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Factors that affect employee motivation

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Business
Wordcount: 5287 words Published: 17th May 2017

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Motivation has to do with the understanding of the reasons why human beings act the way they do. It is said to be the study of psychology and is concerned with explaining all forms of human behaviours (Phil Gorman, 2004). Motivation is a very important aspect of psychology that tries to explain why humans or animals act in a certain manner (David A.H, 1995). Motivation studies have to do with the study of the Human psychology and behavioural patterns, it is an attempt to explain why and what the reasons are for actions we take.

Mitchell (1982) suggests that the term motivation represents those psychological process that cause the awakening, direction and persistence of voluntary actions that are goal oriented. It is a psychological process resulting from the corresponding interaction between the individual and the environment that affects a person’s choices, effort and persistence (Gary P. L and Christopher T, 2006).

Motivation seeks to explain the ‘why’ of behaviour (Phil Gorman, 2004). When we ask why a person or animal behaves in a particular manner, we are essentially asking about motivation (Mook, 1996). Motivation has generally been related to the need to achieve specific goals. It is concerned with goal-directed behaviours that pushes us towards certain actions and not others and is also the complex process that moves individuals towards some goals (Phil Gorman, 2004). Robbins (1993) defined motivation as the willingness to exert high levels of effort toward organisational goals, conditioned by the efforts and ability to satisfy some personal needs.

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According to David A. H (1995), Motivation examines two aspects of behaviour; the direction of behaviour – those concerned with the influences which cause specific actions in humans and the intensity of behaviour – concerned with the strength of behaviour. It is concerned with what causes specific actions, the reasons for actions we undertake and what determines the intensity of such action. Two individuals could be motivated towards a specific goal, say passing an exam. They will both be motivated to read, but the degree or intensity of motivation will usually not be the same for both individuals.

Motivation studies are undertaken in order to explain the onset, the direction,

the intensity and the persistence of behaviour directed towards the attainment of one or more goals or objectives (Mark R. Z ,2006).

So many authors have written and established various motivation theories. The following chapters in this review will discuss on the various motivation theories and contributions of renowned writers in the field of motivation studies.



This theory advocates that all individuals are born with natural needs and if these needs are not fulfilled, the individual will be motivated to act in a manner that will enable him satisfy them. Maslow A.H (1954) suggests that all individuals have a series of human needs which are prioritised on an ascending scale, with basic physiological survival needs at the bottom and the more psychological individual needs at the top. Maslow (1954)’s Hierarchy of needs stems from Physiological needs (survival), Safety needs, Social needs, Esteem needs and Self-actualization at the top.

According to this theory, humans have gone beyond the need of only basic survival needs but are now driven towards greater achievements and high needs up till self actualization. Maslow (1954)’s theory also assumes that these needs are activated in a sequential order starting from the bottom and a higher need emerging when the lower need has been satisfied and that after a need has been satisfied it ceases to dominate behaviour.

Physiological needs: These are the basic biological needs of man to survive. These needs are food, water, shelter etc. Maslow (1954) believes that humans are likely to be motivated by physiological needs rather than any other need. Once this needs have been satisfied, he is then motivated by the next level set of needs.

Safety needs: This refers to the need for security, freedom from fear and anxiety, need for stability and protection. Maslow (1954) suggests that this safety needs are mostly apparent in chaotic societies and when there is a stable, smooth running and good society, this need will not be so desired.

Social needs: This is the need for love and social belonging. When these needs are not satisfied, individuals will do all in their power to get affection from family and friends (Maslow, 1954)

Esteem needs: This refers to the need for prestige and recognition from others. It refers to the need for development, maintenance of self-respect and respect from others (David A.H, 1995).

Self actualization: This is the individual need of achieving ones full capability. It is the satisfaction of reaching what the individual believes to be his/her full potential. Maslow (1954) however, was of the view that very few people manage to satisfy the highest set of needs such as self actualization.

Some strengths of the theory;

Theory acknowledges that all individuals have in-born natural needs and when these needs are not satisfied the individual is compelled to act in a manner that will enable him satisfy these needs.

He has been able to combine both physiological and psychological needs in his hierarchy of needs theory. Physiological having to do with the innate needs and instinctive drives to satisfy these needs in the body. While psychological needs stem from cognitive conscious assessment before actions are taken.

David A.H (1995) noted that the ascending hierarchy of needs is not a one way process, if lower needs become unsatisfied, the individual will go back towards satisfying those lower needs.

