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Motivation Theory in Human Resource Management

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By Trevor Maynard © 2002

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It has been said that the greatest assets of a service organisation are its human resources and that one of the most vital and essential tasks of management is to motivate that resource in order to maximise its performance and achieve corporate success (Redman and Wilkinson 2001, Hersey and Blanchard 1993, Mabey and Salaman 1995).  Concepts and theories defining motivation are complex and inconclusive, however two that are at the cutting edge appear to be expectancy and self-efficacy.  Whether these fit with the Human Resource Model is another matter, therefore in considering this question, this paper will also look at older, more established theories of motivation such as those from Maslow, Herzberg and others
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Motivation Theory in Human Resource Management © 2002
Scope, Terms of Reference and Aims
The scope of this paper is motivational theory in terms of organisations with specific reference to how it fits with the human resources model.  The terms of reference are to examine content and process theories of motivation and to relate these to human resource management (HRM). The aims are to establish HRM in a motivational context and to examine the relationship between motivational theory and HRM.
 
Definitions
Judging by the large number of theories that try to explain motivation, the concept is difficult to define (Industrial Society 1990, Gross 1992). For example, it has been defined as; “…a process of choice made by persons or lower organisms among alternative forms of voluntary action…” (Vroom 1964); the Industrial Society (1990) describe it as “…the difference between one individual putting in greater effort and energy into an activity than another…” and Buchanan and Huczynski (1997) as “…the internal psychological process of initiating, energizing, directing and maintaining goal-directed behaviour…” More simply put, motivation has also been defined as; why people do things (Gross 1992) and the incentive for action (Collins 1995).  Human Resource Management (HRM) has been defined as a“re-conceptualising of personnel management and industrial relations with the focus being a redefining of the workforce in terms of organisational goals” (Redman and Wilkinson 2001).  Two further definitions, which illustrate the breadth of opinion regarding HRM, could be said to be particularly pertinent to motivation; HRM is a; “…humane people-orientated employment management…” (Keenoy 1990): HRM is a “…blunt instrument to bully workers…”(Monks 1998).
 
The Human Resources Model from a motivational perspective
With HRM, the HR model could be said to view humans as being motivated by a complex set of interrelated factors, such as money, need for affiliation, and desire for meaningful work.  It is argued that each different employee will seek a different goal, have a diversity of talents in completing the task and add their own uniqueness to the organisation (Porter et al 2003).  This is a conceptualisation that sees employees as reservoirs of potential talent and suggests it is a managerial responsibility to find how best to tap such resources (Redman and Wilkinson 2001).  There appears to be a basic assumption that people want to contribute positively to a job; e.g. they are pre-motivated, and that therefore, the more they are motivated the more meaningful the job becomes to them (Porter et al 2003).  However, if this is not the case, then the employer should seek to make it so by redesigning the job to, for instance, make it more varied, be autonomous, or allow a greater devolution and trust (Mabey and Salaman 1995).  From a motivational perspective, the managerial task could be said to be clear; determine the best use of the workforce’s resources, assist employees in the achievement of goals in an organisational context, introduce a philosophy that leads to greater employee participation in decision making and set up a situation where the organisation and the employee meet their goals at the same time (Porter et al 2003).
 
Organizational theories of motivation
Porter et al (2003) suggests there are two schools of motivation research; content theory and process theory.  The first contains Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Alderfer’s ERG theory, Hertberg’s Movitator-Hygeine theory, and McClelland’s Learned Needs theory. To this could be added McGregors X and Y theory (Armstrong 2002). The second group consists of Vroom’s expectancy theory and the Port-Lawler model; these are then expanded upon with recent research into self-efficacy (Porter et al 2003).
 
Content Theories
 
Gross (1992) suggests Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is based on a central concept that suggests humans are motivated to satisfy their needs before progressing to a higher stage.  These are categorised in three deficiency and two growth needs, following a hierarchy of; psychological (relating to survival); safety and security (for example job security); belongingness (for instance a desire for acceptance); this is turn leads to esteem and ego (for example, greater concern for the job); and finally peaks with self-actualisation (realisation of the person’s full potential). 
 
