This paper critically compares and
explores the strengths and weaknesses of content and process theories of
motivation; drawing on examples from the service sector. ‘Motivation refers to the energy a person is
willing to devote to a task’ (Wagner and Hollenbeck, 2015). ‘It is ‘a cognitive decision-making process
through which goal-directed behaviour is initiated, energised, directed, and
maintained’ (Huczynski and Buchanan, 2013). ‘Motivation may stem from processes taking
place within an individual (intrinsic motivation) or
from the impact of factors acting on the individual from outside (extrinsic
motivation)’ (Oxford Reference, 2017). Content/need theories of motivation look at
what motivates individual. The content approach centres on the notion that
individuals are motivated by the desire to fulfil their inner needs.
Process/cognitive theories of motivation look at how individuals are motivated.
There is less emphasis on the specific factors that motivate them.
Intrinsic motivation is when an individual does something
because they enjoy doing it or think it is interesting. Extrinsic motivation is when an individual does something for
external rewards or to avoid negative consequences. Service work ranges
from the highly knowledge intensive (where there are many knowledge tasks
involved, e.g. business services – lawyer) to low skilled work (where there are
few knowledge tasks involves, e.g. cleaning).
Although there isn’t much evidence that supports
them, the content and process theories discussed are applicable and important
in the real-world; managers can use these to motivate their employees in order to
achieve their goals. Another problem is that the theories and research are very
old, so we’re not able to see whether they are as relevant because of changes
in cultural and individual values over time. One of theories discussed is
Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’. The research undertaken by Maslow (1943) is inadequate
as it doesn’t take into account cultural or individual differences.
Having stated and discussed the purpose of
this writing, the background and importance of the topic and problems in the
field of study. This paper will compare
and explore the strengths and weaknesses of content and process theories of
motivation. The paper begins with a review of content/need theories; a
review of the literature on Maslow’s theory by researchers such as Hofstede,
Tay and Diener follows. It then looks at process theories and examples of
literature which include examples from the service sector. The paper concludes
with a summary of the findings.
One content/need theory which looks at what motivates
individuals is Maslow’s (1943) ‘hierarchy of needs’. Maslow claims that
individuals are motivated to realise certain needs and some needs take
precedence over others. It has a strong significance in the real-world,
especially in the services sector. Managers can profit from understanding their
worker’s basic human needs (such as friendship, job security, or acknowledgment
for a job well done). Establishing a setting which meets these needs will lead
to workers performing at their highest potential for the business. (Publishing,
The key strength of Maslow’s theory is the way in which it
helps to understand human behaviour and what motivates people. It seems logical that an individual whose
physiological needs are not met (for instance, someone doesn’t have anywhere to
live or anything to eat) is not likely to pursue higher needs. Although one
might momentarily pursue a higher need, the physiological need (for food and
shelter) would surely become the key focus again.
A weakness of Maslow’s theory is that in creating his ‘hierarchy of
needs’, he only studied a small section of the human population. The terms that
are used (such as, “self-esteem” and “security”) have varied
meanings in different cultures around the world. Therefore, it can be problematic
to measure these needs or to generalise them for all service sector workers around
the world. (Publishing, 2017). Additionally, Maslow’s theory doesn’t explain
behaviour that is outside the norm of what is projected by the hierarchy for
example hunger strikes to achieve a higher-level need, the fact that somebody
would risk their own life to save another, in order to grow closer to
self-actualization. (Redmond, 2017).
Besides cultural differences, Maslow’s theory on the hierarchy of needs
also doesn’t take into account individual differences. There is no evidence
signifying every human being experiences the needs in the order Maslow
specified. Moreover, there is not much empirical evidence that supports the
theory at all. (Publishing, 2017).
The theory assumes that
everyone experiences the needs in the same order, failing to spot cultural and
individual differences. In a collectivist society, for instance, social needs
may be considered more important than physiological needs. Maslow’s account of self-actualization and how
self-actualized people felt and acted, was centred on writing and speaking to selectively chosen people
rather than rigorous sampling. (ManagementStudyHQ, 2017)
Hofstede (1984) criticised Maslow’s hierarchy for being ‘ethnocentric’. He believed that placing
self-actualisation needs above social needs echoed a western, individualistic concept
that may not apply to other cultures. Hofstede used Haire et al.’s (1966)
14-country study to show the cultural limitations of Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of
In Haire et al.’s (1966) study managers rated
the importance, their satisfaction and fulfilment of a number of needs. These
needs represented the five levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Hofstede (1984) points
out that although Haire et al. (1996) didn’t draw the conclusion from their
data, ‘the only nationality group that ordered their need importance almost.
and their need satisfaction exactly, in the Maslow order was the US. managers.
The other nationalities showed more or less deviant patterns.’
