Employee Motivation 
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Employee Motivation

    A question often asked by first-line supervisors and managers is “How do we motivate our employees?” Effectively motivating employees to achieve a desired outcome is one of the most important functions as a supervisor or manager. There is evidence to show organizations are facing challenges retaining employees due to limited opportunities for advancement and the current competitive labor market.  It does not appear things will get any better in the future.  The loss of employees represents a loss of skills, knowledge, and experiences and can create a significant economic impact and cost to corporations as well as impacting the needs of customers.  Managers who can motivate employees assist the organization by improving employee retention and reinforcing positive behaviors (Ramlall, 2004).  

    What is motivation? The word motivation originates from the Latin word “to move” and is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as an “act or process of a motivating force, stimulus, or influence.” Motivation is known to be a predictive variable which influences employee job satisfaction (Pool, 1997).

    The subject of motivation is a well-researched topic and many motivational theories have been written over the years. One in particular developed by Victor Vroom in 1964 still has application in today’s business environment (Quick 1988). His expectancy theory on motivation is a mathematical model based on three factors: expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. .  All must work together to be highly successful, and all three together can have a powerful affect. The formula is Motivation = Expectancy * Instrumentality * Valence as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 – Expectancy Theory
    Managers should be aware of factors that can influence employee expectancy perceptions such as a: strong self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, personal effectiveness and efficiency, successful completion of tasks, pleasurable work environment (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2007). On the other hand, factors which may likely reduce an employee’s expectancy perception may include: boredom with the job, poor performance, lack of training, dislike of the supervisor, manager, or co-workers, family responsibilities, or lack of adequate work. A manager’s leadership style can have a positive or negative impact on employee motivation (Halepota, 2005). A manager or supervisor can influence individual employee behavior. Vroom’s theory is a thought process that workers (employees) are driven by complex internal processes of varying types of motivating factors that influence a person’s actions.

Expectancy Theory
    The “expectancy theory holds that people are motivated to behave in ways that produce desired combinations of expected outcomes” (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2007, p.246). It is used to measure work motivation, because individuals who put forth their best effort believe it will lead to good performance, and their good performance will lead to potential positive outcomes (Ramlall, 2004). An employee might want to know what his or her reward will be for their efforts.
    The expectancy theory is a good predictor of employee motivation and behavior when two or more factors are involved. For example, it can predict anything from what type of job you will have, whether to quit or stay at a job, to the type of courses you will take in graduate school.
    “An expectancy represents an individual’s belief that a particular degree of effort will be followed by a particular level of performance” (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2007, p.247). Expectancy is a factor where one has a belief he or she has the capability, and if effort is put forth, it will lead to performing well. The factor of instrumentality is a belief if one performs well, he or she will receive various rewards or outcomes. The third factor is valence; value attached to a reward.
Effort to Performance Link (E – P)
    When employees utilize Vroom’s expectancy model, the steps they follow may improve their performance and they will receive the outcomes they desire. The first thing is employees need to determine what their abilities and strengths are but they also need to determine their weaknesses as well. Secondly, employees should take the opportunity to open the communication lines with their manager by discussing the job, the goals, the expectations, and the rewards. Third, employees should realize it is necessary to work hard until the outcomes are earned (Wang, 2004).
    Employee work. The links between effort and performance (E-P) may involve issues as to whether the work is achievable and realistic, and is it interesting and challenging? If the link is severed, other things to consider are whether additional training or education may be needed. To help employees achieve this link, it is important for the supervisor or manager to provide reasonably challenging work by taking into consideration the person’s education, training, skill sets, and their level of experience, but it is also important to provide assignments that can stretch a person’s skills. However, it is important to be cautious and to avoid a challenge too extreme for the person; it could result in de-motivating them. It is important for management to use creative ways to find a balance by establishing attainable and manageable goals for the employee. By making the work valuable, there are rewards that come directly from the work to give employees an increased self-esteem and achievement (Quick, 1989).
    By making the work achievable, employees will be successful and prove they are able to do a good job. If an assignment is made above an employee’s ability, it can be very de-motivating.  The manager may feel the employee is being lazy when in reality, it is something the person cannot do or is having difficulty doing.  Realistic assignments are important.
     Employee abilities. Employees bring to their job or position a various group of skill sets, talents, experiences, education, knowledge and training levels. The leader should ensure the abilities or skill sets of the employee are matched with the job itself. If they do not match, employee motivation will decrease over time. The importance is to understand the individual’s abilities and their own perceptions about their skills. If abilities are lacking, a leader should look for ways to help the person by providing them with additional training, experience, and education.
     Employee self-esteem. Employees have differing levels of self-esteem and self-confidence. Those with low self-esteem may not have the self-belief they can accomplish a goal or task that stretches their abilities.
    Employee expectations. Acceptable performance and results should be clearly communicated so there is no question as to what is acceptable, and performance measures are expressed in objective terms and understood by the employee. Effort on the part of an employee leads to job satisfaction, and it gives them a feeling of accomplishment by feeling involved and productive.
    Employee importance. It is vital for the manager to help employees feel they are making a significant contribution to the company. Help them understand they are needed and their work is very important to the success of the company (Isaac, Zerbe, Pitt, 2001).
Performance to Outcome Link (P – O)
    Instrumentality is defined as a performance to outcome perception. “It represents a person’s belief that a particular outcome is contingent on accomplishing a specific level of performance (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2007, p.248). When performance leads to something, it is considered instrumental. One example would be to pass a driving test to receive a driver’s license. The link between an employee’s performance and the outcome is based on what the employee believes, if they trust the manager, if they know they are being treated fairly, and if they receive clear honest feedback in a straightforward manner from the leader.
    Employee trust. It is extremely important for a manager to live by what he or she says. Promises must be kept, lies never told, and all communication be honest and upfront. This will ensure the employee feels the outcome promised will be a true indication and result of their performance.
    Employee treated fairly. Managers should ensure employees are treated fairly in a predictable manner. However, fair treatment does not necessarily mean all employees are treated the same as long as all outcomes appear fair to the employees.
    Honest leader. During performance reviews, it is important for the manager to give honest, clear feedback. However, it does not mean being cruel or unkind but being straightforward and honest focusing on the performance and not the person.  This type of feedback helps employees grow, because they learn what they did well and what they may still need to work on.
    Valence is defined as “the positive or negative value people place on outcomes. Valence mirrors our personal preferences (Kreitner & Kinicki, 2007, p.249). Rewards do not necessarily always have to be currency. Some employees respond very well to non-monetary rewards which are of no expense to a company. Often, a simple “thank you,” praise, or recognition can have more value than monetary compensation. A high valence might imply the possibility of an unfulfilled need suggesting the behavior is driven to attain that need. As a result, motivation should be stronger.  According to Thomas Quick (1988), “Human behavior, expectancy theory explains, is a function of two factors: the perceived value of the reward that certain behavior yields and the expectation in the doer that certain behavior actually will yield that reward” (p.30).
    Leaders should also ensure the goals of the employees align with the goals of the organizations. Being mindful of the goals and aspirations of each employee helps a leader know what he or she can to do to help coach or guide an employee in their career aspirations and personal development. It is important for employees to find a balance between their personal life and work.  If an employee needs to change his or her work arrangements due to a family conflict and if the employee is granted this opportunity, he or she must understand strong performance (or lack thereof) can affect the flexibility of the leader’s ability to assist the employee with his or her needs. Successful leaders seek to understand employee needs, goals, and personal motives while also working to satisfy the needs and goals of the organization (Isaac, Zerbe, & Pitt, 2001).

