Motivation at Work: a Key Issue in Remuneration

Topics: Motivation, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Management Pages: 10 (3761 words) Published: October 19, 2010
To be effective, remuneration systems should be based on sound understanding of the motivation of people at work. However, this has proved to be an extremely complex topic, and very often reward systems used by employers have been based on simplistic motivation theories and they have failed. In this article I describe the most significant contributions to the theory of motivation, leading up to a review of current understanding of this complex subject. This leads us into examining strategies for reward systems aimed at motivating better performance; and the scope for integrating reward systems into strategies for changing other human resource management systems. Motivation Theories

Theories of motivation to work have passed through many stages, influencing and being influenced by the prevailing management ideologies and philosophies of each era. Although we can trace a sequence to this development, it does not mean that the old theories have died. There are employers and managers and employees today adhering vigorously to one or other of them, basing their belief not on research or empirical evidence but on an almost ideological framework of values and assumptions. These help them understand their own role and those of others around them. The poor quality of comprehension about how reward systems affect behaviour can be blamed partly on the confusion generated by so many conflicting theories of motivation and conflicting case examples. During the early part of this century the predominant theory about management was the classical or "scientific" management approach. This theory portrayed working people as making rational economic calculations and following a consequent logical pattern of behaviour at work (see Taylor, 1947). Employers, who accepted this theory, believed that their workforce were driven by the desire to earn the most money possible. Elaborate financial incentive schemes were developed, based on work measurement using stop-watches to determine how long each element of each task should take. The assumption was that people being motivated primarily by money, would maximise their work output if they were offered the incentive of extra money for each increment of work. Fortunately for us, there have always been researchers putting theories to the test. When they found that behaviour at work could not be explained by reference to the pure desire to earn as much money as possible, the first reaction was not to abandon belief in the primacy of money, but to look for intervening variables. A new theory was put forward proposing that the reason why some workers slowed down their effort towards the end of their day must result from some factor which was preventing these workers from keeping up their effort. The most likely factor was fatigue; workers were not strong enough or not sufficiently well nourished to keep their effort up all day. This led to research studies by Elton Mayo and his team from Harvard University. Their initial work in the 1920's found that workers (in a Philadelphia textile mill) who were given extra breaks and subsidized meals at work did improve their productivity; and when these extra rewards were taken away their effort fell back (see Mayo 1949). The research team then set up a major series of studies at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company which continued for ten years. Their aim was to study the effects of a range of fatigue-inducing factors such as levels of lighting, temperature, frequency of breaks, etc. in combination with an incentive payment by results system (see Roethlisberger and Dixon, 1939; or Landsberger 1959). If this research had produced the results expected at the outset, we would have had a prescription for high productivity based on lighting levels, temperature, frequency of meal breaks, health levels, etc. In some of their experiments the working environment was changed drastically to assess how this influenced productivity, but the results were a...
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