Motivational Theories: Meaning, Types and Criticism


Meaning of Motivational Theories

Motivational theories are one which gives a clear explanation of factors that drives an individual to work towards a specific target or outcome. These theories examine all such forces which enable a person to perform his work with full enthusiasm even when many things are against him. Motivational theories give better insight into human behavior and what all motivates them. They are formulated by distinct psychologists after conducting long-hour studies on human behavioral patterns.

Theories of motivation are relevant to every member of society; however, they are more crucial for the management teams and business organizations. This is because every member in a team needs to be motivated as people who are motivated provide better productivity thereby leading to more profitability. 

Motivational theories have numerous branches but at the simplest level, they recognize two factors for motivation. These factors are categorized as extrinsic and intrinsic factors. Extrinsic factors are external factors of motivation such as doing hard work in order to get bonuses or incentives. On the other hand, intrinsic factors include the desire to satisfy human needs like one might have a desire to please their boss. 

Types of Motivational Theories

The topic ‘Motivation is a huge field of study comprising of a large number of theories. Some of the famous motivational theories given by renowned psychologists are as discussed below: – 

  1. Maslow’s Need Hierarchy TheoryThe need hierarchy theory of motivation is one of the well-known theories of motivation given by renowned psychologist ‘Abraham Maslow’. The theory has its base on human needs and is familiar to most of the business students and managers. Under this study performed by Maslow, he has categorized each of the human needs into hierarchical manner from lowest to higher order. 

According to Maslow, a person can be motivated only if his needs are fulfilled. He suggested that once a particular level of need is fulfilled, then it no longer serves to motivate men. After this next level of needs to be activated in order to motivate a person.

There were 5 levels in the hierarchy of the human needs recognized by Abraham Maslow which are discussed below: – 

a). Physiological needs- Physiological needs are those needs that are very basic to humans and are much needed for his survival. These needs include food, water, air, clothing, shelter, and other key necessities of life. Physiological needs have a tremendous effect on human behavior and need to meet as first priority in comparison to other higher-level needs. However, physiological needs no longer motivate a person once they are satisfied. 

b). Safety needs- Safety and security are second-level needs that come after physiological needs. The person desires to have protection from any physical danger, pain, and uncertain future. Fulfillment of social needs requires more money that motivates a person to work more. Similar to physiological needs, safety needs also no longer motivates a person after they are satisfied. 

c). Social needs- Social needs are the needs of a person for association, friendship, and affiliation with other human beings. Man is a social being who insists on belongingness, social interaction, and companionship. This is why many peoples prefer to work in groups over working alone. 

d). Esteem needs- Esteem needs are composed of the need for attaining self-respect and self-recognition in society. These needs depict competence, self-confidence, knowledge, achievement, and independence. A person may feel weak, inferior, and helpless in case if these needs are not met. 

e). Self-Actualization needs- Self-actualization needs are the highest level of needs that can be aspired by human beings. It is the final step of the human hierarchy model and culminates all lower, middle, and higher levels of human needs. Self-actualization simply means becoming all that you are capable of. It is the motivation of a person to transform their own perception into reality. These needs are composed of the desire to attain new skills, taking on new challenges, and behaving in a manner that all will contribute to reaching one’s life goal. 

Criticism of Abraham Maslow’s Theory: –

  1. It is not always possible that needs follow a definite hierarchical order as explained above. There might be case where needs may even overlap with one another. Like, for instance, the social needs may emerge even if the safety needs are unsatisfied. 
  2. Proposition of Maslow theory that only one need is satisfied at one time remains a doubtful validity. This is because many research shows that there is multiplicity of behaviour which guides a person behaviour. 
  3. Manytimes it is impossible to apply this model at every place.
  4. Another big problem with this theory is that both need and satisfaction of needs are psychological feeling. Manytimes a person himself is unaware if his/her needs, then how can a manager recognize these needs. 
  1. McClelland’s Need TheoryThis is another well-known theory of human needs developed by McClelland and his associates. McClelland theory believes that needs are learned and acquired by peoples in accordance with events that they experience in environment or culture. The theory is also termed as Learned needs theory and Three need theory. As per the McClelland, the person on acquiring a specific need behaves in different manner from one who do not have. 

