Motivation and emotion/Book/2011/Work motivation and work satisfaction

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Work motivation and work satisfaction:
How they can be enhanced?
Epiphany-bookmarks.svg This page is part of the Motivation and emotion book. See also: Guidelines.

Introduction[edit | edit source]

Work Motivation

In modern day society workplace demands are on the rise. Competition and financial pressures are driving organisations to produce more with less, leaving employees feeling undervalued and dissatisfied with their jobs (American Psychological Association, 2011). Solely focusing on monetary gains and getting a competitive edge can create unhealthy, unproductive working environments with significant human costs. Astute organisations are shifting their focus away from economic factors towards human factors that enhance employee motivation. There are numerous benefits to enhancing work motivation including improved life satisfaction, health and psychological wellbeing of staff which, in the end, all result in increased organisational productivity. This chapter explores prominent motivational theories that have contributed to the study of work motivation, explains why we need to be motivated at work, discusses the main factors that influence work motivation and provides advice on some practical ways individuals and organisations can enhance motivation.

What is work motivation and satisfaction?[edit | edit source]

Over the 20th century, the study of motivation grew rapidly (Mayer, Faber & Xu, 2007). The psychodynamic and behaviourism perspectives dominated early in the 20th century. These theories focused on fulfilling biological needs such as the need for food as drivers of behaviour (classic or operant conditioning), however they fell out of favour by the mid-century as they largely ignored other acquired drivers such as social and psychological needs. This gave rise to Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs whereby basic needs such as physiological, safety, and love must be present before one can grow and reach their potential (Latham & Pinder, 2005; Mayer, Faber & Xu 2007; Reeves 2009). Several personality theories gained ground following this - most notably deCharm's (1968) proposition of perceived locus of control (as cited in Mayer et al., 2007). The main tenet of this theory is based on whether the individual perceives their actions as controlled internally or externally. This led to a prevailing theory of modern times; Deci and Ryan’s (2000) Self-Determination Theory (SDT) which focuses on the fulfilment of three human needs: (a) competence, (b) autonomy, and (c) relatedness (as cited in Mayer et al., 2007; Reeves 2009). central to all motivation theories however is the fulfilment of needs and goals within the person to avoid negative consequences and pursue happiness (Mayer et al., 2007).

Maslow's Hierachy

Within this broad field of motivation, the study of work motivation has gained momentum over the last 25 years. Although many definitions of work motivation exist, a useful definition presented by Pinder (1998) states work motivation as “…a set of energetic forces that originate both within as well as beyond an individual’s being, to initiate work-related behaviour and to determine its form, direction, intensity and duration” (as cited in Latham & Pinder, 2005, p. 486). More simply put, motivation is “..a psychological process resulting from the interaction between the individual and the environment” (Latham & Pinder, 2005, p. 486). Hence the study of work motivation has made significant grounds in explaining internal and external influences.

Building off Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs, need-based theories such as SDT feature prominently in current times (Mayer et al., 2007). These theories focus on the generation of work related behaviours to fulfil physical, social and psychological needs and offer a good explanation of why individuals are motivated to act. They do not however, explain individual differences, nor the direction, intensity or duration of work related behaviours.


Related to needs is the study of personality traits as internal drivers that lead to job selection, work performance and job satisfaction. Personality research is one of the fastest growing bodies in recent times. Furthermore, Latham and Pinder (2005) argue that the study of traits has been influential in “…predicting, understanding and influencing choice, affect and performance…” (p. 491). Similarly, values serve as the basis of personal standards by which choices are made and behaviours directed. Values studies feature most prominently in person-environment fit studies and have shown that mal-aligned values result in poor motivation, interpersonal communication and job performance. Criticisms of this approach focuses on the inability of value-based theories to explain less stable, more dynamic factors such as the influence of cognitions and affect in generating positive work behaviours (Latham & Pinder, 2005).

Cognition underlies motivation in the way individuals interpret their work experiences in relation to the self and one’s plans for the future. A predominant and unabated cognitive theory is goal-setting theory (as cited in Latham & Pinder, 2005). Achieving goals leads to increased performance which results in high job satisfaction defined by Locke (1976) as “…a pleasurable or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job or job experiences” (as cited in Heller, Ferris, Brown & Watson, 2009, p. 1051). Also not to be ignored is the strong influence of affect in the direction, intensity and duration of individual work behaviours. A most important factor of this is perceptions of organisational justice (Latham & Pinder, 2005). When employees perceive to be treated unfairly by the organisation or their immediate supervisor, negative affect ensues.

