Expectancy theory


Expectancy theory argues that the strength of a tendency to act in a certain way depends on the strength of an expectation that the act will be followed by a given outcome and on the attractiveness of that outcome to the individual. In more practical terms, expectancy theory says that an employee will be motivated to exert a high-level of effort.

This theory is now one of the most widely accepted explanation of motivation from Victor Vroom. Although it has its critics, most of the evidence is supportive of the theory.

When an employee is motivated to exert a high level of effort, he or she believes that effort will lead to a good performance appraisal. A good appraisal will lead to organizational rewards such as a bonus, a salary increase, or a promotion; and that the rewards will satisfy the employee’s personal goals. The theory, therefore, focuses on three relationships.

1. Effort-performance relationship:
The probability perceived by the individual that exerting a given amount of effort will lead to performance.

2. Performance-reward relationship:
The degree to which the individual believes, that performing at a particular level he or she will attain the desired outcome or expectations of his employer.

3. Rewards-personal goals relationship:
The degree to which organizational rewards satisfy individual personal goals or needs and the attractiveness is of those potential rewards for the individual.

Expectancy theory helps explain why a lot of workers aren’t motivated on their jobs and do only the minimum necessary to get by. This is evident when we look at the theory’s three relationships in a little more detail. We present them as questions employees need to answer in the affirmative if their motivation is to be maximized.

First, a lot of employees think their maximum effort will not be recognized in their performance appraisal. The reasons are their skill level may be deficient, which means that no matter how hard they try, they are not likely to be a performer. The organization’s performance appraisal system may be designed to assess nonperformance factors such as loyalty, initiative, or courage, which means more effort will not necessarily result in a higher evaluation.

Another possibility is that the employee, rightly or wrongly, perceives that her boss does not like her and as a result, he or she expects to get a poor appraisal regardless of her level of effort. These examples suggest that one possible source of low employee motivation is the belief by the employee that no matter how hard he or she works, the likelihood of getting a good performance appraisal is low.

Second, if I get a good performance appraisal, will it lead to organizational rewards? Many employees see the performance-reward relationship in their job as weak. The reason is that organizations reward a lot of things other than just performance. When pay is allocated to employees based on factors such as seniority, being cooperative, or for “kissing up� to the boss, employees are likely to see the performances reward relationship as weak and not motivating.

Finally, the employee thinks even if he / she is rewarded the rewards may not be personally attractive. The employee works hard in hope of getting a promotion but gets a pay raise instead. Or the employee wants a more interesting and challenging job but receives only a few words of praise. Or the employee puts in extra effort to be relocated to the company’s London office but instead is transferred to Bangkok. These examples illustrate the importance of the rewards being tailored to individual employee needs.

Many managers have limitation in the rewards they can distribute, which makes it difficult to individualize rewards. Moreover, some managers incorrectly assume that all employees want the same thing thus overlooking the motivational effects of differentiating rewards. In either case, employee motivation is undermined.

The key to expectancy theory is the understanding of an individual’s goals and the linkage between effort and performance, between performance and rewards, and, finally between the rewards and individual goal satisfaction.

Expectancy theory recognizes that there is no universal principle for explaining everyone’s motivations. In addition, just because we understand what needs a person seeks to satisfy does not ensure that the individual perceives high performance as necessarily leading to the satisfaction of these needs.

Attempts to validate the theory have been complicated by methodological, criterion, and measurement problems. The theory proposes to explain different levels of effort from the same person under different circumstances. Correcting for this flaw has greatly improved support for the validity of expectancy theory. The theory tends to be more valid for predicting in situations in which effort-performance and performance-reward linkages are clearly perceived by the individual. Because few individuals perceive, a high correlation between performance and rewards in their jobs.

The theory tends to be idealistic if organizations actually rewarded individuals for performance rather than according to criteria such as seniority, effort, skill level, and job difficulty. Instead of invalidating expectancy theory, this criticism can be used in support of the theory, because it explains why a significant segment of the workforce exerts low levels of efforts in carrying out job responsibilities.

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