There are 3 basic motivating needs recognized by McClelland: Need for power, Need for affiliation, and Need for Achievement. McClelland along with his associates performed detailed research on all these 3 types of needs.

They are defined further as given below: – 

a). Need for Power- Need for power means an ability to create influence over other people, urge to change people, and create the difference in life. People who have the need for power want to reach high positions in the organization so as to exercise control over others. These people want to be involved in conversations and are demanding, forceful, realistic as well as outspoken. 

b). Need for Affiliation- Need for affiliation refers to the desire of creating and maintaining friendly relations with people. People who have the need for affiliation enjoy pleasure in getting love from others and try to avoid the pain of getting rejected by others. A Human is a social animal who likes to interact with other and enjoys the company of other peoples. The need for affiliation is in many ways similar to Maslow’s need theory. 

c). Need for Achievement- Need for achievement means the need to accomplish and demonstrate one’s own competence by people. This involves striving to succeed and perform to achieve with respect to a set of standards. As per McClelland, the persons with a high need for achievement performs better than those who are moderate or low performers. 

There are 3 main characteristics related to high-need achievers which were identified by McClelland: – 

a). High-need achievers tend to take moderate risk i.e., calculated risk while performing the management activities.

b). High-need achievers have a strong desire to get immediate feedback on the work done by them.

c). High-need achievers after setting the targets, put themselves completely into the job for accomplishing the goal successfully. 

Criticism of McClelland’s Need Theory: – 

  1. Physiological as well as social needs are more important in comparison to McClelland needs.
  2. There is no direct cause and effect relationship in between need and behaviour. A specific need may influence behaviour in distinct way among different peoples. 
  3. Manytimes a person may himself not be aware of his needs as it is a psychological concept. Under such scenario, it is quite difficult for manager to identify his employee’s need. 
  1. McGregor’s Participation TheoryAn American social psychologist named ‘Douglas McGregor’ proposes 2 distinct views on human being needs. The theory is based on the participation of workers. The first one is negative that is labeled as Theory X and second one is positive, labeled as Theory Y. Both of these theories are referred to generally in management field and are central to development of organization. 

Following are the assumptions which form the basis of Theory X: – 

a). People are inherently lazy who want to avoid their work as much as possible. 

b). In general, people are over-trustful and not very sharp or bright.

c). Many people are by nature self-centered who do not pay any heed to the needs and goals of the organization.

d). People tend to avoid responsibility, lack ambition, and like to be directed by others. 

On the other hand, assumptions of Theory Y are as follows: – 

a). People want to assume responsibility.

b). People possess the capabilities of influencing their own behavior. 

c). Peoples have requirements for achievement.

d). The people want their organization to succeed. 

Using Theory X and Theory Y, McGregor wants to showcase the limit within which a man belonging to the organization is usually seen to behave. But as per the facts, no organizational man would either belong to Theory X or Theory Y. He/she may belong to both of these traits and keep swinging from one set of properties to another with changes in his/her moods or motives in varying environments. 

Criticism of McGregor’s Participation theory: – 

  1. McGregor’s theory in one way or another way tries to over-generalize or over-simplify the people. 
  2. As per this theory, a job is key to motivation but all peoples don’t see job as motivation. Management needs to motivate their peoples toward work. 
  3. McGregor’s theory is devoid of reality which squeezes the management philosophies into 2 extremes of conduct.
  4. Peoples following the Theory Y may find that are required to operate in very controlling manner. 
  1. Herzberg ‘s Motivation Hygiene TheoryThis theory is an extension of the work done by Maslow. Herzberg’s Motivation Hygiene theory is also termed as two-factor theory proposed by psychologist named ‘Frederick Herzberg’. It is based on wide motivational study conducted on 200 accountant and engineers which were employed by firms in and around Western Pennsylvania. Herzberg theory has classified the human needs into 2 broad categories namely: hygiene factors and motivating factors. 

