How can expectancy theory be applied?

Let’s use a classroom analogy as an illustration of how one can use expectancy theory to explain motivation.

Well, the results of that first examination are in. The class average was 76. Ten percent of the class scored an 88 or higher and got an A. Your grade was 54; the minimum passing mark was 60. You’re upset. You’re frustrated. Even more, you’re perplexed. How could you possibly have done so poorly on the examination when you usually score in the top range in other classes by preparing as you did for this one?

Several interesting things are immediately evident in your behavior. Suddenly, you may no longer be driven to attend BUAD 361 classes regularly. You may find several reasons why don’t want to study for the course, either. When you do attend classes, you may find yourself day dreaming – the result is an empty notebook instead of several pages of notes. One would probably be correct in saying that you lack motivation in BUAD 361.

Why did your motivation level change? You know and we know but let’s explain it in expectancy theory.

If we use Exhibit to understand this situation, we might say the following: Studying for BAUD 361 (effort) is conditioned by the correct answers on the examination (performance) which will produce a high grade (reward), which will lead in turn, to the security prestige and other benefits that accrue form obtaining a good job(individual goal).

The attractiveness of the outcome, a good grade, is high. But what about the performance reward linkage? Do you feel that the grade you received truly reflects your knowledge of the material? In other words, did the test fairly measure what you know? If it did then this linkage is strong. If you think it didn’t then at least part of the reason for your reduced motivational level is your belief that the test was not fair measure of your performance. If the test was an essay type, maybe you believe that the instructor’s grading method was poor. Was too much weight placed on a question that you thought was trivial? May be the instructor does not like you and was biased in grading your paper. These examples show how perceptions can influence the performance reward linkage and your level of motivation.

Another possible de-motivating force may be the effort performance relationship. If after you look the examination, you believe that you could not have passed it regardless of the amount of preparation you had done, then your desire to study may drop. Possibly, the instructor assumed that you a considerably broader background in the subject matter. Maybe the course had several prerequisites that you did not know or possibly you had the prerequisites but took those courses several years ago. The result is the same: You place a low value on your effort leading to answering the examination questions correctly: hence, your motivational level decreases, and you reduce your effort.

Cab we relate this classroom analogy to a work setting? What does expectancy theory say that can help us motivate our employees? Let’s summarize some of the issues surrounding the theory. First, expectancy theory emphasizes payoffs or rewards. As a result managers have to believe that the rewards they offer will align with what the employee wants. As such, it is a theory based on self interest where each individual seeks to maximize his or her expected satisfaction. Second, expectancy theory stresses that managers understand why employees view certain outcomes as attractive or unattractive. They will want to reward individuals with those things they value positively. Third, the expectancy theory emphasizes expected behaviors. Do individuals know what is expected of them and how they will be appraised? Unless employees see this connection between performance and rewards, organizational goals may be met. Finally the theory is concerned with perceptions. The facts are irrelevant. An individual’s own perceptions of performance reward and goal satisfaction will determine his or her level of effort not the objective outcomes themselves. Accordingly continuous feedback is necessary to align perceptions with reality.

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