Theories & Principles of Motivation

by Simon Sidarous; Updated September 26, 2017
Motivation theories and principles help managers better understand employee motivation.

Motivation theories and principles are commonly used by managers to better understand employee motivation. However, anyone can apply these theories and principles in her daily life, in areas such as goal setting, personal motivation, and motivation for school and for studies. Of the many theories that exist, five have become the most popular.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is possibly the most well-known motivational theory. It states that people have five basic needs: physiological needs, safety needs, needs of affection, needs of esteem, and needs of self-actualization. The five needs are represented in a pyramid diagram, where the more important needs (physiological and safety) are the "lower-level" needs, and the rest are the "higher-level" needs. The theory explains that when one level of needs is met, the need of the higher level will take over.

McClelland's Trio of Needs

David McClelland's Trio of Needs theory states that a person is motivated by one of three needs: the need for achievement, the need for power and the need for affiliation. People with a need for achievement look to meet goals and want to be recognized for their effort so they can measure their individual success. People with a need for power are motivated either by influencing others, or by meeting the goals of an organization if they are managers. People with a need for affiliation are motivated by the need to feel accepted and to belong to a group.

McGregor's X and Y

Douglas McGregor's X and Y theory introduces two theories, at extreme ends from each other, to view employee motivation. Theory X says that a person does not like his work, does not want responsibility and does not like change, and is only working for money and job security. However, Theory Y assumes that people like their work, want to be given more responsibility, and are committed to their work objectives. The average worker's behavior is usually somewhere in between Theory X and Theory Y.

Herzberg's Two Factor Theory

Frederick Herzberg's Two Factor Theory states that there are two factors that affect the attitude of workers: motivators (factors of satisfaction) or hygiene factors (factors of dissatisfaction). Some factors of satisfaction are achievement, recognition and responsibility, while some factors of dissatisfaction are company policy, working conditions and salary. Herzberg argued that the factors causing satisfaction are different from those causing dissatisfaction, and that satisfaction and dissatisfaction should not be considered opposites to each other.

Vroom's Expectancy Theory

Victor Vroom's Expectancy Theory states that every person has different goals and expectations, but that they can be motivated if a good performance results in a good outcome, and that this good outcome will satisfy a need. Vroom's Expectancy Theory is based on three factors: valence (the value placed on the importance of a certain outcome), expectancy (the belief of a person in their abilities) and instrumentality (the expectation of a person that a good performance will lead to a good outcome). Vroom's Expectancy Theory defines a person's motivation by the following formula: Motivation = Valence x Expectancy(Instrumentality).

About the Author

Based in Canada, Simon Sidarous has been writing sports-related articles since 2008. His work has appeared on numerous websites and blogs. Sidarous is completing a Bachelor of Engineering in industrial engineering at Concordia University.

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