Understanding Motivation In The Workplace

It’s no secret that keeping employees happy and motivated to deliver great work on a consistent basis can be quite daunting when you consider that most organizations can’t pay people enough. As the Coronavirus makes it more difficult for businesses to make ends meet, many of them are cutting their employees salaries which can make things worse.

As a result of the current economic climate, pay freezes and increased threat of redundancy, it is not difficult to understand why motivation is more important than ever, in order to succeed within the workplace environment. This is why some companies are looking to bring in business speakers who can motivate their staff.

However, during the 1900s, Douglas McGregor and Frederick Herzberg identified key ways to motivate employees and examined sources of motivation.

McGregor’s Approach to Managing and Motivating Employees

During the first half of the 20th Century, Douglas McGregor developed an interest in the relationship between how managers treat staff. McGregor was believed to be heavily influenced by the work of Abraham Maslow, who identified needs as a hierarchy, ranging from survival needs, such as water, food and shelter, right through to self-actualization. Two theories resulted from McGregor’s work, with Theory X being authoritarian and Theory Y offering employees the opportunity to take more responsibility in the workplace.

In Getting a Better Job, Ashley highlights that Theory X is based in the assumption by managers that people are lazy, dislike work, need both a carrot and stick to perform, are immature, require direction and are unable to take responsibility for their actions. This is a complete contrast to McGregor’s Theory Y, identified by Ashley to involve the following:

  • average person likes work, gains satisfaction from it
  • given right conditions, employees will set own targets
  • encouragement/reward more effective than threat/punishment
  • people learn to accept/actively seek responsibility

“The truth is that most people want to work and be of service in some way” says Sean Adams of Motivation Ping. “Just look at how the Covid-19 crisis has people locked up and so many are dying to get back to work. So the truth is that people do want to work. It’s just a matter of finding a more sensible way of motivating them.”

Another approach to understanding motivation in the workplace comes from the work of Frederick Herzberg during the 1950s. Through interviewing both engineers and accountants, Herzberg learnt that sources of motivation or job satisfaction, as well as sources of demotivation or job dissatisfaction were similar across the board. Five sources of motivation, recognised by Ashley, which were identified by Herzberg, include:

  • achievement
  • recognition
  • work itself
  • responsibility
  • advancement

Sources of job dissatisfaction which Herzberg discovered as being linked to employees feeling demotivated in the workplace, include the following:

  • company policy
  • supervision
  • salary
  • interpersonal relations
  • working conditions

Having looked at theories of motivation, it is well worth considering what motivates and demotivates you at work. This will help with learning how to remain motivated, regardless of circumstances and with avoiding or challenging sources of demotivation, where possible.

As highlighted above, motivation has long since been recognised as an important aspect of achieving success within the workplace. While McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y were influenced by Maslow’s theory of need, Herzberg research sources of employee motivation and demotivation. Lack of motivation and job dissatisfaction may lead to high stress or anxiety levels and even trigger depression, making this aspect of work a significant factor in maintaining good physical and mental health.

Brett Sartorial

Brett is a business journalist with a focus on corporate strategy and leadership. With over 15 years of experience covering the corporate world, Brett has a reputation for being a knowledgeable, analytical and insightful journalist. He has a deep understanding of the business strategies and leadership principles that drive the world's most successful companies, and is able to explain them in a clear and compelling way. Throughout his career, Brett has interviewed some of the most influential business leaders and has covered major business events such as the World Economic Forum and the Davos. He is also a regular contributor to leading business publications and has won several awards for his work.