Essay on Theories of Work Motivation (2100 Words)

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These theories identify the variables that go into motivation and their relationship with each other. Some of the prominent process theories are: Vroom’s Expectancy Model, Equity Theory and Goal-Setting Theory.

1) Vroom’s Expectancy Model:

The expectancy model is based upon the belief that motivation is determined by the nature of the reward people expect to receive as a result of their job performance. The underlying assumption is that a man is a rational being and will try to maximize his perceived value of such rewards.

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He will choose an alternative that would give him the most benefit. People are highly motivated if they believe that a certain type of behaviour will lead to a certain type of outcome and if such outcome is consistent with their personal preferences.

There are three important elements in this model. These are:

a. Expectancy:

This is a person’s perception of the likelihood that a particular outcome will result from a particular behaviour or action. This likelihood is basically probabilistic in nature and describes the relationship between an act and its outcome.

For example, if a student works hard during the semester, he will expect to do well in the final examination. However, it is not 100 percent definite that he will indeed do well in the examination. There is some probability attached to this outcome. This expectation of outcome is known as “first level” outcome.

b. Instrumentality:

This factor relates to a person’s belief and expectation that his performance will lead to a particular desired reward. For example, working hard may lead to better performance which is the first level outcome and it may result in a reward such as salary increase or promotion or both, which is the second level outcome.

If a person believes that his high performance will not be recognized or lead to expected and desired rewards, he will not be motivated to work hard for better output. Similarly, a professor may work hard to improve upon his techniques of teaching and communication (first level outcome) in order to get promotion and tenure (second level outcome). Accordingly, instrumentality is the performance-reward relationship.

c. Valence:

Valence is the value a person assigns to his desired reward. He may not be willing to work hard to improve performance if the reward for such improved performance is not what he desires.

It is not the actual value of the reward but the perceptual value of the reward in the mind of the worker that is important. A person may be motivated to work hard not to get pay raise but to get recognition and status. Another person may be more interested in job security rather than status.

To summarise, according to this model of motivation, the person’s level of effort (motivation) depends upon:


The worker must be confident that his efforts will result in better productivity and that he has the ability and resources to perform the task well.


The worker must be confident that such high performance will be instrumental in getting the desired rewards.


The worker must value these rewards as desired and satisfactory. The relationship of these three variables is shown as follows:

Their relationship is multiplicative in nature, so that:

Motivation = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence


M = (E x I x V)

As the relationship suggests, the motivational force will be the highest when expectancy, instrumentality and valence are all high and there is no motivation if the value of any of these three elements is zero.

The management must recognize and determine the situation as it exists and take steps to improve upon these three factors of expectancy, instrumentality and valence so that they achieve the highest value of these factors individually and this will lead to high motivation on the part of the worker.

2) Equity Theory:

Equity theory is based on the assumption of some researchers that one of the most widely assumed source of job dissatisfaction is the feeling of the employees that they are not being treated fairly by the management or the organizational system. For example, let us assume that there are two professors up for promotion and both of them have similar backgrounds and academic achievements.

If one gets the promotion and the other does not, the professor being denied promotion will feel that the politics of the system was not just and that he was unfairly treated. This would result in job dissatisfaction to some degree.

This dissatisfaction is due to the result of comparison with the professor who got the promotion. Suppose further that neither one of the two professors got the promotion nor one of them felt that he deserved it. This would also be a cause for dissatisfaction.

Hence “Equity theory” has two elements. First, the workers want to get a fair reward for their efforts. This “exchange,” meaning reward for their efforts is similar to any other exchange. For example if you want to buy a new car for $15000, you want to make sure that you get the best car for this price.

You would be happy if you considered this exchange of money with the car as fair. Similarly, if you put in more efforts into your work, you expect to get more rewards out of it. Second, you would compare your rewards with the rewards of others who put in similar efforts.

In the above example, if you bought the new car from a car dealer for $15,000 you are happy with the purchase except when you find out that another person bought the same car from the same dealer for $ 14,000. In this case, you would be dissatisfied with the purchase because of comparison with the other purchaser.

Accordingly, “Equity theory” is based upon the recognition that employees are not only concerned with the rewards that they receive for their efforts but also with the relationship of their rewards with the rewards received by others in similar situations.

They make judgement of equity or inequity between their input and outcomes and the inputs and outcomes of others. For comparison purposes, the inputs can be considered as efforts, skills, education, experience, competence and so on, and outputs can be considered as salary levels, recognition, pay raises, promotion, status and other privileges.

