In HR Technology Last updated:
Share on:
Cloudways offers managed cloud hosting for any size business to host a website or complex web applications.

Discover the best six theories of motivation that can assist you in boosting your team’s performance at the workplace.

The HR managers, supervisors, and other top-line stakeholders of a business have been always looking for actionable models to motivate their subordinates at work. Consequently, psychologists work relentlessly on developing novel theories of motivation that could drive growth within a business by stimulating its workforce.

If you are on this article, you must be a supervisor, manager, or HR who needs to figure out better strategies to keep your team motivated. If that is right, then you are reading the appropriate guide! Find below the ultimate list of some popular motivation theories that big businesses apply.   

What Are the Theories of Motivation?

Motivation theories are the study and research on realizing what drives an individual to work towards a particular objective, outcome, or goal. You can easily relate these to the entire society or nation, but the theories are more important for commercial organizations that deal with a workforce.

In the business management domain, you will find many motivational theories that help you with the followings:

  • Understanding which actions and words encourages an employee
  • Behavior or one employee influencing others in a team
  • What needs employees try to fulfill with certain actions

According to business managers and HRs, a business can get more revenue when its employees are productive. Also, the revenue earning increases multifold when a business’s workforce takes charge of their duties in an auto-pilot mode. As a manager, you just need to apply the appropriate theories of motivation depending on your workforce type.

Types of Theories of Motivation

There are several types of motivation theories. Some psychologists divide various motivation models into the followings:

Early Theories of Motivation

These motivational theories could be centuries old and work as the foundational theories for contemporary motivational models. Most practicing and successful managers use these models, and some popular ones are:

  • Theory X and Theory Y by Mcgregor
  • The Two-Factor Theory of Motivation
  • Hierarchy of Needs by Maslow
  • ERG Theory by Clayton Alderfer 

Modern Motivation Theories   

Contemporary motivation models have been developed in recent years. They reflect various next-generation components like the digitization of businesses, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), etc. The followings are the modern theories of motivation that are trending: 

  • Goal Setting Theory by Edwin Locke
  • Reinforcement Theory by B.F. Skinner and associates
  • Expectancy Theory by Victor H. Vroom
  • Theory of Self Efficacy by Albert Bandura
  • Cognitive Evaluation Theory  

Another school of human behavior and motivation psychologists divide these theories into the following two sections: 

Content Theories

Experts link content theories of motivation with individual objectives, needs, and goals. These models focus on the causes that motivate a workforce. For example, you can consider Alderfer’s ERG Theory, Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory, etc.  

Process Theories

These theories of motivation primarily focus on the methods or workflows to motivate a business workforce. These models answer the common question by managers which is, “how to motivate a team?”

Victor Vroom’s expectancy theory, Locke’s goal-setting theory, Skinner’s reinforcement theory, etc., are the best examples in this category.  

Importance of Theories of Motivation

Healthy Company Culture

Being an executive HR or business manager, you can drive business culture and professional behavior among the teams by practicing certain motivational models.

Growing the Business

To grow a business, you must transform your workforce into an efficient team. You can only do this when you apply scientifically tested theories of motivation. 

Business Excellence (BE)

BE is all about driving outstanding performance and results through corporate values, principles, and extraordinary practices. Again, you will need a proven motivational model for your BE plans to function.  

Reducing Churn Rate

When you can make your employees happy by motivating them, you witness fewer churns than companies that do not apply motivational theories. 

Innovating Faster

Your business can come up with novel products and services when your workforce is motivated, and they feel connected with the organization.

You need to know the theories of motivation to apply one or several of them at work. The followings are the popular models that successful HRs and managers use:

Maslow’s Theory of the Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow’s theory of the Hierarchy of Needs is a significant theory of organizational psychology that got introduced in 1943 through a research paper. According to this theory, human needs are hierarchical and “pre-potent.”

It means that they should have their one requirement fulfilled before feeling motivated to achieve the next one. The needs are sorted below from most basic to advanced.

