Motivation: Definition & Theories of Motivation

 Motivation is simply the work a manager performs to inspire, encourage and induce workers to take a required action. In an organization, incentives are used to motivate workers to do their work diligently and effectively. These incentives include money, job security, status and recognition.

The incentives become very effective when they are related or have relevance to the personal, social and physiological needs of the individual. Motivation in public administration is seen as a theoretical construct used to explain why employees do certain things in the organization.

It explains why employee does his job well. The basic elements of motivation are need, drive, incentives, goal and motives. The subject of motivation is one of the most researched and discussed issues in public administration. This is as a result of its importance on the issue of organizational effectiveness and efficiency and the achievement of organizational goals generally.

Some scholars believe that motivation is inextricably related to organization performance and that highly motivated individuals are more productive both in quantity and quality. So the necessity of managers and administrators to motivate their employee cannot be over emphasized.

Theories of Motivation

Over the years, scholars have developed theories of motivation. These theories include:

  • Maslow Hierarchy of Needs
  • Theory X and Y of Douglas McGregor
  • Equity theory of J.S Adams
  • Motivation Hygiene theory of Herzberg
  • Needs theory of McClelland
  • Management motivators of Patton
  • Expectancy theory of V.H Vroom
  • Model of Expectancy Theory of Porter and Landler
  • Goal setting theory of Edwin Locke and Latham Gary
  • The Carrot and Stick theory
  • The Psycho-Analytic theory of Freud Sigmund
  • Multiple interacting factors theory
  • Instinct theory of motivation of William James
  • Incentive theory of motivation
  • Humanistic theory of motivation
  • Alders ERG theory
  • Reinforcement theory
  • Attitude behaviour consistency.

Maslow Hierarchy of Needs: Abraham Maslow is one of the most popular theories of motivation. The needs theory by Maslow is arranged in hierarchical order. They are:

  • Physiological Needs: these are needs that are essential for sustaining human life. They include food, water, clothing, shelter, sleep and sexual satisfaction.
  • Security or Safety Needs: these includes need to be free from danger, fear of loss of job, property etc.
  • Love Needs: this include needs to be accepted by others.
  • Esteem Needs: this is the need for self esteem, independence and freedom.
  • Self Actualization: this is the last of the needs and includes the need for one to achieve or maximize potentials and the need for one to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

Theory X and Y: this theory views human being as either negative represented by theory X or positive theory Y. Theory X assumes that man by nature is indolent, lacks ambition, dislikes responsibilities and prefers to be led.

While on the other hand, theory Y assumes that employees are not by nature lazy and unreliable and would prefer self direction. Rather they have the capacity for innovation and creativity. In essence, the management of organizations need to know whether an individual employee is X or Y, and based on that, know the motivational strategy to be adopted.

Equity Theory: this theory is based on the assumption that individuals are motivated by their desire to be equitably treated in their work relationship. The key elements in equity theory are inputs, rewards and comparison. Employees who feel they are under rewarded will be less motivated while those who feel that they are fairly or overly rewarded will be highly motivated.

Motivation-Hygiene Theory: this theory assumes that work satisfaction and dissatisfaction arise from two different factors. Those factors that satisfy are called motivational factors and those that dissatisfy are called hygiene factors. Motivating factors includes achievement, recognition and growth opportunity. These motivators are derived from the work itself and are intrinsic to it.

Need Theory: this theory assumes that there are three types of basic needs which are of importance to individuals and which act as factors that influence behaviour and reactions. These needs are need for power, need for affiliation and need for achievement. The satisfaction of these needs is very important in motivating employees even though there is individual difference in the extent to which they satisfy their need.

Managerial Motivators: Patton in his research identified some motivators which are of special importance to executives. They are, the challenge found in work, status like titles, promotion and such symbols like office size and appointment, the urge to achieve leadership or the wish to be a leader among one’s peers, fear of error, loss of jobs or reduction in bonus.

Expectancy Theory: this theory, in the main, assumes that a person’s motivation towards action at anytime would be determined by his or her anticipated values of all the outcomes (both negative and positive) of the action multiplied by the strength of that person’s expectancy that the outcome would yield the desired goals.

Motivation according to this expectancy theory is dependent on an individual’s expectancy of achieving an objective which has value for him.

Basically, expectancy connotes an individual’s assessment of the probability that a particular act will or will not lead to certain outcome. Motivation is always likely to occur when there exist positive valence and expectancy.

Goal Setting Theory: the goal setting theory suggests that employees can be motivated by goals that are specific and challenging but achievable. According to Edwin Locke and Gary Lathan who developed the theory, it is natural for people to set and strive for goals.

However, the goal setting process is useful only if people understand and accept the goals. Thus the best way to motivate employees is to set the right objectives in the right ways for the employees. There are three elements of goal-setting theory which that:

  • Goal should be specific
  • Goals should be challenging
  • Goals should be achievable.

