Critical Evaluation of the Concepts "Motivation" and "Reward" in the Workplace

Drawing Upon the Model of Behaviour First Outlined by B.F. Skinner

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2009
13 Pages, Grade: 2,8






Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

McClelland’s Need of Achievement

McGregor’s Theory X and Y

Herzberg’s Two-Factor-Theory


Foundations in Different Psychological Schools of Thought

Behavioural Psychology

Classical Conditioning

Operant Conditioning and the Law of Effect

Operant Conditioning According to Skinner

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

Application to the Workplace

A Critical Evaluation of Effectiveness

Does It Work Or Not? - Empirical Evidence

Summary and Conclusion



This paper tries to critically evaluate the ideas of the relations between motivation as an explanation for human behaviour and rewards as something that is given in return for showing a specific, desired behaviour, based on the model of behaviour first outlined by Skinner’s work.

Starting with a definition of the terms motivation and reward, this paper explains the basic ideas of Behaviourism as one of the major psychological schools of thought and as one source of explanation for human behaviour. As this particular approach focuses only on external drivers of human behaviour a short excursus to the differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation follows before motivation and the effectiveness of rewards is enquired in the specific context of the workplace.


Before going into detail it is important to clearly define the terms motivation and rewards, as especially the first can be understood in various meanings.


The term motivation is used in two different meanings: at one hand it is used as explanation of behaviour and on the other hand as description of feelings which may drive behaviour.

In terms of an explanation motivation describes the relation between situational conditions (such as the level of task complexity) and observable behaviour of human beings (such as the intensity of task oriented effort). In terms of description motivation comprehends for example feelings such as joy or reluctance to do something. As these feelings are usually not part of cognitive thinking there emergence often cannot be explained. (Geberth & von Rosenstiel, 1992)

According to Campbell work related motivation can explain:

why a person is engaged with a specific task or method and not with another one (content of behaviour) which level of effort a person shows when he/she works on a task (intensity of behaviour) over what time a person brings this effort (time duration of behaviour)

The work result itself cannot be seen as useful criterion for work motivation as it depends also on vari- ous other conditions such as specific skills and competencies or situational conditions. (Campbell & Pritchard, 1976)

There are several psychological models dealing with content, modalities and mechanisms of motivation and its impact on human behaviour. The most known are as follows:

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow published in a 1943 a simplifying model of motivation with a hierarchy of human needs. It consists of a pyramid with five steps describing the basic needs which are sought to be satisfied by human beings. Needs that are low in the hierarchy must be satisfied before needs that are higher in the hierarchy become important sources of motivation. (Atkinson, Atkinson, Smith, & Bem, 1990)

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Even if there is criticism about over-simplification and a biased focus on western culture, Maslow’s model can be seen as an explanation of basic motivational principles. Certainly it cannot be used to ex- plain a particular behaviour but it can be helpful to understand in general what needs drive human be- haviour. This may especially be helpful, if international enterprises have subsidiaries in countries of dif- ferent wealth and face the necessity to treat their workforce differentiated (i.e. employees within the European Union have other needs and thus are motivated by different things compared with employees in Bangladesh or India).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1 - Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Atkinson, Atkinson, Smith, & Bem, 1990)

McClelland’s Need of Achievement

The theory of McClelland refers to an individual’s proposition to choose more difficult tasks or in other words for significant accomplishment, mastering of skills, control, or high standards. People with a low need for achievement tend to choose easier tasks to minimise risk of failure or even highly difficult tasks as failure is not embarrassing. Those with a higher need for achievement tend to choose moderate diffi- cult tasks which are challenging but realistically to achieve. (Geberth & von Rosenstiel, 1992)

McClelland’s model has particular relevance to motivation in the workplace and especially the emergence of leadership.

McGregor’s Theory X and Y

In his 1960 published book “The Human Side of Enterprise”, Douglas McGregor introduced two totally different ideas of man called Theory X and Theory Y.

The first one, Theory X, assumes that human beings are lazy and unwilling to work by nature. Principally people are only motivated by external measures such as reward and sanction. Beyond that people tend to avoid work and only hard management based on detailed guidelines, hard controlling, and punish- ment to ensure productivity and effectiveness. These assumption can be compared with the theories of Taylorism.

