The Process Theories of Motivation

Whereas the content theories concentrate on the question of 'what' motivates, the process theories address more the issues relating to how the process works and sustains itself over time, such as factors that determine the degree of effort, the continuation of effort, the modification of effort, etc.

As with content theory, there are a number of process theories. These include:

Equity theory

In this theory employee constantly assesses their level of effort against fellow workers and the reward they receive for their effort. If they perceive there is a significant difference between their level of effort and their fellow workers, they will endeavour to bring about equality of effort for everyone—by adjusting up or down their own performance or by taking measures to adjust the level of their fellow workers. Likewise, the relative reward for effort is also monitored. The message for managers is that employees need to be seen to be rewarded on a fair and equitable basis, and inequities quickly adjusted.




Have you seen or experienced situations where one employee does all the work but gets only the same wages as their fellow employees?

What is likely to be the outcome of such a situation?

From a Human Resources Management perspective, formal and informal performance management processes are used to identify and adjust inequities.

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Expectancy Theory

This has been an important theory in the history of the study of motivation. This theory highlights that motivation is partly a decision-making process that evaluates effort for outcomes. It highlights the involvement of the active cognitive processes and user choice in the process. It also highlights the importance of the outcome representing a valued reward for the individual involved.

The actual evaluation process is broken down into a number of parts:

  1. If I put in effort, can I expect to perform at the required task?
  2. Will performing this act or task achieve a desired outcome?
  3. Can I expect the outcome will be available and forthcoming?
activity For example do I have the time, energy and commitment to undertake this course?

If I pass the course will my promotion chances increase?

Is such a promotion likely, and how much do I want promotion—enough to counter all the effort I must put in to pass the course?

Do you go through such a logical evaluation process everytime you need to make a decision, or do you often make de cisions on intuition, whims etc?

Expectancy theory does highlight the significance of matching rewards for effort on an individual/personal basis. It focuses on the relationship between anticipated future rewards and present behaviour.

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The Porter-Lawler Model

This model of motivation although based on the expectancy theory, is probably the most complete theory of workplace motivation. It is an integrated approach that includes elements of nearly all the other motivation theories. This is important as it helps explain why each of the various theories have a contribution to make but also serious limitations. If we consider each as part of a more complex model of motivation this starts to make sense.

Porter-Lawler Model

The model thus suggests that using individual theories won't work. A more integrated approach is needed. It also differs from content theories, particularly 'two factor' theory, in suggesting that performance leads to job satisfaction, rather than job satisfaction leading to performance

The complexity of the model, and the need to evaluate and provide valued rewards on an individual basis, are practical limitations. However it is difficult to argue with the process of the model. The area of motivation is complex and the model highlights this—rather than presenting an unrealistically simple approach, as is the case with many of the alternative theories.