How to use motivational theories

Updated March 23, 2017

Motivational theories are psychological ways of understanding what inspires human beings to extend their abilities and perform according to expectations. Primary motivational theories include Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, Hertszberg's Motivation and Hygiene Theory, and Expectancy and Contingency theories. Areas to which motivational theories can be applied include workplaces and motivational speaking.

Apply Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in the workplace. Abraham Maslow's theory of five psychological needs is used to motivate employees. Human resources departments train managers to identify employees' needs, determine what needs are satisfied and provide ways for needs that are unmet to be satisfied. When the hierarchy of needs is met, employees' performances improve.

Identify employees' needs, as defined by Hertszberg's Motivation and Hygiene Theory. For workers, Hertszberg's hygiene needs include working conditions, supervision and salary. Management resorts to meeting hygiene needs to stop unwanted behaviour. Hygiene needs do not motivate. If a supervisor wants an employee to perform, the supervisor would work to meet motivational needs. These include recognition and promotion.

Encourage employee performance according to Expectancy and Contingency motivational theories. When workers expect rewards and the rewards meet a worker's needs, the worker will perform according to set standards. Contingency motivational theories consider workplace culture, conflict resolution and personality assessment. When these social issues are resolved, employees are motivated to excel.

Use motivational theories to inspire motivational speaking. Speakers can craft phrases to address an audience's needs and to promise to overcome a sense of inadequacy. Motivational speakers will appeal to the fundamental motivational drives of each type of listener. With this cross-section of motivational theories, most types of listeners will be addressed and inspired.


Check with human resources or a school counselling centre for guidance in motivating employees and students.

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About the Author

Alyson Paige has a master's degree in canon law and began writing professionally in 1998. Her articles specialize in culture, business and home and garden, among many other topics.