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Motivational Theories in Nursing


Motivation is a major component of every occupation. When it comes to nursing, motivation becomes crucial. Proper motivation results in more job satisfaction, which, in the case of nursing, determines better patient outcomes. Among the motivational theories that can be applied in nursing is Maslow’s Theory of Motivation, Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory, and McClelland’s Achievement Motivation Theory. The aim of the paper is to review these theories and their use in motivating nurses.

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Maslow’s Theory of Motivation

A motivated employee usually shows better performance than the one who is not motivated. One of the ways to increase motivation is to apply Maslow’s Theory of Motivation, which is also known as Need Hierarchy Theory (Kaur, 2013). Maslow’s pyramid includes physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization needs (Kaur, 2013).

An employee will be motivated to perform the duties on a necessary level if the mentioned requirements are satisfied within a workplace. Thus, the employer should recognize employees’ accomplishments, provide financial security, provide opportunities for socialization, and promote a healthy workforce (Kaur, 2013). As applied for nursing, it means that nurses should have the possibility of continuous development in their profession, which adds self-esteem. The shifts should be organized appropriately to provide enough time for rest and self-education. Timely wages, according to the duties performed, add to the feeling of financial security.

Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Motivation-Hygiene Theory by Herzberg was used aa a framework for the study of job satisfaction among nurses (McGlynn, Griffin, Donahue, & Fitspatric, 2012). According to Herzberg, job satisfaction and dissatisfaction are caused by different factors. Thus, he distinguished “satisfiers motivators and the dissatisfiers hygiene factors” (McGlynn et al., 2012, 261).

Here hygiene includes maintenance factors such as salary, bonuses, and staffing. Attention to these factors helps to avoid dissatisfaction. However, it does not guarantee satisfaction. The researcher considered that satisfies “are related to the nature of the work itself and rewards that flow directly from the performance of that work” (McGlynn et al., 2012, 261). Thus, the components of job satisfaction are attitude, achievement, recognition, work itself, responsibility, and advancement (McGlynn et al., 2012). As for nursing, the managers should take care of the mentioned components to preserve a high level of job satisfaction and motivation.

McClelland’s Achievement Motivation Theory

One more need-based theory of motivation is the one by McClelland. His Achievement Motivation Theory was formulated by Henry Murray’s list of motives (“McClelland’s Need for Achievement Theory,” 2016). McClelland defines three primary needs. These are achievement, power, and affiliations (“McClelland’s Need for Achievement Theory,” 2016). People who need achievements are motivated by challenging tasks, set goals, and performance feedback. The employees with the need for power want to have some influence on the others or provide control. People with the need for affiliation desire approval and acceptance and take care of the feelings and values of ten other people. When it comes to nursing, Achievement Motivation Theory can be used with a personal approach. The tasks and functions can be distributed among the nursing staff, taking into account the type of needs and thus increase motivation.


Since motivation determines high performance and job satisfaction, it should be a primary concern of managers and administrators. The knowledge of nursing theories can be useful for employees. They can apply them to provide motivational factors for nurses thus creating a more favorable working environment.

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Kaur, A. (2013). Maslow’s need hierarchy theory: Applications and criticism. Global Journal of Management and Business Studies, 3(10), 1061-1064.

McClelland’s Need for Achievement Theory. (2016).

McGlynn, K., Griffin, M.Q., Donahue, & M., Fitspatric, J.J. (2012). Registered nurse job satisfaction and satisfaction with the professional practice model. Journal of Nursing Management, 20, 260-265. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2834.2011.01351.x

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