Leadership Effectiveness Contributes to Motivation
    Ongoing communication with employees is important to a leader’s effectiveness and success. Knowing and understanding each employee’s work assignments, their plans for personal development, and what they like to receive or gain from their performance contributes to the employee’s confidence in the leader and the organization. A lack of self-confidence can negatively impact the expectancy theory.
    Good leaders or managers have to understand they are not able to directly motivate their employees. However, they can impact the end result by doing whatever is necessary to encourage an employee to become self-motivated. Management development programs should teach managers the basis of expectancy theory, hopefully to teach managers how to value the work performed by each employee and learn how to make each person feel they can be successful and reap the available rewards.
Applying the Expectancy Theory
    Meet with each employee to define the expectations and performance standards covering all the goals. Take time to explain not only the expectation of each person’s personal goals but also the company’s goals and expectation set forth. It is important for employees to know what the manager wants. This leaves no room for doubt.
    There may have been a time when an employee did not observe the manager’s standards or goals, so before assuming the employee is lazy, careless, or willful, or may need training, it is important to think about the last time the person’s level of performance or goals were discussed. It is an interesting phenomenon but people have a tendency to not do what the manager wants just because they have not heard from him on the subject for a while (Quick, 1989).
    Striving to make the employee’s work valuable allows employees the opportunity to achieve personal goals. Some of their goals may include returning to school, purchasing new clothes, preparing to take a trip, etc., but the organization’s goals should complement the personal goals of the employee. Managers should learn what each employee values in respect to monetary or non-monetary rewards.
    It is important for a manager to give regular feedback to employees and not just once a year. It is important employees know where they stand at least quarterly, if not monthly. Feedback can be in the form of an evaluation or just verbal feedback in a face-to-face meeting.
    Be sure to reward employees when the expectations are met. Recognize and reward employees when they achieve established organizational goals or their own personal goals. Verbally thank and provide them with a reward based on their preferences.  Some enjoy the time off while others like cash or food.
    Finding creative ways to motivate employees not only benefits the person, it benefits the organization, and the customer. Leaders who take the time to motivate each employee on an individual basis are following the principles of the expectancy theory.


Halepota, H. A. (2005). Motivational theories and their application in construction. Cost     Engineering, 47, 14-18.

Isaac, R. G., Zerbe, W. J. & Pitt, D. C. (2001). Leadership and motivation: the effective application of expectancy. Journal of Managerial Issues, 13, 212-226

Kreitner, R., & Kinicki, A. (2007). Organizational Behavior (7th ed.). New York: The McGraw Hill Companies.

Pool, S. W. (1997). The relationship of job satisfaction with substitutes of leadership,     leadership behavior, and work motivation. The Journal of Psychology, 131. 271-    283.

Ramlall, S. (2004). A review of employee motivation theories and their implications for     employee retention within organizations. Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 5, 52-63.

Quick, T. L. (1988). Expectancy theory in five simple steps. Training and Development Journal, 42(7), 30-33.

Quick, T. L. (1989). The best kept secret for increasing productivity. (Motivation). Sales & Marketing Management, 141, 34-39.

Wang, P. (2004). Teacher as leader and student as follower: the implementation of e    expectancy theory in English classes in Taiwanese College. Journal of American     Academy of Business, Cambridge, 5, 418-422.
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