Vroom’s expectation theory: what it is and what it says about work

Vroom’s expectation theory is contextualized in social and organizational psychology. It refers to human motivation, a concept widely studied in basic and social psychology.

This theory argues that motivation depends on three factors: expectation, instrumentality, and valence. In this article, we’ll learn more about these components, the features of the theory, and how it all relates to effort and performance on the job.

    Vroom’s Theory of Expectations: Characteristics

    The theory was proposed by Victor Vroom, professor of psychology from Canada, in 1964. Thanks to Vroom’s theory of expectation, it is established that human motivation depends on three factors: expectation, valence and instrumentality. V. Vroom focuses his theory on the field of organizations, which is why he mainly alludes to motivation at work.

    Thus, from Vroom’s expectation theory, the following formula is proposed, which links these three components: Motivational force = expectation x instrumentality x Valencia. In other words, it alludes to the three elements mentioned by explain what it depends on for a person to feel and exercise this motivating force.


    The basic elements that determine the motivation of workers are: expectation, instrumentality and valence. Let’s see what each of them consists of:

    1. Waiting

    It consists in hoping that by investing the effort “X”, we will obtain results “X”. To do this, it is essential that the employer knows what motivates his workers, so that he can motivate properly.

    Waiting has a lot to do with the concept of self-efficacy introduced by Albert Bandura, A prominent Canadian psychologist born in 1925. This concept refers to a person’s perceived ability to face obstacles and achieve what is on offer.

    Another factor that comes into play in the expectation of the worker is the difficulty of the task; this is why the employer must ensure that the person, in addition to having the skills required to perform the task, has the resources or support they need.

      2. Instrumentality

      In Vroom’s expectation theory, and alluding to the second essential element that leads to motivation, we find instrumentality. It has to do with the fact that each worker will have his function and will be an essential part for all the equipment to work, The same organization as a whole.

      The objective will be for the employee to do a good exercise, which will allow him to obtain the desired results; that is, it must be a “functional” part that adds value. Hence the name of this concept.

      3. Valence

      Finally, the third component of Vroom’s expectation theory formula is valence, and it has to do with what each employee values; there will be some who will value more the salary, others on vacation, others free time (Which implies working fewer hours), etc.

      The employer’s role, in this case, will be to find out what their workers value, as well as how much value they place on their own results. In other words, the results or performance achieved by each worker will be evaluated by each of them in a unique and idiosyncratic way.

      Motivation and effort

      Vroom knew that motivation was closely related to effort. Thus, and logically, the more we are motivated in relation to a task or a goal, the more we will strive to achieve it. And in addition, whether we are more or less motivated will be determined by the value we place on this task or goal, that is, the personal value it has for oneself.

      It’s kind of an intuitive sequence; the more value, the more motivation and by extension, the more effort. So, alluding to this concept, Vroom differentiates three elements: the individual effort that each person makes to achieve a goal, the performance they achieve and the end result of that task.

      These three elements are constantly connected and interdependent, influencing each other.

        Decisions and personal factors

        On the other hand, Vroom’s expectation theory states that workers will make decisions based on what motivates them the most in their jobs, and also, the more motivated they are, the harder they work.

        Outraged, the personality and personal characteristics of the person will also exert an influence by guiding the person themselves in their decisions. According to Vroom, we behave by constantly choosing what we want, that is, deciding between different options or alternatives.

        Key ideas: how can the employer act?

        Vroom’s expectation theory also relates some of the concepts already mentioned: effort, motivation and performance. But how?

        According to Victor Vroom himself, and as we have already argued, a person will strive harder if he feels more motivated towards a certain task; Also, if you put in a lot of effort, your performance is more likely to be good. So these are interrelated factors, and although Vroom’s expectation theory focuses on the field of work, it can be extrapolated to the field of education, for example, or to others.

        Self-efficacy and self-esteem

        What can (or should) do to motivate employees? According to Vroom’s theory of expectations, it will be a good choice maintain a positive correlation between performance / performance and worker effort. In other words, the worker feels that the harder he works, the better his job performance. In other words, that your sense of self-efficacy is high (self-efficacy expectations) and that you are able to achieve what is proposed.

        If this is applied correctly and consistently, the worker will eventually gain confidence in himself and his abilities, which will maintain or increase their own self-esteem. All of this will promote your personal and professional well-being.

        What we also mention it is about the perception that the person has of himself, his work, his successes, Etc., this is why it is important to reinforce this positive correlation between effort and performance.

        Processes in the field of work

        In Vroom’s expectation theory, we can find three main processes that can take place in the work context. These processes consist of relationships between different elements of the theory. Let’s see them:

        1. Relationship between effort and performance

        As mentioned above, the theory offers this point; it is a relation between the effort of the workers and the performance. This relationship is proportional; that is, the greater the effort, the higher the performance. We also observe this outside the workplace, Although we must keep in mind that there will always be some weird variables that we cannot control and that can interfere with our performance.

        2. Relationship between performance and reinforcement

        Vroom’s expectation theory also alludes to the relationship between performance and reinforcement or rewards (“rewards”). He maintains that the higher the performance, the more rewards we will get.

        In the context of work, this can be linked to the objectives set by certain companies, which consist in financially rewarding the worker according to his performance; For example, if you reach the goal of selling “X” products or charging an “X” amount, you will be rewarded with a raise or extra pay this month.

        3. Relationship between reinforcement and value

        The third point or process proposed by Vroom’s expectation theory is the relationship that appears between the reinforcement or reward received by the worker and the value that the worker places on it.

        In other words, the ideal is that the rewards are valued by workers, because, as we have already seen, the more the reward (or the goal, the task, …) has for the worker, the more motivation he will have. and the more effort will be invested to develop the task or work.

        Non-compliance with processes

        According to Vroom’s theory of expectations, the three types of relationships we have described are in fact “conditions” for ensuring good performance at work. That is why if one of the three fails, it will be very difficult to motivate the worker and, by extension, whether he is efficient or productive.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Hogg, M. (2010). Social psychology. Vaughan Graham M. Panamericana. Posted by Panamericana.
        • Lawler III, EE and Suttle, JL (1973). Theory of expectations and behaviors at work. Organizational behavior and human performance, 9 (3), 482-503.
        • Vroom, VH (1964). Work and motivation. Oxford, England: Wiley.

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