Employee motivation is a central problem for leaders and managers, as an unmotivated employee is unlikely to expend much effort in the job, producing low-quality work. Frederick W. Taylor, founder of the scientific managerial method, advocated the use of scientifically designed incentives. Motivation is not an exact science: Multiple theories are available that propose sometimes contradictory, but often complementary, approaches toward work motivation.
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivators
Intrinsic motivation leads to people performing an activity because they find it engaging, and derive spontaneous satisfaction from its performance. In contrast, extrinsic motivation comes from the consequences of the activity, such as material rewards or status acquired. Thus, total work satisfaction calls for a work environment where effective performance leads to both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.
Job Characteristics Theory
If intrinsic motivators are to be built into the workplace, it is necessary to understand the factors behind an optimally designed job. In 1980, Hackman and Oldham posited a model according to which there are five core attributes required for job satisfaction: personal significance; variety; feedback; responsibility and autonomy; and identity (meaning that the worker can identify a particular piece of work that exists as a result of his efforts).
In 1990, Locke and Lantham advanced a goal-setting theory of motivation, suggesting that motivation comes from represented goals. According to their model, performance is maximised when the worker has specific, difficult goals whose competition is clearly valuable, given that they understand the behaviors that will lead to those goals, and that they feel competent to do those.
Individuals are not only concerned with the absolute amount of rewards they receive for their efforts, but also with what they receive compared to others. The equity theory first developed by J.S. Adams asserts that employees will evaluate their inputs, like effort, education and competence, and compare them with outcomes as salary levels and recognition. When the worker perceives an imbalance in his input-output ratios relative to others within or beyond the organization, tension is created. Thus, the challenge for organizations is to create reward systems that are perceived to be fair and equitable.