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Motivational Factors in the Workplace


There are a lot of misconceptions in the workplace as to how to motivate employees to perform at optimum levels. Most managers especially those newly appointed unknowingly try to implement models and styles that worked for them but are not necessarily the norm for everyone. Occasionally, employers or managers are usually at crossroads not knowing whether to motivate a person or provide an enabling environment hoping that each employee will step up to the reward (Steven 1995).

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Actually, both scenarios are necessary when motivating a workforce. However, most managers entangle themselves in a web believing that it is their duty to motivate a person which is really not the case. Employee motivation in many instances emanate in most cases from the work or the kind of environment they work from. Motivation can either be intrinsic or extrinsic with the former emanating from within the respective employee and the later depending much on the external environment that the employee operates from (McClelland 1987:23).

Source of Motivation

The solution lies in creating an environment at the workplace where employees will motivate themselves. Bear in mind that each employee is different therefore one standard working environment might benefit most of the employees but there will be a few who are a step behind most of the field in terms of work output. The key lies in knowing how to set up an environment for each of your employees. The question that each manager should be asking themselves is how to create this motivational oriented environment. Money or higher salary increments have always been viewed as a source of motivation, which is not necessarily true. Research has shown that such rewards only help in preventing people from becoming less motivated; but they usually don’t help people to become more motivated.

Fear can instill discipline in the office and increase performance but this only works for a very short time. After a while, the employees become immune to any form of intimidation and the fear factor that used to motivate them simply disappears. Other factors like delegation of duties can motivate employees and also giving them the autonomy when performing their duties. However the secret to the employee motivation is for the management to understand each employee and creating the right environment for it to thrive. One employee might require a bit of yelling so that he carries his weight in the office while another will be more productive if the manager gives him autonomy in the office (Weightman 2008:67).

Cognitive Evaluation Theory

This is a theory that looks at the effect of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. It assumes that intrinsically motivated behavior is affected by a person’s innate need to feel competent and self-determining in dealing with the environment.

For example, if a subordinate employee is given an opportunity to run a huge cooperation, he will not focus his entire effort into the job. However, if he is told that a managerial position has opened up and he is being considered, he will throw his heart into this job and show much more enthusiasm as compared to the previous one during the evaluation process. In short, the best way to motivate an employee is to ensure that the duties assigned fall within their current level of competency (Weightman 2008:78).

This intrinsic motivation is affected by psychological factors like the need for autonomy and competency plus the kind of external rewards being offered so as to motivate the employee. Extrinsic rewards can all be categorized into two major fields based on their effect on intrinsic motivation. Firstly, the reward could have a controlling effect whereby it is viewed as the primary reason for participating in the activity. Without the reward, it means that most employees would not have accepted the given task in the first place. The second reward could be perceived as having an informational aspect whereby it affects the recipient’s opinion of his or her own competences.

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This means that the employee was already performing this task but the added incentive of the reward was only meant to improve the quality of his output. The rewards that should therefore be adapted to increase employee motivation should be those with an informational aspect. Intrinsic Motivation is mainly reduced when rewards are used because of their controlling nature (Deci & Ryan 1985: 129)


Self-efficacy is the belief that someone has in their capabilities in producing the expected levels of performance at their respective duties at the work place. A person’s emotions come into play and it is therefore important for managers to take into account how their employee’s feel think and behave towards motivating themselves (Maslow 1987:34) These emotions have a direct effect on an employee’s motivation, perceived level of competence and the goals they will set for themselves. A well-built feeling of self-efficacy will enable a high degree of self assurance which will “approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.” (Manstead et al 435).

This kind of belief fosters self motivation in employees which enables them to set challenging goals that are otherwise achievable due to the strong sense of efficacy that they have in their abilities. Furthermore, in the face of failure, they can easily recover and increase their efforts in achieving the set goals. In their opinion, the reasons for failing were because they did not put in enough effort or they neglected implementation of certain knowledge and skills that are easily acquirable.

On the other hand, people with low feeling of self-efficacy doubt their levels of competence and prefer to shy away from difficult challenges that they believe will expose their weaknesses. They are less inclined to set higher goals but instead prefer to maintain their current routines which they are accustomed to.

When given a challenging task, they spend their time and effort focusing on their personal deficiencies, the obstacles they will face and the pessimistic outcome after completing the task. Such an attitude prevents them from concentrating on how to perform the given task efficiently. “They slacken their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficulties. They are slow to recover their sense of efficacy following failure or setbacks.”(Bandura 1997:11) Such employees are easily affected by stress and depression.

Expectant Theory

The Expectancy theory that was developed and proposed by Victor Vroom seeks to understand the various processes that individuals go through in the decision making process. Vroom predicted that employees will always be motivated if they believe that better performance would be realized when more effort is put towards the performance of the respective tasks. The better job performance in turn would lead to increased salary and other requisite benefits. The rewards being offered by an organization should correlate with the amount of effort being put in by the respective employee and only deserving employees should receive them so as to foster a good working environment in the office.

Vroom’s expectancy theory was based on three concepts. The first one was valence which was the preferred outcome to an individual task being carried out by the employee (Manstead et al 445). Variably, for positive valence to be attained a person must opt to attain the outcome.

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The second concept is instrumentality. A person’s success in attaining the first level outcome will be the determining factor in attaining the desired second level outcome. The third concept is expectancy which was described as the expectation that a certain action or actions would generally lead to respective first level outcome. Vroom further believed that the motivation was the end result of these variables.


A. S. R. Manstead, Miles Hewstone, Fiske (1996):The Blackwell encyclopedia of social psychology: Blackwell Publishing pg 422-436.

Albert Bandura (1997): Self-efficacy in changing societies: Worth Publishers. p 11.

Atkinson, J. W. (1957/1983). Motivational determinants of risk taking behavior. In J. Atkinson (Ed.), Personality,motivation, and action: Selected papers. (pp. 101-119). New York: Praeger.

David C. McClelland – 1987: Human Motivation: Cambridge University press.

Deci, Edward L.; & Ryan, Richard M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum. ISBN 0-30-642022-8.

Kerr, Steven (1995) On the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B. Web.

Maslow, H. A. (1987). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Rowe.

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Weightman, J. (2008) The Employee Motivation Audit: Cambridge Strategy Publications.

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