How Motivation Theories Impact The Workplace

Take a look at three popular motivation theories that are summarised here, devised by: Maslow, Herzberg and Emmet. If you need to improve motivation at work, these may hold the key.


Maslow believed that the needs of an individual could be expressed in the form of a hierarchy of needs or a pyramid. This theory of motivation can be applied to the workplace as well as other scenarios.

Maslow felt that the most basic needs were physiological. Unless an individual has food and shelter, Maslow believed it was pointless trying to motivate them at a higher level. The same applies in the workplace; if employees are not comfortable in their work environment, then motivation at a higher level will be difficult.

Once this need is met, the employee is then motivated to gain a sense of security. In a difficult economic climate, do you as a manager keep your employees sufficiently informed of their job prospects, or is there a heavy reliance on the grapevine?

When a job is felt to be reasonably secure, the employee is next motivated by social aspects. Do you foster a good working atmosphere in your workplace? Is there a strong sense of teamwork? Do employees communicate in lots of different ways?

When a good social network is in place, the employee then looks for a feeling of self esteem. When your employees do a good job, is it noticed? do you have reward systems in place? Do you give lots of positive feedback?

And finally, when all the other factors are in place, the employee is looking for self-fulfilment. Do your employees have opportunities to learn and grow at work? Do you provide training opportunities, work on project teams, job transfers?

See the pyramid as a constantly changing guide; employees can be at different stages so be aware of where they are on the pyramid so you can foster motivation at the right level.


Herzberg came up with one of the more popular motivation theories. He felt that certain conditions, or 'hygiene factors', had to be in place for employees to be satisfied, but these did not necessarily motivate the employees.

For example, if an employee is working below the minimum wage, it is not likely that he/she will be motivated until a perceived fair rate of pay is given. At the same time, if an employee is well paid, Herzberg believed that a pay rise would not have a lasting motivational effect.

Herzberg suggested that once the hygiene factors were met, employers should focus on recognising the achievements of the employee and providing opportunities to learn and grow. So the motivation theories of Maslow and Herzberg were similar in this regard.


Emmet believed that in order to motivate employees, they need the following:

  • To be proud of their company
  • To do their best
  • To learn
  • To be recognised and respected
  • To enjoy work

If you think about what motivates you at work, it is very likely that your staff are motivated in similar ways.

The concept of Employee Engagement has become very popular in recent times, whereby employees apply discretionary effort in their work, depending on certain factors being in place. This topic is covered in more detail in the Leadership section of this website.

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