5 Groundbreaking Psychological theories of Motivation: Increase Productivity

Only 23% of employees worldwide feel motivated in their workplace

Gallup study

Ever wondered why some days feel like a breeze, while others are a slog? What if you could unlock the potential to consistently hit those high-productivity days?

The secret lies in understanding the psychological theories of motivation.

In this blog post you’ll discover five powerful psychological theories of motivation that promise to transform your approach to productivity and the way you work.

1. Hawthorne Effect

Graphic of a worker under a microscope

Have you ever noticed yourself working a little harder when your boss is around? You’re not alone! This phenomenon, known as the Hawthorne Effect, reveals the surprising influence of being observed on our behavior.

The Hawthorne Effect describes the tendency of individuals to modify their behaviour when they are aware of being observed or studied. This was first observed in the 1920s during a series of experiments at the Hawthorne Works factory in Chicago. Researchers aimed to examine how different lighting conditions affected worker productivity.

What began as a simple study of lighting yielded unexpected results. Regardless of the lighting changes, worker productivity increased. Researchers were baffled. Eventually, they realized that the increased attention from the researchers themselves, not the lighting changes, had positively impacted the workers’ behavior.

The Hawthorne Effect highlights several potential factors:

  1. The act of being observed can make individuals feel valued and appreciated, leading them to put in more effort.
  2. Knowing they were being watched might have created a social pressure to perform well, leading to increased effort and conformity.
  3. The novelty of being involved in the experiment itself could have sparked curiosity and engagement, leading to increased productivity.

Application in the Workplace

For Employers

Implement regular check-ins and feedback sessions, showing genuine interest in employee progress and well-being. This not only keeps them motivated but also makes them feel valued and acknowledged.

For Employees

Embrace opportunities for feedback and view observation as a chance for growth. Engage actively with supervisors during evaluations to encourage a productive dialogue, improving mutual understanding and job satisfaction.

Further Reading:

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2. Expectancy Theory

expectancy-theory.jpg

Ever wondered what makes some people go the extra mile, while others just do the bare minimum? The answer might lie in how they interpret their chances of success. Expectancy Theory, proposed by psychologist Victor Vroom, offers a framework for understanding what motivates individuals to choose specific actions and exert effort.

Imagine yourself facing a challenging task. Expectancy Theory suggests your motivation hinges on three key questions you ask yourself:

  1. Effort-to-Performance Expectancy (Belief in Ability): “Can I actually do this?” This refers to your confidence in your ability to complete the task successfully with the effort you put in.
  2. Instrumentality (Performance-to-Reward): “Will my effort actually matter?” This focuses on your belief that performing well will lead to desired outcomes, like recognition, promotion, or simply feeling accomplished.
  3. Valence (Value of Reward): “Is the reward actually worth it?” This considers the personal value you attach to the potential rewards. If the reward doesn’t hold much weight for you, your motivation will likely be low.

Application in the workplace

  1. Establish a culture of open communication, offering regular, constructive feedback on performance. This reassures employees that their efforts are noticed and appreciated, reinforcing their motivation to achieve and exceed expectations.
  2. Set clear and achievable goals: Provide specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals that employees believe are attainable with effort.
  3. Recognize that different employees value different rewards. Engage in conversations to discover what motivates each team member—whether it’s professional development opportunities, flexible schedules, recognition, or other incentives. By aligning rewards with individual preferences, you enhance motivation across your team.

Reward systems don’t have to be limited to traditional methods like pay raises or bonuses. Praise, opportunities for progression, and “employee of the month” style rewards can all go a long way in motivating your employees and shaping positive employee behaviors. Need some inspiration? Check out these 15 inexpensive ways to reward employees from author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, Mike Michalowicz.

  1. Develop a growth mindset. Believe that your skills and abilities can improve with effort and practice.
  2. Reflect on what rewards are most meaningful to you. Is it career advancement, recognition, learning opportunities, or something else? Clearly communicating your preferences to your manager can help tailor your rewards to what genuinely motivates you.
  3. Align your personal goals with organizational objectives. By understanding how your work contributes to the bigger picture, you can increase your motivation and satisfaction with your role.
  4. Proactively ask for feedback on your performance. This demonstrates your commitment to improvement and can provide valuable insights into how you can achieve your desired outcomes.