When such inequity exists, whether it is real or perceived, employees will feel uncomfortable about it and will tend to take steps that will reduce or eliminate this inequity. These steps may result in lower or higher productivity, improved or reduced quality of output, protests against inequity and so on.

Equity theory proposes that under-rewarded employees tend to produce less or produce products of inferior quality than equitably rewarded employees and over-rewarded employees tend to produce more or produce product of higher quality than equitably rewarded employees.

This must be realized that inequity exists when people are either underpaid or overpaid for similar efforts. However, they are more willing to accept overpayment by justifying such overpayment rather than taking steps to reduce this inequity and making the input-reward ratio more equitable. As formulated by Adams, Equity theory comprises of the following postulates:

i. Perceived inequity creates a feeling of resentment and tension within individuals.

ii. The extent of this tension reflects the magnitude and type of inequity.

iii. Individuals will be motivated to take steps to reduce this tension.

iv. The greater the extent of perceived inequity, the greater is the strength of such motivation.

This process can be shown as follows:

There are a number of steps a person can take in order to reduce the tension caused by perceived inequity. This must be understood that inequity exists only in the perception of the individuals.

It may or may not be real. If people are satisfied inspite of any inequity that might exist or if they can justify such inequity by one way or another, then in their own perceptions, such inequity does not exist.

The following are some of the steps people may take to reduce the extent of an inequity.

i. They may change their inputs either upwards or downwards to a more equitable level. Overpaid workers may justify overpayment by increased efforts and underpaid workers may reduce their level of efforts and show less interest in work by excessive absenteeism and tardiness.

ii. They may alter their outcomes to restore equity. The workers may demand better pay and better working conditions for the same input either by staging walkouts and strikes or through organized union negotiations.

iii. They can change input-outcome ratio to more favourable and equitable levels by distorting the values of inputs or outcomes. They may artificially increase the importance of the jobs that they are doing, in their own minds or decrease the value of their own input by believing that they are not really working very hard. For example, if a professor does not get promotion that he believed he deserved, he may justify this denial by either thinking that “it is not the promotion that counts but helping the students achieves academic excellence” or by believing that “he really did not work very hard in the area of research and publication.”

iv. They may resign from their jobs. Employees who feel that they have been inequitably treated at a particular job may find another job where they feel that the input-outcome balance is more favourable and equitable for them.

v. They may change the level of comparison with other employees. In the face of inequity, the employees may believe either that other people get better outcomes because they do work harder at it or because they belong to a different category with which the comparison is not valid or justified. For example, a professor from Business Administration division, who did not get promotion, may compare it equitably with another professor from Social Sciences division who did get promotion by believing that the requirements for promotion for both divisions are not the same or, that the professor from Social Science division did work harder to get his promotion.

3) Goal-Setting Theory:

Goal setting theory is a relatively applied approach to motivation and is based upon the assumption that the type as well as the challenge of the goal induces motivation in the individual to achieve such goal. The theory, as proposed by Edwin Locke, studies the processes by which people set goals for themselves and then put in efforts in order to achieve them.

The quality of performance is generally shaped by how difficult and how specifically defined the goal is. General goals, such as “do your best”, do not lend to accurate performance appraisal and proportionate rewards.

Specific goals are clear and tend to give a clear direction to the worker, resulting in improved performance. Similarly, difficult goals, once accepted, lead to higher quality performance.

Goal Specificity:

A specific goal identifies the target in quantitative terms. This would enable the worker to evaluate his performance and judge as to how he is doing relative to the goal. For example, if a worker is producing 50 units a day, which is the average output, then he may set his goal of 60 units per day, to be achieved within 10 days. The worker can evaluate his output each day and decide whether he is adequately moving towards that goal.

Goal Difficulty:

Difficult but feasible goals provide more challenge than easy goals. Reaching an easy target is not competitive and hence hardly exciting. This is particularly true for high need achievers. Goal commitment is independent of whether the goal is set by the worker himself or is assigned by superiors, but depends upon expectations of success and degree of success achieved. Commitment would also depend upon provisions of rewards for goal achievement.

The most important element of goal setting theory is the acceptance of goal by the workers. Of course, the best way to have the goal accepted by workers is to let them set their own goals within the general organizational frame work.

Assigned goals are equally acceptable if these goals are consistent with personal aspirations of workers. Acceptance becomes easier if the workers are encouraged to participate in the goal setting process. Goal acceptance can also be facilitated if the management demonstrates a supportive attitude towards subordinates regarding goal achievement.

There is evidence that goal setting, as outlined, improves performance about 90 percent of the time and that comparatively high achievers set comparatively more difficult goals and are much more satisfied with intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic rewards.


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