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Theories of Motivation and Stress in Organisations

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Business
Wordcount: 2249 words Published: 5th Dec 2017

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Many organisations have decided to reorganise their traditional hierarchical structure into modern team structures. Select the key theories in the areas of motivation and stress and link them to the challenges organisations implementing this type of change may face.

One of the key factors in creating and maintaining a successful business is the ability to adapt to changes in the external environment, whether responding to competitors, customers, or the macro-environment, such as legal, environmental, or political changes, for example. The decision to reorganize traditional hierarchical structures into modern team structures is one such example of adapting to changes in the way businesses are run worldwide, and reaping the benefits of innovation. However, change, whether ultimately for better or worse, can have a direct impact on stress and motivation, particularly for workers if there is change in the workplace.

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Traditional hierarchical structures have certain characteristics and can be represented in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs diagram whereby there are many levels of management and command. There are very visible divisions of power and job roles are clearly defined. Communication usually starts from the top and works it way down via management. On the other hand, modern team structures are characterized by shared goals and responsibility, whereby communication is supposedly more fluid between workers, as the organizational structure is flatter. Team working, by definition, allows more interaction between people, and job roles may also be more fluid depending on what is needed to achieve shared goals.

It can be argued that the transition from one structure to another can be linked to change in one’s motivation to work. Motivation is described by Fincham and Rhodes (2005, pp732) as “the extent to which an individual is engaged by the work role he or she occupies.” Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ is probably one of the most famous theories used in the study of motivation to analyse human behaviour at work, although according to Fincham and Rhodes (2005, pp197) his work wasn’t originally intended to be and explanation of motivation in the workplace. Nonetheless, his hierarchy of needs is a founding example of content theory, which is ‘based on the assumption that we can attribute a similar set of needs to all individuals’ (Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp193).

According to Maslow, there are five levels of need innate in all humans, which must be satisfied in turn. Once the first need is satisfied, unconsciously ‘what then exerts a more powerful influence on our behaviour is the need at the next level up the hierarchy’ (Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp193). The five levels of the hierarchy ascend from very basic Physiological needs such as food, warmth, clothing and shelter, to Security needs, whereby the person in question must feel safe and free from fear, in a comfortable environment. Once these needs are fulfilled, the attention is then turned to Social needs such as the requirement for supportive and fulfilling relationships with others. These first three levels chart a person’s basic deficiency needs and are factors that figure in one’s psychological growth.

The next levels, Self-esteem needs, and ultimately, Self-actualisation needs, are what Maslow regarded as ‘higher-order’ needs, and the development of these needs ‘represents the end point of a gradual process of psychological maturation’ (Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp195). Fulfilling Self-esteem needs would involve a requirement for recognition, and a building up of self belief, whilst fulfilling Self-actualisation needs are the ultimate goal of human beings according to Maslow. This would encompass all that is needed for someone to realize their full potential, and thus would differ depending on the person.

Herzberg, another famous content theorist, builds upon Maslow’s hierarchy, which although is very interesting and a staple in most motivation theory books, is more or less unsubstantiated by empirical study. Herzberg’s two-factor theory of motivation stemmed from interviews with a number of workers, where two factors emerged, hygiene, and motivators. Hygiene factors are similar to Maslow’s first three levels of need, and ‘represent the need to avoid pain’ (Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp199). In the sphere of work they represent primary needs we have as animals, that are minimum requirements that one must have in order not to be demotivated at work, but do not actually serve to motivate us. Motivators, on the other hand, represent Maslow’s last two levels of need, and reflect the need for self actualization. These would include things such as responsibility, recognition, promotion, achievement and intrinsic aspects of the job, and Herzberg argued that designing jobs which incorporated these types of motivators would indeed increase motivation in staff. One could argue that the transition from one type of organizational structure to another should be designed to incorporate the motivators or higher level-needs for staff in order to ease transition. If any of these factors are being diminished because of the transition, then psychologically, this would have the effect of demotivating staff.

However, the emergence of process theory in motivation has arisen out of some criticism of content theory which seems to lump all human beings together homogeneously, and assume everyone will and does act in the same way depending on external factors. If this were the case then this essay question would not exist as one would be able to design the transition so that all needs are not impacted on negatively. However, process theory realizes the ‘role that an individual’s cognitive processes have in determining his or her level of motivation’ (Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp202). Theorists such as Adams regard Equity theory as fairly important in process theory as it describes a worker’s concern with fairness and equity, which is measured by how much reward is received in relation to effort (or inputs such as skill, experience, intelligence, seniority) they put in at work, compared to others around them, and indeed compared to their past work experiences.

