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Understanding Employee Motivation

James R. Lindner
Research and Extension Associate
The Ohio State University
Piketon Research and Extension Center
Piketon, Ohio
Internet address: lindner.16@osu.edu

Introduction to Motivation

At one time, employees were considered just another input into the production of goods and services. What perhaps changed this way of thinking about employees was research, referred to as the Hawthorne Studies, conducted by Elton Mayo from 1924 to 1932 (Dickson, 1973). This study found employees are not motivated solely by money and employee behavior is linked to their attitudes (Dickson, 1973). The Hawthorne Studies began the human relations approach to management, whereby the needs and motivation of employees become the primary focus of managers (Bedeian, 1993).

Motivation Theories

Understanding what motivated employees and how they were motivated was the focus of many researchers following the publication of the Hawthorne Study results (Terpstra, 1979). Five major approaches that have led to our understanding of motivation are Maslow’s need-hierarchy theory, Herzberg’s two- factor theory, Vroom’s expectancy theory, Adams’ equity theory, and Skinner’s reinforcement theory.

According to Maslow, employees have five levels of needs (Maslow, 1943): physiological, safety, social, ego, and self- actualizing. Maslow argued that lower level needs had to be satisfied before the next higher level need would motivate employees. Herzberg’s work categorized motivation into two factors: motivators and hygienes (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959). Motivator or intrinsic factors, such as achievement and recognition, produce job satisfaction. Hygiene or extrinsic factors, such as pay and job security, produce job dissatisfaction.

Vroom’s theory is based on the belief that employee effort will lead to performance and performance will lead to rewards (Vroom, 1964). Rewards may be either positive or negative. The more positive the reward the more likely the employee will be highly motivated. Conversely, the more negative the reward the less likely the employee will be motivated.

Adams’ theory states that employees strive for equity between themselves and other workers. Equity is achieved when the ratio of employee outcomes over inputs is equal to other employee outcomes over inputs (Adams, 1965).

Skinner’s theory simply states those employees’ behaviors that lead to positive outcomes will be repeated and behaviors that lead to negative outcomes will not be repeated (Skinner, 1953). Managers should positively reinforce employee behaviors that lead to positive outcomes. Managers should negatively reinforce employee behavior that leads to negative outcomes.

Motivation Defined

Many contemporary authors have also defined the concept of motivation. Motivation has been defined as: the psychological process that gives behavior purpose and direction (Kreitner, 1995); a predisposition to behave in a purposive manner to achieve specific, unmet needs (Buford, Bedeian, & Lindner, 1995); an internal drive to satisfy an unsatisfied need (Higgins, 1994); and the will to achieve (Bedeian, 1993). For this paper, motivation is operationally defined as the inner force that drives individuals to accomplish personal and organizational goals.

The Role of Motivation

Why do we need motivated employees? The answer is survival (Smith, 1994). Motivated employees are needed in our rapidly changing workplaces. Motivated employees help organizations survive. Motivated employees are more productive. To be effective, managers need to understand what motivates employees within the context of the roles they perform. Of all the functions a manager performs, motivating employees is arguably the most complex. This is due, in part, to the fact that what motivates employees changes constantly (Bowen & Radhakrishna, 1991). For example, research suggests that as employees’ income increases, money becomes less of a motivator (Kovach, 1987). Also, as employees get older, interesting work becomes more of a motivator.


The purpose of this study was to describe the importance of certain factors in motivating employees at the Piketon Research and Extension Center and Enterprise Center. Specifically, the study sought to describe the ranked importance of the following ten motivating factors: (a) job security, (b) sympathetic help with personal problems, (c) personal loyalty to employees, (d) interesting work, (e) good working conditions, (f) tactful discipline, (g) good wages, (h) promotions and growth in the organization, (i) feeling of being in on things, and (j) full appreciation of work done. A secondary purpose of the study was to compare the results of this study with the study results from other populations.


The research design for this study employed a descriptive survey method. The target population of this study included employees at the Piketon Research and Extension Center and Enterprise Center (centers). The sample size included all 25 employees of the target population. Twenty-three of the 25 employees participated in the survey for a participation rate of 92%. The centers are in Piketon, Ohio.

