Motivation: Types, Theories and Assessment

The concept of motivation focuses on explaining what “moves” behaviour. In fact, the term motivation is derived from the Latin word ‘movere’, referring to movement of activity. Working, studying, playing and caring are some important daily activities which are considered purposeful. Motives help explain our movement towards the chosen goals.  Hence, motivation is one of the determinants of behaviour. Instincts, drives, needs, goals, and incentives come under the broad cluster of motivation.

The Motivational CycleMotivational Cycle

  • A need is lack or deficit of some necessity. This condition leads to drive, which is a state of tension or arousal.
  • Drive energises random activity. When one of the random activities leads to a goal, it reduces the drive, and the organism stops being active. The organism returns to a balanced state.

Types of Motives

Basically, there are two types of motives : biological and psychosocial.

Physiological / Biological Motives

Biological motives are also known as physiological motives as they are guided mostly by the physiological mechanisms of the body. It is the earliest attempt to understand causes of behaviour. This theory states that organisms have needs (internal physiological imbalances) that produce drive, which stimulates behaviour leading to certain actions towards achieving certain goals, which reduce the drive.

The earliest explanations of motivation relied on the concept of instinct. The term instinct denotes inborn patterns of behaviour that are biologically determined rather than learned.
Some of the basic biological needs explained by this approach are hunger, thirst, and sex, which are essential for the sustenance of the individual.

Psychosocial motives

Psychosocial motives  are complex forms of motives mainly resulting from the individual’s interaction with her/his social environment. Social motives are mostly learned or acquired. Social groups such as family, neighbourhood, friends, and relatives do contribute a lot in acquiring these motives.

Need for Affiliation

  • Need for affiliation is aroused when individuals feel threatened or helpless and also when they are happy.
  • People try  to get close to other people, to seek their help, and to become members of their group. Seeking other human beings and wanting to be close to them both physically and psychologically is called affiliation. It involves motivation for social contact.

Need for Power

  • Need for power is an ability of a person to produce intended effects on the behaviour and emotions of another person.

Need for Achievement

  • Achievement motivation refers to the desire of a person to meet standards of excellence. Need for achievement, also known as n-Ach, energises and directs behaviour as well as influences the perception of situations.

Curiosity and Exploration

  • Often people engage in activities without a clear goal or purpose but they derive some kind of pleasure out of it. It is a motivational tendency to act without any specific identifiable goal.
  • The tendency to seek for a novel experience, gain pleasure by obtaining information, etc. are signs of curiosity. Hence, curiosity describes behaviour whose primary motive appears to remain in the activities themselves.

General Motives

  • This is an intermediate category of motives between the physiological and socio-psychological.
  • The motives in this category are unlearned but not physiologically based.

Work Motivation

Katzell and Thompson (1990) define Work Motivation as a “broad construct pertaining to the conditions and processes that account for arousal, direction, magnitude, and maintenance of effort in a person’s job”. More recently, Robbins (2005) defines work motivation as “the willingness to exert high levels of effort towards organisational goals, conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual needs”.

Classification of Motives at Work:

Primary & Secondary Motives:

Primary motives are unlearned, physiological needs that include hunger, thirst, sleep, sex, avoidance of pain etc. These needs  are important for survival and are virtually universal, but they vary in intensity from one person to another.

Secondary motives are learned, social motives that arise as a result of interaction with other people and develop as people mature. Included in this category are affiliation – desire to associate with others; recognition – need for frequent tangible proof that one is getting ahead; status – need to have a high rank in society etc.

Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation is related to tangible rewards such as salary and fringe benefits, promotion, contract of service, the work environment and conditions of work.

Intrinsic motivation is related to psychological rewards such as the opportunity to use one’s ability, a sense of challenge and achievement, receiving appreciation, positive recognition and being treated in a caring and considerate manner.

Importance of Motivation in Organisations:

Employee motivation is essential to the success of any organisation, big or small. In the modern workplace, human resources are valued above all others. Motivated employees are productive, happy and committed. The spin-off of this includes reduced employee turnover, results-driven employees, company loyalty and workplace harmony.

Motivation is very important for an organisation because of the following benefits it provides:

  • Increased productivity and improved employee performance
  • Stability of workforce
  • Positive workplace culture
  • Better teamwork
  • Workplace harmony

Theories of Motivation:

There are many competing theories which attempt to explain the nature of motivation. These theories centre on three different aspects of motivation: the individual’s predisposition, the cognitive process, and the consequences deriving from the individual’s action. Based on these aspects, there are three types of theories of motivation:

  • Content theories – These theories are concerned with identifying people’s needs and their relative strengths, and the goals they pursue in order to satisfy these needs.
  • Process theories – These theories are concerned more with how behaviour is initiated, directed and sustained and attempt to identify the relationship among the dynamic variables, which make up motivation.
  • Reinforcement theory (outcome theories) – This theory seeks to explain what types of consequences motivate different people to work. It focuses on how environment teaches us to alter our behaviours so that we maximise positive consequences and minimise adverse consequences.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham H. Maslow attempted to portray a picture of human behaviour by arranging the various needs in a hierarchy. His viewpoint about motivation is very popular because of its theoretical and applied value which is popularly known as the “Theory of Self-actualisation”.

Maslow’s model can be conceptualised as a pyramid:

  • Bottom/base of the pyramid hierarchy represents basic physiological or biological needs which are basic to survival such as hunger, thirst, etc.
  • Once these needs are met, need for safety arises. In the absence of physical safety – due to war, natural disaster, etc people may experience stress etc and take steps to ensure physical safety. In the absence of economic safety – there will be preference for job security.
  • Once these needs are met, there is need to seek out other people, be social and involves feelings of belongingness.
  • After these needs are fulfilled, the individual strives for esteem, i.e. the need to develop a sense of self-worth.
  • The next higher need in the hierarchy reflects an individual’s motive towards the fullest development of potential, i.e. self-actualisation. A self-actualised person is self-aware, socially responsive, creative, spontaneous, open to novelty, and challenge.

Lower level needs (physiological) in the hierarchy dominate as long as they are unsatisfied. Once they are adequately satisfied, the higher needs occupy the individual’s attention and effort.

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