Alderfer’s ERG theory argued that there need not be five needs and reduced them to three: existence [E], relatedness [R] and growth [G] (Porter et al 2003). However the two theories could be said to be analogous; existence relates to survival and safety; relatedness to belonging and self-esteem (and ego); and growth to the development of human potential as in self-actualisation (Buchanan and Huczynski 1997).  Where Alderfer did add to Maslow was in the recognition that not only was there a satisfaction/progression relationship, there was also one of frustration/regression. This could mean, for instance, that an employee could reach a sense of high self-esteem, lose their job and regress to survival mode, in other words, one state does not necessary lead to another, the element of the hierarchy can change, retrench, regress, and also co-exist (Porter et al 2003).
 
Although, it could be argued Maslow’s and Alderfer’s theories are not fully effective at explaining employees needs (Porter et al 2003), they appear to still resonate with several concepts in HRM.  For example, the emphasis on the needs of an individual employee for security and for a sense of belonging may lead to identification with the company.  This could be said to be further reinforced by the fact that within a secure environment the individual is encouraged, and feels safe, to grow to their full potential, and therefore enhances and add to the corporate identity (Mabey and Salaman 1995). 
 
A closer fit with HRM may be McGregor’s Y theory which states that if the working conditions are favourable, employees will be motivated to perform efficiently, growing and developing with the organisation to fulfil their potential  (Armstrong 2002), however Evans (1999) argues that maybe McGregor puts too much emphasis on the importance of work in a person’s life and does not take into account how outside interests could fulfil their psychological needs.  McGregor however does appear to recognise this in his X Theory, which assumes the opposite from Theory Y, suggesting people do not like work and can only be made to do so by coercion and threats (Armstrong 2002).  It could argued, as HRM accepts no alternative view to the company voice in setting employment policy, there is a degree of control implied in accepting terms and conditions that could undermine employee rights and be interpreted as coercive (Redman and Wilkinson 2001).
 
Although motivation was an important consideration in the theories mentioned above, it is generally considered that until Herzberg, there were few people who were calling attention to the need for increased understanding of motivation’s specific importance in the workplace (Porter et al 2003).  Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene theory, also called the Two-factor theory, looked at employees’ levels of job satisfaction within an organisation (Hersey and Blanchard 1993), or more precisely the nature of the work itself and how it has the potential for arousing both satisfaction and dissatisfaction.  Motivators arousing satisfaction include factors such as achievement, recognition and responsibility.  Discrepancies in motivators, which led to employee discontent, or hygiene factors as Herzberg termed them, could include things such as company policy, salary, managerial style, and relations with work colleagues (Porter et al 2003).  In terms of HRM, if achievement and recognition were within the corporate goals, then responsibility could be said to equate with identification.  The concept of hygiene factors could also work well with an HRM model as it would be the managerial task to focus on the work the employee is expected to do, and where there is discontent, for example because of routine or boredom, to strive to achieve a motivational atmosphere, for instance, by introducing  multi-tasking or changing the conditions in some other way (Mabey and Salaman 1995).
 
The final content theory, which departs from those above in some ways, is McClelland’s Learned Needs theory, which, as a psychological principle, advocates nurture to be as important as nature; in other words the circumstances encountered, and activities experienced are equally as important as whatever qualities you are born with (Porter et al 2003).  Briefly, the theory comprises of the need for achievement, n ach, need for power, n pow and the need for affiliation n aff.  It could be argued that the first two elements of McClelland’s theory fit well with the HRM: for example, n ach is said to see achievement from an organisational standpoint where challenge triggers motivation and calculated risks are taken to achieve goals, for example, the job description is exceeded; and n pow recognises a need to follow leader-follower relations and to control the environment, such as, managerial control over corporate action (Porter et al 2003, Redman and Wilkinson 2001, Mabey and Salaman 1995); however n aff promotes a tendency to conform and a strong need for approval, thus, indicating a motivation that is less proactive and pluralist as opposed to unitary nature of HRM (Farnham and Pimlott 1994).
 
Process Theory
 
From what could be called the ‘thoughtful’ category of cognitive research into motivation theory, Vroom developed Expectancy theory. As viewed by John (1992) expectancy theory consists of four elements. Firstly outcomes, defined as anticipated consequences of a certain behaviour at work, which may lead to, for example a pay rise, fatigue and so on.  Secondly, valence, which is the degree to which an outcome is attractive or unattractive, for example, good pay, extra workload, a feeling of achievement in helping people.  Thirdly, effort-performance, an individual’s subjective probability that effort will actually lead to performance, for instance, working another day for a salesman means he will get more money; finally, performance-outcome an individual’s belief that a certain performance will lead to a certain outcome, such as, believing achieving targets leads to a positive outcome (pay rise) – or a poor performance leading to dismissal.
 
