How to motivate your employees

A critical discussion of the most common motivation theories in the age of New Work

Seminar Paper, 2022

38 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

Table of Contents

List ofFigures

List of Tables

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 Definition of Terms
2.1 Motivation
2.2 Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

3 Types ofTheories

4 Most common theories of motivation
4.1 Hierarchy of Needs
4.2 Motivation Profile
4.3 Two Factor Theory
4.4 Expectancy Theory
4.5 Goal Setting Theory & Management by Objectives

5 Critical Discussion of Theories in the Era of “New Work”
5.1 Definition and Overview
5.2 Classification and Evaluation ofTheories

6 Conclusion


List of Figures

Figure 1: Hierarchy ofNeeds

Figure 2: Maslow Applied to the World ofWork

Figure 3: Business Version ofReiss Motivation Profile

Figure 4: Principles of Goal setting

Figure 5: The Process ofManagement by Objectives

List of Tables

Table 1: Examples ofHygiene Factors and Motivators

Table 2: Interaction ofHygiene Factors and Motivators

Table 3: Examples ofPossible Combinations ofKey Factors and Their Effects

Table 4: Classification ofTheories

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

1 Introduction

In today’s business era of globalization and digitalization, highly skilled and motivated employees are more and more found to become a competitive advantage. Whereas medi­ocre employees might be sufficient to manage an average business, employees with a negative attitude towards their working life can destroy a flourishing company over time. Increasing turnover rates within a company’s workforce, higher reject rates in terms of production and lower productivity arejust some consequences resulting from decreasing motivation. On top of that, a higher motivation level is considered to having major influ­ence when it comes to less staff absenteeism.1 In fact, there seems to be a direct link between employee’s overall engagement and their employer’s profitability, as companies with higher employee engagement are up to 21% more profitable.2 Therefore, motivated and committed staff can be described as success factor and one of our economies’ most valuable assets, not only in the service sector. Although we know of these factors to be decisive for a fulfilling career and a business’ success, less than 20% of workers world­wide are dedicated to their work, unfortunately.3 Altogether, motivation of employees can have tremendous economic side effects which should not be underestimated.

As we have seen dismissals and periods of short time work to be the latest developments of working life during the pandemic, motivation of our workforce has been faced with several serious challenges. In addition, seemingly self-evident basic needs such as the sense of security have become a critical factor at the workplace and affected employees’ wellbeing significantly. Besides that, work as it was known until spring 2020 has dramat­ically changed for many people as well. A working environment mainly consisting of home-office and digitally held meetings is being described as part of“New Work”. With increasing distance to their colleagues and the employer’s office, motivation is crucial for employees in this case too. In contrast to certain hygiene measures, these aspects are most likely not only transitory but there to stay.

Accordingly, to determine the most common theories of motivation and their value at work, our main objective with the present term paper is to examine different scientific approaches of motivation and to discuss whether they are still suitable to today’s fast changing working environment and appropriate for the age of“New Work”.

In the second section we will define basic terms that are critical to the topic of motivation, followed by the classification of our selected theories in the third section. We will then explain a selection of scientific theories regarding motivation in the fourth section. After evaluating their specific value at work in the section of the respective theory, these theo­ries will be subject to a critical discussion regarding their appropriateness to modern working life in the fifth section. We will then share our conclusion in the sixth and final section of this term paper.

2 Definition ofTerms

2.1 Motivation

The term motivation is based on the Latin term "movere" and means movement. It is an inner process triggered by a motive that moves the person to take a specific action.4 When this source of energy is tapped, motivation gives the person the drive and direction needed to engage with the environment in an adaptive, open-ended and problem-solving way.5 Motivation can explain the direction, intensity and persistence of human behavior. Direc­tion explains the decision to behave in a certain way. Intensity refers to the energy used, and perseverance defines the tenacity with which a goal is pursued.6

Within a company, people and their motivation continue to play a decisive role. Employ­ees should not only work according to the rules, but also show commitment and enthusi­asm. On the one hand, this increases the willingness to perform and on the other hand, good employees are bound to the company in the long term. For this reason, management should know how to optimally control the motivation of its employees to achieve higher job satisfaction and productivity.7

2.2 Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Motivation can be divided into two types. There is intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

