The 9 main theories of motivation at work

Our life is made up of a large number of areas, all of which are of great importance for our development and our adaptation to society. One of them is work, through which we develop a profession and a set of activities that help us organize our lives and generate or render some kind of service to society.

Work, when exercised in what is desired, is not just a simple means of subsistence but it can be a source of satisfaction (or dissatisfaction). But that’s why our job should be a source of motivation, through which we can get involved in our tasks, increase our performance and feel satisfied with what we do.

Over the course of history, many authors have examined this subject and the needs and elements associated with worker motivation. These investigations resulted a large number of theories of motivation at work, Of which we will cite some of the main ones throughout this article.

    Motivation at work: what is it?

    Before proceeding to the assessment of the various existing theories on motivation at work, we must first comment on the very concept on which they are based. It is understood as a work motivation to internal force or to the impulse that prompts us to perform and / or maintain a certain task, Voluntarily and voluntarily occupy our physical or mental resources to undertake it.

    This impulse has a certain direction, that of using our resources to achieve the desired goal, and implies the fact that we will persevere and persevere in making a specific effort with a certain intensity. The more motivated we are to do it, the more we are willing to maintain intensity and perseverance.

    And the consequences of motivation at work are very positive: facilitates the satisfaction of own tasks and abilities, encourages performance, Productivity and competitiveness, improves the work climate and strengthens autonomy and personal development. It is therefore a very favorable thing for both the worker and his employer.

    However, this motivation does not come from nowhere: the task, its results or the effort carried out must be appetizing for it to be born. And is research into how and what increases motivation at work which has generated a wide variety of theories, Which have traditionally been divided into theories related to what motivates us (or content-centric theories) and the process we follow to motivate ourselves (or process-centric theories).

    Main theories of work motivation based on content

    Below we will cite some of the main theories that work on the basis of exploring what generates motivation, that is, what elements of work allow us to bring out impulse or desire. action. This is mainly due to the fact that it allows us to meet a number of needs, which have been developed by different authors.

    1. Theory of needs learned from McClelland

    One of the earliest and most relevant theories regarding motivation at work was that of McClelland, who, based on previous studies of human needs conducted by other authors (especially Murray) and by comparison between different executives from different types of companies, came to the conclusion that they exist three main needs that stand out when it comes to motivating us to work.

    More specifically, he explained as the main sources of motivation at work the need for accomplishment, which is understood as the desire to improve one’s performance and to be effective as an element of satisfaction and that it is based on a good balance between the likelihood of success and challenge, the need for power or the desire for influence and recognition, and the need for affiliation or belonging, association and close contact with others.

    All of these needs have a balance that can vary depending on the personality and the work environment, which can lead to different profiles, behaviors and levels of motivation at work.

      2. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

      Probably one of the most well-known psychological theories regarding needs, Maslow’s theory of the hierarchy of needs proposes that human behavior (initially his theory was not centered on the workplace) it is explained by the presence of basic needs born from deprivation, And which are organized in a hierarchy (in the form of a pyramid) in which once the most basic are met, we focus on the higher, moving from biological needs to social needs and to self-actualization.

      In this sense, the author proposes the existence, from the most elementary to the most complex, of the following elements: physiological needs (food, water, shelter), security needs, social needs, the need for esteem and finally the need for self-actualization.

        3. Herzberg’s theory of motivation and hygiene

        In part similar to the above but much more purely work-oriented, Herzberg achieved the Two-Factor Theory or Hygiene and Motivational Factor Theory. This author found it relevant to assess what people want or find satisfactory from their work, concluding that eliminating the elements that generate dissatisfaction it is not enough that the work is considered satisfactory.

        On this basis, the author generated two main types of factors, which give his theory a name: hygiene and motivators. Hygiene factors are all those whose existence prevents work from being unsatisfactory (but that is not why they make work motivating) and which include such things as personal relationships, supervision, stability or the salary.

