These Motivational Theories Will Impress You (Must Read)

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    When it comes to studying or work, motivation is highly important. There arose a few motivation theories which help managers to promote productivity in their employees, teachers to increase productivity in students, etc. Learn what is motivation theory in different fields such as psychology, education, management and business.


    Motivation theory is aimed at discovering what can make individuals achieve their goals or outcome. Sometimes the idea of being ‘motivated’ can be confused with the idea of being ‘happy’, especially, when it comes to businesses. Businessmen might need to motivate employees to be more productive.

    Motivation theory is a theory of how to make workers and other individuals be more engaged, feel more invested in their work, have a desire to perform well regardless of the level of happiness. This is the managers’ job to encourage employees to be productive and effective. When working with people, well-motivated employees will behave the following way:

    • be friendly with the customers
    • perform their job quickly
    • suggest an additional item a client would like to purchase to increase sales for the company.

    Most motivational theories can be divided into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. People with high self-confidence are more likely to be intrinsically motivated. Extrinsic motivation is related to the outcome of the activity when individuals are focused on the outcome more than on the activity.

    The most often cited motivational theories are escape-seeking dichotomy model, drive-reduction theory, cognitive dissonance theory, and hierarchy of needs by Abraham Maslow.

    Interesting that psychology provides both survival and motivational theories while economic science is more focused on self-interest motivational theories. In various theories, motivation can be driven either conscious or unconscious factors, which influence behavior in different ways giving the same or similar result. For example, self-interest can be an unconscious factor that influences a desire to work.

    Some political theories or social trends can also serve a motivational conscious or unconscious factor. For example, Machiavellianism is a popular political theory that is common among high-powered individuals such as politicians, managers, sportsmen, and other being a great source of motivation. It is related to self-interest, desire for power, influence, and strength.


    Motivation is an important component of the educational system used to encourage students to study better to achieve educational goals. In the educational setting, motivation can be both an internal and external force. According to this dichotomy, one could distinguish two main theories of motivation in the educational setting, they include intrinsic and extrinsic motivation theories.

    If the individual’s behavior is determined by external factors, the locus is external which means that outside forces are responsible for the events that occur in his life. The students with an internal locus will often use intrinsic motivation which comes from within an individual while those who are motivated by external factors need an extrinsic reward or consequences to feel motivated.

    Students who tend to use intrinsic motivation receive not external but internal in the form of an increase in self-esteem and sense of achievement. It takes place under the condition that they have their own goals. Also, intrinsic motivation can be based on the interest in an activity or the feeling of satisfaction after achieving the desired accomplishment.

    Sometimes students do not feel any intrinsic motivation. They need reinforcement to succeed. According to behaviorist theories by B.F. Skinner, the most effective extrinsic motivational tools are punishment and reward. This system is aimed at reinforcing the desired behavior and negating undesirable actions. Students might be punished by receiving negative consequences such as low grade, detention a call home to parents and other. However, as experience show using a positive reinforcement for the desired actions is more effective in making students succeed in their endeavors.

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    Similar to education set, psychology divides motivation theories into those which are based on extrinsic and intrinsic, outer and inner factors. Interesting that psychology dives deeper. It claims that outer motivation allows us to be motivated because it is easier but it doesn’t give such results in reaching goals as inner motivation. This is because inner motivation is caused by a habit that was grown in you by either changed thinking or taken actions. Outer motivation is based on the external factors influencing an individual’s behavior. These are irregular actions from outside that are not repeated from time to time. External factors are not caused by a person’s interests, so they are not strongly built in the behavior.

    There are quite a lot of psychology motivation theories among which the most popular are instinct, drive reduction, arousal, incentive, cognitive, self-determination and other.