The intrinsic motivation of a person arises from within himself, no external incentives are required. The person only carries out the respective activity because he or she feels fun and pleasure. Examples of intrinsic motivation are the practice of hobbies, such as playing sports or a musical instrument. People engage in these activities out of their own interest, without expecting a reward from third parties.8 In relation to the world of work, a lasting and success-oriented effect on the employee only arises if the company manages to com­municate the work content to the employee in such a way that he or she makes it his or her personal concern and is permanently intrinsically motivated.9

The opposite of intrinsic motivation is extrinsic motivation. It arises due to external stim­uli. The person only carries out the activity to receive a reward or to avoid negative con­sequences.10 The rewards can be material (money, bonuses) or immaterial (praise, recog­nition). The decisive factor for extrinsic motivation is therefore the incentives that are offered.11 Within a company, for example, those employees are extrinsically motivated who only work to earn money or work overtime to get a promotion. With any form of extrinsic motivation, the motivation curve flattens over time so that new incentives must always be created.12

Despite the difference in how they work, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can work side by side. An employee who pursues an activity that gives him or her pleasure and fulfils him or her internally still wants to be paid appropriately. For this reason, managers should take both types of motivation into account and optimize them. One possibility is to create scope for intrinsic motivation in tasks that employees enjoy, and external incentives or awards can be used for less interesting activities.13 However, the motivation crowding­out effect should be considered, as existing intrinsic motivation can be crowded out by extrinsic motivation components that are too dominant.14

3 Types ofTheories

Motivation theories, which are based on the assumption that motivation is fundamentally triggered and directed by the existence of needs as well as the perceived possibilities of satisfying needs, start at the operational level of personnel management.15 The theories can be differentiated into two types, on the one hand the content theories and on the other hand the process theories.16 Although all theories are based on the same basic assumption, they differ significantly in their connecting factors.

Content theories focus on the explanation and classification of the underlying motives and factors that individuals aspire to and which influence and explain their behaviour.17 It is assumed that the factors that motivate or demotivate humans are identical for all individuals. Incentive systems derived from these factors serve to generate and maintain a desired behaviour.18 Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Herzberg's two-factor theory and Reiss' motivation profile, which are described in more detail in chapter 4, can be classified as content theories.

On the other hand, process theories deal with the explanation of how people can be mo­tivated.19 Based on the assumption that the motivational factors are very heterogeneous of all individuals, this type of theory is linked to the underlying motivational process, since this is widely the similar for all individuals.20 The process theories include Vroom's Expectancy Theory, Locke's Goal Setting Theory and Drucker's Management by Objec­tives theory.

4 Most common theories of motivation

4.1 Hierarchy ofNeeds

As an American psychologist, Abraham Maslow developed a social psychological model in 1943 that is known as the hierarchy of needs.21 With this hierarchical allocation of different needs in the form of a pyramid, Maslow defined five levels of human demands that can again be subdivided into three segments: basic needs, psychological needs and self-fulfilment needs.22 Due to the fact that there is a different kind of urgency among these needs, they are arranged in a hierarchical order from essential demands at the bot­tom to those desirable needs that are part of the best possible life for individuals at the top level. The physiological needs at the lowest level are followed by safety needs and be­longingness including love needs above.23 24 The need of esteem like prestige and the feel­ing of accomplishment is arranged in the upper end of the pyramid. Self-actualization builds the very top and represents the demand of achieving one’s full potential as well as applying the own creativity in life.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Hierarchy of Needs

Conceptionally, the needs at the bottom such as the fundamental and physiological needs of food, water, warmth, and rest must be fulfilled before attending the needs in higher levels. Whereas people in the developed world are often unaware of those basic needs in their daily life, people in developing countries cannot simply take them for granted, as they have to worry about health and safety without the protection of a welfare state.25

It depends on a person’s individual capability, general living conditions and external cir­cumstances how far one can move up the hierarchy towards some degree of self-actual­ization. This implies that not every individual is going to reach the top level. Unfortu­nately, the overall progress of climbing Maslow’s pyramid can be disrupted by the ina­bility to meet needs of lower levels. For instance, one’s progress can be influenced sig­nificantly over the shortterm when losing ajob, terminating friendships, or suffering from a disease. As life has its ups and downs, the way to self-actualization might be often characterised by going back and forth between Maslow’s hierarchy levels.