The study of work motivation has moved towards more dynamic, contextual explanations centred on the interplay between the individual and environment rather than simply focusing on work outcomes like job performance and satisfaction. This has improved the ability to predict, understand and influence work motivations.

Why do we need motivation at work?[edit | edit source]

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Adults spend an estimated one third of their lives at work and for most, work forms part of their individual identity and gives added meaning to their lives. Therefore workplace issues which reduce work motivation and job satisfaction can lead to multiple negative outcomes including reduced resilience, lower performance, less engagement, low self-esteem, a lack of personal growth and poor physical health. These negative outcomes can and do transfer into other life domains, particularly the employee’s family life resulting in a compounding effect (Judge & Illies, 2004; Vansteenkiste, et al., 2007). This means that an employee’s overall life satisfaction, happiness and wellbeing can be at risk as a result of low work motivation and job satisfaction.

Job and life satisfaction is very much intertwined. Judge and Illies (2004) researched the ways in which job satisfaction, and positive or negative state affect (mood) at work influences the mood at home which they termed “mood spillover”. They hypothesised that job satisfaction will have a positive effect on mood after work and moderate negative moods at home. Furthermore, both positive and negative mood at work will spillover into home. They surveyed 74 university employees on their mood and job satisfaction whilst at work and mood outside of work. Results revealed that positive mood is both an antecedence to and consequence of job satisfaction and has a significant spillover effect on mood at home. They also found both positive and negative affectivity led to differential processing of work information which influenced how they felt at home. Simply put, emotions are generalised across life domains.

Furthermore there is increasing evidence around the negative effects of mental exhaustion (burnout) both on and off the job. High job demands, workplace worries, access to resources and safety concerns can all contribute to burnout. This can cause employees to detach emotionally and cognitively from their work as well as become cynical about their work environment. Day, Sibley, Scott, Tallon and Ackroyd-Stolarz (2009) hypothesised a lack of self or team efficacy and control over these factors would deplete employee motivation and coping abilities. They surveyed 261 Canadian health care professionals and found employees with the highest levels of emotional exhaustion had the lowest levels of work control. They also found that low levels of perceived self and team efficacy is a significant contributor to emotional exhaustion.

Low motivation and job satisfaction is also bad news for employers. There are a number of negative impacts for the organisation such as high staff turnover, increased absenteeism, low levels of employee commitment, reduced productivity and less team efficacy (Day et al., 2009; Judge & Ilies, 2004; Vansteenkiste et al., 2007; Wright, 2009). Wright (2009) argued job satisfaction is a highly valuable resource which psychologically enables employees to cope with workplace stress and capitalise on opportunities. Whereas dissatisfied or distressed employees are more likely to “…negatively impact the performance of their co-workers” (Wright, 2009, p. 16) and result in high employee turnover. Additionally workplace stress increases has been linked to a number of serious health problems like cardiovascular disease which is estimate to reduce life expectancy by 10-20 years. This can cost organisations up to 2.5 times the salary costs of the employee in lost productivity (Wright, 2009). Therefore it makes good sense for organisations to focus on human factors such as motivation and job satisfaction rather than traditional measures such as budget and efficiency measures.

Case Study

Wright (2010) "...consulted with a large (over 10,000 employees) customer service-oriented organisation. The average yearly salary for management personnel studied exceeded $100,000. The consulting project involved all management personnel from one department whose chief administrative officer had expressed serious concerns about potentially excessive levels of turnover. More specifically, the chief administrative officer was concerned that the department was losing a disproportionate share of its better workers. Interestingly, a comprehensive statistical analysis indicated that the department was losing a disproportionate share of both its very worst (good news from the employer's perspective) and very best employees (very bad from the employer's perspective). Using Cascio's benchmark, the potential cost of turnover in this department ranged from $150,000 to $250,000 per employee, with the unnecessary withdrawal of high-performing employees being considered as especially problematic.

Further investigation determined that the consideration of employee psychological well-being (PWB) was especially illuminating in helping to better understand the apparent dichotomy of both the best and worst employee disproportionately leaving the department. First of all, the results demonstrated that those employees exhibiting high levels of PWB were not only better performing; they were also more likely to remain on the job! In addition, the findings indicated that high-performing employees were also more likely to remain on the job as the level of PWB increased. Of special relevance, this knowledge afforded human resources the opportunity to develop specific strategies designed to enhance the role of employee PWB in fostering optimal levels of job performance and employee retention."