    • Instinct theory. According to the instinct theory, the oldest motivational theory, organisms follow a set of biologically pre-programmed instincts. Similar to animals, humans can also behave based on a set of behaviors called instincts. This motivation theory is based on the inner needs, however, it is one of the simplest theories.
    • Drive reduction theory. This motivation theory suggests that all organisms prefer to be in such a state in which all of their needs are fulfilled. Consequently, the “drives”, needs that propel behavior, must be “reduced”. Drive reduction theory’s critics say that our needs can be met sometimes but not always. For example, some people enjoy sleeping late on a weekend morning, drinking coffee in a cozy chair, etc. A feeling of such happiness motivates us but, according to the theory, it should be reduced. On the other hand, if the theory were true, no one would ever seek out excitement and challenges.
    • Arousal theory. At the opposite side of drive reduction, arousal theory suggests that we seek to increase the level of stimulation. When we get bored, we need to push ourselves physically or mentally and increase the level of endorphins. However, there should not be too much arousal as it can keep us from achieving our goals. The arousal theory is also called the Yerkes-Dodson Law. In practice, when feeling sleepy or nervous, one performs poorly no matter what he is doing. Everyone has its own peak and optimum level of arousal which determines the flawless and enjoyable performance.
    • Cognitive theory. This theory of motivation implies that behavior can be controlled by thoughts and expectations. For example, businessmen behave in ways that they think will lead to producing a desirable outcome. Cognitive theory created by psychologists Ed Deci and Richard Ryan implies that there are two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is what drives us to fulfill our inner potential and interests. The intrinsic motivation means expressing your true self in your behavior. Extrinsic motivation, on the other hand, consists in your desire to achieve rewards such as money, glory, recognition, etc.
    • Self-determination theory. This theory incorporates both intrinsic and extrinsic factors of motivation driving your work-related and other behavior. The person is self-determined in case the activities she performs are satisfying and allowing her to feel in control of her behavior. You can be motivated by extrinsic rewards but the more autonomous you feel, the more self-directed you are.


    The way an organization manages its work plays an important role in increasing productivity of workers. An organization work can be divided into two types: it functions as a whole and as a set of departments. At the department level, motivational practices have a great importance in utilizing a company’s human resources. For this reason, organizations need to use motivational theories to encourage productive work at the organizational, especially, departmental level.

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    There are many theories of motivation in management. Managers need to encourage employees to increase their productivity. They must feel that the work they do is important, will be rewarded and that they are treated fairly. Many motivation theories in management provide suggestions for employees on how to be more motivated in the workplace. If managers understand which theory fits best their employees, it will help to improve the workers’ productivity. Below is the list of the most effective motivation theories in management.


    In the ‘60s, Douglas McGregor developed two opposite theories of motivation in management. According to these theories, employees can be divided into two categories. Theory X employees do not want to work and to be responsible. Theory Y employees put a lot of effort at work. While employers have no problems with the theory X employees, they need to develop opportunities for the theory Y employees to make them motivated.


    In the ‘20s, Elton Mayo developed the Hawthorne effect. This effect theorizes that employees are more motivated if their work is being measured and studied. Mayo claimed that employees are more productive if they are provided with the feedback. If the workers’ job is recognized and their opinion matters in the workplace, they will feel motivated to perform.


    The equity theory developed by John Stacey Adams states that treatment in the workplace plays the most important role. The employees feel motivated if they are treated fairly and unmotivated if they are treated unfairly. In an organization and management, this implies that employees are provided with recognition for their work and given the chance to earn bonuses and other awards. If managers single out some employees recognizing them as more productive, they will face a largely unmotivated group of employees.


    Taylor built a motivation theory based on the research he carried out on US steelworkers. Here are the assumptions he made:

    • Man is a rational economic animal concerned with maximizing his economic growth.
    • People respond as individuals and not as groups.
    • People can be treated as standardized machines.

    Taylor concluded that the most effective motivation factor of working people is money. According to this theory, the salary of the worker can induce him to produce more and respectively earn more. Consequently, the employees who cannot achieve the target production should be paid less and the employees who exceed the target production should be paid more which will motivate others.

