Motivational theories deal with the reasons behind the individuals' action in the course of their working activity, as well as with the tools that may be used by management while dealing with workforce. In this article, 2 motivational theories will be discussed: that by A. Maslow (the human needs hierarchy theory) and the one by C. P. Alderfer (an ERG theory).
The motivational theory presented by Maslow (1954/1987) is based on the hierarchy of needs idea, with some needs' categories taking precedence over the others due to their higher relevance to human beings. According to Maslow, 5 levels of human needs exist, with physiological (food, air, rest, sex), safety (security, freedom from threat), social (affection, love), esteem (recognition, status), and self-actualisation (personal growth, self-fulfilment) needs constituting a model for their progressive growth. As soon as requirements of the lower level of needs are satisfied, humans begin feeling the necessity to satisfy needs connected with the next higher level (Maslow, 1954/1987). Therefore it is possible to influence human behavior by using the desire to satisfy the next level of needs.
Maslow’s theory of motivation may be criticised from the point of view of its methodological individualism (as only the behaviour of disparate individuals, not the groups to which they belong, is analyzed), its lack of interest to processes of human sub-consciousness, and its unempirical character (assumptions of Maslow’s theory have never been tested in laboratory conditions). Nonetheless, it should be noted that Maslow’s focus on self-esteem as a factor of human motivation and subjective issues unique to each individual allows for ad hoc determination of motivation factors, which is indispensable in modern volatile business and work environment.
The second theory of human motivation that is worth mentioning here is the so-called ERG theory introduced by Alderfer (1969). According to Alderfer, 3 levels of human needs that influence behaviour of an employee exist: 1. Existence needs; 2. Relatedness needs; and 3) Growth needs (hence ERG). The Existence needs' level encompasses factors covered by Maslow’s physiological and safety needs’ levels, as the needs for personal security, nourishment or sexual intercourse are included there. The needs for personal achievement, recognition within a given social group and/or close relationship with it form the second tier of Alderfer’s motivation level. Finally, the needs for personal growth, self-actualisation and/or realisation of individual potential are included in the Growth needs category.
The main strengths and weaknesses of Alderfer’s theory are rather similar to those of Maslow’s, except that Alderfer explicitly aimed for the coverage of behavior in large organizations (such as private corporations), rather than for definition of factors of individual motivation. Alderfer focused on the importance of growth objective for motivating employees, noting that the latter will be more inclined to contributing their creative potential to the organization if presented with greater growth capacities (Alderfer, 1999).
The application of aforementioned theories to the highly creative and complex technology workforce necessitates taking into account specific features of the employees’ motivation. For instance, in case of website designers, the Maslowian esteem level of needs may be applied, as the members of this group often strive for increased social status within the organization. The introduction of both symbolic and material upgrades (including separate workplaces) might be necessary in order to increase their work motivation.
As for the employees marketing the merchandise, the ERG theory should be applied, as marketing specialists act within a highly competitive work environment, so that emphasis on growth potential and correlation between the contribution to the organization and self-actualisation should be emphasized. Finally, the employees of all categories would find their work motivation enhanced, if the group affiliation sense were bolstered via holding corporate parties and other festivities, thus cementing an employee’s identification with the organization even outside of immediate work process.
Alderfer, C.P. (1969) "An empirical test of a new theory of human needs." Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 4, 143-175.
Maslow, A. (1987) Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row. (Original work published 1954).