The theory also suggests that the hierarchy does not apply rigidly to all individuals and some individuals may seek to satisfy some higher needs at the expense of lower ones (Maslow. 1954)

Pointed out below are some weaknesses of the theory;

Phil Gorman (2004) pointed out that the theory doesn’t seem to take account of the possibility that people who make small achievements in their lives may feel satisfied and fulfilled believing that they have truly achieved their full potential. He suggests that this may be due to restrictions placed upon them by their social background.

The theory does not consider that other factors such as environment and society can influence the individual to act in a particular manner. According to Stanworth and Curran (1973) the theory ignores the way the culture of a society and its subcultures, structure the aspirations and expectations of individuals and groups. Ivan T. R, et al (1992) bares the opinion that Maslow’s theory barely touches on the role of environmental factors in the development of his hierarchy.

The theory is difficult to apply in some situations. Stanworth and Curran (1973) also pointed out that most people who set up businesses would seem to be satisfying the higher level of needs in Maslow’s theory and going into a business is quite a risky venture. This means they are more concerned about a higher need of opening a business than a lower need, security and risk of having a business.


This theory is primarily concerned with motivation at the work place. According to Herzberg et al (1959) there are basically two sets of factors that influence behaviour; Hygiene Factors (dissatisfiers) and Motivators (satisfiers)

Hygiene factors (dissatisfiers)

These are factors that do not satisfy the individuals but only keep them from being dissatisfied. The presence of these factors in a work place will mean the individuals will not be unsatisfied but they will not be motivated either. These factors include, good working conditions, good salary, supervision, security, relationship with peers, company policy and administration. Most of these factors are classified as being extrinsic (David A.H, 1995).

Motivators (satisfiers)

These are those factors that actually motivate the individuals in the work place. They give the individual a feeling of self satisfaction and achievement. These factors are essentially internal and examples of these motivators are need for recognition, personal development and advancement and the need for growth. These motivators are related to the content of the job that allows the individual employee to develop their occupation as a source of personal growth. Employees will be motivated with such factors as they allow them satisfy the need for self actualization (Herzberg et al, 1959).

Part of the strengths of this theory is that just like Maslow’s theory, Herzberg et al (1959) believes that all human beings have physiological needs that can be satisfied with money e.g. Food and water and psychological needs such as the need for self-development and self-actualization. While a major weakness is that Herzberg has also neglected the influence of the environment and societal background as possible motivators. Some of his hygiene factors such as good salary which he suggests will only prevent an individual from being dissatisfied, in some case can actually provide motivation to the individual (David A.H, 1995).


McGregor (1960), suggest that there is a direct relation between the way managers treat their workers and workers motivation. McGregor believes there are two major approaches to the management of people and they have to do with a manager’s view on workers attitude towards work. He formulated the theories X and Y.

Theory X

In this theory, management treats workers with little or no respect. The attitude of managers towards workers in this theory is based on:

The belief that the average human being dislikes work and will avoid it if possible.

That most people have to be controlled, forced, directed and punished to get them to put adequate efforts towards the achievement of organisation objectives.

That the average human, prefers to be directed wish to avoid responsibility and wants security above all (Evans D, 1990).

Theory X is patronizing and makes no allowance for workers individualism. It is based on aspects of management such as discipline and control (David A.H, 1995).

Theory Y

This theory concentrates on delegation, decentralization, participation and consultation. The characteristics of management here are as follows:

External control and the threat of punishment are not the only means of bringing out efforts towards achieving organisation objectives.

People are committed to objectives in proportion to the rewards associated with achieving the objectives.

That the average human being learns, under proper conditions not only to accept but to seek responsibility (David A.H, 1995).

The theory encourages participative management and suggests that for workers to be motivated it is necessary to allow them use their skills within the work place. This will make them feel involved as part of the organisation.


This theory advocates that in the attempt to achieve individual satisfaction, people are motivated to act in a specific manner (Aldefer C.P, 1972). He suggests that satisfaction relies on the fulfilment of natural needs such as existence, relatedness and growth. Individuals constantly interact with their environment which as an effect in their behaviour. He believes that these 3 sets of needs are able to exist simultaneously and can be satisfied in a flexible order.

Existence needs: These needs are concerned with physiological and material factors related to survival such as hunger, thirst, salary and working conditions.

Relatedness: This has to do with the need to relate with others in the society. Individuals are motivated to seek satisfaction in their social relationships.