        On the other hand, the motivating factors would include among others responsibility, job progression, position and recognition, development or achievement and would refer to elements that involve the emergence of motivation and job satisfaction.

        4. McGregor’s Theories X and Y

        Based in part on Maslow’s theory and analyzing the characteristics of the theories and models of organizational psychology existing until then, McGregor realized a contrast between the classic models and a more humanistic vision: the theories X and Y.

        Theory X assumes a mechanistic approach to work, seeing the worker as a passive element and tending to evade his responsibilities which needs to be stimulated with punishments or by rewarding his productivity with money for him. force to work. This implies that management must exercise great control and take full responsibility, and it is not the worker who is able to manage change or conflict, but they are told how.

        On the contrary, Theory I is a more innovative view (it should be noted that this theory was proposed in the sixties, so that at that time and until a few years ago, the typical consideration of Theory X predominated) and the humanist character in which the worker is an active being and with needs not only physiological but also social and self-fulfilling.

        The employee is seen as someone with their own goals and ability to take responsibility, and there is a need to help them stimulate their own potential, take on challenges and enable them to engage. Motivation and recognition of their successes and role are essential.

        5. Alderfer’s hierarchical ERC model

        Another relevant model based on Maslow’s is Alderfer’s hierarchical model, which generates a total of three types of needs, in which the lower the existing satisfaction, the greater the desire to provide. More precisely, it assesses the existence of existence needs (the most basic), interpersonal relationship needs and growth or personal development needs that motivate us to achieve their satisfaction.

        According to the process

        Another type of theory is one which has not so much to do with whatever as with the how we motivate ourselves. In other words, with the way or the process that we follow for professional motivation to emerge. In this sense, there are several relevant theories, including the following.

        1. Vroom’s theory of valences and expectations (i contribution from Porter and Lawler)

        This theory is based on the assessment that the level of effort of the employee depends on two main elements, which can be mediated by the presence of needs.

        The first of these is the valence of the results, that is, the consideration that the results obtained with the task to be performed they have a concrete value for the subject (It can be positive if it is considered valuable or negative if it is considered harmful, or even neutral when it is indifferent). The second is the hope that the effort put in will produce these results and is motivated by different factors such as the belief in self-efficacy.

        Later, this model will be taken up by other authors such as Porter and Lawler, who introduced the concept of instrumentity or degree to which effort or performance will generate some reward or recognition as a variable, in addition to Vroom’s two previous propositions, as the main elements that predict motivation and the achievement of an effort.

        2. Locke’s goal setting theory

        A second process-centric theory can be found in Locke’s goal-setting theory, for which motivation depends on the intention to strive to achieve a specific goal sought by him. This objective will mark the type of effort and involvement of the subject, as well as the satisfaction that you will derive from your work according to its proximity to your objectives.

        3. Adam’s Theory of Fairness

        Another theory of great relevance is the so-called Adam’s Fairness Theory, which is based on the idea that motivation at work is based on how the employee values ​​their work and how well they are compensated. he receives in return, which it will be compared to that received by other workers.

        Depending on the result of this comparison, the subject will perform different actions and will be more or less motivated: if he is judged less valued or compensated and treated unfairly, he will reduce his motivation and may choose to reduce his own effort. Or change the l involvement and perception of their work or remuneration. If the perception is that you are paid more than you should, on the contrary, will tend to increase their involvement.

        Thus, it is the fact of feeling treated fairly that generates satisfaction and can therefore influence motivation at work.

        4. Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory

        Based on behaviorism and operant conditioning, there are also theories that support motivation can increase. the use of positive reinforcement, Assign rewards to encourage increased performance and reinforcement being the source of motivation.

        This theory has been criticized for being said to put aside the importance of intrinsic motivation in work, focusing only on seeking rewards. However, it should not be forgotten that the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation does not deny that in the first category it is not possible to find “rewards” which feed the motivation of the person; what happens is that in this case, they are self-administered.

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