Three Work Motivation Theories

Work motivation theories can greatly improve productivity when applied correctly in the workplace. Keep reading to discover three of them!
Three Work Motivation Theories

Last update: 11 July, 2020

Work is an essential part of life. If you take into account the hours you spend sleeping and enjoying free time, you’ll realize that work represents a big chunk of your life. Therefore, it’s really important that you remain motivated at work. That’s where these three work motivation theories come into play.

You may already know that work isn’t just a way to obtain financial stability, but that it’s also strictly linked to personal satisfaction. That’s why it’s fundamental that you enjoy doing your job since this will eventually result in increased motivation.

Also, work motivation doesn’t just guarantee the employees’ well-being. It actually benefits the company as well. If you’re looking to increase your motivation in the workplace, these research-based work motivation theories will help you achieve your goal.

What is work motivation?

Work motivation is an impulse or internal force that leads you to do work tasks voluntarily, by using your mental and physical resources in order to achieve a goal.

The more motivated an employee is, the better they’ll perform. In many cases, this will also lead to boosted productivity, competitiveness, self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-fulfillment.

A happy woman at work.

1. J. Stacy Adams’ equity theory

The main hypothesis of J. Stacy Adams’ theory is that work motivation is based on the way the employee values the task they’re doing, the rewards they’ll get, and how they compare to their co-workers.

This comparison will lead to higher or lower motivation, which will consequently affect their actions. Better rewards mean they’ll be more invested in a task, but if the rewards aren’t very good, then they’ll feel less valued and motivated, possibly resulting in them even quitting their job.

This means that motivation stems from fair treatment and from feeling fulfilled with what the job is giving back, which is why it’s incredibly important to value employees.

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”


2. Herzberg’s motivation-hygiene theory

This theory highlights how essential it is for people to value what they think is satisfactory about their job and their goals. By doing this, they can identify what isn’t as fulfilling or what makes work unsatisfactory.

Frederick Herzberg defined hygiene factors as aspects that make work satisfactory, but not motivating. These include wage, relationships between co-workers, stability, supervision, and, therefore, motivation.

He defined motivation factors such as job promotion, recognition at the workplace, responsibility, the job itself, growth opportunities, etc. These factors increase satisfaction, and, as a result, motivation.

Leader and team applying work motivation theories.

3. McClelland’s need theory

This is one of the most popular work motivation theories. McClelland came up with this theory  by comparing the actions of executives who worked in different kinds of companies. He concluded that an employee needs to meet several needs in order for them to be motivated.

These needs are: the need for achievement, which seeks satisfaction by improving efficiency and performance, the balance between power and recognition and challenges and success, and, finally, the need to belong in a group and be in touch with co-workers.

These are the three most important work motivation theories. If you learn more about them and apply them, it’ll be easier to improve not only your efficiency and productivity, but your company’s as well.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Huilcapi-Masacon, M.R., Castro-López, G.A. y Jácome-Lara, G.A. (2017). Motivación: las teorías y su relación en el ámbito empresarial. Revista Científica Dominio de las Ciencias, 3 (2): pp. 311 – 333.
  • Rivas, M.E. y López, M. (2012). Psicología Social y de las Organizaciones. Manual CEDE de Preparación PIR, 11. CEDE: Madrid.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.