What is the definition of employee motivation?

Written by kat consador
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What is the definition of employee motivation?
Motivating employees can be a manager's biggest challenge. (Getty Premium images)

Motivating employees can be a manager's biggest challenge. Employee motivation is a key to the overall effectiveness of an organisation. An understanding of the applied psychology within a workplace, also known as organisational behaviour, can help achieve a highly motivated workforce.

Defining motivation

According to Gareth R. Jones and Jennifer M. George's book, "Contemporary Management," motivation is defined as "psychological forces that determine the direction of a person's behaviour in an organisation, a person's level of effort and a person's level of persistence."


Jones and George list direction of behaviour, effort and persistence as key components toward motivation. The behaviour that a person chooses is direction of behaviour. Effort measures how hard an employee works. Persistence occurs when an employee continues trying in the face of difficulties, instead of giving up.

Types of motivated behaviour

Two types of behaviours can occur during motivation: intrinsically motivated behaviour and extrinsically motivated behaviour. George and Jones describe intrinsically motivated behaviour as behaviour that is "performed for its own sake; the source of the motivation is actually performing the behaviour, and motivation comes from doing the work itself." For example, those who believe in protecting the natural environment and work toward that goal are intrinsically motivated. George and Jones describe extrinsically motivated behaviour as that "performed to acquire material or social rewards or to avoid punishment." Those who are working purely for monetary purposes are an example of extrinsically motivated employees.

Motivation equation

In the motivation equation, input, performance and outcome are key factors that contribute to high motivation. Inputs are anything an employee contributes to the job or organisation, such as time, effort, education and experience. Outcomes are anything an employee gets from a job or organisation, such as pay, job security and benefits. Organisations hire based on inputs. High performance levels contribute to the organisation's efficiency, effectiveness and overall goals. Managers use outcomes to motivate people to contribute inputs.


Several theories exist regarding motivation. Expectancy theory, need theories, equity theory and goal-setting theory are each different interpretations within motivation.

Expectancy theory suggests that high levels of motivation occur when employees believe they can get the task done, believe they are capable of performing at high levels, and desire the outcomes. For example, pay or bonuses can be a desired outcome.

Several need theories exist, but all of these theories have a common definition. Managers must determine the needs of their employees within an organisation. They are responsible for ensuring that people receive outcomes to satisfy needs when performing at high levels.

Equity theory suggests that managers promote high levels of motivation by ensuring people believe in the outcomes. For example, salaries are distributed in proportion to inputs, such as time and effort.

Goal-setting theory suggests that specific and difficult goals lead to high motivation and success.

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