Contemporary theories of Motivation

Money is rarely a prime motivator for employees. This was confirmed in a recent survey of 1,500 employees. Here are the top five things that employees considered important:

1. A learning activity and choice of assignment. Employees value learning opportunities in which they can gain skills or enhance their marketability. And they want the ability to choose work assignments when ever possible.
2. Flexible working hours and time off. Employees value their time and their time off. Flexibility around their work ours will allow them to better balance personal obligations with work responsibilities.
3. Personal praise: People like to feel they are needed and that their work is appreciated. Yet employees report that their bosses rarely thank them for the job they do.
4. Increased autonomy and authority in their job. Greater autonomy and authority tell employees that the organization thrusts them to act independently and without the approval of others.
5. Time with their manager: When managers spend time with employees, it does two things. First, because a manager’s time is valuable, it provides recognition and validation. Second, it provides support through listening to the employees’ concerns, answering questions, and offering advice.

Respondents listed money as important, but only after the above items.

The previous theories are well known but, unfortunately have not held up well under close examination. However, all is not lost. There are a number of contemporary theories that have one thing in common and each has a reasonable degree of valid supporting documentation. This does not mean that the theories that are to be introduced are unquestionably right. They can be called contemporary theories not because they necessarily were developed recently but because they represent the current state of thinking in explaining employee motivation.

You have one bean bag and there are five targets set up in front of you. Each one is progressively farther away and, hence, more difficult to hit. Target A is a cinch. It sits almost within arm’s reach of you. If you hit it, you get $2. Target B is a bit farther out, but about 80 percent of the people who try can hit it. It pays $4. Target C pays $8 and about half the people who try can hit it. Very few people can hit Target D, but the payoff is $16 if you do. Finally Target E, pays $32, but it is almost impossible to achieve. Which target would you try for? If you select C, you are likely to be a high achiever.

The Need theory focuses on three needs: achievements, power, and affiliation. They are defined as follows:

1. Need for achievements: The drive to excel, to achieve in relation to a set of standards, to strive, to succeed.
2. Need for power: the need to make others behave in a way that they would not have behaved otherwise.
3. Need for affiliation: the desire for friendly and close inter-personal relationships.

Some people have a compelling drive to succeed. They have striving for personal achievements rather than the rewards of success per se. They have a desire to do something better of more efficiently than it has been done before. This drive is the achievement need. From research into the achievement need, it was found that high achievers differentiate themselves from others by their desire to do things better. They seek situations in which they can attain personal responsibility for finding solutions to problems, in which they can get rapid feedback on their performance so that they can determine easily whether they are improving or not, and in which they can set moderately challenging goals. High achievers are not gamblers; they dislike succeeding by chance. They prefer the challenge of working at a problem and accepting the personal responsibility for success or failure rather than leaving the outcome to chance or the actions of others. Importantly, they avoid what they perceive to be very easy or very difficult tasks. They prefer tasks of intermediate difficulty.

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