Management Discussion

Compare 3 motivational theories. Please read this week’s lectures before beginning this discussion; it discusses some of the motivational theories out there.  I am looking for theories – not specific motivational activities like "celebrating birthdays" or "work retreats."  Identify the theory and tell me why you feel the theories are applicable to today’s work world; why are they motivational? Expound a bit on the "why" – who are they motivating to (ie., what demographic, age group, industry, etc)?

Next, briefly discuss the Hawthorne studies – do a bit of research and identify the key thing or observation that resulted from that study. Just a good-sized paragraph will be sufficient here.  It’s an interesting study – and very true! 

Theories of Motivation

Content Author: Terri Richards, Ph.D.

Many theories of motivation have been studied by scientists and leaders. Some of the more prominent theories are:

McGregor’s Manager X and Y Theory

One of the motivation theories states that the employees’ tendency to be motivated is derived from the manager himself or herself, meaning the type of leadership style or management style this person exhibits toward his/her workers. Social psychologist Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and Y is based on the manager’s perception of how workers are likely to approach their jobs. The manager’s perception of workers colors his/her judgment of them, and can lead to either motivated (or unmotivated) workers, depending upon the manager’s perception.

The following graphic clearly shows that managers who feel their workers dislike their work and avoid responsibility are classified as "Theory X" managers. Those who feel workers enjoy their work, are self-directed and seek responsibility are considered "Theory Y" managers.

Image source: Yumba (2016)

The significance of theory X and Y can be pointed out by a simple maxim: people are likely to do what is expected of them. If you expect your workers to be able to make decisions, can be self-directed, and enjoy taking on responsibility, it is entirely likely they will live up to your expectations. Conversely, if you feel they don’t want to work and will slack off … they might do that, too. Consider whether you want to be a Theory X or Y manager.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a psychologically-based theory of motivation. It applies to real-life situations but is also commonly used in the workplace. It is typically represented as a pyramid, with lower-order "needs" at the bottom and higher-order "needs" at the top. Its definition is:

What Is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

  • Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.
  • Needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up.
  • From the bottom of the hierarchy upward, the needs are: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.


Practical analogy: 
 Let’s apply this to a potentially real-life scenario.  Suppose you are flying a small plane that suddenly fills with smoke.  You land on a remote island.  Working through Maslow’s hierarchy, what are you concerned about and what motivates you?

1. Physiological needs:  you need air and (soon) water to stay alive. Thus, you are highly and primarily motivated by the lowest tier on Maslow’s pyramid and exit the smoke-filled aircraft in pursuit of both.  Later, you will need to look for food.

2. Safety/security needs: once you have fresh air and water, you will likely look about yourself and seek some sort of safety/security (shelter, perhaps).

3. Social needs - your physiological and safety needs have been met.  You now want to see if anyone else is on the island; thus, "social" needs and "belonging-ness".

4. Esteem needs - assuming you met up with others, you might want to prove your worth to the others, so you are motivated by those things that will fill your self-esteem and make you a valuable member of the social group.

5. Self-actualization - may not apply on an island, but in real life, it might be accomplishing the position you want at work, the college degree you’ve sought, and a continued pursuit of learning and fulfillment.


Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs really applies to life, to human behavior, relationships, and growth. For example, a person with few relationships (someone who is isolated by nature, circumstance, or even something like depression) may find it hard to grow up the pyramid and feel fulfilled in life. As mentioned, Maslow’s theory is of a hierarchy, and lower-order needs must be met before we can move on to higher-order needs. Psychologists could (and do) discuss this in great detail.

But what does it mean in the workplace? Here is an outside article correlating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to today’s workplace. Note the correlations, as you may be asked about them on an exam. Please read this article, The Hierarchy of Needs for Employees.


McClelland’s Acquired-Needs Theory & Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory

Schwalbe (2017) does an excellent job of describing McClelland’s Acquired-Needs Theory and Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory. Be sure to read about each of them and be prepared to be tested on them (hint).

Finally, keep in mind that the best way to motivate your workers is to convince them that they want to do the work for you and for themselves, because it brings them self-satisfaction.

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