Theories of motivation

Theories of Motivation

The important theories in the field of Motivation are as follows:

  1. Maslow’s need hierarchy
  2. Herzberg’s two factor theory
  3. McGregor’s theory X and theory Y These theories are explained as below

1. Maslow’s Need hierarchy Theory

A.H. Maslowan American psychologist, has developed a theory of motivation on the basis of human needs. He has identified the following five categories of needs—

(i)    Physiological Needs: 
These needs are essential for survival e.g. Food, clothing, shelter, sleep,  sex, rest etc. They are present in all humans and must be satisfied before the individual can consider higher order needs.

(ii)    Safety Needs: 
Safety represent the second level in Maslow’s need hierarchy. They relate to physical and economic security. Physical security in terms of safety against fire, accident etc. Economic security relates to unemployment, old age, sickness etc.

(iii)   Social Needs: 
Next in order comes the social needs. When psychological and safety needs are fairly satisfied, social needs become powerful motivators. These needs are what Maslow calls “the love  and affection and belongingness need”.

(iv)  Ego or esteem Needs: They imply needs for recognition, self confidence and achievement, status, prestige and attention. Ego needs become powerful motivators only when all the three lower order needs are reasonably satisfied.

(v)   Self Actualisation Needs: 
These are related to personal growth and realization of man’s full potential. As Maslow puts it—

What a man can be, he should be. A teacher must teach, a singer must sing, a housewife must cook. The above stated needs can be shown with the help of the following figures—

Management should bear in mind that in all circumstances satisfied needs are no more powerful motivator of human behaviour. Maslow has demonstrated this picturising the average citizen as 85 per cent satisfied in his physiological needs, 70 per cent in his safety needs, 50 per cent in his social needs, 40 per cent in his ego needs, 10 per cent in his self actualisation needs.

2. Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory

This two factor theory of Motivation, based on what are called hygiene factors, was developed by Frederick Herzberg of U.S.A. He derived his conclusions from a research study conducted on a group of 200 engineers and accountants. Those interviewed were asked to describe when they felt good about their job and when they had bad feelings about (it their job).

‘The motivational factors’ lead to high job satisfaction and strong motivation. These are related to job  content e.g. advancement, recognition, challenging work, increased responsibility, and opportunity for growth.

The ‘Hygiene’ factors are necessary to avoid dissatisfaction. Their presence may not motivate workers but absence will certainly demonstrate them. These factors are also known as ‘maintenance factors’, e.g.  company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relations, working conditions, salary, job security.

Comparison of Herzberg and Maslow Models

When Herzberg and Maslow models are compared, both these models focus their attention on what motivates. It is clear from this figure that the physiological, safety, social and part of the esteem needs are all hygiene factors. The esteem needs are divided because there is a difference between status and recognition. Status tends to be a function of the position one occupies. One may have gained this position through family ties or social pressure. Recognition is gained through competence and achievement. So, status is classified with psychological needs while recognition is classified with esteem as a motivator.

3. McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y

McGregor has identified two sets of assumptions regarding human behaviour under the titles theory ‘X’ and theory ‘Y’. McGregor suggested that managing must start with the basic question of how managers see themselves in relation to others. This view point requires some thought on the perception of human nature. Theory X & theory Y are two sets of assumptions about the nature of people.

‘Theory X’

This theory makes the following assumptions:—

  1. An average person lacks ambition, responsibility and prefers to be led.
  2. An average human being  is passive.
  3. A person is self centered.
  4. He is resistant to change and wants security above other things.
  5. A worker is mostly motivated by physiological needs.
  6. Because of these characteristics, most people must be controlled, directed and threatened with punishment in order to get them to put forth adequate efforts towards the achievement of organisational objectives.

‘Theory Y’

The democratic set up of society, more educational standards and training on the part of employees have called for a better approach i.e. theory ‘Y’. It is based on the following assumptions.:—

  1. Work is as natural as play. A worker has no inherent dislike for work.
  2. He takes initiative. He is ready to take responsibility.
  3. He is generally motivated by higher level needs of Maslow’s theory.
  4. The capacity to exercise a relatively high degree of imagination and creativity in the solution of organisational problems is widely distributed in the population.
  5. The degree of commitment to objectives is in proposition to the size of the rewards associated with their achievement.
  6. External control and the threat of punishment are not only means for getting work done.

People will exercise self direction and self-control in order to attain organisational objectives. These two sets of assumptions are fundamentally different. Theory X is pessimistic, static and rigid control is external, that is, imposed on the subordinate by the superior. In contrast, Theory Y is optimistic, dynamic and flexible, with an emphasis on self-direction and the integration of individual needs with organisational demands. Each set of assumptions will affect the way managers carry out their managerial functions and activities.

McGregor was of the opinion that theory X & theory Y might be misinterpreted. There are some points which clarify the areas of misunderstanding. First point is theory X and theory Y are assumptions  only. They are not prescriptions or suggestions for managerial strategies. These assumptions must be tested against reality. These assumptions are not based on research. They are mere deductions. Second point is that theories X and Y do not imply “hard” or “soft” management. The hard approach may create resistance and authoritarian approach. The soft approach may result in laissez-faire management and is not consistent with theory Y. Instead, effective manager should recognise the dignity and capabilities, as well as the limitations of people and adjust behaviour as needed by the situation. Third point is that theories X and Y are not to be viewed as being on a continuous scale, with X and Y on opposite extremes. They are to be viewed as completely different views of people. Fourth area to be clarified is that theory Y does not mean an argument against the use of authority. Instead, under theory Y, authority is seen as only one of the many ways, a manager exercises leadership. Fifth point is that different tasks and situations require  different approaches to management. Thus, the productive enterprise is one that fits requirements to the people and the particular situation.


Morale implies a person’s attitude towards his job, organisation and the superiors. Morale is best understood as one’s attitude towards accomplishing his work rather than emotions he displays during work. Morale is basically a group phenomenon. It is a concept that describes the level of favourable or unfavourable attitudes of the employees collectively to all aspects of their work— the job, the company, their tasks, working conditions, fellow workers and superior. Attitudes express what the individuals think and feel about their jobs. The emphasis is on how employees feel, denoting the strong emotional elements associated with attitudes.

Morale and Productivity

It is generally believed that there is a high correlation between morale and productivity. Research has not proved the assumption that higher the morale, higher the productivity and vice-versa, e.g. an increase of five per cent in morale does not lead to proportional increase in productivity. The two may be related in four different ways as stated below:

(i)    High Morale and High Productivity—High morale leads to high productivity when the employees are motivated. It leads to optimum utilisation of human resources.

(ii)    High Morale and Low Productivity:—A negative relationship between morale and productivity arises when employees do not feel committed to the goals.

(iii)   Low Morale and High Productivity:—Such a relationship may exist when management uses the best technology and penalties for low productivity.

(iv)  Low Morale and Low Productivity:—Low morale means lack of job satisfaction, unwillingness to work.

Thus there is no clear and definite relationship between morale and productivity.

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