  • Physiological Needs: Basic needs like food, water, sleep
  • Safety: Workplace safety, job safety, financial stability
  • Belonging: Supportive colleagues, friends, team leaders, and employer
  • Esteem: Bonuses, formal recognition, promotions
  • Self-actualization: Achieve the full potential or find the purpose for work

Also read: Best Workplace Safety Tips To Ensure Employee Wellbeing

Workplace Applications for Maslow’s Theory 

It is one of the most useful theories of motivation that managers use. Based on this theory, HRs and managers should ask themselves the following questions to know if enough motivational elements are present in the organization.

  • Does the company cater to the basic physiological needs of employees, such as comfortable temperature, safe drinking water, and refreshment facility?
  • Do you ensure employees’ safety by paying a fair wage and workplace maintenance?
  • Are there enough training and team-building activities for better bonding?
  • Do you timely and publicly praise your teammates for their efficiency and productivity
  • What do you do to help the teammates reach their full potential?

Alderfer’s ERG Theory

ERG theory of motivation by Clayton Alderfer is a redefined version of Maslow’s need hierarchy theory. It is a recategorized version of the hierarchy that describes simpler and broader categories. 

However, the theory mentioned that the importance of these classes varies for different employees. The ERG Theory also emphasizes the effect of the frustration-regression aspect on workplace motivation.

  • Existence Needs: These refer to basic necessities, including physiological and physical safety-related needs.
  • Relatedness Needs: These needs include interpersonal relationships and public recognition.
  • Growth Needs: Needs related to self-development and personal growth are included in this class.

Workplace Applications for Alderfer’s ERG Theory

If managers follow this theory of motivation, they need to understand that their colleagues have multiple needs that should be fulfilled simultaneously. Focusing on one need at a time will fail to motivate the employees effectively. 

McClelland’s Human Motivation Theory

David McClelland ideated the Human Motivation Theory or Need Theory. The theory suggests three motivators at the heart of this theory. These motivate the employees regardless of age, gender, and other factors. Let’s have a look at these:

  • Achievement: This need is for accomplishing targets and demonstrating individual competence. 
  • Affiliation: This motivator refers to the need to feel socially accepted and loved.
  • Power: It means the control or power over one’s own work or the works of their subordinates. 

Workplace Applications for McClelland’s Theory

To implement this theory, managers should evaluate each employee personally and find out which of them has which motivator inside them. After identifying the drivers, they need to create bespoke approaches for every person. The structure should include the desired motivating factors to get the most productive input for each team member. 

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Frederick Herzberg and his cowriters published a book in 1959 that contained his famous Motivation-Hygiene theory, also known as the Two-Factor theory. The theory states that satisfaction and dissatisfaction with a job are not opposite factors. Instead, one should consider them as completely separate categories.

It pointed out some motivators that influence job satisfaction:

  • Work-related achievement
  • Organizational recognition
  • Interest in the task
  • Professional growth

Besides, the Two-Factor Theory also referred to hygiene factors as the contributors to job dissatisfaction.

  • Salary and job security
  • Organizational policy and administration
  • Working conditions
  • Relationships in the workplace
  • Work-life balance
  • Status and supervision

Workplace Applications for Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

As human resource executives and managers, you need to check for the following points to implement this theory for motivating the workforce:

1. For Job Satisfaction

  • Assigning tasks to them according to their capability and skill
  • Recognizing employee achievements through formal or informal praise and bonus
  • Asking employees about their interests and assigning tasks accordingly
  • Promoting employees based on talent, interest, and loyalty
  • Offering skill enhancement programs like conferences and higher education

2. For Job Dissatisfaction

  • Developing fair and clearly outlined office policy and making it easily available
  • Avoid micromanaging the teammates but support them whenever needed
  • Providing a safe workplace and necessary resources to become fully productive
  • Offering fair wages and scope to build good workplace relationship
  • Ensuring work-life balance for the employees

Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory

The Goal-Setting Theory came into being in the 1960s by Edwin Locke. Being one of the crucial theories of motivation, it establishes a connection between goal setting and performance. 