Source: Wright. T. A; 2010, Much more than meets the eye: the role of psychological well-being in job performance, employee retention and cardiovascular health., p. 17.

What influences work motivation and satisfaction?[edit | edit source]

Western society is heavily focused on wealth creation and most often uses money to attract and motivate the workforce. However research has clearly shown that extrinsic rewards such as money can lead to a number of negative work outcomes and reduced motivation (Vansteenkiste et al., 2007). People who are intrinsically motivated experience more positive work outcomes such as high job satisfaction and performance but more importantly their overall wellbeing and growth is enhanced. This is because the environment demands are congruent with the individual’s needs, identity and adds meaning to their lives as opposed to the individual meeting the demands of the environment. Employee motivation is therefore highly influenced by the individuals’ internal drivers such as needs, values, and personality as well as external forces such as job characteristics, organisational justice (perceived fairness), control and resourcing.

Internal influences: values, needs, personality and cognitions[edit | edit source]

Self-determination theory (SDT) argues three basic psychological needs are essential for psychological wellbeing and growth (Reeves, 2009). These needs are: (a) autonomy - fulfilled through freedom of choice or intrinsic support for external requests, (b) competence - fulfilled by mastering challenges, and (c) relatedness - fulfilled by developing close relationships with others or feeling part of a team (Latham & Pinder, 2005; Van den Broeck, Vansteenkiste, De Witte & Lens, 2008; Vansteenkiste et al., 2007). Individuals can either be oriented to intrinsic rewards centered on their psychological wellbeing and growth or extrinsic rewards centered on material gains, social approval and power. Intrinsically motivated people have a desire to grow, connect with their colleagues and achieve positive outcomes. Whereas extrinsically motivated people tend to neglect their basic needs and in favour of extrinsic rewards for example, they tend not to experience authentic, close relationships but view others as a means to gaining extrinsic rewards (Vansteenkiste et al., 2007).
Vansteenkiste et al. (2007) interviewed 885 Belgium employees and found that extrinsic work values predicted negative work outcomes including less job satisfaction, commitment and motivation. They also found that negative outcomes carried over into the employees family life and was associated with increased unhappiness, however this was somewhat mediated by higher income levels. Intrinsically motivated employees were more likely to initiate and take on responsibility for their work (autonomy), were more often recognised for their achievements (competence), and were more willing to assist their colleagues (relatedness).
Personality research has brought to light the influence of personality traits on motivation and subsequently job performance, and job satisfaction (Latham & Pinder, 2005). Kaplan, Warren, Barsky and Thoresen (2009) investigated the correlation between positive and negative affect and job satisfaction by undertaking a meta-analysis. Affect is either positive or negative and can be a stable (trait) or transient (mood). When affect and cognitions about work are congruent, work motivation and subsequent work outcomes are enhanced. Kaplan et al. (2009) found that people with higher positive affect are more likely to have positive social interactions and find meaning in their work thereby enhancing job satisfaction.
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Positive affect facilitates sustained motivation and effort on complex and difficult extrinsic tasks. Studies have shown that people with positive affect better evaluate outcomes of their decisions before acting. This is because they display less defensiveness, over-reaction, distortion, denial and risk-taking behaviours (Isen & Reeve, 2005). Isen and Reeves (2005) found that in situations where less appealing extrinsic work is required, positive affect promotes responsible work behaviours and appropriate responses by engaging more readily and for longer periods. They theorised that positive affect may allow people to view an extrinsic situation in multiple ways and seek to avoid negative consequences through the promotion of self-control and problem solving skills.
However personality is not the only factor at play. The motivational intensity theory posits goal commitment is influenced by cognitive assessments of the (a) task difficulty; (b) self-efficacy in their own abilities; and (c) likelihood of success (Venables & Fairclough, 2009). If people perceive that they possess the ability to successfully perform a task, the goal worthwhile and the outcome will lead to growth, motivational effort will be sustained. Conversely, if the task is too difficult or the goal is not worthwhile, mental effort will cease. Venables and Fairclough (2009) tested this theory by giving forty participants with cognitively demanding tasks and providing them with false positive or negative performance feedback on their level of success or failure. This served to either inflate or deflate perceptions of task difficulty and self-efficacy. They found that participants in the failure group increased mental effort in an attempt to compensate for the discrepancy between performance and goal however over time, they found that mental effort started to decline. This group perceived a much larger reduction in motivation, affect, arousal, control and self-efficacy even though their performance matched the success group.

