Theories of motivation since the 1900s

Critically evaluate the extent to which theories of motivation have remained static or evolved since the early 1900s.

Motivation as a management issue has been discussed for well over a hundred years. This essay will discuss the main authors on the subject and show the shift from economic to social factors that that theorise on motivation at work. The newer HR practices of management places value on employees as a resource. These practices introduce motivation by valuing the employee and linking this to organisational strategy. This has introduced new words to the employee such as empowerment and enrichment; these will be discussed for their merits.

The development of different theories on what motivates us at work highlights the changing schools of thought to the very concept of motivation. However it is argued that even with this knowledge, managers to not incorporate it into practice. Ritti stated we know a good deal about human motivation and most of it is correct, then why the mystery, the answer is we simply don’t act on it (Ritti cited in L Mullins 1996:85).

The theories fall into four main categories (1) Economic needs of man, money motivates, Taylorism (2) Social concept of motivation, from the Hawthorne studies (3) Self actualisation this took the findings from the Hawthorne studies further, psychological issues were studied (4) the contingency approach, large number of variables that influence a persons motivation (Mullins, L. 1996).

Classical writers discussed the organisation in terms of its purpose, with its formal structure; the hierarchy of the organisation. The emphasis placed on planning work, achieving this through managing the technical requirements, and the presumption of logical and rational behaviour from within the organisation. Each individual classical writer puts forward their own interpretation of similar theories (Mullins, L. 2005). Baker (1972) discussed these principals as it offered simple principals which claimed general application it also followed architectural and literary styles which emphasised formality, symmetry and rigidity (Baker (1972) cited in Buchanan D and Hucczynski, A 1991)

Classical theories of management began with the contribution by Henri Fayol in 1914; his work later was complemented on and added to by other authors. Taylor was one that expanded on his work, introducing his theories under the banner of Taylorism. This view is still discussed today. Although widely criticised, most organisations fit into the mould that theories describe them by (Buchanan D and Hucczynski, A 1991).

The majority of classical writers (also known as formal or scientific management) main concerns for improving organisational effectiveness were through structure of the organisation. They held fast to the principles of rigid rules offering very generalises solutions to common management problems. Mooney and Reiley offered three common principals that related to all types of organisations. (1) Co-ordination, people acting together in a unity of action, authority and the need for discipline. (2) Scalar, the structure of the organisation, the hierarchy, grading of duties and the process of delegation. (3) (Mooney and Reiley cited in Mullins, L. 1996).

Functional, specialists brining the distinction between the various roles within the organisation, each member knows their exact role. Taylor clearly defined the supervisor’s role, functional foremanship divided into planning and performance. Taylor bought rigid controls to all areas of the organisation. The values that underpinned the classical theory were held that to achieve a technically efficient organisation, required a unity of effort. Therefore the very principal limited the discretion and freedom of its members (Buchanan D and Hucczynski, A 1991).

Taylorism view was that employees are rational and economic in their approach to work, but basically lazy, their sole motivation was monetary. To benefit their morale they were to be given job that provided them with the opportunity to maximise their earning potential. There was no thought to their physical or psychological well being. This style of management has been widely criticised, Marchington and Wilkinson (1997) described this theory as equating people with machines. The assumption that the need to earn money is the one universal method for motivating people at work, although theorists disagree (M Marchington, M and Wilkinson, A. 1997:295).

However, individuals within an organisation would act accordingly, to the way they are treated Rose (1978) discussed the concept of rational-economic person would lead to employees that are expected to be indifferent, hostile and only motivated economic incentives, these forms of management practices are likely to train them to behave like that (Rose, M 1978:62).

Human relations movement developed in the 1920s, this depicted Social man rather than Economic man. This theory evolved from the Hawthorne studies, the tiredness of the worker was linked with productivity levels Workers were studied over a period of time, with alteration to factors such as rest periods, lightening, hours worked and refreshments. When the research was finished the findings did not correlate with production, this was higher than before. It concluded that the attention given to the employees is the main factor the increased production. Schein described this as shift from management to the worker workers did not always respond to incentive schemes as managers had expected, often they had their own goals (Schein cited in Marchington, M and Wilkinson, A. 1997:296).

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Taylorism did not provide answers for all the technical interventions that impinge on the success of organisations. Between the wars in the UK a new movement was commencing, from the National Institute of Industrial Psychology, Charles Myers in 1927 developed the New Psychology This was based on instincts and adjustments from the mental hygiene movement, searching for the roots of minor social troubles and untreated problems that prevent efficiency. This theory had three distinctive features (1) it looked at the relationship between the individual and work, which their life outside of work continued in the work place. They brought with them their needs, motives and fears to the organisation. (2) It studied the relationship they had with their peers, supervisors and subordinates. (3)Interdependence was formed between the employee and the productive machine. The employee’s personal life could have a disruptive affect on his work performance (Reader, A. 1998).

