Essay on How Useful Abraham Maslow's Theory of Motivation in Understanding and Predicting Behaviour at Work

Essay on How Useful Abraham Maslow's Theory of Motivation in Understanding and Predicting Behaviour at Work

Motivation has been a hot topic for debate since the 1930’s, even though it was not considered a respectable pursuit until much later (Locke and Latham 2002). In the past it was believed that employees would simply motivate themselves, however Locke and Latham have now proved that when people are asked to do their best it is not always the case that they do so (2002). Managers and supervisors now take the reins of motivation. However, even if your employer gives you everything you want, you may still be demotivated – satisfied perhaps, but not motivated. Motivation is now a very powerful tool in an organisation, and if a manager can effectively motivate staff he should not only increase productivity, but also decrease staff turnover and sick days thus making any company more profitable. Theorists gave rise to two different types of motivation theories. Content theories like Maslow’s needs hierarchy, that focuses on what motivates individuals; and process theories where the emphasis is on the actual process of motivation.
Maslow’s theory has been used by many organisations to give some insight on behaviour at work, but due to eight limitations I believe that it is not as effective as once thought. I do not believe at this point in time that any motivation theory is flawless, but I believe that there are aspects from many theories that can be combined to offer a more comprehensive insight into understanding and predicting behaviour at work. By looking at the theories offered by; Rowan, Alderfer, Steer and Porter, Herzberg, and McClelland, I aim to explore the benefits of applying different theories against following Maslow’s needs hierarchy.
‘Probably the best known theory of human needs was advanced by the late clinical psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943 (Aldag and Brief 1945, p9). Maslow’s theory was an easy to understand pyramid of five basic needs that ascended in order of importance for the employee or subject. Once you have satisfied a motivational need ‘at once other (and higher) needs emerge’ (Maslow 1943, p375). In summary, Maslow’s five basic needs are;
Physiological - need for food and drink
Safety - need for physical and psychological safety
Social - friendship and family
Esteem - feeling valued and respected
Self-actualization - being all that one can be. ‘What a man can be, he must be’ (Maslow 1943, p382).
However, this theory is quite restrictive in its method due to a number of limitations that are in place;

Limitation 1 - No clear separation between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards or esteem.
Solution - Many theorists still support Maslow’s work and in 1998 Rowan made three proposed changes in an attempt to make the theory more comprehensive. The separation of the esteem need into an intrinsic and an extrinsic part, adding the need to become automous at ones job and the separation of the much criticized self-actualization - to which a definite meaning has yet to be validated - into the ability to express one’s self and a closeness with god or humanity.
Limitation 2 - Needs ascend in order and are satisfied in said order.
Limitation 3 - Only one need can be satisfied at one time.
Solution - What Cherrington called the most popular refinement of Maslow’s theory, Alderfer’s modified needs hierarchy or Alderfer’s ERG theory. Alderfer agrees with Maslow that individual needs are arranged in hierarchical order and that individuals tend to move up the order as they satisfy their needs. Alderfer has modified Maslow’s five basic needs to that of only three;
Existance - food, air, water, pay and working conditions.
Relatedness - meaningful social and interpersonal relationships.
Growth - making creative and productive contributions.
The ERG theory suggests that along with the satisfaction progression process there is also a frustration regression stage and therefore people will travel up and down the hierarchy depending on the process. He also did not believe that the needs were satisfied one at a time with the next need emerging. All of the needs could be active at any given time.
Limitation 4 - Maslow’s theory was not designed for a work environment.
Solution - According to Mullins (2010) Maslow did not intend for his need hierarchy to be applied to working situations. Steers and Porter have used the organisational environment to adapt and change Maslow’s theory to be more work friendly. They have related each need to an organisational factor.
Physiological - pay and working conditions.
Safety - job security, safe working conditions.
Social - cohesive work group, friendly supervision.
Esteem - social recognition, high status job, consistent feedback.
Self-actualization - challenging tasks, achievement, creativity.
Limitation 5 - Job satisfaction will lead to good performance.
Solution –‘Research has never supported a clear relationship between satisfaction and productivity’ (Staw 1986, p265). Herzberg theory originated by interviewing 203 accountants and engineers. By using critical incident method, the subjects were asked to give reasons and descriptions of events that raised both positive and negative feelings. The results revealed two different sets of factors affecting work motivation. This was the introduction of the two factor theory of motivation and job satisfaction.
The two factors were separated into hygiene or maintenance factors that prevent dissatisfaction, and motivators or growth factors that, if present will serve to motivate an individual to superior effort and performance. ‘The opposite of dissatisfaction is not satisfaction, simply, no dissatisfaction’ (Mullins, 2010, p265). Herzberg contradicts Maslow’s idea that job satisfaction will lead to good performance and later Latham agreed that ‘performance, which leads to rewards, leads to satisfaction’ (2007, p12).
Limitation 6 – There is no consideration for background, social diversity or personality.
Solution - Another popular motivation theory was developed by McClelland and associates. McClelland’s theory believed that needs are learned or acquired by the kind of events people experience in their culture. The theory has three main parts, the need for achievement, the need for affiliation and the need for power.
High need achievers have strong desire to assume personal reasonability for performing tasks or finding solutions to problems. Research found they were not likely to be motivated by money as they were already an extremely motivated worker. They merely saw extrinsic rewards as evidence of their success
High need affiliators like to establish and maintain friendly and warm relationships. They have strong desire for approval from others. They prefer to work in groups and help to be motivators once in that atmosphere, and respond well to positive feedback.
High need for power workers desire to influence and direct someone and exercise control over others. Pay, bonuses and promotion were found to motivate this group.
Limitation 7 - Maslow’s theory does not talk about pay or money as a motivator.
Solution – Guthrie (2007) shows us that at both individual and group level pay performance plans have significant effects on work performance. The expectancy theory, developed by Victor Vroom, is one that has clear links to motivation, looking at the relationship between effort and performance and performance and rewards. The more complex theory has perpetual motion that relates all the tasks they may be required to perform. The theory is broken down into three main parts. Expectancy, am I able to complete the task required of me? Instrumentality, would completing the task lead to a favourable outcome or will I be rewarded? And valence, how much do I value these out comes or rewards? ‘A research study that related the overall importance, scientific validity, and practical usefulness of 73 organisational behaviour theories reported that expectancy theory has high levels of importance, validity and usefulness’ (Ivancevich et Al 2005, p121). Monetary incentives are practical and are used to enhance goal commitment. More money, more commitment (Locke and Latham 2002). The theory has been described as overly complicated, but it merely draws attention to the complexity of motivation.