External influences: job and organisational characteristics[edit | edit source]

Motivation is strongly influenced by the fit between the person and organisation. This has been highlighted in recent person-context studies which argue that job characteristics need to be taken into account when looking at individual work behaviours. Work related stress or unenriched jobs can negatively impact on the individuals’ wellbeing and motivation. Importantly, the amount of on-the-job control, skill utilisation and participatory decision making are key influences (Latham & Pinder, 2005). A dynamic and complex interaction between the person and work place occurs daily which can positively or negatively influence motivation and job satisfaction.
Researchers have found that personality is largely situational based and highly regulated by social expectations and extrinsically defined goals (Heller et al., 2009). The expression or suppression of personality traits depends on workplace demands thereby influencing work behaviours, attitudes, moods and self-perceptions. A single individual can have different personalities at work and home. For example, an individual’s role at home may foster the expression of caring and nurturing traits, whereas their work role may foster more assertive and less impulsive trait expressions. Heller et al. (2009) found people have a home and work personality. Work personality trait expression is influenced by the work context such as tasks, social network boundaries and the meaning of work.
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Job demands are “aspects of the work context that tax employees’ personal capacities and are, therefore associated with certain psychology and/or physical costs” (Van den Broeck et al., 2008, p. 278). On the other hand job resources such as social support, enhance employee wellbeing and reduce the impact of demands by assisting in goal attainment and personal growth. Put simply, job demands reduce motivation and resourcing increases work motivation by meeting basic psychological needs. Van den Broeck et al., (2008) surveyed 745 Belguim based employees across 17 organisations to determine the influence of job context (demands and resources) and psychological wellbeing as measured by burnout or engagement. They found inadequate resourcing and high job demands frustrate employees’ basic need satisfaction and leads to increased burnout. Whereas job resources reduce the impact of job demands and enhance wellbeing. However the authors conclude that goal-attainment also plays a role in fulfilling these needs.
Burr and Cordery (2001) argued to understand how employees are motivated to perform we must consider the impact job design has on cognitive evaluations of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy influences “…the choice people make, their aspirations, how much effort they mobilize in a given endeavour, and how long they preserve in the face of difficulties and setbacks” (Burr & Cordery, 2001, p. 28). Following a study of 270 Australian employees, Burr and Cordery (2001) found employees in jobs that allow self-management quickly learn how to manage pit falls. Furthermore task performance is enhanced through modelling, feedback, training and good supervisory behaviours. Enriched jobs have the potential to develop employee cognitive abilities through increased autonomy whereby individuals are responsible for problem solving and performance based outcomes. Self-management efficacy, developed through autonomy, enhances motivation, sustained effort and persistence.

How can work motivation and satisfaction be enhanced?[edit | edit source]

There are numerous ways motivation and work outcomes such as job satisfaction can be enhanced. Activities can be undertaken by the employee or employer however the best outcomes result from both the individual and organisation working together as a dynamic entity to create psychologically healthy workplaces. Employee psychological wellbeing and organisational productivity is inextricably linked. Therefore, psychologically healthy workplaces that focus on employee engagement, growth and development, support and view all aspects of the employee’s life holistically will benefit from increased gains in productivity. As demonstrated the benefits of intrinsic motivation include increased job satisfaction, commitment, higher performance, relatedness, and competency. Seligman (2011) suggests that individuals can find increased meaning and engagement by understanding and utilising their strengths for example, by undertaking the Signature Strengths Test. One way to do this is to apply one signature strength in a new way at work, home or leisure activity each day. Furthermore, Wright (2010) recommends, albeit more controversially, strengths becomes the focus of an organisation’s selection strategy. He states “…not only is the likelihood increased that employees will be both psychologically and physically healthy themselves, but the health of the employing oraganization will similarly benefit by exhibiting high performance, adaptability and flexibility” (Wright, 2010, p.20). This is particularly recommended for organisation leaders.

Additionally, positive affect has also shown to have clear benefits including task persistence, better decision making, enhanced problem solving, responsible work behaviours, collaboration and authentic social interactions. Positive affect can be generated by undertaking a range of positive exercises or wellness training. Seligman (2011) argues that happiness, as measured by positive emotion and engagement, is about how individuals think and feel at any given moment (transient). However positive psychology is about long term genuine wellbeing which also includes meaning, accomplishment and relationships. Organisations and individuals can educate themselves about the benefits of positive psychology and engage in retaining the mind. For example, training could be undertaken through daily positive exercises such as the 3-to-1 Positivity Ratio recommended by Wright (2010) or Three Blessings as recommended by Seligman (2011). Exercises such as these have been proven to increase feelings of wellbeing, resilience and authentic social interactions (Seligman, 2011; Wright, 2010).

