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Chapter 5 Theories of Motivation

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Understand the role of motivation in determining employee performance.
  2. Classify the basic needs of employees.
  3. Describe how fairness perceptions are determined and consequences of these perceptions.
  4. Understand the importance of rewards and punishments.
  5. Apply motivation theories to analyze performance problems.

Motivation at Trader Joe’s

Figure 5.1

Trader Joe’s, the California-based grocery store, uses a unique blend of pay, recognition, autonomy, and supportive work environment to motivate its employees.

People in Hawaiian T-shirts. Delicious fresh fruits and vegetables. A place where parking is tight and aisles are tiny. A place where you will be unable to find half the things on your list but will go home satisfied. We are, of course, talking about Trader Joe’s, a unique grocery store headquartered in California and located in 22 states. By selling store-brand and gourmet foods at affordable prices, this chain created a special niche for itself. Yet the helpful employees who stock the shelves and answer questions are definitely a key part of what makes this store unique and helps it achieve twice the sales of traditional supermarkets.

Shopping here is fun, and chatting with employees is a routine part of this experience. Employees are upbeat and friendly to each other and to customers. If you look lost, there is the definite offer of help. But somehow the friendliness does not seem scripted. Instead, if they see you shopping for big trays of cheese, they might casually inquire if you are having a party and then point to other selections. If they see you chasing your toddler, they are quick to tie a balloon to his wrist. When you ask them if they have any cumin, they get down on their knees to check the back of the aisle, with the attitude of helping a guest that is visiting their home. How does a company make sure its employees look like they enjoy being there to help others?

One of the keys to this puzzle is pay. Trader Joe’s sells cheap organic food, but they are not “cheap” when it comes to paying their employees. Employees, including part-timers, are among the best paid in the retail industry. Full-time employees earn an average of $40,150 in their first year and also earn average annual bonuses of $950 with $6,300 in retirement contributions. Store managers’ average compensation is $132,000. With these generous benefits and above-market wages and salaries, the company has no difficulty attracting qualified candidates.

But money only partially explains what energizes Trader Joe’s employees. They work with people who are friendly and upbeat. The environment is collaborative, so that people fill in for each other and managers pick up the slack when the need arises, including tasks like sweeping the floors. Plus, the company promotes solely from within, making Trader Joe’s one of few places in the retail industry where employees can satisfy their career aspirations. Employees are evaluated every 3 months and receive feedback about their performance.

Employees are also given autonomy on the job. They can open a product to have the customers try it and can be honest about their feelings toward different products. They receive on- and off-the-job training and are intimately familiar with the products, which enables them to come up with ideas that are taken seriously by upper management. In short, employees love what they do, work with nice people who treat each other well, and are respected by the company. When employees are treated well, it is no wonder they treat their customers well on a daily basis.

What inspires employees to provide excellent service, market a company’s products effectively, or achieve the goals set for them? Answering this question is of utmost importance if we are to understand and manage the work behavior of our peers, subordinates, and even supervisors. Put a different way, if someone is not performing well, what could be the reason?

Job performance is viewed as a function of three factors and is expressed with the equation below.Mitchell, T. R. (1982). Motivation: New directions for theory, research, and practice. Academy of Management Review, 7, 80–88; Porter, L. W., & Lawler, E. E. (1968). Managerial attitudes and performance. Homewood, IL: Dorsey Press. According to this equation, motivation, ability, and environment are the major influences over employee performance.

Figure 5.2

Performance is a function of the interaction between an individual’s motivation, ability, and environment.

Motivation is one of the forces that lead to performance. MotivationThe desire to achieve a goal or a certain performance level, leading to goal-directed behavior. is defined as the desire to achieve a goal or a certain performance level, leading to goal-directed behavior. When we refer to someone as being motivated, we mean that the person is trying hard to accomplish a certain task. Motivation is clearly important if someone is to perform well; however, it is not sufficient. AbilityHaving the skills and knowledge required to perform the job.—or having the skills and knowledge required to perform the job—is also important and is sometimes the key determinant of effectiveness. Finally, environmentalExternal factors that affect performance. factors such as having the resources, information, and support one needs to perform well are critical to determine performance. At different times, one of these three factors may be the key to high performance. For example, for an employee sweeping the floor, motivation may be the most important factor that determines performance. In contrast, even the most motivated individual would not be able to successfully design a house without the necessary talent involved in building quality homes. Being motivated is not the same as being a high performer and is not the sole reason why people perform well, but it is nevertheless a key influence over our performance level.

So what motivates people? Why do some employees try to reach their targets and pursue excellence while others merely show up at work and count the hours? As with many questions involving human beings, the answer is anything but simple. Instead, there are several theories explaining the concept of motivation. We will discuss motivation theories under two categories: need-based theories and process theories.