When considering Maslow’s theory in the perspective of working life, aspects of every level can be successfully implemented at a working environment.

An employee’s working conditions in terms of salary and pay are representing the basic and physiological needs, respectively. These factors are urgently necessary to provide an appropriate standard of living with all basic desires to be fulfilled as starting point for further developments. Other aspects of very bottom level needs regarding the working environment are specific conditions of a workplace with adequate lightning, temperature and working equipment to avoid all types of physical stress. What sounds self-evident for many can be quite annoying when it is suddenly missing.

When it comes to psychological needs, the group of colleagues and the relationship with one’s supervisor might play a key role. On top of that, extrinsic motivation factors like company cars and representative titles for a desired job position can become subject of prestige inside the company and part of esteem needs.26

Whereas the bottom levels of the pyramid can be achieved with extrinsic motivation fac­tors, the top level is closely related to an intrinsic desire to strive for success and self­actualization. Therefore, self-fulfilment at work can be achieved best by implementing own ideas and visions with decision-making competence successfully. In addition, by achieving well defined milestones that are paving the way to personal interests that appear important, an employee can reach his full potential.

Hence, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs positively illustrates a variety of different motives that are underlying an employee’s motivation. The theory also wisely differentiates be­tween intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors and provides a guidance for employers regarding the hierarchical order of their worker’s needs. Furthermore, the model can be used in a practical way for developments of incentives by managers, as illustrated in fig­ure 2; every level of the hierarchy can be seen as a guide, helping to decide, what the company can offer to his workers.27

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

4.2 Motivation Profile

The Motivation Profile was published in the late 1990s by Prof. Steven Reiss, who was a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University in Columbus (USA) for a long time.28 Within the framework of his empirical research, Reiss identified that a total of 16 independent psychological needs, which are also referred as basic needs or life mo­tives, underlie our behaviour.29 According to the theory, the behaviour of an individual is influenced by the same 16 intrinsic motives, but the expression of the individual motives differs for each individual. Consequently, every individual has an individual motivation profile that resembles a fingerprint and is genetically determined. In contrast to our mo­tives or needs, which have an evolutionary origin, the way people fulfil their individual needs is significantly influenced by the culture in which we grow up, our beliefs and individual experience.30

According to Reiss, an individual's motives determine our beliefs and attitudes, which in turn influence how a person perceives the world and behaves. They can also be described as the purpose of our actions and thus reflect the ultimate aim of our actions. The moti­vation of an individual to undertake an action therefore arises from the premise that a person perceives that he or she can satisfy one or more motives through a particular ac­tion. If, on the other hand, a person perceives that an action does not satisfy his or her individual motives, this leads to demotivation.31

However, since the motives of a person vary, the individual expression of the motives of an individual are determined with the help of a questionnaire with 128 statements. The answers will be mathematically evaluated with the help of licensed software and visual­ized in a Reiss Motivation Profile, which illustrates the individual expression of the mo­tives.32 The scale values of the profile range from -2.0 to +2.0. Based on the evaluation of an individual's motive in comparison to the cultural norm, an evaluation in the range of -0.8 to +0.8 reflects an average expression. If the values are between -2.0 and -0.8 (low expression) or between +0.8 and +2.0 (high expression), they do not correspond to the norm and therefore have a particularly strong influence on an individual's behaviour.33 So-called Reiss Profile Masters are used to discuss the expression of motives, as well as motive conflicts and interdependencies in the intended context.34 35

The following figure shows the 16 life motives and their possible expressions in the busi­ness version of the Reiss Motivation Profile:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 3: Business Version of Reiss Motivation Profile

