What Is the Definition of Employee Motivation?

by Kat Consador; Updated September 26, 2017
What Is the Definition of Employee Motivation?

Motivating employees can be a manager's biggest challenge. Employee motivation is a key to the overall effectiveness of an organization. An understanding of the applied psychology within a workplace, also known as organizational behavior, can help achieve a highly motivated workforce.

Defining Motivation

According to Gareth R. Jones and Jennifer M. George's book, "Contemporary Management," motivation is defined as "psychological forces that determine the direction of a person's behavior in an organization, a person's level of effort and a person's level of persistence."


Jones and George list direction of behavior, effort and persistence as key components toward motivation. The behavior that a person chooses is direction of behavior. Effort measures how hard an employee works. Persistence occurs when an employee continues trying in the face of difficulties, instead of giving up.

Types of Motivated Behavior

Two types of behaviors can occur during motivation: intrinsically motivated behavior and extrinsically motivated behavior. George and Jones describe intrinsically motivated behavior as behavior that is "performed for its own sake; the source of the motivation is actually performing the behavior, and motivation comes from doing the work itself." For example, those who believe in protecting the natural environment and work toward that goal are intrinsically motivated. George and Jones describe extrinsically motivated behavior as that "performed to acquire material or social rewards or to avoid punishment." Those who are working purely for monetary purposes are an example of extrinsically motivated employees.

Motivation Equation

In the motivation equation, input, performance and outcome are key factors that contribute to high motivation. Inputs are anything an employee contributes to the job or organization, such as time, effort, education and experience. Outcomes are anything an employee gets from a job or organization, such as pay, job security and benefits. Organizations hire based on inputs. High performance levels contribute to the organization's efficiency, effectiveness and overall goals. Managers use outcomes to motivate people to contribute inputs.


Several theories exist regarding motivation. Expectancy theory, need theories, equity theory and goal-setting theory are each different interpretations within motivation.

Expectancy theory suggests that high levels of motivation occur when employees believe they can get the task done, believe they are capable of performing at high levels, and desire the outcomes. For example, pay or bonuses can be a desired outcome.

Several need theories exist, but all of these theories have a common definition. Managers must determine the needs of their employees within an organization. They are responsible for ensuring that people receive outcomes to satisfy needs when performing at high levels.

Equity theory suggests that managers promote high levels of motivation by ensuring people believe in the outcomes. For example, salaries are distributed in proportion to inputs, such as time and effort.

Goal-setting theory suggests that specific and difficult goals lead to high motivation and success.

About the Author

Kat Consador is a freelance writer and professional competitive Latin dancer. Her work has appeared in eHow and various online publications. She also writes for clients in small businesses, primarily specializing in SEO. She earned a Bachelor's of Arts in Psychology from Arizona State University.

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