The main satisfaction and motivation theories at work

There are many motivation theories about the work environment that have been developed over time. Worker’s motivation is a particular priority for companies, as this is directly linked to their satisfaction. Motivation ensures competitive advantages and the organisation’s sound progress.

It’s vital that a company knows the main motivation theories, which can be classified in two big groups: content theories and process theories. Let’s see them in detail. 

Motivation theories that belong to the content theories group

Among the content theories, we find concepts about motivation that consider everything than can estimulate, incentivate and push people. The most influential are: 

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow established a hierarchy of needs that human beings must cover. As humans satisfy their most basic needs, they develop higher needs and wishes.

According to Maslow’s theory, there’s a pyramid with 5 big groups of needs, classified from the most basic to the most elevated/complex:

  • Biological needs: breathing, drinking, eating, sleeping, procreating
  • Safety needs: work, physical safety, family safety, moral safety and health safety
  • Love and belonging: affection, friendship, love, sexual intimacy
  • Esteem needs: respect, trust, achievement, success
  • Self-improvement or self-realisation: morality, creativity, a lack of prejudice

In the most advanced societies, work must aspire to saciate more than the most primary or basic human needs. It must try to make workers reach those most complex and elevated needs. 

MacClelland's Three Needs Theory

He focuses his theory in three types of motivation, based on impulses:

  1.  Achievement. It’s the impulse of standing out and succeeding. In this case, the motivation arises after establishing important goals, looking for excellency with a focus on well-done work and responsibility.
  2. Power. It’s the need of being influential and gaining transcendental recognition. In this case, it’s status and prestige that are searched for.
  3. Affiliation. It’s the human wish to maintain satisfactory, close and friendly personal relations, and to belong to a group. What is chased is to be useful to other people, popularity and to have contact with other people.

Herzberg's Two-factor Theory

Psychologist Frederick Herzberg identified, thanks to his research, two types of factors that influence motivation and worker’s satisfaction.

  1. Hygienic factors. These are external to the task assigned to the professional and are related to the work context. Amonth these, we find work conditions and company policies or the relationship between the workers and their superiors. If these are positive, the worker won’t feel dissatisfied in their job, but this doesn’t imply that they originate the necessary motivation to reach the company’s goals.
  2. Motivation factors. These are those factors that are directly related to the work per se, as they defy, estimulate or motivate the worker. Some examples include recognition and responsibility or the possibility of a promotion. These generate the necessary push for workers to trust their abilities in the company to obtain the best results.

McGregor's Theory X and Y

This theory talks about two opposing types of management:

  • The X theory supposes that human beings are lazy and tend to elude responsibilities. Because of this, they must be estimulated through punishment.
  • The Y theory, on the contrary, considers it’s natural for humans to strive at work. Because of this, people tend to seek responsibilities.

Assumptions about motivation in the process theories

The best known theory in this category is Vroom’s expectative model, which has been improved by other authors like Porter and Lawler.

It’s based on defining what it is that a person is seeking in a company and the way they will try to achieve it.

The expectatives theory is based on three basic assumptions:

  1. The existent forces in people and those present in their work environment are mixed to motivate and define behaviour.
  2. People take conscious decisions about their behaviour.
  3. The choice of a course of action depends on the expectative that a certain behaviour will cause desired effects instead of undesirable results.

Contrarily to other motivation theories, this model doesn’t prescribe acting according to satisfied needs, or the provision of punishment or rewards. In this case, individuals are considered thinking subjects. It is also considered that their perceptions and estimation of probabilities influence their thoughts. This way, simple incentives are considered as more motivating than complex ones: the latter can generate uncertainty and prevent the person from linking the efforts he must make to the possibility of reaching his goals.

Work atmospheres must provide well-being to workers. Their satisfaction allows them to reach company goals but also to live in proactive environments where relationships are fluid and friendly.