To simplify even further, the level of motivation depends on the valence of the outcome that can be achieved through effort leading to performance and that performance achieving the outcome desired (Porter et al 2003).  Therefore, it could be argued that simply satisfying basic needs alone is not enough, individuals only become motivated when they have a reasonable expectation their actions will lead to achieving, self-determined, desirable goals; the strength of this desirability is termed valance (Guest 1984).
 
However, expectancy theory relies on employees being able to rationally evaluate their work behaviours and to choose to do actions that they believe will lead to work-related rewards; for example doing overtime instead of leaving work early may show commitment and lead to promotion (Porter et al 2003). In reality, there may be other habitual and unconscious motivations, which may mean that no matter what degree of the effort shown by the employee, it will make no difference to the outcome because what constitutes effort can be a very subjective judgement (Porter et al 2003).
 
This theme is taken up in the Porter-Lawler model in which effort doesn’t necessary lead to reward (outcome), and other factors such as employee ability and personality traits may mean no matter what the effort; the performance will not increase (Porter and Lawler 1968). The effect could be a highly motivated worker who may perceive a reward is deserved for hard work, but if the work is not an organisational goal then the organisation will not perceive it as such (Porter et al 2003).
 
In relation to the place of motivation in HRM, expectancy theory and the Porter-Lawler model have several inconsistencies, which could lead to the conclusion that they are not compatible with HRM.  For example, the subjective nature of both effort and desirability could lead to a lack of corporate identification, however the implication that goals can only be achieved as part of an organisational aim may mean, that if staff are inducted better in the company policy and culture (Redman and Wilkinson 2001), that weakness could be nullified. 
 
A further refinement of Expectancy theory, Self-efficacy “…refers to an individual’s belief (confidence) about his or her capabilities to execute a specific task within a given context…” (Stajkoic and Luthams 2003).  As a motivation process it operates as follows; before organisational participants select their choice and initiate their effort they tend to evaluate and integrate information about their perceived capabilities; self-efficacy determines how an employee’s work behaviour will be initiated, how much effort will be expended how long the effort will be sustained. 
 
This produces a degree of predictability in performance that has been proven in research with one study showing a 28% increase in performance due to self-efficacy (Stajkoic and Luthams 1998).  It could be argued that the element of empowerment within the corporate setting, that is a hallmark of HRM (Mabey and Salaman 1995), would benefit from an individualised system of motivation such as self-efficacy in the sense that employees are cognitive in their choice as to use their performance for the good of the company.  It also brings a level of predictability, that unlike a pluralist organisation where employees confine themselves to within the job description, here employees have the belief and confidence to regularly seek to exceed their role (Rosenthal et al 1998).
 
It could be said that with so many competing theories that somewhere a common thread must run through and a simple picture of motivation will emerge.  However, human behaviour is not like physics and the holy grail of a “the grand unified theory” (Hawking 1988) of human behaviour does not about seem about to emerge.  Human Resource Management could be said to be more solid, hard, some would say, but it seems to pick and choose in each of the motivation theories as suits management, and more often that not, employees, particularly in the charity sector, who give commitment, flexibility and motivation, find themselves on the wrong side of a business strategy that calls for minimising labour costs (Legge 1988).
 
Conclusion
Motivation is a vital tool for the Human Resources manager as it is a way of enhancing and improving the quality of an organisation’s knowledge and ability.  It is a way of achieving corporate aims through the enthusiasm and belief of its workforce.  By analysing motivation theory it is clear that there is no clear conclusion to be drawn as to what definitively motivates an employee in the workforce, and while all the theories above have some merit, few have conclusive research to back them up.  Elements of McGregor’s Y theory, Herzberg’s Motivator-Hygiene theory, and self-efficacy, with it’s ability to predict motivational behaviour, would seem to go the furthest to meeting this requirement, but in the end it would appear that motivation is a subjective and emotional issue that does not easily fit into any model and therefore, for the purpose of HRM it is better to cherry-pick ideas from each theory, when and as, they add to the organisational aims and objects.
Motivation Theory in Human Resource Management © 2002
References
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