What is Motivation? Meaning, Definitions, Characteristics, Different Motives, Approach, Motivational Techniques

What is Motivation?

Motivation refers to an internal feeling that helps individuals in achieving their personal and professional goals in an efficient manner.

Meaning of Motivation

The term ‘motivation’ is derived from the Latin word ‘movere’ meaning ‘to move’. Therefore, in simple words, motivation refers to the psychological process of driving an individual to certain goals.

Motivation consists of three interacting and independent elements: needs, drives, and incentives. Needs are created whenever there is a physical or psychological imbalance. For example, when the body is deprived of food, there is a need for food. Drives alleviate needs.

Drives provide the energizing thrust to achieve a goal. Incentives are at the end of the motorcycle. Incentives can be defined as factors that reduce drive and alleviate needs. For example, the compensation paid to employees for their work is an incentive that motivates them to work.

Motivation Definition

The meaning of motivation will become clearer through the following definitions of motivation:

According to Dale S. Beach, “motivation can be defined as a willingness to expand energy to achieve a goal or a reward”.

According to Dubin, “motivation is the complex of forces starting and keeping a person at work in an organization”.

According to Michael J. Jucius, “motivation is the act of stimulating someone or oneself to get a desired course of action, to push the right button to get a desired reaction”.

According to W.G. Scott, “motivation means a process of stimulating people to action to accomplish desired goals”.

According to Dalton E. McFarland, “the concept of motivation is mainly psychological. It relates to those forces operating with the individual employee or subordinate, which impel him to act or not to act in certain ways”.

According to Vance, “motivation implies any emotion or desire, which so conditions one’s will that the individual is properly led into action”.

According to Hodge and Johnson, “motivation in organizational settings refers to the willingness of an individual to react to organizational requirements in the short run. The greater the magnitude of positive motivation of an individual towards the organization, the more is the likelihood that he will perform effectively in his position, even if it causes some amount of personal deprivation”.

Characteristics of Motivation

Motivation refers to an internal feeling that helps individuals in achieving their personal and professional goals in an efficient manner. Motivation generates a drive to move in a certain direction and achieve certain goals.

Following are some of the important characteristics of motivation:

  • The source of motivation for different people is different; it depends on their age, status, cultural background, etc.

  • Motivation is a psychological concept. Therefore, it comes from within an individual. Human behavior is influenced more by inner motivation than external influences.

  • Motivation is a complex phenomenon because it cannot be observed directly. In addition, motives being dynamic, add to the complexity of motivation.

  • Motivation is different from satisfaction, inspiration, and manipulation.

  • Motivation positively influences the behavior of individuals. This helps an organization in achieving its goals through its employees.

  • Motivation strengthens employees’ interest in work, which helps in reducing absenteeism.

  • Motivation encourages employees to fulfill their own unsatisfied personal goals.

  • Motivation helps employees to achieve individual, group, and organizational goals.

Different Motives of Motivation

Motives are the fundamental functions that regulate the behavior of individuals.

Primary Motives

There is a significant amount of disagreement among psychologists on how to classify different human motives. However, almost everyone agrees that some motives are unlearned and physiologically based.

Such motives are called physiological, biological, unlearned, and primary motives. These motives are called ‘primary’ because these are more tangible than other motives and originate from the basic physiological level.

However, the term ‘primary’ does not mean that these motives always take precedence over other types of motives.

For a motive to be classified as ‘primary,’ it needs to meet at least two criteria, which are as follows:

  • It must be unlearned. In other words, these motives are inherent in a human being.

  • It must be physiologically based. In other words, these motives originate from the biological system of a human being.

Some of the most common primary motives are hunger, thirst, avoidance of pain, sleep, sex, and material concern. Primary motives have different potential roles in the workplace. For example, material concerns can motivate employees to perform better at their work.

According to Coffman and Gonzalez Molina, “What many organizations don’t see — and why many don’t want to understand — is the employee performance and its subsequent impact on customer engagement revolve around a motivating force that is determined in the brain and defines the specific talents and emotional mechanisms everyone brings to their work”.

General Motives

There are a number of motives that lie between primary and secondary motives. These motives are partially learned and partially biologically inherent. For example, affection is a motive that is partially biological and partially learned from the environment.