    It means that managers need to motivate employees to achieve the target production or exceed it. However, Taylor’s theory ignored the individual differences that affect the motivational factors of the workers. Nevertheless, his method was successfully implemented by many businesses around the world which led to a higher productivity and lower unit cost.


    In business, motivation is the factor that determines engagement in the behavior of an employee. The reasons for a particular behavior may include various determinants beginning with basic human needs and finishing with a higher level of social needs. An employee can be considered motivated if he or she puts a lot of energy and commitment to perform his duties and tasks.

    Employee motivation plays a significant role in every business growth affecting every aspect of the business. Building a company with highly motivated employees is a difficult task which requires spending a lot of money and putting a lot of effort. Interesting that money is known to be the weakest motivator. On the contrary, the culture, leadership style, and the management style motivate employees in the most effective way. In result, the motivated employees become a competitive source to the business.

    There are several theories in business that are developed regarding employee motivation. Various scientists have built effective models based on psychological and management studies and intended to motivate employee force. The most popular motivation theories in business include Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, Herzberg’s two-factor theory, Kurt Lewin’s force field theory, Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory, F.W. Taylor’s scientific management, etc.

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    According to the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs motivation theory there are different levels of human need which also can serve the motivation factors. Maslow suggested that at the bottom of the pyramid of human needs such physiological needs as food, sleep and shelter are located. Safety, love/belonging, esteem, self-actualization are respectively more important needs. All these needs shape motivation styles in an organization.

    The third level of the pyramid is quite important in terms of business organization as most of the companies work exactly in this plane. It focuses on social factors which imply working with colleagues, sharing information, teamwork, communication, etc. At the highest level of the hierarchy, there are such motivation factors as social respect, recognition, empowerment, etc. If the organization focuses on the top one-two levels of the pyramid by providing workers with the necessary developing opportunities so that they feel they are doing a great work, the company is going to achieve success very fast.


    Herzberg’s theory of motivation is based on the research with 200 engineers and accountants who were asked to note the situations when they experienced positive or negative feelings at their job. In result, he presented a two-steps approach to understanding employee motivation and satisfaction which are called as hygiene and motivational factors.

    Hygiene factors that eliminate the unpleasant working conditions include one or all of the following factors:

    • working conditions
    • company policies
    • administration
    • quality and the way of supervision
    • interpersonal relationships
    • salaries, wages, and other financial benefits
    • job security.

    The motivational factors determine the workers’ need for personal growth. They create job satisfaction and increase the individual’s performance if they are provided by employers. The motivational factors include:

    • opportunity for growth in the job
    • entrusted responsibility
    • social status
    • recognition among others
    • challenging work
    • sense of achievement.

    Herzberg’s model is similar to Maslow’s theory, but it basically focuses on the higher levels of the hierarchy of needs. The hygiene factors are considered as those related to the environment of the job. They generate dissatisfaction if they are not provided by the employer. They only facilitate or enable the employees to perform the necessary tasks but do not motivate to do the job with a high interest.

    Motivator factors if they are provided show how interesting to the worker the job is. According to Herzberg, businesses are obliged to adopt democratic approaches to motivate employees. They may include job enlargement, job enrichment, employee empowerment, and other.


    The motivation theory of reward system implies that the organization can motivate employees by benefits they can attain under the condition of performing a certain amount of tasks. Employees must be sure that they will be rewarded if they meet the established performance criteria. Another point is that the rewards must be fairly distributed and employees could be confident that their work is evaluated fairly and there is no lack of compatibility between workers. If the rewards system is based on the performance evaluation procedure, all the processes should be transparent and evident to the employees.

    Now when you know different motivation theories, you are able to pick out parts of each of them that fit you. Otherwise, you can develop your own unique path to self-motivation. Whether it is arousal, incentive, self-determination, understanding of what kind of motivation you need will lead you to obtain insights about the possible pathway to fulfillment.


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