Employee motivation

Do incentives and/or threats really help to motivate employees?

Essay, 2010

5 Pages, Grade: A


This paper critically evaluates whether incentives and threats really help to motivate employees. For this purpose the phenomenon of motivation in this specific area will be illustrated and explained through multiple theories and practical examples.

A considerable amount of traditional theories in relation to motivation can be found in many books and journals. In fact, many influential traditional theorists such as Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (1943), Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y (1957) and Frederick Herzberg’s Dual-factor-theory (1986) wrote about motivation or people’s behaviour in general. On the other hand, Victor Vroom (1964) explained his opinion about work behaviour with his ‘Expectancy theory’. Some of these theorists support their views with different models.

First of all, what exactly is motivation? According to Wortman and Lotous cited by Creech (1995), “motivation is that gives impetus to our behaviour by arousing, sustaining, and directing it toward the attainment of goal”. Now we know how employee motivation can be defined, however, we have to distinguish between two types of motivation – intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is if an employee is interested in a particular task and the outcome of it satisfies him or her (Pinder, 1998). On the other hand, extrinsic motivation is if your manager gives you a pay rise or bonuses for excellent work performances. Unfortunately, threats such as punishment or blackmailing of employees are also categorised in the extrinsic motivation section. However, John Adair, a professor of leadership studies argues, “fifty per cent of motivation comes from within a person and 50 per cent from his or her environment”. (Adair, 2009, p. 38) Hence, Adair saw the importance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and he further states that “the fifty-fifty rule does have the benefit of reminding leaders that they have a key part to play in the motivation of people at work” (Adair, 2009, p. 38). We can see that it is significant that the employee and the employer are both motivated. For instance, if the employee isn’t self motivated, extrinsic motivation might not help at all. Otherwise if it helps, it might be effective in the short-term rather than the long-term perspective (Armstrong, 2007).

It is of the utmost importance that organisations implement incentive programs in order to motivate their workforce. Armstrong (1993, p. 2) defines incentives as to “encourage and energize people to do more and to do better in the future by offering the opportunity to earn financial and non-financial rewards.” In fact, non-financial rewards can be in form of announcing an individual employee as ‘employee of the month’. Or more important, “as a leader you can give recognition and show appreciation in a variety of ways. A sincere ‘well done’ or ‘thank you’ can work wonders for a person’s moral.” (Adair, 2009, p. 106) Another alternative to reward the workforce is to give presents such as vouchers for a particular shop or event, cinema tickets or birthday and Christmas presents.

As an example for the above mentioned non-financial rewards, the largest hotel chain InterContinental showed their appreciation to their employees with a ‘Celebration Week’ in all IHG Hotels around the world. For instance, Singapore employees could leave the work earlier in order to do their favourite activity. Moreover, the upper management introduced a so called job role reversal and prepares meals which will be served to their staff (Lee, 2010). In a way, special events like these provide employees a great remembrance and it might have a positive effect on their performance rather receiving financial reward. (Silverman, 2004)

However on the other side, they are also some problems associated with motivation. When we think of motivation, we assume that something positive happens. This is not always the case. As already mentioned in this paper, threats are categorised in extrinsic motivation. Frederick Herzberg set up a theory which called ‘KITA’ (it means ‘Kick in the arse’). We can distinguish between two types of ‘KITA’ which is positive and negative. The negative KITA, which will be focused on the paper, will be described as motivation by punishment. Briefly speaking, the boss declares, ‘I say, you as an employee do’ and ‘if you don’t do what I say, you will be dismissed’. Herzberg described the outcome of negative KITA that “the cruelty is not visible [but] the bleeding is internal and comes much later”. (Herzberg, 2003) The result might be a high turnover rate, no trust and commitment in the organisation and so forth.

Apparently, there are also some difficulties associated with rewards. First of all, it is arguable whether rewards really help to motivate employees. Kohn, cited by Beardwell and Claydon (2007) argued that “any incentive or pay-for-performance systems tend to make people less enthusiastic about their work”. Furthermore, some employees who get incentives might perceive that their job is not valuable or interesting (Beardwell and Claydon, 2007). In addition, the workforce focuses more on getting the reward rather than putting in much effort and passion for the job. As a matter of fact, all people have a reason why they work. Some of us only work for money to make a living, some are willing to work toward goals and others might simply love their job and are passionate about it.


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Employee motivation
Do incentives and/or threats really help to motivate employees?
The University of Surrey  (School of Management)
MSc Human Resource Management
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
393 KB
employee motivation
Quote paper
BA (Hons) Marianne Reyes (Author), 2010, Employee motivation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/168749


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