Theories Of Motivation

Theories of motivation generally aim at analysing the process of motivation and indicating how to motivate people. We shall discuss here three well known theories of motivation. These are McGregor's participation theory; Mashlow's need priority theory and Herzberg’s two factors theory.


McGregor’s Participation Theory

Douglas McGregor formulated two sets of assumptions about human beings based on the participation of workers. The first set of assumptions are contained in Theory X and the second set of assumptions are contained in Theory Y’. In the Theory X, McGregor proceeds with the assumption that the average human being has inherent dislike for work and will avoid it if he can. The managers of such employees think that “most people must be coerced, contributed, directed, threatened with punishment to get them put forth adequate efforts towards the achievement of organisational objectives.” Theory X presumes that people by nature :

1)    Lack integrity.

2)    Are fundamentally lazy and desire to work as little as possible.

3)    Avoid responsibility.

4)    Are not interested in achievement.

5)    Are incapable of directing their own behaviour.

6)    Are indifferent to organisational needs.

7)    Prefer to be directed by others.

8)    Avoid making decision whenever possible.

9)    Are not very bright.

McGregor described Theory X as the traditional theory of how are the workers and what management must do to manage them. Workers have to be persuaded and pushed into performance. Workers may be made to work only through autocratic leadership. After describing Theory X, McGregor questioned if this view of human behaviour is correct. He propounded theory Y which, he felt better represents the human behaviour. Under theory Y, it is assumed that people by nature:

1)    Have integrity.

2)    Work hard towards objectives to which they are committed.

3)    Assume responsibility within their commitments.

4)    Desire to achieve.

5)    Are capable of directing their own behaviour.

6)    Want their organisation to succeed.

7)    Are not passive and submissive.

8)    Will make decisions within their commitments.


In developing theory Y, McGregor made the following assumptions:

1)    Engaging in physical and mental efforts — as natural as play or rest. The average human being does not inherently dislike work.

2)    External control and the threat of punishment are not the only mean of directing efforts towards organisational objectives. Man will exercise self-direction and self-control in the service of objectives to which he is committed.

3)    Commitment to objectives follows the rewards associated with their achievement. The most significant of such rewards namely satisfaction of ego and self-actualisation needs, can be the direct result of efforts toward organisational objectives.

4)    The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek responsibility. Avoidance of responsibility, lack of ambition and emphasis on security are generally consequences of experience and not inherent human characteristics.

5)    The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination, ingenuity, and creativity in the solution of organisational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.

6)    Under the conditions of modem industrial like the intellectual potentialities of the average human being are only partially utilised.

The assumptions of McGregor ’s theory Y suggest a new approach to management. It lays greater emphasis on cooperation between management and workers. The managers following this theory aim at getting maximum output with minimum degree of control. Generally, no conflict is visible between the organisational goals and individual goals. Thus, the efforts of employees which are in their best interest are also in the interest of the organisation. Theory Y has proved to be useful in such management practices as job enrichment, decentralisation and participative management. However these techniques are applicable in organisations where self-motivated, self-controlled mature and responsible people work. According to McGregor, researches in the behavioural sciences have shown that the assumptions of theory Y are more valid than the practices of theory X.



McGregor’s contribution should be analysed in the proper perspective. All that he postulated and sought to dramatize through his theory X and theory Y is to outline the extremes to draw the fencing within which the organisational or enterprise man is seen to behave. No enterprise man would belong either to theory X or theory Y. He shares the traits of both, with emphasis shifting from one set of properties to the other with changing moods and impulses (needs and motives) and with the varying environment. The chief merit of McGregor’s formulation is that it helped to crystallise and set the right perspective to the findings of Elton Mayo, which had then puzzled management and productivity experts and set in motion a wave of research into the behaviour of the enterprise man. It (along with Hawthorne Studies) can be said to have been the starting point and mainspring that evoked wide and lasting interest in the area of motivation, leadership and techniques of manipulating behaviour of the human element of the enterprise.

One might get the impression that theory X is bad and theory Y is good. This is not true because the assumptions under these theories are attitudes or predispositions of managers towards people. They are not behaviour patterns. Thus, although the ‘best’ assumptions for a manager to have may be theory Y, it may not be advisable to behave consistently with these assumptions about human nature. He may find it necessary to behave in a very directive manner (as if he had theory X assumptions) with some people in the short-run to help to be matured and self-motivated as per Y theory.


Maslow’s Need Priority Theory

Maslow’s theory is based on the needs of people. Maslow was of the view that the process of motivation begins with behaviour which at least in part, is directed towards the satisfaction of needs. He proposed that human needs can be arranged in a particular order from the lower to the higher


1)    Physiological needs : The needs that are taken as the starting point of motivation theory are the physiological needs. These needs relate to the survival and maintenance of human life. These needs include such things as food, clothing, shelter, air, water and other necessities of life. These needs must be met at least partly before higher level needs emerge. They exert tremendous influence on behaviour. They are the most powerful of motivating stimuli. Therefore, we must satisfy most of them for survival.


