31 October 2019

An Introduction to Motivational Theories


Motivational theories are increasingly being utilised by employers to understand more about what it is that drives people, with the long-term view of getting more from their staff. It’s also useful for improving society and building safer, happier communities. These types of theories have long been explored by sociologists and psychologists to try and understand exactly what motivates people.

Image Credit

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The sociologist Abraham Maslow developed this theory of motivation many years before ‘motivational theories’ become a buzz phrase. In fact, it was in 1943 when he first theorised that humans are motivated by the next rung on a pyramid of needs – the bottom covering the most basic needs in life such as food and shelter, moving up to safety, social, esteem and finally self-actualisation. Many modern motivational theories have evolved from or are adaptations of this theory.

Extrinsic vs Intrinsic

Many theories make an important distinction between our two types of drivers: intrinsic and extrinsic. Those with extrinsic motivations are more interested in the outcome of an activity, whereas those with intrinsic motivations are more interested in the personal journey of a given activity.

Image Credit

Conscious vs Unconscious

Other theories focus on differentiating between our conscious and unconscious motivations. Survival and even recognition, for example, are largely unconscious, whilst self-fulfilment and financial bonuses are both conscious motivators.

Content or Process Theories

In very simple terms, older theories (such as Maslow) are known as content theories which focus on what humans are motivated by. More modern theories tend to fall under the bracket of process theories, which aim to uncover how humans are motivated. Popular process theories include Skinner’s Reinforcement Theory and Vroom’s Expectancy Theory.

It’s important to note that no single motivational theory covers every aspect of the what, why and how of human motivation. Employers looking to understand more about what motivates people and how to achieve this should consider researching all the main theories to pick up the most salient points of each. Individuals looking to motivate themselves, on the other hand, are off listening to a motivational speaker such as https://www.adventureman.org/motivational-speaker/. This will help you understand where it is you want to be in life and how you can start to get there.

Motivational theory is a growing interdisciplinary study area that encompasses knowledge from sociology and psychology to anthropology, science and business management.