Workplace Motivation: Theories, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Motivation?
  • 1:00 Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic
  • 1:50 Popular Theories
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dr. Douglas Hawks

Douglas has two master's degrees (MPA & MBA) and is currently working on his PhD in Higher Education Administration.

Successful managers have employees who are motivated to perform at a high level. In this lesson, you'll learn what motivation is and how understanding motivation can help managers succeed.

What Is Motivation?

Motivation is all about the why of individual behaviors. There are entire books, courses, and even fields of study focused on understanding motivation, but it is all based on the same fundamental question: Why do we do the things we do?

Why should motivation be something that managers understand? Isn't all that matters that employees do what they are hired to do? Perhaps. But more often than not, employee behavior is not a binary output - it's not if employees do their jobs, but how well they do their jobs. If managers can understand the factors that lead employees to perform at a higher level, they can increase the performance of their entire departments.

It's important to clarify here that managers don't - or shouldn't - use their understanding of motivational factors to manipulate employees. Understanding motivation in the business setting isn't about manipulating behaviors; it's about aligning the interests of employees, customers, and shareholders with those of the organization, or vice-versa.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

There are many frameworks, models, and theories that focus on employee motivation. A few of the most common are quickly summarized below. While they are each based on good research and have some degree of universal applicability, none are the absolute doctrine on motivation. In fact, few motivation concepts are universal. However, one idea that is acknowledged by all frameworks that address motivation is that there are extrinsic and intrinsic motivational factors.

Extrinsic factors are external to the subject. In our discussion, the subject is an employee. Factors, like money, vacation time, or awards, are all external to the individual. Intrinsic factors are internal to the individual, such as the drive to excel, fear of failure, or desire to be acknowledged.

Two Popular Theories of Workplace Motivation

Two of the most popular models of motivation are Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which is based on levels of priorities, and Herzberg's Two-Factor Model, which presents job factors as contributing to either satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Both are widely accepted and most recent research builds on the ideas presented in these two models.

Abraham Maslow presented his model of motivation in 1954. The basic idea of Maslow's model was that there are five levels of needs for humans and each level needed to be fulfilled before someone could be motivated by higher-level factors.

According to Maslow, positive feedback (an esteem factor) won't motivate someone if their basic physiological needs aren't met. This makes sense if you apply it to the workplace. If someone doesn't get paid enough to put food on the table for his or her family, he or she isn't going to care too much about a 'good job' sticker!

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