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How to Use Motivational Theories to Attract & Keep Employees

by Johnny Kilhefner

Motivational theories focus on what drives employees to do their best work. It's easy to think of money as the only motivator, but in reality there are many more factors at play. Abraham Maslow, David McClelland, Frederick Herzberg, and others have developed major theories on what motivates people. Using these theories, it's possible to incorporate motivators into your corporate culture that attract and retain employees.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow theorized that motivation stems from the desire to fulfill needs. Maslow categorizes needs into one of five levels in his hierarchy of needs: physiological, security, social, esteem, or self-actualization. The physiological and security needs of employees are met with payment and benefits. Needs higher on the hierarchy must be met through other means, and can cause a motivational spiral if ignored. An example of how a company might meet the social and esteem needs of employees is by sponsoring them to work with a nonprofit organization. Employees gain a sense of social responsibility through their volunteer work, but security needs are still met because they did not have to leave a paying job for a volunteer position. Employees that have all of their needs met are motivated to do their best work.

McClelland’s Achievement-Power-Affiliation Theory

David McClelland's motivational theory focuses on the need for achievement, power, and affiliation. McClelland believed these needs are based on the employee's early life experiences. People who have shown a trend toward striving for achievement are motivated more by success than money. Those who want power are motivated by more responsibility. People who need affiliation are motivated by approval. Get to know which of these needs motivate your employees.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory

Frederick Herzberg's two-factor theory is based on the assumption that employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction come from different areas. Satisfaction comes from having opportunities within a job; for instance, the employee's belief in a chance for promotion. Dissatisfaction is a result of the Herzberg-defined "hygiene factor". The hygiene factor includes salary and relationships with colleagues. If an employee earns less than the median salary for her profession, she is bound to be dissatisfied in her role. Using a combination of desirable hygiene and opportunities increases employee productivity and attracts future employees.

Victor H. Vroom's Expectancy-Valence Theory

Victor H. Vroom's expectancy-valence theory assumes people are motivated to act in certain ways because of three things: the value a person holds in the outcome of their work, the belief that the action will lead to the desired outcome, and the perceived probability of reward. Using this theory, incorporate rewards that employees highly value and believe they can achieve.

B.F. Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory

Reinforcement theory assumes behavior is motivated by past consequences. People do things that have led to favorable consequences in the past, and avoid doing things that have resulted in undesirable consequences. Understand what each individual responds to and reward people for behavior you want to see continue.

About the Author

Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.

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