All those factors which are needed to make sure that an employee is not satisfied are termed as Hygiene factors. Whereas, motivation factors are much needed for ensuring employee satisfaction as well as motivating them for higher performance. Only the presence of hygiene factors does not guarantee motivation. Also, the motivation factors cannot work in absence of hygiene factors.   

Herzberg’s conducted his study where he asked people to describe 2 key aspects of their job: –  

a). People were asked to describe when do they feel good about their job.

b). At what time do they feel exceptionally bad about their job. The critical incident method was employed for acquiring data. 

Herzberg on analyzing these responses found that they all were quite interesting and fairly consistent with one another. In responses submitted, it was found that replies given for good feelings about the job were quite different from those felt when they feel bad. Good feelings reported were generally linked with job satisfaction whereas bad feelings reported were associated with the dissatisfaction of job. On this basis, Herzberg classified the human need into the abovementioned two factors: Hygiene factors and motivation factors.

Criticism of Herzberg’s Motivation Hygiene Theory: – 

  1. Herzberg theory has basically only given explanation on job satisfaction but not on motivation. 
  2. It is generally seen that people like to take all credit themselves when things go well. On the other hand, in case of failures they used to blame the external environment.
  3. The situational variable to motivate a person is completely neglected by Herzberg theory. 
  4. Herzberg theory is not conclusive as it was limited to accountants and engineers. As per the critics, challenging jobs or responsibility may be liked by professionals and white-collar workers.
  1. Urwick’s Theory Z- The Z theory was propounded by 3 theorists named-Urwick, Rangnekar and Ouchi. Z theory is a management approach which is based on combination of both American and Japanese philosophies of management. 

There are 2 key propositions involved in Urwick’s theory which as discussed below: – 

a). All individuals should be clearly aware of organizational goals and contributions needed via their efforts in direction of reaching these goals.

b). Every individual must be well-aware that the achievement of organizational goals has a relation with the positive satisfaction of his/her needs. 

In view of Urwick, both of the abovementioned individuals are ready to make efforts for the accomplishment of both their individual goals as well as organizational goals.

Whereas, a lot of attention of researchers, as well as management practitioners, has been grabbed by Ouchi’s theory Z. 

There are basically 4 main hypotheticals on which Theory Z is based: – 

a). Participation as well as the involvement of employees.

b). No formal organization structure.

c). Development of Human resources.

d). Strong bond between employees and organization. 

Ouchi’s Theory Z depicts the endorsement of Japanese management practices by American companies. In India, the postulates of Theory Z are applied by Hero-Honda and Maruti Suzuki. 

Criticism of Urwick’s Theory Z: – 

  1. Z Theory is majorly criticized that is not a new theory. It is simply an extension of previous theories which failed to receive any popularity. 
  2. This theory gives suggestion of an organization without any structure. But in reality, there would be a lot of chaos in an organization without any proper structure. No body will aware about who is responsible to whom.
  3. Japanese’s management practices evolved from unique culture of Japan forms the basis of Theory Z. These theories may not be applicable in different cultures. 
  4. The theory is also criticized on the basis that research work supporting it is very limited.  
  5. Firms which are volatile in nature such as software industries, information technology and industries of high technology may fail to offer a life time employment.
  6. Developing a common culture within the organization may not be possible as people belongs to distinct customs, religions, languages, habits, attitude etc. 
  1. Vroom’s Expectancy Theory Vroom expectancy theory is one of the most widely accepted theory on motivation. This theory is a cognitive process theory of motivation. It says that motivation of individual is influenced by their expectations regarding the future. The theory forms its basis on notion that individuals will be highly motivated and put extra-level effort when they are aware of relationship in between the effort they put, performance they give and the reward they are going to receive. Rewards could either be intrinsic or extrinsic. Extrinsic are things which are external like money and promotion. Whereas, internal things like sense of achievement and fulfillment falls under the category of intrinsic motivation. 

