Motivation definition, discrepancies between current and traditional motivation theories

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1.        Motivation definition, discrepancies between current and traditional motivation theories


1.1    Definitions


Different researchers have provided different definitions regarding the concept of motivation and these definitions vary by different cultures, the social background of the researchers and the research fields that they had been focusing. And a general definition that has been widely accepted defines the term motivation as the process whereby goal-directed activity is instigated and sustained (Pintrich & Schunk 2002, p.5). As the motivation that we will be referring to in this study is concerning the motivation in the work place, here stated another definition of employee motivation which provided by Robbins (1996, p.212) who claimed that employee motivation refers to the willingness to exert high levels of effort toward organizational goals, conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual needs. And in the perspective of the strategic human resource management, Flynn (2010, p.107) suggested that employee motivation is about creating a motivation framework for employees that both aligns with business and cultural aims and shapes and meets the realistic and genuine individual expectations.


Several key words and factors could be highlighted from the definitions of motivation and employee motivation we have above to help further understand this concept.


1.1.1            Goals


The first key word that could be found in all the three definitions is the goal in term of “goal-directed activity” (Pintrich & Schunk 2002, p.5), organizational goals (Robbins 1996, p.212) and business and cultural aims Flynn 2010, p.107) in these three definitions. And this also corresponds with our empirical understanding that when someone is motivated, he or she will usually have clear goals to be fulfilled by his or her continual effort. And in the management’s perspective, such goals could take the forms of strategic business goals such as corporate culture teaching and changes which are expected to be performed actively by the employees and this is also the reason why companies need to focus on the employee motivation becasue it is regarding the fulfillment of the companies’ business goals.


1.1.2            Efforts


Besides the goals which are set by the management, another fator that could be found in the definition of the motivation is the efforts that are given by the persons who are motivated to achieve the goals set by the companies in term of employee motivation. To put it in a simple way, a highly motivated employee is willing to work extra hard and offer help to others if it is necessary (Ryan-Flynn 2009, p.155). So the willingness to give out extra efforts which is helpful to the achievement of the goals desired by the company is one important feature of successful employee motivation.


1.1.3            Individual needs


“…conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual needs”, as pointed out by Robbins (1996, p.212) in his definition about employee motivation, the fundamental of the employee motivation functioning system is based on the individual needs rather than the corporate needs in term of profit growth or strategic expansion. This finding also corresponds with the theory proposed by McClelland (1961) claiming that the extent to which employees are motivated is determined by the different types of needs for achievement, affiliation and power.


1.2    Discrepancies between current and traditional motivation theories


Various theories have been proposed within the development process of the study of motivation. Stated in the table below is the summaries of the major theories by Stone (2011, p.426).

Early theories of motivation

Scientific management The human relations movement
Theory X and theory Y  

Content theories of motivation

Maslow’s needs hierarchy theory Herzberg’s two-factory theory
Job characteristics theory McClelland’s achievement motivation theory

Process theories of motivation

Vroom’s expectancy theory Equity theory
Goal-setting theory Reinforcement theory
Organizational behavior modification  

Table 1.0 Classification of motivation theories (Stone 2011, p.426)


Without going deep into the theories, here directly we have come to two major differences between the traditional and current theories of motivation based on the classification provided above.


1.2.1            Corporate needs Versace individual needs


Scientific management as a typical traditional employee motivation theory has focused very much on the needs of the companies which is the best performance of the employees and in contrast the later developed theories are more focusing on the needs of the individual showing a change of the study focus.


1.2.2            Simplicity and complexity


While the early theories are mostly based on one or two simple assumptions and conclusions, the current theories especially the process theories of motivation have been trying to demonstrate the motivation process in a more extract, scientific and logical manner and even allow calculation and comparisons resulting in more complex theories developed.