Although this attention to an employee’s personal life looks like an attempt to increase production, it opened a new way of looking at the employees. The power of the boss and the wage relationship would be replaced with a bond that links employees’ home life, work, peer relationships and society as a whole. The individual could not detach themselves from their personal and private life, when at work (Thompson, P. and McHugh, D. 2002).

Originally published in 1943, Maslow developed a theory of individual development and motivation, there are five levels to Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, (1) Physiological needs, these include the bodies automatic efforts to function, i.e. hunger, thirst and the need for oxygen also deep sensory pleasures. (2) Safety needs, security and comfort, freedom from pain, or physical attack, this is the need for order, (3) Love needs or social needs, a sense of belonging, friendship and social activities, this is not just receiving the need it is giving the need to others, (4) Esteem needs, This includes the receiving of respect, confidence and strength, obtaining a prestige status and being given the respect from that position, (5) Self actualisation needs, when and if one has reached their full potential, what we can be given the chance (Maslow (1943) cited in Mullins, L. 1996 :40).

Maslow suggested that once the low orders of the hierarchy we satisfied they were no longer motivators. These base level motivators are widely accepted as surviving in the world. Maslow added that very few individuals would reach the top layer. These needs were relatively universal, they applied across different cultures. Some of Maslow,s motivational factors arise from helping others, satisfying the social need of man (Thomas, K. 2000).

Herzberg divided motivation into two main areas (1) Hygiene or maintenance factors, they serve to prevent dissatisfaction; these include salary, job security, conditions of work, company policy and interpersonal skill. (2) The motivators or growth factors, including achievement, recognition, responsibility and personal growth (Herzberg cited in Mullins, L. 1996:494).

The hygiene factors link closely to Maslow’s lower order. Attention to hygiene will prevent dissatisfaction, but will not motivate, where as growth of the satisfiers will motivate employees. A criticism of Herzberg’s work, is that employees are more likely to reflect the satisfying events at work, as what they have achieved, their own performance. With the hygiene factors attributed to outside influences, and the efforts of others around them, employees did not take responsibility for them (Mullins, L. 2005).

The classic economic assumptions about the motivation to work, would lead to lazy employees that don’t want to work, and will retire as soon as they can. However it is now recognised that employees have the desire for meaningful employment, although leisure time is important, it does not satisfy all their needs. The employment adds structure and purpose to the day, with guidelines on behaviour, and what is expected from the individual (Thomas, K. 2000).

Although the payment received from the employer is not the sole motivator it satisfies the contract of employment. The monitory side of the employment relation satisfied the contract, and is not motivator. Hegewisch (1994) wrote the pay packet is one of the most visible expression of the employment relationship, its main issue is the exchange between employer and employee, expressing a connection between the labour market, the individuals work and the performance of employing the organisation itself (Hegewisch (1994) cited in Beardwell, I & Holden, L. 1994 :500).


Over the past century the unions within the UK have risen, then decreased in power, due to political persuasion. The unions were replaced with HR practices; the lack of union power allowed individualism of the employment relationship (Beardwell, I. et al. 2004). From its inception human resource management reflected the management agenda to the disregard of workers’ concerns. Its appeal to management was the claim that it was a route to excellence and high performance (Overell, S. 2005).

The employee’s role has changed; the word empowerment was first used in 1991, few organisations still describe employees as subordinates. With some organisations calling employees associate, making them sound almost like partners, this is a shift from the classic approach. The employees’ role has changed in terms of compliance, the shift from command and control, within large bureaucratic organisations, supported by rulebooks and role compliance (Thomas, K. 2000).

In the 1970s, job enrichment developed, when organisations wanted compliance from their employees they offered money and other tangibles benefits, Extrinsic rewards These are given by mangers and supervisors; they include bonuses, commission, perks and cash awards. The extrinsic reward, do not come from the work, they are tangible. These rewards were thought to be the answer to employee motivation; organisations were buying behaviour, but not commitment, innovation and initiative (Thompson, P. and McHugh, D. 2002).

Today’s issues of motivation are intricate and difficult, the closeness of supervision and in depth of the rules are no longer part of the work place. Employees are becoming self managed which requires them to be committed and demonstrate innovation and initiative in the work place. Since these new work patterns have emerged, new motivational factors have emerged intrinsic rewards, reward from the work. Satisfaction in the employees’ role, pride in the work produced. The work itself fulfils the employees motivation, even with some set backs, they obtain satisfaction from a job well done (Thomas, K. 2000).

