Motivation can be defined as a set of energetic forces that could originate from within or beyond an individual that drives him to initiate work related behavior (Pinder, 1998). Motivation is what explains how employees will push themselves to achieve a given goal. It comprises of setting goals that can be self-generated or set by others such as supervisors.
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model (Maslow, 1954) was developed out of curiosity because he wanted to find out what really motivates people. It is used in understanding motivation and the needs of individuals and what makes people to do what they do every single day. For instance, what makes a civil servant to report to work every morning without failing? This model is used and continues to be used in various disciplines and environments be it psychology, social work or whatever it might be to understand the motivational factors for various groups of people and the driving force behind what they do.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is pyramid shaped divided into five levels that can be further classified into two larger groupings; the deficiency needs and the growth needs. One can only act upon a deficiency need once a lower need in the hierarchy has been met and satisfied in order to move to higher need. The deficiency grouping of needs can be divided into; physiological needs and these comprises of the basic needs or what some people might call the survival needs such as food and shelter. The second level of the deficiency needs is safety or security needs such as freedom from danger and anxiety. Once the second level of needs have been met and satisfied or controlled to an acceptable level a person would then move to the third level of needs which are more social in nature and that is the need for love, friendship and belonging and having met this need an individual moves to the fourth level which is the need to be esteemed. This involves someone wanting to feel competent and to gain approval and to be recognized.
As Maslow (2000) put it one can only act on growth needs if the deficiency needs have been met.Intially there was only one growth need which is self-actualization but later it was developed to include another set of needs that can also be classified as growth needs such as cognitive, (need to know), aesthetic (beauty), self-actualization and self-transcendence (Maslow &Lowery, 1998). The people who have reached this level of growth needs are those characterized by concern for self fulfilment and reaching their potential, ability to have something bigger beyond their egos such as helping others find and fulfil their potential.
Maslow’s model is important in understanding human behavior and it can be used in work related setting to know how to motivate employees. For instance, at the very foot of the pyramid we find physiological needs such as food, water and clothing and this needs can only be met if there is a steady source of income. Workers at this level are working because they expect to get paid at the end of the month (in some companies) so that they can effectively meet these needs that are at the core of survival of every human being. As Maslow (2000) put it that an employee who is fairly paid will spend much of time thinking about his job and that will in turn increase and improve on his performance but on the hand if an employee thinks he/she is not fairly compensated he spend much time worrying about how to meet his survival needs.
Once an adequate wage is in place and the survival needs are effectively met an employee worries now have to do with safety on the job. For instance an employee dealing with machines want to get training on how to use machines to safeguard his own life(Maslow,2000) if such an employee is taken for training he will feel motivated and understand that his employer values him and his safety. Some employees also join trade unions and knowing that their jobs are secure can motivate one to work harder.
This theory pretty much explains what happens in almost all organizations and companies, how employees push themselves to achieve some goals because they are motivated by the needs they have. An employee motivation at the fourth level is which is self-esteem depends on how many accolades, awards and incentives one receives from the employer. An employee who gets a favorable end of the year job appraisal will have better self-confidence than one who has been threatened to get the sack. And finally at the self-actualization stage an employee is concerned about reaching his potential and becoming the best that he can be and thus training can be a great motivator for an employee at this stage
However, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory may not be applied. Most managers use the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to motivate employees perhaps by promising them good end of the year bonuses or threatening to sack employees who might not be working hard and meeting goals but the thing is that there are some employees who have no issues with physiological or safety needs as highlighted by Maslow but whose main motivation is to be part of something meaningful and great. To such groups of people the Maslow’s theory may not be applicable.
This group of people who are motivated to work because it is fun or it is a commitment that can be viewed as a higher calling and something they do because it gives them fulfillment. Not merely because they want food to put on the table or security. There will be need to develop a theory that can take this group of employees into consideration and theory be developed to factor them in. Failure to develop a model or theory that puts this into consideration would mean that employees whose motivation isn’t necessarily financial may not be adequately covered and managers will always get it wrong on how best to harness the strength, talents and ingenuity of such employees.
Motivation models have an impact on the satisfaction and the productivity of employees For instance, the ERG theory (existence, relatedness and growth) developed by Alderfer (1972) .Employees are motivated when their existential needs such as water and shelter while relatedness is the ability to establish relationships with people possibly at the place of work and finally growth has got to do with the ability to enhance oneself to exploit the potential. Just like the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs Alderfer theory also shows that employees are more likely to be productive and find satisfaction when their needs have been met.
In conclusion, regardless of how you look at it there must be a reason why people do what they do and as we have noticed that varies from one person to another.
Alderfer, C. (1972).Existence, relatedness & growth. New York: Free Press
Maslow, A. (2000). Motivation and personality (3rd ed.). Singapore: Pearson Education Asia. Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper
Pinder, C. C. (1998). Motivation in work organizations. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.