The mission of the Enterprise Center is to facilitate individual and community leader awareness and provide assistance in preparing and accessing economic opportunities in southern Ohio. The Enterprise Center has three programs: alternatives in agriculture, small business development, and women’s business development. The mission of the Piketon Research and Extension Center is to conduct research and educational programs designed to enhance economic development in southern Ohio. The Piketon Research and Extension Center has five programs: aquaculture, community economic development, horticulture, forestry, and soil and water resources.

From a review of literature, a survey questionnaire was developed to collect data for the study (Bowen & Radhakrishna, 1991; Harpaz, 1990; Kovach, 1987). Data was collected through use of a written questionnaire hand-delivered to participants. Questionnaires were filled out by participants and returned to an intra-departmental mailbox. The questionnaire asked participants to rank the importance of ten factors that motivated them in doing their work: 1=most important . . . 10=least important. Face and content validity for the instrument were established using two administrative and professional employees at The Ohio State University. The instrument was pilot tested with three similarly situated employees within the university. As a result of the pilot test, minor changes in word selection and instructions were made to the questionnaire.

Results and Discussion

The ranked order of motivating factors were: (a) interesting work, (b) good wages, (c) full appreciation of work done, (d) job security, (e) good working conditions, (f) promotions and growth in the organization, (g) feeling of being in on things, (h) personal loyalty to employees, (i) tactful discipline, and (j) sympathetic help with personal problems.

A comparison of these results to Maslow’s need-hierarchy theory provides some interesting insight into employee motivation. The number one ranked motivator, interesting work, is a self-actualizing factor. The number two ranked motivator, good wages, is a physiological factor. The number three ranked motivator, full appreciation of work done, is an esteem factor. The number four ranked motivator, job security, is a safety factor. Therefore, according to Maslow (1943), if managers wish to address the most important motivational factor of Centers’ employees, interesting work, physiological, safety, social, and esteem factors must first be satisfied. If managers wished to address the second most important motivational factor of centers’ employees, good pay, increased pay would suffice. Contrary to what Maslow’s theory suggests, the range of motivational factors are mixed in this study. Maslow’s conclusions that lower level motivational factors must be met before ascending to the next level were not confirmed by this study.

The following example compares the highest ranked motivational factor (interesting work) to Vroom’s expectancy theory. Assume that a Centers employee just attended a staff meeting where he/she learned a major emphasis would be placed on seeking additional external program funds. Additionally, employees who are successful in securing funds will be given more opportunities to explore their own research and extension interests (interesting work). Employees who do not secure additional funds will be required to work on research and extension programs identified by the director. The employee realizes that the more research he/she does regarding funding sources and the more proposals he/she writes, the greater the likelihood he/she will receive external funding.

Because the state legislature has not increased appropriations to the centers for the next two years (funds for independent research and extension projects will be scaled back), the employee sees a direct relationship between performance (obtaining external funds) and rewards (independent research and Extension projects). Further, the employee went to work for the centers, in part, because of the opportunity to conduct independent research and extension projects. The employee will be motivated if he/she is successful in obtaining external funds and given the opportunity to conduct independent research and extension projects. On the other hand, motivation will be diminished if the employee is successful in obtaining external funds and the director denies the request to conduct independent research and Extension projects.

The following example compares the third highest ranked motivational factor (full appreciation of work done) to Adams’s equity theory. If an employee at the centers feels that there is a lack of appreciation for work done, as being too low relative to another employee, an inequity may exist and the employee will be dis-motivated. Further, if all the employees at the centers feel that there is a lack of appreciation for work done, inequity may exist. Adams (1965) stated employees will attempt to restore equity through various means, some of which may be counter- productive to organizational goals and objectives. For instance, employees who feel their work is not being appreciated may work less or undervalue the work of other employees.

This final example compares the two highest motivational factors to Herzberg’s two-factor theory. The highest ranked motivator, interesting work, is a motivator factor. The second ranked motivator, good wages is a hygiene factor. Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman (1959) stated that to the degree that motivators are present in a job, motivation will occur. The absence of motivators does not lead to dissatisfaction. Further, they stated that to the degree that hygienes are absent from a job, dissatisfaction will occur. When present, hygienes prevent dissatisfaction, but do not lead to satisfaction. In our example, the lack of interesting work (motivator) for the centers’ employees would not lead to dissatisfaction. Paying centers’ employees lower wages (hygiene) than what they believe to be fair may lead to job dissatisfaction. Conversely, employees will be motivated when they are doing interesting work and but will not necessarily be motivated by higher pay.