With regard to its application in corporate practice, the theory primarily supports manag­ers to identify their own motivational structure and to understand that the behaviour of each employee is the result of different expressions of the motives.36 As a result, managers can reflect on their own behaviour towards their employees and understand that individual action and communication measures are necessary to increase the individual motivation and job satisfaction of their employees and thus also to increase the overall team effi­ciency.37 On the communication level, managers can actively influence the way they com­municate with their employees based on their individual motives, in order to address and motivate them.38 If, for example, an employee's recognition motive is highly expressed, the manager can motivate the employee by praising the person, addressing the right be­haviour for the future in a solution-oriented manner if a mistake has occurred, or giving the employee self-confidence if he or she is uncertain.39 On the other hand, managers can motivate their employees on the level of action by allocating tasks and activities to them as well as a suitable environment that corresponds to their individual needs and motives.40 Accordingly, if an employee is assigned a task area based on their individual motive structure and target agreements are established in which an employee lives out their own motives, they will be motivated to work towards the externally defined goals.41 For ex­ample, if an employee has a highly expressed motive for orderliness, the manager should, in order to act in a motivating manner, delegate planning and organizational tasks to this person, avoid any changes in the schedule, create transparent working conditions and prefer regular meetings.42 Furthermore, managers can make predictions about how their employees will behave in certain situations based on their knowledge of their employees' motives.43 43

Although the Reiss Motivation Profile can make a significant contribution for managers in understanding and predicting the motives of their employees and the resulting behav­iour, there are some criticisms of the theory. In contrast to the integrity and general va­lidity of the theory, which was verified and confirmed in the empirical study, the genetic predisposition of the expression of an individual's motives is merely assumed and could not be confirmed so far. Consequently, it is also not sufficiently certain that an individual's.


1 Cf. Lowe, 2021

2 Cf. Berger, 2022

3 Cf. Ivcevic / Stem / Faas, 2021

4 Cf. Träger, 2021, p. 134

5 Cf. Reeve, 2009, p. 15

6 Cf. Franken, 2019,p.91

7 Cf. Berning, 2021, p. 22 - 23

8 Cf. Franken, 2019, p. 92 - 93

9 Cf. Berning, 2021, p. 35

10 Cf. Franken, 2019, p. 93 - 94

11 Cf. Holtbrügge, 2018, p. 14

12 Cf. Berning, 2021, p. 36 - 39

13 Cf. Franken, 2019, p. 94

14 CfTräger, 2021, p. 134 -135

15 Cf. Drumm, 2008, p. 391; Wagner, 2020, p. 553

16 Cf. Sprenger, 2014, p. 8

17 Cf. Hentze et al., 2005, p.lll; Wagner, 2020, p. 553

18 Cf. Wagner, 2020, p. 553; Sprenger, 2014, p. 8

19 Cf. Holtebrügge, 2018, p. 14

20 Cf. Wagner, 2020, p. 553

21 Cf. McLeod, 2020

22 Cf. Albrecht, 2021, p. 165

23 Cf. Daniels, 1982, p. 63

24 Own illustration; based on McLeod, 2020

25 Cf. Rosenstiel, 2015, p. 68 ff.

26 Cf. Albrecht, 2021, p. 14

28 Cf. Ion / Brand, 2009, p. 40 f.

29 Cf. Reiss, 2010, p. 41; RMP germany GmbH, 2021

30 Cf. RMP germany GmbH, 2021

31 Cf. Ion / Brand, 2009, p. 41 ff.

32 Cf. Brand et al., 2015, p. 460 f.

33 Cf. Ion / Brand, 2009, p. 47 ff.

34 Cf. Brand et al., 2015, p. 462 f.

35 Own illustration; based on Ion / Brand, 2009, p. 49

36 Cf. Brand et al., 2015, p. 453 f.

37 Cf. Ion / Brand, 2009, p. 23

38 Cf. ibid., p. 126

39 Cf. ibid., p. 151 f.

40 Cf. ibid., p. 128 ff.

41 Cf. ibid., p. 20 ff.

42 Cf. ibid., p. 157 ff.

43 Cf. RMP germany GmbH, 2021

Excerpt out of 38 pages


How to motivate your employees
A critical discussion of the most common motivation theories in the age of New Work
Heilbronn University
Catalog Number
ISBN (Book)
Motivation, Mitarbeitermotivation, Motivationstheorien, Maslow, Motivation Profile, Two Factor Theory, Expectancy Theory, Goal Setting Theory, Management by Objectives, Hierarchy of Needs, Herzberg, Locke, Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Motivation
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Elias Häffner (Author), 2022, How to motivate your employees, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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