By contrast Theory Y assumes that work ranks high and plays an important role for human beings as source of satisfaction. Major stimulations are the satisfaction of ego-needs as well as the desire for selfactualization. Hence external control is not necessary and beyond that, managers should take care for work conditions which facilitate responsibility and own initiative. (Campbell & Pritchard, 1976)

McGregor’s work covers both, an explanation of attitude to work as well as management styles to influence employee’s behaviour. In our today’s world Theory Y has been widely accepted and the majority of enterprises in western countries claim to treat their workforce respectively.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor-Theory

Related to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs the psychologist Herzberg found that job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction act independently from each other. Basically he differentiates between different factors which have an impact on satisfaction/dissatisfaction:

Motivators cause positive satisfaction such as challenging work, recognition, responsibility. Thus it is more about intrinsic motivation.

Hygiene factors cannot cause sustainable job satisfaction, although they can cause dissatisfac- tion as a result from their absence. Examples are status, job status, salary, or other extrinsic measures.

Essentially, hygiene factors are crucial to ensure that employees do not become unsatisfied but they do not support motivation. (Herzberg, 1968)

The Two-Factor-Theory is helpful when we are analysing the effect of rewards on motivation and par- ticularly try to answer the question when does which reward has an impact on motivation. Although it has to be considered that a high job satisfaction does not necessarily imply a high level of motivation.


For the purpose of this paper rewards can be understood as all things and measures which shall positively influence a specific behaviour or human’s motivation - independent from its actual effectiveness as we can make the assumption that rewards are given with the purpose to influence behaviour but may finally fail. Examples for rewards are:

Something given or received in return for a deed or service rendered A financial reinforce for a desired behaviour An outcome that gives an individual personal satisfaction Any other return for correct or desired response to a stimulus It has to be highlighted that rewards are not only financials but furthermore non-financials such as praise, esteem, or recognition and approval.

Foundations in Different Psychological Schools of Thought

Behavioural Psychology

The work of B. F. Skinner is part of a school of thought within social psychology, which is called “behaviourism”. Social psychology tries to explain humanity’s social and political nature, especially the roots of human behaviour. Although there are traces of social psychology in the work of the Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle, this scientific discipline is relatively young as it emerged not before the first half of the last century. (Forsyth, 1986)

Two theories dominated the development of the social psychologies:

the psychoanalytic theory, developed by Sigmund Freud, argued that most of the actions of human beings are motivated by inner drives which are possibly unknown to external observers Behaviourism stressed the role of learning through association and reinforcement, and thus focussed more on the environment. (Forsyth, 1986)

The most important difference between these two schools of thought is that “behaviourists” claim that behaviour can be described scientifically solely by researching external factors without referring to in- ternal physiological events or hypothetical constructs like the mind. (Baum, 1994) A strict behavioural approach does not consider the individual’s mental processes. Skinner himself mentioned that, “behav- ioural psychologists have chosen not to conjecture about the mental processes that intervene between the stimulus and the response.” (Skinner, Selection by Consequences, 1981). Thus radical behaviourists believe that all human behaviour can be explained by stimulus-response-associations and reinforce- ments.

The school of behaviourism was mainly influenced by Pavlov, who researched on classical conditioning, Thorndike, who investigated the law of effect, and finally Skinner, who mainly influenced the theories of operant conditioning .

Classical Conditioning

The Russian physiologists Ivan Pavlov conducted intensive research on learning during the early years of the twentieth century. His most famous experiments about the so called classical conditioning brought up that dogs can learn to associate food with signals such as a light or a tone. Over the years several psychologists have devised many variations of Pavlov’s experiments showing that learning can take place by the pairing of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli.

The association between an unconditioned stimulus and unconditioned response already exists and

does not have to be learned, for example salivation if a dog sees food. The association of a conditioned stimulus and a conditioned response in turn is learned, such as salivation if a light turns on which lets expect that food for the dog will be offered.


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Critical Evaluation of the Concepts "Motivation" and "Reward" in the Workplace
Drawing Upon the Model of Behaviour First Outlined by B.F. Skinner
Durham University  (Durham Business School)
Managerial Psychology
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Motivation, Reward, Anreizsysteme, Belohnung, Konditionierung
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Alexander Göttling (Author), 2009, Critical Evaluation of the Concepts "Motivation" and "Reward" in the Workplace, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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