The discussion above, about the ranked importance of motivational factors as related to motivational theory, is only part of the picture. The other part is how these rankings compare with related research. A study of industrial employees, conducted by Kovach (1987), yielded the following ranked order of motivational factors: (a) interesting work, (b) full appreciation of work done, and (c) feeling of being in on things. Another study of employees, conducted by Harpaz (1990), yielded the following ranked order of motivational factors: (a) interesting work, (b) good wages, and (c) job security.

In this study and the two cited above, interesting work ranked as the most important motivational factor. Pay was not ranked as one of the most important motivational factors by Kovach (1987), but was ranked second in this research and by Harpaz (1990). Full appreciation of work done was not ranked as one of the most important motivational factors by Harpaz (1990), but was ranked second in this research and by Kovach (1987). The discrepancies in these research findings supports the idea that what motivates employees differs given the context in which the employee works. What is clear, however, is that employees rank interesting work as the most important motivational factor.

Implications for Centers and Extension

The ranked importance of motivational factors of employees at the centers provides useful information for the centers’ director and employees. Knowing how to use this information in motivating centers’ employees is complex. The strategy for motivating centers’ employees depends on which motivation theories are used as a reference point. If Hertzberg’s theory is followed, management should begin by focusing on pay and job security (hygiene factors) before focusing on interesting work and full appreciation of work done (motivator factors). If Adams’ equity theory is followed, management should begin by focusing on areas where there may be perceived inequities (pay and full appreciation of work done) before focusing on interesting work and job security. If Vroom’s theory is followed, management should begin by focusing on rewarding (pay and interesting work) employee effort in achieving organizational goals and objectives.

Regardless of which theory is followed, interesting work and employee pay appear to be important links to higher motivation of centers’ employees. Options such as job enlargement, job enrichment, promotions, internal and external stipends, monetary, and non-monetary compensation should be considered. Job enlargement can be used (by managers) to make work more interesting (for employees) by increasing the number and variety of activities performed. Job enrichment can used to make work more interesting and increase pay by adding higher level responsibilities to a job and providing monetary compensation (raise or stipend) to employees for accepting this responsibility. These are just two examples of an infinite number of methods to increase motivation of employees at the centers. The key to motivating centers’ employees is to know what motivates them and designing a motivation program based on those needs.

The results presented in this paper also have implications for the entire Cooperative Extension Sysyem. The effectiveness of Extension is dependent upon the motivation of its employees (Chesney, 1992; Buford, 1990; Smith, 1990). Knowing what motivates employees and incorporating this knowledge into the reward system will help Extension identify, recruit, employ, train, and retain a productive workforce. Motivating Extension employees requires both managers and employees working together (Buford, 1993). Extension employees must be willing to let managers know what motivates them, and managers must be willing to design reward systems that motivate employees. Survey results, like those presented here, are useful in helping Extension managers determine what motivates employees (Bowen & Radhakrishna, 1991). If properly designed reward systems are not implemented, however, employees will not be motivated.


Adams, J. S. (1965). Inequity in social exchange. In L. Berkowitz (ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology. New York: Academic Press.
Bedeian, A. G. (1993). Management (3rd ed.). New York: Dryden Press.
Bowen, B. E., & Radhakrishna, R. B. (1991). Job satisfaction of agricultural education faculty: A constant phenomena. Journal of Agricultural Education, 32 (2). 16-22.
Buford, J. A., Jr., Bedeian, A. G., & Lindner, J. R. (1995). Management in Extension (3rd ed.). Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University Extension.
Buford, J. A., Jr. (1990). Extension management in the information age. Journal of Extension, 28 (1).
Buford, J. A., Jr. (1993). Be your own boss. Journal of Extension, 31 (1).
Chesney, C. E. (1992). Work force 2000: is Extension agriculture ready? Journal of Extension, 30 (2).
Dickson, W. J. (1973). Hawthorne experiments. In C. Heyel (ed.), The encyclopedia of management, 2nd ed. (pp. 298-302). New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Harpaz, I. (1990). The importance of work goals: an international perspective. Journal of International Business Studies, 21. 75-93.
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Higgins, J. M. (1994). The management challenge (2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.
Kovach, K. A. (1987). What motivates employees? Workers and supervisors give different answers. Business Horizons, 30. 58-65.
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Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, July 1943. 370-396.
Skinner, B. F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Free Press.
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Smith, K. L. (1990). The future of leaders in Extension. Journal of Extension, 28 (1).
Terpstra, D. E. (1979). Theories of motivation: borrowing the best. Personnel Journal, 58. 376.
Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and motivation. New York: Wiley.
This article is online at Journal of Extension.