Some claim that HRM offers a new model of the management of people at work, based around attempts to increase their commitment (Guest, D. 1999). The possible implications of HRM for employees in the UK have been highlighted by the division that has frequently been drawn between what were initially described by Storey (1987) as ‘hard’ and `soft” versions of HRM (Storey (1987) cited in Guest, D. 1999). The ‘hard’ version is widely acknowledged to place little emphasis on workers’ concerns and, therefore, within its paradigm, any judgments of the effectiveness of HRM would be based on business performance criteria. In contrast, ‘soft’ HRM, while also having business performance as its primary concern, would be more likely to advocate a parallel concern for workers’ outcomes ( Guest, D. 1999).

There are many models of HR theory, giving them warm accounts as to why there has been an increase in this management practice. Walton (1985) defined HR as mutual goals, mutual influence, mutual respect, mutual rewards, and mutual responsibility Walton further added that the ‘psychological contract’ under this unitarist, high commitment model is one of mutuality, but it is a mutuality strictly bounded by the need to operate within an essentially unitary framework (Walton (1985) cited in Beardwell, l. et al 2004).

However HR explicitly views employees as another resource for managers to exploit. In the past, managements had failed to align their human resource systems with business strategy and therefore failed to exploit or utilise their human resources to the full. The force to take on HRM is therefore, based on the business case of a need to respond to an external threat from increasing competition (Guest, D.1999). This view reflects a longstanding capitalist tradition in which the worker is viewed as a commodity. The consequential exploitation may be paternalist and benevolent; but, equally, it may operate against the interests of workers. Essentially, workers are simply resources to be squeezed and disposed of as business requirements dictate. More importantly, the interests of workers and their well-being are of no significance in themselves. As John Monks (1998) stated In the wrong hands HRM becomes both a sharp weapon to prise workers apart from their union and a blunt instrument to bully workers (John Monks, J. (1998) cited in Guest, D.1999:257)

Organisations no longer offer a job for life there is no longer guaranteed employment, with a pension as a reward for loyalty and compliance. The “psychological contract” between employer and employee has shifted. Employees are increasingly mobile, changing employment for promotion, reward and job satisfaction; top employees have more choice as to where to work (Thomas, K. 2000). With less job security, an organisation can increase the level of motivation by giving an employee transferable skills (Marchington, M and Wilkinson, A. 1997).

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The principals of best practice within management theory state there are six basic elements that can motivate employees. (1) Training; Skills development is probably more important to all employees, transferable skills replacing a job for life. (2) Recognition; the employees need to know they, reassurance of their role, enforcing corporate norms and values. (3) Financial rewards; Rewarding exceptional performance, this re-enforces the value of the human resource to the organisation. (4) Communication; Weekly meetings, open door polices and regular visits with employees. (5) Alignment; There is a direct relationship between motivation and an individual’s ability to contribute, therefore make all employees aware of the contribution they bring to the organisation (6)Leadership; the skills that can combined all above, with strategic out look of the organisation (Redshaw, B 2001).

It is possible to create an environment where employees are motivated to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. When management takes the time to learn what motivates employees to do their best work, and what contributes to a sense of well being and satisfaction. Motivating employees can be complicated, since individuals respond to different conditions. For example, some people are naturally self motivated and come to the workplace already equipped with good self-esteem. However, this can disintegrate if they are not treated as valuable members of the organisation, and rewarded accordingly (Thompson, P. and McHugh, D. 2002).

Some employees are motivated by the fear of loss, i.e., if they do not get to the job on time, they will be fired and will lose their means of support. Still others respond to satisfactory monetary compensation, and do best with a program of periodic salary increases based on job performance. Employers can create an environment that motivates employees by providing the tools, resources, information, and emotional support others are motivated by the fear of loss, i.e., if they do not get to the job on time, they will be fired and will lose their means of support. Still others respond to satisfactory monetary compensation, and do best with a program of periodic salary increases based on job performance. Employers can create an environment that motivates employees by providing the tools, resources, information, and emotional support (Beardwell I & L Holden 1994).

An employee’s expectation of the workplace has dramatically changed over the last century, with motivation theories shifting from monetary to job satisfaction. Although there is no longer a job for life, employees seek security in other forms, transferable skills, to keep them employed throughout their working life. A requirement of managers is to understand and practice behaviour that is in tune with employee’s motivation, therefore what maintains employee morale within the workplace.

Motivation of employees is a fluid topic, what motivates employees can differ immensely between individuals. The employee is no longer regarded as some one who is only motivated by money; there are social aspects that the work environment introduces that act as satisfiers.

The move towards HR empowering employees was viewed as a motivational and rewarding, placing value on the human resource. However this field of management is being widely criticised for the control it introduces to the work place.

Today’s motivational issues are as complicated as they were over a hundred years ago, when they were first discussed as a management tool. Where motivation is individual, there is no cure all, therefore all theories have there merits and there failings. Attention to an employee’s need and treating them with respect are the most valuable contributions to an employees motivation.


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