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3. Hertzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Chart explaining the Hertzberg two factor theory

Frederick Herzberg revolutionized our understanding of workplace motivation in the 1950s with his Two-Factor Theory.

Analysing the responses of 200 accountants and engineers who were asked about their positive and negative feelings about their work, Herzberg found 2 factors that influence employee motivation and satisfaction.

Hygiene Factors

These can be thought of as the foundations of a happy work experience. They’re essential to avoid discontent, but don’t directly drive motivation. Imagine a comfortable chair (working conditions) and a decent paycheck (salary). These are important, but they are unlikely to make you jump out of bed excited to go to work.

Motivator Factors

These factors provide the spark that directly boost motivation like an ignition switch. Elements like Acknowledgement, career advancement and the work itself. They tap into our natural desires for achievement, recognition, and growth opportunities. Imagine acing a challenging project (achievement) and receiving a heartfelt “thank you” from your boss (recognition). Now that’s motivating!

Both sets of factors are critical for motivation. By addressing hygiene factors, you ensure a baseline level of satisfaction and prevent discontent. However, to truly motivate and engage your employees, you need to tap into their motivators.

As Herzberg himself said;

“If you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do”

Frederick Herzberg

For Employers

Create roles that fulfill but also challenge employees to directly increase work place productivity through clear paths for growth and recognition. offering clear paths for growth and recognition.

  1. Enhance employee autonomy by increasing their responsibility and accountability, reducing managerial oversight.
  2. Ensure the workplace meets the fundamental needs of employees—competitive salaries, safe and pleasant working conditions, and fair company policies.

Don’t forget that all of your employees are different and what motivates one person might not motivate another. Paul Hebert of Symbolist believes that benefits packages should not be one-size-fits all…

“For true engagement to occur in a company you must first remove the issues that cause dissatisfaction – the baseline benefits offered by the company that satisfy the hygiene needs of the employee. Then you must focus on the individual and what they want out of their association with your enterprise.”

Paul Hebert
  1. Seek out and advocate for roles that align with your passions and career ambitions.
  2. Engage in open dialogues with management about your career development and what motivates you.
  3. Ensure your basic needs for job security and work environment are communicated and met.

4. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Pyramid diagram showing Maslow's Hierarchy of needs.

The Hierarchy of Needs theory was coined by psychologist Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper A Theory of Human Motivation.

The crux of the theory is that individuals’ most basic needs must be met before they become motivated to achieve higher level needs.

The hierarchy is made up of 5 levels:

  1. Physiological – These needs must be met in order for a person to survive, such as food, water and shelter.
  2. Safety – including personal and financial security and health and wellbeing.
  3. Love/belonging – the need for friendships, relationships and family.
  4. Esteem – the need to feel confident and be respected by others.
  5. Self-actualisation – the desire to achieve everything you possibly can and become the most that you can be.

According to the hierarchy of needs, you must be in good health, safe and secure with meaningful relationships and confidence before you are able to be the most that you can be.

Chip Conley, founder of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain and Head of Hospitality at Airbnb, used the Hierarchy of Needs pyramid to transform his business. According to Chip, many managers struggle with the abstract concept of self actualization and so focus on lower levels of the pyramid instead.

Conley found one way of helping with engagement levels was to help his employees understand the meaning of their roles during a staff retreat;

“In one exercise, we got groups of eight housekeepers at a table and asked an abstract question: if someone from Mars came down and saw what you were doing as a housekeeper in a hotel, what name would they call you? They came up with “The Serenity Sisters,” “The Clutter Busters,” and “The Peace of Mind Police.” There was a sense that people were doing more than just cleaning a room. They were creating a space for a traveler who was far away from home to feel safe and protected.”

Chip Conley
  1. Promote a culture of recognition and inclusion to satisfy social belonging needs.
  2. Consider implementing flexible working hours to accommodate employees’ physiological needs.
  3. Offer development and leadership programs to fulfill esteem and self-actualization needs.
  4. Seek work that aligns with your core values and offers a sense of purpose.
  5. Advocate for a supportive work environment that acknowledges your contributions.
  6. Pursue continuous learning and self-improvement to advance towards self-actualization.

5. Three-Dimensional Theory of Attribution

Chart illustrating the Three Dimensional Theory of Attribution

Have you ever wondered why some setbacks fuel your motivation, while others leave you feeling discouraged? The answer lies in how you interpret these experiences.