Limitation 8 - The needs hierarchy doesn’t take into account individuals who don’t have clear goals.
Solution - Locke, ‘starting from the 1960’s but continuing to increase in strength and sophistication ever since’ (Arnold et Al 2011. p325) the goal setting theory. The theory, basically put, is based on goals that are set to be difficult yet achievable, in the belief that this will produce higher levels of performance. It is not advised to set un achievable goals as they may have a detrimental effect on motivation. The goals should follow the smart acronym. Specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time frame. The goal setting theory can be accompanied by either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. It can also be deployed to a group or an individual.

Most managers have to motivate a very diverse and unpredictable group of employees. Thus, selecting one theory to motivate the entire staff force becomes extremely challenging. Will one theory work for everyone? Or will different theories need to be adopted for sex, age socio-economic status, location, emotional intelligence, personality, ability or skill etc. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was a good theory, but lots of advances have been made that now leave the theory lacking in depth. It is the adaptation and utilization from a multiple number of different theories that is needed to provide one comprehensive and conclusive theorem. It is up to the manager, possibly through trial and error, to find the best way of motivating their employees.

Hackman’s theory involved looking into what employees have done in the past as well as what they are doing now in order to predict what possible factors might influence their motivation (1969). Our knowledge on motivation is still incomplete, many topics have yet to be studied and many theories remain unutilized. Locke and Latham’s idea of ‘creating a boundary less science of work motivation’ (2004, p392) and putting no limit on the number of new ideas that can be explored seems the only rational future for motivation. Or could the unconscious or sub consciousness hold the key for the motivation of the future?

Reference List
Aldag, R. & Brief, A. (1945) Task design and employee motivation. Glenview Illinois: Scott Foresman.
Arnold, J. and Randall, R. (2010) Work Psychology, 5th edn, London: FT Pearson, Chap on Work motivation in course text.

Guthrie, J. (P. (2007) ‘Remuneration: Pay Effects at Work’, in Boxall, P., Purcell, J. and Wright, P. (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Human Resource Management, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hackman, R. (1969) The motivated working adult. New York: American Management Association.
Ivancevich, J. Konopaske, R. & Matteson, M. (2007) Organisational behaviour and management, 8th edn London: McGraw Hill.

Latham, G. (2007) Work Motivation: History, Theory, Research and Practice, London: Sage.

Locke, E. & Latham, G. (2002) ‘Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation,’ American Psychologist, 57(9): 705-717.

Locke, E. & Latham, G. (2004) ‘What Should We Do About Motivation Theory? ‘ Academy of Management Review, 29: 388-403.

Maslow, A. (1943) ‘A Theory of Motivation’, Psychological Review, 50: 370-96.

Mullins, L. (2010) Management and Organizational Behaviour, 9th edn, London: FT Prentice Hall, pp. 259-68.

Steers, R. & Porter, L. (1991) Motivation and work behaviour. London: McGraw Hill.