These motives are termed general motives. General motives are unlearned, but they are not physiologically based. General motives are also called ‘stimulus motives’, because they induce a person to increase the amount of stimulation. Some examples of general motives are curiosity, manipulation, and affection.

Secondary Motives

Secondary motives are the most important of the three types of motives because these are learned motives. As a society develops, the primary and general motives give way to secondary motives. For example, in a primitive society, primary motives, such as hunger and sex, were very dominant.

However, as society developed, motives, such as power and achievement, took precedence. To be classified as a secondary motive, the motive must be learned.

Some common examples of secondary motives are power, achievement, and affiliation. In addition, in relation to the workplace, security, and status are also important secondary motives

Motivational Approach

Different psychologists have explained the sources of motivations in different manners. Depending on the sources of motivation, there are different approaches to motivation.

Now, let us study some of the approaches to motivation:

Instinct Approach

According to this approach, instincts, or inborn patterns of behavior, influence the behavior of a person. These instincts are biologically predetermined. Therefore, the approach successfully explains the food-seeking and mate-seeking behavior of individuals, because sex and hunger are primary instincts.

However, this approach cannot always explain the complex behavioral patterns displayed by humans. For example, the instinct to survive does not influence the behavior of an individual who saves a friend in a car accident. Thus, there are factors in addition to instincts that influence human behavior.

Drive-reduction Approach

This approach was proposed by Clark C. Hull. The approach establishes a relationship between needs and the fulfillment of needs. According to this approach, every living organism experiences certain drives or arousals that create a feeling of anxiety and tension.

Each organism behaves in a certain manner to reduce this anxiety. This approach is similar to the instinct approach; it fails to explain complex human behavior.

Incentive Approach

According to this approach, motivation originates from the desire to achieve external goals or incentives. Incentives can be tangible, such as money and food, and intangible, such as love and recognition.

However, this approach fails to determine how certain incentives direct behavior. In addition, it is not scientifically possible to determine the value of an incentive.

Cognitive Approach

This is a relatively modern approach, and it is widely accepted by psychologists. The main focus of this approach remains on the individual`s thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions, as well as his/her understanding of the world.

According to the cognitive theory of motivation by Edward C. Tolman, an individual`s expectation of behavior and the value attached to its consequences determine his/her behavior.

Motivational Techniques Used in an Organisation

An organization finds it a complex and challenging task to keep its employees motivated. In an organizational setup, multiple techniques are used to keep employees motivated in their respective jobs.

The following points explain these motivational techniques further:

Monetary and Non-monetary Benefits

Refer to salary components, which include money and other fringe benefits (non-monetary benefits) provided to the employees as compensation for their work.

Some examples of monetary benefits are incentives, commissions, and bonuses, while examples of non-monetary benefits are gift vouchers and electronic gadgets.

It is commonly accepted that monetary motivational tools have better results in comparison to non-monetary ones. However, we cannot ignore the importance of non-monetary measures, because certain needs cannot be fulfilled by money.

Job Enrichment

This technique involves making a job more competitive by asking employees to share the responsibilities of their superiors. When employees are given additional responsibilities, they feel themselves to be an integral part of the organisation.

In addition, this increases the confidence level of employees and maintains their interest in work, which in turn leads to an increase in productivity.

Job Rotation

Refers to assigning different roles and responsibilities to employees at different times to increase their interest in their jobs. It enhances the performance level of employees by keeping them motivated.

In addition, it reduces the monotony of work. However, this practice should be followed for employees who have covered a particular tenure in the organization, because if an employee without experience keeps getting assigned to new roles, he/she will not be able to gain expertise in any role.

Goal Setting

In this technique, certain goals are assigned to employees to invoke their participation. If employee participation is invoked while setting goals, they feel more committed to the attainment of goals.

Alternative Working Schedule

Refers to flexible work timings offered by various organizations to help their employees select the desired shift of work. This way, employees can work as per their convenience to strike a work-life balance in their lives. Alternative working schedules motivate employees to give better performance.

Employees’ Skills Up-gradation

Refers to improving the skills of employees from time to time and providing them training to increase their competency.


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