Psychologist Bernard Weiner proposed a Three-Dimensional Theory of Attribution, offering a framework for understanding how individuals explain their achievements and shortcomings. This theory, rooted in social psychology, helps us uncover the underlying reasons behind our varying levels of motivation in the face of different outcomes and is split into 3 dimensions.

Stability

This dimension focuses on whether the perceived cause of an event is permanent or temporary. For example, attributing a successful presentation to years of experience in the field suggests a stable cause (permanent). This belief suggests that future presentations will also likely be successful due to this enduring expertise.

I achieved this through my skills, so I can do it again.

Conversely, attributing it to exceptional preparation on the night before reflects a temporary cause. This might lead to uncertainty about replicating success in future scenarios without similar preparation, affecting confidence and motivation levels for upcoming tasks.

It’s out of my control, so there’s no point in trying.

Locus of Control

Is the perceived cause of an event internal (within our control) or external (beyond our control)?

When a promotion is seen as the result of one’s own hard work (an internal cause), it boosts self-efficacy and motivation, encouraging further effort and engagement in work.

I earned this success through my actions, so I can replicate this achievement in the future.

However, attributing a promotion to external factors like office politics or luck may decrease motivation, as success seems out of one’s control, leading to lower engagement and effort in future tasks.

It wasn’t my fault, so I can’t do anything about it.

This difference underscores the significant impact our perceptions of control and causality have on our motivation and behavior in the workplace.

Controllability

How controllable was the situation? This dimension examines whether the perceived cause of an event is changeable or unchangeable. Recognizing that factors like effort and strategy (changeable) contribute to success brings about a proactive and resilient mindset.

I can learn from this and do better next time, so I’m motivated to improve.

Conversely, viewing outcomes as entirely dependent on uncontrollable factors like market fluctuations can lead to feelings of helplessness and passivity.

There’s nothing I can do, so why bother.

By understanding these three dimensions, you can approach challenges with a growth mindset and sustained motivation. Remember, framing setbacks positively by focusing on your strengths and controllable elements empowers you to bounce back stronger and achieve your goals.

Application in the work place

Employers

  1. Offer targeted feedback that highlights areas for improvement and how to address them. This encourages employees to see success as within their control, motivating them to adopt new strategies.
  2. Acknowledge progress, even in the outcome was not correct. Commend efforts and the application of effective methods, reinforcing the idea that controllable factors lead to improvement.

Employees

  1. Celebrate your progress and learn from every experience. Recognize that your efforts and strategies are key to overcoming challenges, motivating you to continuously develop your skills.
  2. Challenge your initial interpretations of outcomes. Ask yourself whether alternative explanations, especially those within your control, might apply to both successes and failures.

Conclusion

So, we’ve explored five different psychological theories of motivation that delve into the intriguing world of motivation. From figuring out why setbacks hit us differently to understanding the power of feeling valued, each theory offers a unique lens to view our own and others’ motivations. By applying these principles, employers can create a more motivating workplace, and employees can find new ways to engage with their tasks and goals. Ultimately, the key is in knowing what drives us and leveraging that knowledge to achieve our fullest potential.

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FAQ’s

What is a psychological theory?

A psychological theory is a framework developed to understand and explain mental processes and behaviors. These theories analyze the underlying reasons for how and why people think, feel, and act in certain ways, aiming to predict future behaviors or guide therapeutic interventions.

What are the 5 concepts of psychology?

The five major psychological perspectives are the Behavioral, Cognitive, Humanistic, Psychodynamic, and Biological viewpoints. Each perspective offers a different understanding of human behavior, ranging from the influence of the environment (Behavioral) to internal mental processes (Cognitive), individual potential (Humanistic), unconscious drives (Psychodynamic), and genetic and biological factors (Biological).

What is the most famous psychological theory?

One of the most famous psychological theories is Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory, which emphasizes the role of the unconscious mind, childhood experiences, and sexuality in shaping behavior and personality. This theory has profoundly influenced psychology, psychotherapy, and understanding of human behavior.

What are the 3 grand theories?

The three grand theories in psychology are Psychoanalytic Theory, focusing on unconscious motivations; Behaviorism, emphasizing observable behaviors and environmental influences; and Humanism, highlighting individual potential and self-actualization. These theories provide foundational perspectives on human thought and behavior.

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