How do people choose between surfing the net and finalizing a report the boss needs by lunch? This is a question expectancy theorists attempt to answer. These researchers study how employee expectations regarding the outcome of their behavior motivate them to select particular behaviors over others. The results that researchers gather give them insights to the theory's practical implementation in business, which is where personal choice and management rewards collide, and which affects everything from a company's provision of reserved parking spaces to the employee's election of a management versus a technical track.


Motivation is why a person acts one way rather than another. Often, businesses attempt to motivate employees by offering a quid pro quo, “if you do this, the company will give you that."”. If the incentive is sufficiently compelling, the employee performs in the desired way to reap the reward, the company achieves its goal and the system works. The problem is that a manager must recognize when an incentive has lost its luster and what new carrot the company must dangle in front of the employee's nose to achieve the desired behavior.

Expectancy Theory

Expectancy theory tells us that people who are confident in their ability to perform a particular task are motivated by their expectations of the consequences of their actions. This motivational theory confirms that the more convinced a person is that his effort will result in performance that will be rewarded in a very desirable way, the more likely it is that the person will put forth a great effort. The more desirable the reward the employer offers the employee in exchange for a desirable performance, the more motivated the employee will be to take actions necessary to receive the reward.

Significance of Expectancy Theory to Motivation Studies

Introduced in 1964 by Victor Vroom, a professor of the Yale School of Management, the Expectancy Theory was a breakthrough for motivation theorists. Prior theories, such as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and the Herzberg Two-factor Theory, had focused on human – not individual – needs. These theories inferred human needs are universal and inborn to all people. In contrast, Vroom’s theory acknowledged the uniqueness of each individual and the influence of this individuality on what a person desires and, therefore, how he is motivated.

Significance of Expectancy Theory to Businesses

Leadership can use the expectancy theory to motivate employees to support organizational objectives. By selecting rewards that suit employee preferences and tying those rewards to work that best supports organizational objectives, a company is most likely to achieve performance improvement. For example, a company might pay cash bonuses to reward exemplary customer service or breakthroughs in research. In addition, if workers understand the basis of the rewards and are capable of achieving the desired results, they are more likely to be motivated to exhibit a preferred employee behaviors. If the company provides training that boosts employee confidence in their ability to accomplish desired tasks, it's even more likely employees will be motivated to complete their assigned duties.