In an organizational context, motivation can be
defined as the psychological characteristics that guide and stimulate the human
behaviour in order to generate voluntary actions aligned with the organizations
goals. Scholars tried to tailor the motivation definition differently, thus we
can find multiple definitions in the organization literature. Nevertheless, all
these definitions shared three main aspects that turn around factors that
stimulate, channel, and prolong human behaviour through time (Steers et al., 2004).
Lakhani and Wolf (2005), Lakhani and Von Hippel (2003)
and Lemer and Tirole (2004) distinguished between two components of motivation
related to intrinsic and extrinsic factors. The former relies on internal
factors or deep-rooted desires within the human nature, such as self-esteem,
personal satisfaction, acceptance, curiosity… The latter relies on external factors
that serve as stimuli that trigger motivation, such as rewards, bonuses, and
benefit packages. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, many
practitioners and scholars tried to determine the factors that enhance
employees’ motivation within organizations.
earliest perceptions of motivation
One of the pioneer
researchers in the field of employees’ motivation is Frederick Winslow Taylor.
Through his scientific management theory, Taylor (1911) claims that in order to
motivate employees and enhance their performance, the organization should adopt
a paternalistic style of management. Taylor is an adept of “the one best way”
approach, thus he claims that workers are “economic men” and the only way to guarantee
their motivation is to link their level of productivity to the wage rate; the
higher is the wage rate, the higher is the motivation and thus the level of
productivity (Taylor, 1911).
Elton Mayo (1953) brought into light a new approach of
employees’ motivation based on human relations. For Elton Mayo, employees are
not only interested in monetary rewards, but they also require understanding,
recognition, respect, and consideration. Therefore, social needs play an
important role in triggering employees’ motivation and enhancing performance.
McGregor (1960) came up with theory X and Y. This
theory describes two different attitudes toward work. Theory X claims that
workers are lazy by nature and that they reject work, unless if they are forced
to do so. For this reason organizations should adopt and autocratic style of
management. At the opposite, theory Y assumes that people enjoy work and that
they have intrinsic motivation, therefore, they are voluntary willing to work
and meet the organization objectives without any external control.