Understanding motivation theory is an important part of managing people.
(a) Explain what is meant the content theories of motivation.
(b) Briefly describe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory.
(c) Discuss the limitations of Maslow’s theory to managing people.
The way in which a manager’s duties are undertaken can significantly influence the satisfaction that employees derive from their work. In addition to technical skills, an understanding of human relations skills is required in motivating people.
(a) Content theories of motivation ask the question ‘What are the things that motivate people?’ They are sometimes called ‘need theories’ and assume that human beings have a set of needs or desired outcomes which can be satisfied through work. The theory focuses on what arouses, sustains and regulates good, directed behaviour. Content theories assume that everyone responds to motivating factors in the same way and that there is one best way to motivate everybody.
(b) Abraham Maslow’s theory suggested that individuals have a hierarchy of personal needs which are identifiable, universally applicable and which can be satisfied in the workplace. Understanding this idea provides guidance to management as to the appropriateness of motivational techniques.
Maslow suggested that individuals have five needs which are arranged in hierarchical form:
1. Self – actualization
2. Esteem needs
3. Social needs
4. Safety needs
5. Physiological needs
These needs are arranged in a hierarchy of importance and movement is upwards, from physiological needs to self actualization. Any individual will always want more, therefore each need must be satisfied before the next is sought. However, so far as motivation in the workplace is concerned, a satisfied need is no longer a motivator.
The theory is presented in the shape of a triangle, with physiological needs at its base and self-actualization at its apex. The triangle shape has a clear significance. As an individual moves up towards the apex, the needs thin out, illustrating that physiological needs are far greater than self-actualization needs. Thus the shape recognises that for many individuals, reaching social needs is often the highest need to be satisfied. More modern texts present the theory as a staircase; again with self actualization at the top. This second diagrammatic form reflects the application of the theory to more modern situations, where it can reasonably be assumed that those within the organisation have already achieved physiological and safety needs. For such individuals, social and esteem needs may well be greater.
Physiological needs are the basic survival needs ñ food and shelter, warmth, clothing.
Safety needs are the desire for security, order, certainty and predictability in life and freedom from threat.
These two so-called ‘lower order needs’ dominate until satisfied.
Social needs are the gregarious needs of mankind, the need for friendship, relationships, affection.
Esteem needs are the desire for recognition and respect, often associated with status, especially in the modern world.
Self-actualization is the ultimate goal, the feeling that full potential has been achieved. Once this state is achieved the individual has fulfilled full personal potential.
Later work Maslow has suggested that there are two additional needs; freedom of enquiry (free speech, justice) and knowledge (the need to explore and learn). These additional needs are a further development of social needs and recognise the changing nature of modern life. The theory is based on the idea that the goals of the individual and the organisation can be integrated and that personal satisfaction can be achieved through the workplace. It also assumes that individuals will achieve self actualization through their role in assisting the organisation to achieve its objectives. Therefore work is the principle source of satisfaction.
(c) Although this theory has an intuitive obviousness in the way in which it describes human needs, it has many limitations.
o individuals have different needs and not necessarily in the same order
o it is simplistic in its approach; more modern theories of motivation recognise that the need for personal self fulfilment is extremely complex.
o many individuals may seek to satisfy several needs at the same time
o the same need can cause different reactions in different people
o not all these needs are, or can be, satisfied through work ñ this is a major criticism of the idea
o individuals are unlikely to seek or to reach the ultimate; many settle for less
o taken literally, they can mislead management in its desire to motivate staff
o job satisfaction does not equal improved work performance
o what an individual seeks depends upon what he or she already has
o ignores the dynamics of working with others in the workplace and therefore the modern concepts of teams
The theory does not recognise the demands of the organisational situation. Many organisations, as a consequence of their product, service, culture, structure, technology or environment, do not necessarily provide a suitable environment for self actualization.