other questions such as How pleased or displeased are you with each of the following aspects of your current work environment: privacy, desk-space, floor-space, noise level, lighting, furnishings, and overall atmosphere (Greenberg, 1998, p.606)?

It was found that the subjects did recognize that they were in a different office whether it is one of high status or low status. When measuring performance it was found that there was no difference between the groups two weeks prior to the reassignment. During the first week of reassignment it was found through the use of the Newman-Keuls tests that those who were overpaid increased in productivity and those who were underpaid decreased in productivity. Subjects that were equitably paid essentially did not differ. Greenberg stated that the results of the study provided support for his hypotheses and found that one of the most interesting aspects to come from the study was that conditions of overpayment and underpayment were able to be created by manipulating nonmonetary outcomes elements of the work environment associated with organizational status (Greenberg, 1998, p.611). In his conclusion, Greenberg stated that he was not surprised to find that the workers job performance paned out the way it did and the use of the equity theory was successful (Greenberg, 1998).

Critical evaluation of Jerald Greenbergs findings

Equity comparison occurs on two levels. The first is an individual s subjective assessment of whether the effort required will be commensurate with the benefits achieved. The second comparison occurs on a social level using those around, as a yardstick against which to measure the individual s own sense of equity. The second comparison can be used in this case. Greenbergs field experiment, which was focused more on workspace elements, is one that many don t focus on when using the equity theory. His findings suggest that the workers performance is effected by, or based on, the environment in which they work.

Source: Greenberg, Jerald. (1998). Equity and Workplace Status: A Field Experiment, Journal or Applied Psychology, 73(4), 610.

This is evident in Figure 1. Figure 1 shows the relationship between the equitably paid (subjects that were reassigned to the same office they occupied before), One-step overpaid (subjects that moved one-step up from the office they occupied prior to reassignment), Two-step overpaid (subjects that moved two-steps up from the office they occupied prior to reassignment), Controlled, One-step under paid, and Two-step under paid. These are in relation to the first and second weeks prior to re-assignment, first and second week during re-assignment, and the first and second week after re-assignment. From this data one can conclude that the employees performance is more inclined to be based on the environment in which they work in. The individuals who were subjected to the offices that were overpaid by one or two steps felt that they had a reason to excel because of the environment that they were in. I would go so far as to argue that they knew they were a step up from were they were and subconsciously it made them work harder because they had to prove they deserved the office they picked out. I find Greenbergs experiment very interesting in the realm of future research implications for organizations that will be discussed.

Suggestions for future research and its application to organizations

While Greenbergs field experiment concluded that the equity theory does correlate with job performance and is effected by the environment in which the employee works in, he fails to show if this is a long-term benefit. Further research should involve how long this overpaid situation would result in higher productivity. Furthermore, research should also be conducted including other possible environmental factors that might help stimulate productivity. Questionnaires could be sent out to other organizations specifically targeting subordinates and asking them what specific environmental factors would help facilitate job productivity. The information collected could then be applied to a new field research. This could help find out which specific factors have the most effect and could be applied to management techniques or aid in further research.

Environmental factors could play a big role in future management techniques and increases overall productivity, which then would lead to, profits and ultimately lowering the potential cost of a product. As with any organization you want to have employees that are geared towards their work, if this research could be proved to have long lasting effects, one could conclude that the organization would have a low absenteeism and turnover rate. Though environmental factors within the equity theory are generally a new idea, organizations could greatly benefit from future research.

Volunteering For Job Enrichment: A Test of Expectancy Theory Predictions

William Giles experiment, Volunteering For Job Enrichment: A Test of Expectancy Theory Predictions focuses on job enrichment, locus of control, and intrinsic motivation as a relationship with higher-order need satisfaction. He states that persons with a high level of higher-order need strength react more positively to job enrichment (Giles, 1977, p. 427). Giles also subscribes to the theory that job enrichment is effected by valences within the outcomes of an enriched job (Giles, 1977). He also believes, according to locus of control it would be expected that the relationship between a person s reaction to job enrichment would be higher for internals than for externals (Giles, 1977, p. 428). Given this, Giles hypothesized that both locus of control and intrinsic motivation will moderate the relationship between higher-order need satisfaction and volunteering for job enrichment (Giles, 1977, p. 429).

Involved were 252 female subjects that started by measuring higher-order need satisfaction by using the same technique Hackman and Lawler used. Intrinsic motivation was assessed by a 3-item composite also used by Hackman and Lawler. Locus of control involved a system that was measured by four statements with the Likert-type scale. Giles found that his hypothesis was supported by the information gathered during the experiment. He found that locus of control and intrinsic motivation served as effective moderators of the relationship between higher-order need satisfaction and volunteering for job enrichment (Giles, 1977, p. 433). It was also said that the expectancy theory of motivation went well with locus of control. Persons that are high in locus of control are to be expected to volunteer for and give greater effort towards job enrichment (Giles, 1977).

An Examination of the individual s decision to participate in an employee involvement program

It was found in this study that workers were more inclined to participate in employee involvement programs if there was a beneficial factor without being harmful to their interests (Allen et al., 1997). The study also showed that volunteers see the social environment in a more supportive way giving them more confidence to be effective as employee involvement members (Allen et al., 1997). Locus of control and higher order of needs are most attractive to individuals in the EI program. Lastly, it was found that internals with high growth needs evaluate the more intrinsic outcomes associated with EI program participation more favorably and express a greater willingness to volunteer than others (Allen et al., 1997, p. 135).

