Knowing what motivates your employees helps you build cohesive teams with members who act together to reach common objectives. Three theories dealing with the sources of motivation in organizations explore why employees act the way they do. These theories give you the background you need to set company goals in a way that motivates your employees to achieve them.


Theories such as Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs propose that motivation results from unsatisfied needs. Typical needs related to the work environment include the need for security, belonging, self-actualization, self-esteem, achievement and influence. As a manager, you have to examine whether the work environment of employees fails to satisfy these needs. Ideally you assemble teams and departments that offer to satisfy basic needs such as security and belonging. The employees can then find motivation in the need for achievement to carry out the work.


Theories based on self-concept analyze how an employee perceives his role in the organization. Employees have a self-image, which might include such characteristics as competent, reliable or smart and roles such as leader, team player or hard worker. According to these theories, employees derive their motivation from factors such as team approval that validates their self-perception and from carrying out tasks that support their perception of their role. You can motivate employees by assigning them tasks that support their self-image.


A third theory of employee motivation bases employee decisions on expected outcomes. Employees decide how much effort to put into carrying out a task by evaluating what they can expect to gain. They evaluate possible rewards and the relationship between effort and positive outcome. According to this approach, you can motivate employees by offering a reward proportionate to the effort required to complete the task or by structuring the work so increased effort leads to an improved result.

Motivational Problems

You can apply a combination of these three theoretical approaches to motivation to help resolve motivational problems in your company. You have to verify that the work environment meets the basic needs of employees, so they can focus on the needs for achievement, self-esteem and self-actualization as motivation to improve performance. You have to be aware of how employees see themselves and assign their work accordingly. Finally, it's important to clearly define rewards for superior performance and to structure work so it is possible to achieve an improved result with increased effort that lies within the capability of employees.