Growth needs: This refers to creating the optimum use of existing capacities and the development of new capacities. Satisfaction of growth needs depends on the individual developing to their full potential (Alderfer C.P, 1972).

This theory does suggest a rigid hierarchical structure and does not propose that an individual will try to satisfy one set of needs at a time (David A.H, 1995).


This theory is also based on three innate needs which are of optimum importance. They are the need for achievement, affiliation and power (McClelland, 1961). Robbins (1993) believes that those who have strong drives to succeed are searching for personal achievements rather than rewards. They have the drive to improve on better ways of doing things.

Need for achievement (N.arch): This can be described as the need for success and high standards of personal excellence (David A.H, 1995). It is the drive to achieve success.

Need for affiliation: This is the need for a good relationship with other individuals.

Need for power: This is the need to want to influence and exert some level of control over others.

McClelland (1961) believes that all individuals have each of these needs although the level of intensity of the needs varies between each person. This means that some people might have high needs of some and low of the others. According to McClelland et al (1953), any attempt to understand a person’s motivation to achieve must take into account both the personality and situation the individual finds him or herself in. He also suggested that the desire for achievement in a society could be measured from the kind of achievement imagery presented to the children (McClelland, 1961).

Stanjworth & Curran (1973), pointed out that McClelland’s theory considers differences between groups in motivational pattern and relates this to social and cultural factors.


Tolman E.C (1948), theory suggests that the motivation of individuals is not based on needs or drives but is determined by the presence of goals and the expectancy that their behaviour will lead to the attainment of this goal. He believes that human beings will be motivated in a specific manner when they are convinced that the results of the behaviour will be desired by them. The theory basically harps on individual motivation and the influence of the society.

Tolman’s theory recognises that people have different types of needs, desires and goals and proposes that the amount of effort people are prepared to put in task depends on whether the effort will produce better performance (Ivan T.R et al, 1992).


This theory stems from Tolman’s expectancy theory but in addition to expectancy Vroom added valence and instrumentality as determinants of motivation.

Expectancy: Vroom & Edward (1970) suggests that expectancy is a momentary belief concerning the likelihood that a particular act will be followed by a particular outcome.

Instrumentality: This assumes that the behaviour of individuals is influenced by the degree to which additional desired goals can be attained as the direct result of such behaviour (Vroom & Edward, 1970). The theory suggests that the amount of effort people are willing to put in a task depends on whether the performance when achieved will pay off in terms of outcomes (Ivan T.R et al, 1992).

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Valence: This refers to the value of the outcomes. Vroom & Edward (1970) suggests that individuals value some outcomes highly and hence desire them and can value outcomes lowly and try to avoid them. He states that we are motivated by the fact that we expect specific behaviours to result in specific outcomes and that such outcomes will have a degree of valence.

The main motivation points of Vroom according to David A.H (1995) are

The expectancy that specific behaviour will result in that attainment of a specific goal, the value of the desired goal and the degree to which such behaviour is instrumental to the attainment of other additional goals.


Basically this theory looks at motivation from the angle of motivating the employer. It suggests that when specific goals and targets are set out for individuals, they become motivated in order to achieve the goals. This theory has identified that human beings act in a specific way when they are faced with a particular goal (Locke E.A, 1968).

The highlights of this theory are that difficult goals should be set because they result in higher performance, employees should be part of the goal setting and that there should be adequate feedback with guidance and advice (Locke & Latham, 1984). Locke pointed out that incentives such as money, participation, competition and praise can influence goals. According to Ivan T. Robertson et al (1992) goals have been demonstrated to affect performance through four mechanisms:

Directing attention and action.

Mobilizing effort

Increasing task persistence.

Motivating the search for appropriate performance strategies.

Ivan T. Robertson et al (1992) also added two goal attributes that could be relevant for motivation.

Goal content – the level of goal difficulty and how specific it is and

Goal intensity – strength and commitment attached to the goal.


The recent theories on motivation haven’t really come up with any new idea very different from what other older writers on the subject have written; instead they have built on it to make it more adaptable to the changing environment and human perspective.


They gathered a list of factors that affected motivation in the work place and finally trimmed them down to 12 basic factors. Their observation method was to create a self assessment profile which was developed in other to find out what motivated people and also to weight the factors against each other. Their result was a unique motivational profile for each person which gave the relative strength of each factor when compared to each other. The 12 factors were developed from older theories of motivation (Sheila R & Peter M, 1999).

