Problems in Applying Motivation Theories

This article presents a non-exhaustive account of some problems in applying motivational theories to the actual conditions of the workplace. It should give readers a general idea of some of the less effective and more effective methods for motivating employees.

Reward vs. Punishment

It is generally conceded that while rewards can offer workers a variety of incentives which can not only motivate them to work harder but also produce feelings of good-will towards management, punishment often functions only to cultivate feelings of hostility between managers and workers, which can directly and negatively effect productivity.

Personal Satisfaction vs. Financial Satisfaction

One of the most successful ways of fostering a productive and motivated workforce is to ensure that workers are satisfied with their jobs, not just with their pay. It is interesting to note that people are quite often more concerned with how much they like their job than they are with how much money they actually make. Making employees feel important in the workplace can make them feel like part of the team, which makes them feel personally invested in the health of a business.

Persuasion vs. Coersion

By appealing to a worker's sentiments and reason a manager can persuade a worker to take initiative and build their morale, which are internal drivers of motivation. However, by appealing to fear and coercion a manager may actually cause a decline in internal motivation, leaving instead feelings of hostility or anxiety which can negatively effect production.

Knowing Your Workers

Understanding what is important to an individual is endemic for understanding how to motivate that person effectively. Is an individual motivated by the opportunity to develop professionally or by the possibility of making more money? Does he or she want more responsibility or more clearly defined responsibilities? Is it important that he or she see the end-product of their work or not? Usually, employees are not motivated by just one thing, which can make it difficult to determine the best strategy for motivation.


One of the top things leading workers to feel productive and motivated in the workplace is knowing that they have a good management team. When people feel close to their managers they oftentimes do not want to disappoint, and may even feel the desire to win approval. By being invested in workers, managers can get workers to feel reciprocally invested in their workplace and their work. Fostering motivation in the workplace is first and foremost about fostering good management practices.

About the Author

Lee Flamand holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of California at Berkeley. A committed generalist, he writes on various topics. He currently resides, works and studies in Berlin, Germany.