About cokroaminoto

Lahir di Pekalongan, 29 Nopember 1966. Berkeluarga, dengan 2 anak. Sejak SD hingga SLTA Kejuruan lulus di Pekalongan. Menjalani ikatan dinas dari Departemen Kesehatan sejak 1987 di Kebumen. Pada tahun 1996 menyelesaikan program sarjana FISIP, dan pada tahun 2001 lulus program pasca sarjana Manajemen Kesehatan di UGM Yogyakarta. Sejak itu, mulai tertarik pada wilayah kajian pengembangan kinerja (Walah, sok ilmiah..). Bukan apa-apa, karena dalam dunia kerja, apa lagi kerja di kantoran, persoalan kinerja menjadi biang keladi dan akar permasalahan utama. Bagaimana tidak, maju-mundurnya sebuah kantor, organisasi, bahkan dari sistem pemerintahan tergantung dari sini. Trus, dari mana harus mulai, faktor apa saja yang mempengaruhi, kendala apa saja yang biasa menghambat pengembangannya. Apa kita bisa memperbaikinya? Hal-hal inilah kemudian yang menjadi motivasi saya untuk membuat blog ini. Eh syukur menjadi tempat berbagi pendapat dan pengalaman. Amin


11 thoughts on “Understanding Employee Motivation

  1. tolong beritahu tentang pengertian motivasi menurut para ahli

    Posted by Fenny | November 16, 2007, 10:45 am
  2. Fenny, tentang motivasi coba lihat di posting “Understanding employee motivation”

    Posted by cokroaminoto | November 18, 2007, 6:37 am
  3. I think the points about full appreciation of work and meaningful work are very important and glad they are cited.

    Posted by Employee Appreciation Day Ideas | March 26, 2008, 6:45 pm
  4. thanks for all of your respondness

    Posted by cokroaminoto | March 27, 2008, 2:01 am
  5. pak cokro mohon jurnal motivasi dan semangat kerja pak…karena saya sulit mencari untuk penelitian itu. thx bangeeet pak

    Posted by lenny | June 4, 2008, 4:24 pm
  6. Lenny, terimakasih. Untuk jurnal motivasi dan semangat kerja, anda bisa kunjungi/baca Journals of extension di http://www.joe.org/joe/1998june/rb3.html
    Demikian, semoga bermanfaat.

    Posted by cokroaminoto | June 4, 2008, 5:09 pm
  7. Terima kasih pak..atas artikel-artikelnya…, saya banyak dapet ilmu…, kalo baca buku..agak malas…lebih enak baca blog…
    Tulisan Bapak sangat membantu saya dalam pengerjaan tesis.

    Posted by reezcha | August 5, 2008, 1:37 pm
  8. reezcha, terimakasih. Bersyukur kalau anda sdh memperoleh manfaat dari blog ini. Jangan lupa, saya tunggu komentarnya.

    Posted by cokroaminoto | August 5, 2008, 10:09 pm
  9. John in Tanzania here, I would like to cogratulate you for a precise analysis you did. the study tries to fill in the gap of the previous researchers and give out new findings.

    All the best.

    Posted by John Msangi | February 6, 2009, 1:34 pm
  10. Jasa Pencarian Literatur / Pustaka / Jurnal untuk Penelitian (Skripsi, Tesis, Disertasi, Perusahaan)


    cepat, akurat, mudah dan murah

    Posted by Jasa Pencarian Literatur | October 7, 2011, 3:57 am

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