There are 3 main constructs in expectancy theory of motivation that are as discussed below: – 

a). Valence- Valence refers to the value that an individual gives to the expected outcome. It is the strength that one puts on a particular set of rewards. In order to valence be a positive one, more preference must be given by a person on attaining it over not attaining it. 

b). Expectancy- Expectancy is the assessment of the probability that additional effort of a person will lead to the required performance level. 

c). Instrumentality- Instrumentality refers to the belief that performance is associated with rewards. 

The Vroom motivation can be well-explained with the help of equation- 

Motivation= Valence x Expectancy x Instrumentality.

As this model is by nature multiplicative, therefore all 3 variables need to have a high positive value for implying a motivated performance choice. The probability of motivating performance also touches zero levels in case if any one of the variables approaches zero value. 

Criticism of Vroom’s Expectancy Theory: – 

  1. Major limitation of vroom expectancy theory is that it is very complex in nature. Assessment of its authority is quite tough task.
  2. This is a perception-based model which totally ignores the emotional state of individual. 
  3.  Implementation of expectancy theory can be difficult in group environment.
  4. The vroom expectancy theory only defines various factor of motivation but did not give any corrective measures that should be taken.
  5. Vroom’s theory assumes that people are rational but calculations make this theory just an idealistic.
  1. Porter and Lawler’s Expectancy TheoryPorter and Lawler’s expectancy theory is an improvement over the Vroom’s expectancy theory. The theory proposed that motivation is not equal to performance or satisfaction. Porter and Lawler theory has worked on encountering the traditional assumptions made regarding the positive relationship in between performance and satisfaction. A multi-variate model was proposed by theory in order to give better explanation over the complex relationship in between performance and satisfaction. 

Porter and Lawler’s model has mainly emphasized explaining that neither motivation nor effort directly leads to performance. This is mediated in between by abilities, traits, and even by role perceptions. Finally, the performance results in satisfaction. 

There are three main elements in Porter and Lawler’s which are discussed briefly in points given below: – 

a). Effort- Effort denotes the amount of energy an individual will put on a given task. The effort that will be put by a person is influenced mainly by 2 factors which are: Value of reward and approach of effort-reward probability. 

b). Performance- The performance of a person is influenced by the effort he/she put in which may be either equal or may not be. The level of performance is also affected by the ability and role perception of employees. Therefore, if fewer abilities are possessed by an employee and make the wrong perception of role, then his/her performance level will be quite low despite putting in all efforts.

c). Satisfaction- Satisfaction is an outcome of performance. Amount of reward that one will receive determines the level of satisfaction. An employee will feel satisfied if the amount of actual reward meets or exceed the perceived level of reward. Whereas, an employee will be dissatisfied if in case the actual reward falls short of perceived ones. 

Rewards are also categorized into intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Sense of self-actualization and accomplishment falls under the category of Intrinsic rewards. Whereas, working conditions and status are counted under the extrinsic rewards. It is supported by researches that an intrinsic reward has more potential to produce attitudes regarding satisfaction that is linked with performance. 

There is no doubt that the motivation theory given by Porter and Lawler is complex in nature as compared to other theories. In reality, the motivation itself is a complex phenomenon but not a simple cause-effect relationship. Porter and Lawler have worked on accessing the variables like the perception of effort-reward probabilities, the value of possible rewards, and role perception in deriving the satisfaction level. This way, this motivation theory has made a valuable contribution towards a better understanding of the motivation concept as well as the relationship between performance and satisfaction. But then also, it has not made much influence upon the actual practice of human resource management. 

  1. Argyris’s TheoryThis theory propounded by Argyris found its basis on proposition that how management practices can influence the growth and performance of individual. As per this, there are generally 7 changes which occurs in personality of individual thereby making him/her a mature one. The individual’s personality thereby develops as a result of these seven-factor making him/her mature or immature.

In views of Argyris, organizational structure, as well as management approaches such as unity of direction, chain of command, the span of management, and task specialization, brings immaturity in individuals. For making a person grow mature, he recommended a gradual transfer to the humanistic system from the current pyramidal organization structure. A shift shall be done to more participative management from the present system of management. 

This will not only lead to satisfaction of individual’s physiological and safety needs but will simultaneously motivate them to make effective use of their potential in reaching the organizational goals.