Vroom’s expectancy theory builds upon this premise by suggesting that the link between effort and reward could be viewed ‘as a process in which individuals calculated first whether there was connection between effort and their performance (expectancy), then the probability that valued rewards (valences) would follow form high performance (instrumentality)’ (Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp208). In studies, Vroom was able to produce an instrumentality index from students who had rated the importance of various job goals, and in turn how well certain organizations would satisfy these goals. This index was used to predict which job each student should apply for. This type of theory highlights how differently individuals can perceive job satisfaction, and organizational structure transitions should be monitored in order to see how each worker could be affected by such change, and try to take steps to ensure workers will see rewards in changing into self-managed teams. Will they feel that extra work is needed, with little reward, or will the idea of building relationships with fellow staff and taking more responsibility for their work empower them? This will seemingly differ a lot from worker to worker based on process theory. A number of characteristics of self-managed teams seem to include motivators such as responsibility, shared goals and social cohesion, which would hopefully overcome initial fear of change.

Whilst motivation must be maintained by the organization during a transition, the idea of stress, particularly during periods of perceived instability (a by-product of change) by workers and could impact negatively. There are a number of definitions for stress such as Edwards’ (cited in Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp62) who suggests that it comes from an inability to cope with the demands the environment makes a person, and is caused by a lack of fit with the environment. This could certainly be the case with regard to changing job roles, or indeed changing the structure within which you work, as the case would be in considering this essay question. A survey by the Confederation of British Industry in the UK found that stress was the second most prevalent cause of sickness absenteeism, costing industry around £4 billion (cited in Fincham and Rhodes 2005, pp80). Therefore making efforts in limiting the kinds of causes of stress discussed later will make the transition from traditional hierarchical structures into modern team structures will be very beneficial for businesses.

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Given that a transition into self-managed teams, will mainly involve a change in job role, it is useful to look at the ‘role stressors’ that have an impact on stress levels. The first type of stressor would be ‘role ambiguity’ (Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp63) and this is probably a pertinent one to start with it can be prevalent amongst matrix structure organisations and self-managed teams. It is argued that information sharing is increased within modern teams, however, this is an ideal, and is not always the case. Information deficiency, and an uncertainty about what your role encompasses can cause unrest and stress. If a worker is unable to clearly understand their place within a structure this has been found in studies to have repercussions in terms of reducing job satisfaction and increasing anxiety.

It is likely that some of this could also be caused by a transition from another structure or role. If, in the case of this question, the role (in a team) is newly created, of which there is a one in three chance according to West et al 1987 (cited in Fincham and Rhodes 2005, pp66), then the worker will not have a point of reference, or a predecessor to look to, nor any advice from colleagues. It is crucial that a person is able to draw comfort from their social peers and not be left to ‘muddle along’. It could be argued that everyone will be in the same position if this were to happen to a whole organisation , and senior managers should try to invoke exercises such as team-building sessions to solidify the team and prevent alienation and thus stress from workers, where possible.

Single role, and multiple role conflict are another set of factors that can impact on stress levels phenomenally for a lot of workers. Single role conflict tends to occur when there a number of elements to one’s role and these elements cause conflict and paradoxes, and are therefore difficult to reconcile. Supervisors tend to suffer from this conflict particularly if they need to be command authority, yet maintain a social cohesion with work peers. The need to discipline a member of staff that they have a social affinity with could become stressful and cause upset.

Multiple role conflict is an extension to this, but is more akin to conflict between roles at work and roles outside of work such as husband, mother, daughter, housewife etc. Cooper (2001) talks about the boundaries between work and home becoming blurred by technology (cited in Fincham and Rhodes, 2005), with the explosion in mobile communication and laptops making it all too easy to bring work home. Women, who are mothers and also work, can find that trying to juggle one role with another can cause them to feel more stressed out and can lead to neglect of both roles and feelings of personal failure because of this.

Some form of stress seems to be inevitable with change of any kind, be it good or bad. However if the organisation making change is able to design teams and roles with worker’s health and wellbeing in mind, then this can be limited. Motivators are key components of roles that provide job satisfaction, although these can differ form worker to worker. A working mother could see a motivator, as flexible working hours within a team, in order to aid her role as carer. Making sure that there are processes in place to both address individual workers’ stressors, and to counteract these with appropriate means of motivation, even if it means having more informal meetings, and opening up lines of communication, will limit stress. However, it is important to remember that traditional hierarchical structures are also known to characteristically cause stress to employees. They tend to be bureaucratic in structure and can offer workers limited hope of changing unsatisfactory jobs or becoming more innovative within their roles. This can be termed as ‘burnout and entrapment’ (Fincham and Rhodes, 2005, pp71) and reflects the reasons in which a business would choose to change the structure of an organisation into self-managed teams in the first place. Therefore, organisations should keep in mind that stress is endemic to work, but must be kept at manageable levels through the process of increasing worker’s motivation.



Fincham & Rhodes, 2005, Fourth Edition, Principles of Organisational behaviour, Oxford University Press, New York


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