2)    Safety and security needs : After satisfying the physiological needs, people want the assurance of maintaining a given economic level. These needs include: job security, personal security, security of the income, provision for old age, insurance against risks, etc.


3)    Social needs : Man is a social being. He is, therefore, interested in conversation, social interaction, exchange of feelings, companionship, recognition, belongingness, etc. Socialising is one of those reasons why many individuals (especially older people) go to work, and why people generally work better in small groups where they can develop affiliations that are important to them.


4)    Esteem and status needs : These are concerned with awareness of self importance and recognition from others. Most people feel this need to be rated higher than other needs and seek recognition and respect on that account. Satisfaction of esteem needs produces feelings of self-confidence, prestige, power, and control. The fulfilment of esteem needs leads to self confidence strength and capability of being useful in the organisation. Whereas inability to fulfil these needs results in feelings of inferiority, weakness and helplessness.


5)    Self-actualisation needs : The final step under the need priority model is the need for self-actualisation. This is also called self fulfilment or the need to fulfil what one’s potentialities for continued self-development and for being creative in the broadest sense of that term. After his other needs are fulfilled, a man has the desire for personal achievement. He wants to do something which is challenging and since this challenge gives him enough dash and initiative to work, it is beneficial to him in particular and to the society in general. The sense of achievement gives him satisfaction.

Maslow felt that the needs have a definite sequence of domination. The second need does not dominate until the first is reasonably satisfied. The third need does not dominate until the first two needs have been reasonably satisfied and so on. The other side of the need hierarchy is that man is never satisfied. If one need is satisfied another need arises. According to Maslow, if one’s lower order needs (physiological and security needs) are not satisfied, he can be motivated only by satisfying these needs first and not by satisfying the higher order needs. Further, once a need or a certain order of needs is satisfied, it ceases to be a motivating factor.

The physiological and security needs are finite, but the needs of higher order are sufficiently infinite and are likely, to be dominant in persons at higher levels in the organisation. Studies have also revealed that those needs which are thought to be most important like social needs, ego needs and self-realisation needs are also the best satisfiers.

Herzberg’s Motivation Hygiene Theory

A significant development in motivation theory is based on the distinction between motivational and maintenance factors in job situation. On the basis of his research findings Herzberg drew a distinction between what he called ‘motivators’ and ‘hygiene’ factors.

Some job conditions operate primarily to dissatisfy employees when the conditions are absent, but their presence does not motivate employees in a strong way. Many of these factors are traditionally perceived by management as motivators, but these are really more potent as dissatisfiers. The potent dissatisfiers are called maintenance factors in job because they are necessary to maintain a reasonable level of satisfaction among the employees. They are also known as dissatisfiers or ‘hygienic factors’ because they support employees’ mental health. Another set of job condition operates primarily to build strong motivation and high job satisfaction but their absence rarely proves strong dissatisfier. These conditions are ‘Motivational Factors’. Herzberge’s maintenance and motivational factors have been shown in the table given below.


Herzberg’s Maintenance and Motivational Factors


Need Structure

Physiological or Primary Needs

Social, Psychological, Ego, or Secondary Needs


Social, Psychological, Ego, or Secondary Needs

Maintenance or Hygienic Factors

Motivational Factors

1)    Company Policy and Administration

1)    Achievement

2)    Technical Supervision

2)    Recognition

3)    Inter-personal relations with Supervisor

3)    Advancement

4)    Inter-personal relations with Peers

4)    Work itself

5)    Inter-personal relations with Subordinates

5)    Possibilities of growth

6)    Salary

6)    Responsibility

7)    Job Security

8)    Personal life

9)    Working Conditions

10)  Status


Hygienic factors include wages, fringe benefits, physical conditions and overall company policies and administration. The presence of these factors at a satisfactory level prevents job dissatisfaction, but they do not provide motivation to the employees. So they are not considered as motivational factors. Motivational factors on the other hand are essential for increasing the productivity of the employees. They are also known as satisfiers and include such factors as recognition, feeling of accomplishment and achievement, opportunity of advancement and potential for personal growth, responsibility and sense of job and individual importance, new experience and challenging work etc.

Herzberg further stated that managers have hitherto been very much concerned with hygienic factors. As a result, they have not been able to obtain the desired behaviour from employees. In order to increase the motivation of employees, It is necessary to pay attention to the satisfiers or motivational factors.

According to Herzberg today’s motivators are tomorrow’s hygiene because the latter stop influencing the behaviour of persons when they get them. When a person gets one thing, then something else will motivate him and the need which has been fulfilled will have only negative significance in determining his behaviour. It should also be noted that one’s hygiene may be the motivator of another. For instance it is likely that workers in underdeveloped economies will designate some of the maintenance factors as motivators because their primary needs have not been fulfilled and they continue to be motivated by these factors.

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