Critical Evaluation

The expectancy theory states that a persons work motivation is dependent upon the individual and the relative attractiveness of the outcome. In essence, they believe that a level of work effort follows a certain level of performance. If they don t get what they expect, they will view that task as not worth it. The studies provided take a look at the expectancy theory in the smaller scale of job enrichment. There seem to be a common bond in that the focus is on individuals voluntarily choosing to participate in programs that are enriched. It is found in both studies that an individual who has high locus of control and is high in growth needs is more opt to choose this path. These seem to be common sense issues. Of course a person with higher needs will voluntarily choose to participate in programs that give him/her more duties. This allows for the person to satisfy their craving for more responsibility resulting in the accumulation of valuable experience. A person with higher needs would get board with a low task job possibly resulting in a lower work performance. By getting involved with job enrichment they are able to maximize their performance.

Suggestions for future research and the Applications to organizations

Giles showed us through his research that women who choose to voluntary join a job enrichment program are more inclined to succeed and have a high locus of control and high need. Giles (1977) states that Future research in this area should examine not only the influence of employees higher-order needs, but also the effects of various levels of employee locus of control and intrinsic motivation on satisfaction, performance, and turnover criteria in a job enrichment project (p.435). In the second study future research should include whether additional variables also influence the participation (Allen et al., 1997, p. 135) and why are some variables more attractive then others? Just as in Giles study, the same research should be done on different levels of need and locus of control. The application of research for organizations will allow them, through job enrichment, to restructure their workforce and maximize their performance. Barrick and Alexander has stated that future EI research needs to clarify whether program effectiveness is attributable to differences in organizations, the work setting, EI program implementations, or the criteria used to evaluate the program (Allen et al., 1997, p. 135). EI programs may in the future be able to aid in more effective decision-making in return becoming more task specific allowing for greater efficiency.

An exploratory study of goal setting in theory and practice: A motivational technique that works?

By using goal setting Yearta et al. (1995) sought out to explore two central relationships of goal setting theory in the complex and dynamic organizational setting in which its principles are often practiced (p.237). The study was conducted at a research center of a large multinational company where goal setting had already been established. Each year, three goals were set during the annual review between the supervisor and the suburbanite. The study involved 345 scientists and professional staff and 55 of their supervisors the sample consisted of 132 employees, and 27 of their supervisors (Yearta et al., 1995, p. 240). Two different questionnaires were given out to the supervisors and the jobholders asking if the agreed or disagreed with their goals. The questionnaires measured difficulty, participation, performance, and supervisors ratings. Yearta et al., (1995)

It was found that based on goal-level analysis, job holders ratings of goal difficulty were unrelated to supervisors ratings of goal performance. Supervisor s ratings of goal difficulty were significantly negatively correlated with job holders ratings of goal performance, such that goals that ere perceive to be difficult were likely to be rated a being performed less well than those considered easy. Supervisors and job holders ratings of goal difficulty were found to be significantly negatively correlated with their own ratings of goal performance. (p. 243)

There was no relationship between participation and performance as well. Though Yearta et al. (1995) did acknowledge that there was a weak but significant association between participation and performance (p. 247). From this, both the supervisors and jobholders felt the more participation from the jobholder, would, in return mean a higher level of performance (Yearta et al. 1995). Yearta et al. recognized that the relationship between performance and difficulty was negative, although it is unable to have an impact on the goal setting theory. In all Yearta et al., (1995) explained

The results of this study indicate that multiple distal goals may not be a effective a motivational technique as would be suggested by laboratory and field studies that have used single proximal goals. Based on these results, it may be the case that goal-setting periods should be considerably reduced to perhaps a few months. Also, if given goals of varying degrees of difficulty, employees may prioritize goals that are perceived to be easier to attain (p. 250).

Critical Evaluation

This study had a very good layout starting with the definition of goal-setting and goal-setting theory to past research and methodology. It set a solid foundation for its own research. The study was conducted from over 550 participants either holding a supervisor position or being the jobholder. Their conclusion was said to be that there is a modest but significant relationship between participation and performance (Yearta et al., p. 237). This was found when the jobholder felt he had more participation while the supervisor felt the same and agreed that the jobholder would increase his performance. I agree that it is difficult to study the goal-setting theory in an environment as compared to a controlled environment that only has one specific goal. But, with the continuous effort of studies like these we will on day be able to successfully understand goal setting and the environmental factors.

Suggestions for Future research and its Application to Organizations

Future research in goal setting should include more environmental studies that focus on multiple goals. Yearta et al. states “that the goal setting theory does not make any predictions about the effects of proximal or distal goals on performance (p. 248). . How do you make the jobholder feel that their participation is more involved? Is a question that should be further researched based upon the findings in which the jobholder is more opt to increase his/her performance when he/she feels their participation in a task is more involved. Other research could include studying the maximum amount of goals one could achieve without adversely effecting their productivity. Goal setting is widely used around the world, A survey of 1331 British organizations found that 79 per cent used some form of objective setting (Yearta et al. 195). With that many organizations utilizing the goal setting theory its application to the organizations is very important. Goal setting, properly applied may do many things for an organization such as lower absenteeism, lower on the job accidents, increase productivity and performance, as well as aid in time management.


Allen, R., Lucero, M., Van, N., & Kathleen, L. (1997). An Examination of the individual s decision to participate in an employee involvement program. Group and Organization Management, 22(1), 117-143

Eisenberg, E. & Goodall, Jr. (1997) Organizational Communication: Balancing Creativity and Constraint (2nd ed.). New York: Martin s Press

Giles, W. (1977). Volunteering for job enrichment: A test of Expectancy theory predictions. Personnel Psychology, 30(3), 427-435

Greenberg, J. (1998). Equity and workplace status: A field experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology, 73(4), 606-613

Yearta, S., Maittis, S., & Briner, R. (1995). An exploratory study of goal setting in theory and practice: A motivational technique that works? Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, (68) 3, 237-252


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