The needs and motivations of people in individualistic
societies are likely to be more self-centred than those in collectivist
societies. In collectivist societies, the needs of acceptance and community are
likely to outweigh the needs for freedom and individuality. (Sarinc,
2013). Gambrel and Cianci (2003)
examined Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’ and ‘current related literature’ to
determine whether or not it applies in a collectivist culture. Findings of the
literature review suggested that ‘a hierarchy of needs based on a collectivist
culture will differ from Maslow’s original model. In a collectivist culture,
the basic need is belonging; self-esteem is eliminated, and self-actualization
is attained in terms of meeting societal development needs.’ (Gambrel and
Tay and Diener’s (2011) research regarding Maslow’s theory ‘examined the association between the
fulfilment of needs and subjective well-being (SWB)’ across a sample of 123
countries and 60,865 participants. They learnt that each of the needs had an
independent effect on SWB. This implied that the impact of self-esteem needs
was not contingent on whether safety needs had been realised. This rather
contradicts one of the assumptions of Maslow’s
theory, that basic needs must be realised before higher needs can be met. The study maintained the view that universal
human needs seem to exist irrespective of cultural differences. ‘The
needs emerged to some degree in an order that would be suggested by Maslow’s
ordering, especially for individuals who have lower total needs fulfilled’. The
research also found that ‘lower needs are fulfilled faster relative to higher
needs’ (Tay and Diener, 2011).
Their findings suggested that
the deprivation and fulfilment of needs is
closely linked to low and high positive feelings, respectively. Whereas a lack
of needs may not produce high negative feelings, the fulfilment of needs can
reduce negative feelings. The lack of needs leads to low life evaluations, but
its fulfilment is not sufficient for high life evaluations. (2011).
Hitka and Balážová
the motivation level of service sector employees in two neighbouring countries
(Slovakia and Austria). They assumed that considering the differences in living
conditions in both countries, that there would be significant differences in
the motivation level of service sector employees. They drew conclusions that
despite the territorial differences required condition of employee motivation
in Slovakia and in Austria was almost the same.
For an organisation, job satisfaction of
its employees means a work force that is motivated and driven to high quality
performance. Dissatisfied employees, who are only motivated by fear of losing
their job, will not give 100% of their effort for long. (Lawler, Atmiyanada. and Zaidi, 1992)
Process/cognitive theories look at how individuals are
motivated. Two of the main process theories, reinforcement and goal setting
theories have been supported by research studies and are seen as the most
helpful in application. Expectancy and equity theories have not been studied as
meticulously as reinforcement and goal setting theories. (Stotz & Bolger,
Vroom’s (1964) expectancy theory assumes that ‘people’s behaviour
results from conscious choices among alternatives’ (Ramlall, 2004). Expectancy Theory is centred on the view
that individuals will work harder if the rewards are right, applying this
theory allows businesses to have some control over the level of performance
shown by its workers. Managers who understand their workers’ needs
and extrinsic motivating factors can effectively motivate workers to
perform at a higher level. (Redmond, 2017). ‘Numerous studies have been done to test
the accuracy of Expectancy Theory in predicting employee behaviour and direct
tests have been generally supportive.’ (Parijat and Bagga, 2014).
Aarabi, Subramaniam, and Akeel (2013)
looked at the relationship between motivational factors and job performance of
employees in the Malaysian service industry. The findings displayed that among
the motivational factors, two variables were found to be significant
forecasters of job performance. ‘Training contributed 40.4% to job performance
while promotion contributed an additional 3%.’ (Aarabi, Subramaniam, and Akeel,
2013). They also found that intrinsic factors were considered more important
than extrinsic motivational factors such as payment, job security, and friendly
environment. Freedom an intrinsic variable though was not found to be meaningfully
related to job performance.
Expectancy theory, characteristically,
focuses solely on extrinsic factors of motivation. Many service sector workers aren’t
motivated just by extrinsic factors, such as a pay check. This is shown by the
findings of the research from Aarabi, Subramaniam, and Akeel (2013). Their
research showed that an intrinsic factor (training) ‘contributed 40.4% to job
performance’ and ‘intrinsic factors were considered more important than
extrinsic motivational factor’ overall.
‘Another weakness of the expectancy theory
is that it assumes all necessities are in place, which is not always the case. Employees
need to have the ability, the resources and the opportunity to perform their
job well.’ (Redmond, 2017).
This paper has looked at the strengths and
weaknesses of content and process theories of motivation. As discussed earlier,
some theories are very relevant to the real-world and having looked more deeply
into content and process theories of motivation, I know the strengths and how
valuable certain theories are. However, I still feel that the evidence
presented is …..
As discussed earlier, some theories are
very relevant to the real-world however, a lot of the archaic theories, are
short-term studies (which do not necessarily show subtle changes over time) and
only use a small sample size for the research which couldn’t possibly fairly
represent the whole human population.
Hofstede labelled the theory as
‘ethnocentric’ (1984), drawing on Haire et al.’s research which showed that
from 14 countries, managers from the U.S. were the only ones that ordered the
needs in the same order as Maslow. Gambrel and Cianci’s (2003) research showed
that Maslow ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ theory was not applicable in all cultures. In
countries such as China, with a collectivist culture ‘the basic need is
belonging; self-esteem is eliminated, and self-actualization is attained in
terms of meeting societal development needs.’
One of the key strengths of expectancy theory is that it is
based on common sense. ‘Many experts in the field of organizational behaviour
hold the view that Expectancy theory is one of the most acceptable theories of
motivation and there is substantial evidence to support the theory.’ (Parijat
and Bagga, 2014).
High knowledge intensive workers such as, lawyers are likely
to be motivated in differently to low skilled workers such as cleaners. Content
theories have been helpful in discussing motivation, but not all have been
verified through research.’ (Stotz & Bolger, 2017). Reinforcement and goal
setting theories have been supported by research studies and are seen as the
most helpful in application. Expectancy and equity theories have not been
studied as meticulously as reinforcement and goal setting theories. (Stotz &
L. & Diener, E, (2011). Needs and Subjective Well-Being Around the
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