According to this theory, performance improves when challenging objectives are combined with appropriate feedback. Simply put, goals motivate an employee about which task to do and how much effort to put in.

Workplace Applications for Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory

With the following points, you can apply the Goal-Setting Theory to motivate the employees:

  • Set clear, definite, and challenging goals to keep the workforce motivated
  • Use measurable goals and completion deadlines to avoid misunderstanding
  • Please make sure the objectives are realistic and challenging, so the workers feel pride after attaining them
  • Convey appropriate feedback on employee behavior and performance for higher performance
  • Regulate goal difficulties to ensure more employee involvement and greater job satisfaction

Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

Theorist Victor Vroom published his book Work and Motivation in 1964, where he outlined the Expectancy Theory. As the theory, workplace motivation depends on the following three variables:

  • Expectancy: The likelihood of a person achieving success after trying
  • Instrumentality: The chance of employees receiving a reward/praise after an accomplishment
  • Valence: The amount of satisfaction an employee will derive from the reward

Workplace Applications for Vroom’s Expectancy Theory

According to this theory, find out how to motivate your workforce using the following points:

  • Successfully achieving a goal will determine how motivated they will feel to perform a task. As a manager, it is your job to set realistic goals and assign a task to the most qualified person.
  • The higher the chance of getting a reward, the more effort employees will put into successfully completing a task.
  • The rewards should be motivating. Someone eyeing a promotion for a long time will not be happy with a flower bouquet. 

Now that you have gone through the basics of the most popular theories of motivation and their applications in the workplace, it is time to find some text resources that will help you further. Here are books that you must get from Amazon: 

A Theory of Human Motivation

The theorist behind the Hierarchy of Needs, US psychologist Abraham H. Maslow, is the author of this great textbook from Amazon. Maslow is behind the novel human behavioral ideas like humanistic psychology, positive psychology, etc. 

He was the first one to put forth the hierarchical needs-based psychological motivation in human beings. This outstanding book is available in Kindle, Amazon Audiobook, hardcover, and paperback copies.   

Preview Product Rating Price
A Theory of Human Motivation A Theory of Human Motivation $7.98

Work Motivation: History, Theory, Research, and Practice

If you want to motivate your workforce via a unique behavioral science framework, you must get this book from Amazon. The author, Gary Latham, was a consultant and practicing staff psychologist. He included several real-life examples that you can also follow.

The book is available in different formats like Kindle, paperback, hardcover, and mass market paperback. Hence, you can take your pick depending on your reading style.   

The Oxford Handbook of Work Engagement

For managerial training and strategic HR decisions, the leadership team of any business increasingly applies the self-determination theory of motivation. It focuses on the quality of an employee’s motivation, not the quantity. 

Business managers learn about the theory first from this Amazon book. It is a composition of talks from organizational psychology and self-determination theory experts.   

Final Words

Theories of motivation are highly functional in business setups since these models help HRs and managers resolve personal conflicts among the workforce, increase employee productivity, ensure team-building, etc. You should also practice any or all of the above models to see your business grow.

You may also be interested in Employee Recognition Software to reward, motivate and engage the workforce.

Share on:
  • Bipasha Nath
    Bipasha has a decade of experience as a technical and creative writer. Holding degrees in English and Sociology and having worked with software development firms, she possesses a unique perspective on how technology intertwines with our…

Thanks to our Sponsors

More great readings on HR Technology

Power Your Business

Some of the tools and services to help your business grow.
  • The text-to-speech tool that uses AI to generate realistic human-like voices.

    Try Murf AI
  • Web scraping, residential proxy, proxy manager, web unlocker, search engine crawler, and all you need to collect web data.

    Try Brightdata
  • is an all-in-one work OS to help you manage projects, tasks, work, sales, CRM, operations, workflows, and more.

    Try Monday
  • Intruder is an online vulnerability scanner that finds cyber security weaknesses in your infrastructure, to avoid costly data breaches.

    Try Intruder