The Carrot and Stick Theory: this theory postulates the use of rewards (carrot) and penalties (stick) to induce behaviours. This theory believes that rewards ad penalties are strong motivators. One example of carrot could be money while an example of stick could be in form of denial of income, bonus, demotion or some other penalties.

Multiple interacting factors theory: this theory assumes there is no way motivation can be realized by a single factor. Other factors like physical material reward, sociological or physiological factors or forces need to be considered. The management need, to effectively combine, physical, sociological and psychological factors appropriately in the task of motivating the employees.

Instinct Theory of Motivation: according to instinct theory, people are motivated to behave in certain ways because they are naturally programmed to do so. An example of this could be found in the animal world in their seasonal migration. These animals do not learn to do this. It is instead an inborn pattern of behaviour. A list of such human instinct includes attachment, play, shame, anger, fear, shyness, modesty and love.

Incentive Theory of Motivation: the incentive theory suggests that people are motivated to do things because of external rewards. For examples, one might be motivated to go to work each day for the monetary reward or for being paid.

Drive Theory of Motivation: according to this theory, people are motivated to take certain actions in order to reduce the internal tension that is caused by unmet needs. This theory is useful in explaining behaviours that have a strong biological component, such as hunger or thirst

Arousal Theory of Motivation: the arousal theory of motivation suggests that people take certain actions to either decrease or increase in levels of arousal. Employees need certain level of activation to be sufficiently motivated to achieve goals, do good work and so on. This is also known as the activation theory.

Humanistic Theory of Motivation: humanistic theory of motivation is based on the idea that people also have strong cognitive reasons to perform various actions. This is famously illustrated in Abraham Maslow hierarchy of needs which present different motivation at different levels.

First people are motivated to accomplish basic biological needs for food and shelter, as well as those of safety, love and esteem. Once the lower level need have been met, the primary motivator becomes the need for self actualization or the desire to accomplish one individual potential.

Alderfers ERG Theory: the acronym ERG means Existence, Relatedness, and Growth. The ERG theory is built upon Maslow hierarchy of needs theory. To begin his theory, Alderfer collapses Maslow five levels of needs into three categories.

Existence needs are desires for physiological and material well-being. (In Maslow model, existence needs are physiological and safety needs).

Relatedness needs are desires for satisfying interpersonal relationship. (In Maslow model, relatedness corresponds to social needs).

Growth needs are desires for continued psychological growth and development.(In Maslow model, growth needs includes esteem and self actualization needs).

This approach proposes that unsatisfied needs motivate behaviour and that as lower level needs are satisfied, they become less important. Higher level need becomes more important as the lower level need is satisfied.

Reinforcement Theory: the reinforcement theory based on E.L Thorndike’s law of effect simply looks at the relationship between behaviours and its consequences. This theory focuses on modifying an employee’s on the job behaviour through the appropriate use of the following four techniques: positive reinforcement, avoidance, extinction and punishment.

Model of Expectancy Theory: Porter and Lawler (1968) drawing substantially upon the work of Vrom developed a more comprehensive model of motivation which they applied in their study. According to this model, the amount of effort and individual is willing to expand in pursuit of reward depends on the following:

  • The value the reward has for one
  • The amount of effort he anticipates is necessary to achieve it
  • His expectancy of achieving it.

Attitude Behaviour Consistency: this theory assumes that attitude (predispositions to behaviour) and actual behaviours are more likely to align if the following factors are true:

  • There have been any opportunities to express attitude behaviour.
  • There has been a history of attitude behaviour consistency.
  • The attitudes are based on personal experience, rather than being copied from others.
  • The attitudes are proven by past experience.
  • There is no social desirability bias, where the presence of others will lead us into uncharacteristic behaviour.
  • The attitude is strongly held and is around core beliefs.

Major Motivational Techniques

Money: money as a motivational technique could be in form of wages, bonus, salary and so forth. Money is mostly effective as a motivating factor if the employees are young, if it is given or paid in such ways to reflect individual performance and if it is large compared to the person’s income.

Positive re-enforcement: this is usually in form of proper designing of work environment.

Workers participation: this is usually in form of consulting the workers on actions or decisions that affect them and allowing them to participate in scheme of things.

Job enrichment: this is in form of making a job more challenging and meaningful. A job could be enriched by giving it variety, giving the workers the opportunity to decide work methods, sequence and pace, giving workers feedback on their performance and so forth.

In conclusion, it is worthy of note that effective motivation depends on organizational climate and motivation is based on situation. Administrators in organization need to respond to the motivations of individuals or employees if they are to create an environment in which employees will perform willingly and optimally for the overall goal of the organization.


  • Maslow, A. (1943), “A Theory of Human Motivation” Psychological Review July.
  • McGregor, D. (1966), Leadership and Motivation. Cambridge: MITPress
  • Locke, E.A ad Latam, G.P (1984), Goal Setting: A Motivational Techniques that Works? Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
  • Vrom, V.H (1964), Work and Motivation. New York: Waley Publisher.
  • Ugwuanyi, B.I. (2016), Public Administration. Enugu: Divine Favour Publication