Finally, organisations can actively shape the work environment to better meet employee basic psychological needs and ensure person-job fit. Organisations can do this by actively participating in healthy workplace programs as well as providing employees with autonomy around decision making, goals, and overall self-management. The work benefits include increased performance/efficacy, task mastery, problem solving, commitment and engagement. Furthermore, enriched jobs have lower job demands and higher job resources. This can be achieved through clear goals, employee growth and development , sound leadership, effective feedback and recognition. As a result the impact of job demands is minimised leading to benefits including reduced spillover into family life increased employee health and life satisfaction. Seligman (2011) argues that a flourishing corporation has a focus on human factors.

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Summary[edit | edit source]

As work forms a large part of our lives, basic human needs are either fufilled or thwarted in the workplace. Research has shown that meeting these needs at work is essential in maintaining a psychologically healthy workforce and enhancing employee motivation. Internal drivers such as basic psychological needs, trait expression and cognitions all influence the direction, intensity and duration of work behaviours. Furthermore, environmental factors will either foster or suppress internal drivers. In the end, it is the melding of individuals and organisations that determines the wellbeing of both.

To avoid the numerous deleterious effects of an unmotivated workforce, attention should be paid to enriching the work life experience of employees through enhanced engagement, relationships, meaning, positive emotions and achievement. This can be achieved by utilising individual strengths, building positivity, and ensuring an enriched environment that fits well with the person. The creation of a psychologically healthy workplace facilitates human thriving and is the secret to an engaged, productive and committed workforce that will give organisations a competitive edge. Psychologically healthy employees are the bottom line.


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

American Psychological Association (March, 2011). Stress in the workplace survey summary. Retrieved 24 September 2011.

Burr, R. & Cordery, J. L. (2001). Self-management efficacy as a mediator of the relation between job design and employee motivation. Human Performance, 14(1), 27-44.

Day, A. L, Sibley, A., Scott, N., Tallon, J. M., & Ackroyd-Stolarz, S. (2009). Workplace risks and stressors as predictors of burnout: The moderating impact of job control and team efficacy. Canadian Journal of Administrative Sciences, 26(1), 7-22.

Heller, D., Ferris.D. L., Brown, D., & Watson. D. (2009). The influence of work personality on job satisfaction: incremental validity and mediation effects. Journal of Personality, 77(4), 1051-1084.

Isen, A. M., & Reeves. J. (2005). The influence of positive affect on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: Facilitating enjoyment of play, responsible work behaviour, and self-control. Motivation and Emotion, 29(4), 297-325.

Judge, T. A., & Illies. R. (2004). Affect and Job Satisfaction: A study of their relationship at work and at home. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89(4), 661-673.

Kaplan, S. A., Warren, C. R., Barsky, A. P., & Thoresen, C. J. (2009). A note on the relationship between affect(ivity) and differing conceptualizations of job satisfaction: Some unexpected meta-analytic findings. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 18(1), 29-54.

Latham, G. P., & Pinder, C. C. (2005). Work motivation theory and research at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 485-516.

Mayer, J. D., Faber, M. A., & Xu, X. (2007). Seventy-five years of motivation measures (1930-2005): A descriptive analysis. Motivation and Emotion, 31(1), 83-103.

Reeves, J. (2009). Understanding Motivation and Emotion (5th ed.). United States of America: John Wiley & Sons.

Seligman, M., P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press.

Van den Broeck, A., Vansteenkiste, M., De Witte, H., & Lens. W. (2008). Explaining the relationships between job characteristics, burnout, and engagement: The role of basic psychological need satisfaction. Work and Stress, 22(3), 277-294.

Vansteenkiste, M., Neyrinck, B., Niemiec, C. P., Soenens, B., De Witte, H., & Van den Broeck, A. (2007). On the relations among work value orientations, psychological need satisfaction and job outcomes: A self-determination theory approach. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 80, 251-277.

Venables, L., & Fairclough, S. (2009). The influence of performance feedback on goal-setting and mental effort regulation. Motivation and Emotion, 33, 63-74.

Wright, T., A. (2010). Much more than meets the eye: The role of psychological well-being in job performance, employee retention and cardiovascular health. Organizational Dynamics, 39(1), 13-23.

External links[edit | edit source]

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