The 12 factors of motivation pointed out by Sheila R & Peter M (1999) where:

Money and tangible rewards: This is where money and tangible result is the overwhelming driving force. Where money is the motivator, people so inclined will be ready to tolerate any amount of boredom, work long hours. Undertake repetitive task over periods of months and years and even put work before family. People who have high money needs will regard their physical conditions at work with complete indifference. This factor relates to Tolman and Vroom’s expectancy theory where they suggest that individuals act in a particular way when they expect a kind of reward that, they value (Vroom & Edward, 1970).

Physical condition: In their theory, physical conditions have to do with those physical factors that could motivate in a work place. This touches on the work space, work environment and how comfortable it is. Some people could be motivated by the mare fact that they work in a very comfortable and beautiful environment. However, they pointed out that physical factors in relation to other motivating factors are not seen as very important.

Structure: This has to do with the organisational structure and administration of a work place. They believe that people with differing structure requirements need to be motivated in significantly different ways, the right approach motivates and the wrong approach will de-motivate. They suggest that very high structured people need to know where they stand. They need to know the rules and be assured that they have followed the right procedures. Anxiety may be the root cause of their desire for structure and may find a lack of structure very stressful. Some features of structure include timing, rules and procedures, society’s norm and expectation, planning, good communication and information circulation etc (Sheila R & Peter M, 1999).

People Contact: People with this factor enjoy dealing with other people and derive comfort and satisfaction from having a number of others around them. They would prefer to work with other people nearby rather than on their own. Most are likely to be highly tolerant with the rowdiness that working with others entail and will even perform better in such situation (Sheila R & Peter M, 1999). This in a way is related to Maslows hierarchy’s third stage that refers to the need for love and human relationship.

Relationship: This has to do with those motivated by the need for relationships. They suggest that this need can be satisfied outside the work place but for organisations based on commitment and trust between employees will need long term relationships between employees. According to Sheila R & Peter M (1999), this particular need usually depends on the organisation in question. Organisations were members of staff are interchanged, work shifts and level of skills are low, will not be in need of long term relationships. This is also related to Maslow’s need for love and relationship needs.

Recognition: This factor harps on the need for attention and praise. Sheila R & Peter M (1999) pointed out that high recognition needs can make people so dependent on others for approval, that in occasions where there is no recognition, they are unable to act independently. People with high need of this will always take care that they meet expectation.

Achievement: Sheila R & Peter M (1999) suggests that a strong characteristics of those with a high achievement drive is that they which to do things on their own. People with this need can find themselves voluntarily working long hours and driving themselves hard. They have to be satisfied that the targets they are aiming are achievable. High achievers are likely to be motivated, if they are not achieving they are likely to feel worthless. They will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. Motivating such people has to start with the definition of the target (Sheila R & Peter M, 1999).

Power and Influence: This is the need to possess power and influence others. The ability to lead and influence people used properly according to Sheila R & Peter M (1999) is one of the most desirable human qualities. The difference of this factor from others is that it involves people impinging directly on other people. They pointed out that here is also an element of risk that other people might not react favourably.

Variety and change: This is the need to always want to do something different. This kind of people we need stimulation to move on to something different with boredom setting in after an initial discharge of energy. These individuals cope better where there is constant demand for new energy and new initiatives. Sheila R & Peter M (1999), pointed out that the problem with this factor is that since the stimulation to change does not always arise, there is always the likely hood of uncompleted business or no motivation.

Creativity: This concerns the original idea and the development of the new out of the old. They believe that the creative drive has a very important part to play in the organisation. They advocate that those who have the need for creativity to be given an enabling environment for them to operate (Sheila R & Peter M, 1999).

Self development: This factors shows that people who have high self development needs will judge their work in terms of what it does for them. These individuals are not motivated except it has something to do with their self development. Motivating such people requires an understanding of what they are looking for and an ability to relate what the organisation requires to what the need (Sheila R & Peter M, 1999).

Interest and usefulness: Sheila R & Peter M (1999) believes that the need for job interest or usefulness is higher on average than the need for any other motivator. They stated that Professional and managerial people are more motivated for example by feeling of usefulness or interest than for opportunities to influence, achieve or be recognised. This factor suggests that the work place has to be structured in such a way that the employees find it useful and interesting and that in the absence of this factor, all other motivators will not work to full potential. (Sheila R & Peter M, 1999).

These 12 factors have covered in a way most motivating factors talked about by early researchers in the topic.


According to Reiss and Havercamp (1996), sensitivity theory suggests that individuals differ in both the types of reinforcement they desire and in the type of reinforcement they need to satisfy them and that people crave too much love, attention, acceptance, companionship or too much of some other fundamental reinforce are at the risk for peculiar behaviour because normative behaviour does not produce the desired amount of reinforcement. This theory generally postulates the idea of individual differences in reinforcement effectiveness. In discussing the theory, Reiss and Havercamp (1996) defined the concept of reinforcement sensitivity as an individual difference in the reinforcing effectiveness of a fundamental motivator. They mention three key phases of this theory: Reinforcing effectiveness, Individual difference and fundamental motivation.

The high points of the theory according to Reiss and Havercamp (1996) are that the theory identifies individual differences in desired amount of reinforcement that is individual differences in rates of satisfaction, as an understudied and potentially important variable, suggesting that because people spend considerable time and energy seeking the reinforcement they desire, these individual differences may predict some person-environment interactions. Secondly, the theory suggests the need for research to identify the fundamental sources of motivation. And finally, that a new theory in the development of psychopathology is suggested based on the assumption that different individuals not only desire different types of reinforcement but also desire widely varying amounts of each fundamental reinforcer.



The Built Environment and Construction industry is a labour intensive industry; therefore the application of motivation theories can’t be ignored. The nature of the construction industry is different in the sense that it offers jobs which appeal to many people because of their interesting, challenging and rewarding nature (Birchall D.W 1977).

According to Olomolaiye & Ogunlana (1988) construction operatives in developing countries are faced with many problems unlike those experienced by their counterparts in developed countries. They believe the construction environment is different in terms of site organisation, quality of supervision and availability of production resources, so also is their socio-economic environment. This environment produces a different worker probably motivated by different factors. In this situation, even when we have highly motivated labour force, it is not right to assume that their motivation will lead to higher productivity. Inability to produce as expected, could lead to frustration and de-motivation. Essentially, extrinsic factors such as good working condition, availability working materials and resources can go a long way in motivation construction workers in developing countries.

In the construction industry like every other industry productivity is paramount. The motivation theories discussed in the earlier chapters have shown that productivity of workers is directly related to motivation. When workers are highly motivated the will put more efforts in order to achieve self-fulfilment from doing so, and thereby resulting in higher productivity (Lam and Tang, 2003).

Lam and Tang (2003), also added that motivation theories such as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Herzberg’s Hygiene theory, McGregor’s X and Y theories, Vrooms’s expectancy theory, etc. are often applied to increase productivity in construction projects.

Borcherding and Gamer (1981) in their view, have pointed out that there are certain factors that will cause dissatisfaction amongst construction workers. The factors include material availability, tool availability, overcrowded areas, inspection delays, incompetence of foremen, etc. and they also suggested that factors like good craftsman relationship, good orientation program, pay. Recognition, defined goals and projects well planned can motivate construction employees.

In the application of motivation theories to the construction industry, Maslow and Herzberg’s theories form the basis. Once a worker satisfies his/her physiological needs, he will strive towards satisfying safety and social needs. And then later on seek to satisfy the needs of social belonging and self-actualization. In order to satisfy the construction worker’s physiological needs and increase motivation a suitable salary scheme and employment policy should be established (Lam and Tang, 2003). Lam and Tang (2000) also noted that though eccentric rewards such as salary and financial benefits do not motivate employees to high work performance, they could lower employee dissatisfaction.

Construction companies should maintain a high level of security, health and safety policy at work environment in order to satisfy the safety needs of workers. Effective communication will also give them a g=feeling that their jobs are secured.

For social and relationship needs to be satisfied in the construction industry, induction programs for new employees should be organised to introduce them to company objectives, other colleagues, the facilities and the working environment.

The concepts above will motivate the construction workers in the short term.

Lam & Tang (2003) also suggested that to motivate the construction employees on the long term, the below listed approaches will come in handy:

Proper resource management and job design.

Life-long learning programs.

‘Open door’ communication.

Effective rewarding systems.

Diverse and contingency style of leadership.

Empowering and valuing construction employees.

Continual assessments and improvement of motivation programs.

In summary the study and application of motivational theories in management is a very essential tool for all managers in all works of life, especially when there are direct interactions with human beings.


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