Work Components of Motivation

Learning Outcomes

  • Discuss the work components of motivation

The work an individual does holds tremendous motivational power. But, as we discussed, no two individuals are alike, and no two individuals are motivated by the same things. A manager’s challenge, when it comes to manipulating the work components of motivation, is to assemble work that is challenging and rewarding. He or she can do that by designing jobs that fit employees’ skills and interests, providing training and good working conditions, and setting challenging but attainable goals.

Let’s take a look at each of these areas.

Job Design

“What kind of skills do I need to do this job?” “How important is this job to the success of the organization?”

These are the answers an employee seeks before he or she agrees to accept a job with an organization. Individuals are looking for interesting work—work that will foster positive internal feelings. Those feelings might come in the form of achieving high production, overcoming obstacles, or being innovative and coming up with new ideas that help the organization succeed. The right job design can help a manager get to those intrinsic motivations an individual brings to work each day, rather than just the extrinsic factors, like pay and benefits.

When reviewing Vroom’s expectancy framework, we can see that job design affects both the effort to performance piece and the performance to outcome piece. The question managers look to answer is, “What’s the right balance for the job design?”

Early management theorists suggested that the easier the job, the more motivated the employee would be. Later studies suggested that organizations should make jobs more challenging and interesting. Both of these points of view fail to take into consideration individuals and the factors each person brings that might influence whether a job design is motivating to him or her personally.

Circle indicating the five parts of job design: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback.Richard Hackman and Gary Oldham published the Hackman-Oldham Job Design Model as part of a 1980 study, and it suggested that managers should tailor the job to meet the employee’s individual needs. Where job design is concerned, Hackman and Oldham suggested that a job’s motivating potential can be influenced by skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback.

  • Skill variety refers to the number of skills used to do a job. A traditional assembly line job would have a low skill variety, whereas a nurse would have higher skill variety.
  • Task identity refers to the level at which employees feel like they “owns” the outcome when completing the task. Going back to our first example, workers on an assembly line would have low task identity. Which parts from their lines ended up in which machines? They’re not likely to know, so they would have a low task identity. A nurse, however, can identify with how well a patient recovers, or see immediately that a choice he or she made saved the life of a patient. Thus, a nurse would have high task identity.
  • Task significance indicates the importance of that task to the organization. The job of receptionist, for example, has lower task significance. A temporary employee can be brought in to answer phones and sort mail. But doctors would have high task significance—not anyone can do their job, and they have knowledge of their patients and their situations that others would not have.
  • Autonomy is the degree to which an employee can make independent decisions and not have to check in with a supervisor. Again, clerical work would have low autonomy because the job is repetitious and workers make few decisions on their own. Doctors would have high autonomy, making decisions to medicate a patient a certain way or handle an emergency procedure on the operating table.
  • Feedback is information about an employee’s performance. Most employees who perform a task want to know if they are doing it right, doing it well, and so on.

Hackman and Oldham noted that while the first three components of the job design (skill variety, task identify, and task significance) are very important, the last two, autonomy and feedback, are considered even more so. Thus managers should think a little harder about how to incorporate a little autonomy and feedback into the roles their team members fill.

Practice Question

A good match between employees and their jobs ensures a stronger link between the effort and performance aspects of the expectancy framework. What other work components of motivation can a manager manipulate to drive outcomes?

Training and Working Conditions

A woman gives a presentation in a board room.Managers can increase motivation by providing adequate and ongoing training for their employees, letting employees learn new things about their current job and learn new skills that will help them move on to the next level of their careers. Knowledgeable employees feel good about themselves, and their co-workers feel good about working with them. Tasks get done quickly and the team is more productive.

Consider the work environment where there is no training:

  • Amanda has newly been hired, and she can’t ramp up because her managers didn’t spend time bringing her up to speed on tasks. She feels inadequate and doesn’t understand her work. Her co-workers are frustrated because they continue to take on part of Amanda’s workload.
  • Joaquim puts in long hours and a lot of effort but doesn’t get as much done as his co-workers because no one has brought him up to speed on new systems and processes. He’s reinventing the wheel, wasting a lot of his time and everyone else’s time. Co-workers, again, are frustrated because their team member isn’t pulling his weight.
  • Taylor, a long-time team member, enjoyed their job when they started and mastered all the skills they needed to complete their tasks years ago. Now they’re bored and just going through the motions, and they are becoming less engaged because their employer doesn’t provide them with new opportunities to learn and move ahead via ongoing training.

The same idea holds true for working conditions. Working conditions should support—not hinder—the productivity of the organization’s employees. The employees should be safe in doing their work, but beyond that they should have the appropriate equipment, tools and working environment to do their jobs well.

Teacher Success

For instance, let’s compare two grade school teachers:

  • Aislinn is given a class of 35 students. Each of the students has a desk, pens, papers, and text books.
  • Zane has a class of only 15 students. He is given a teacher’s assistant. Each student has a desk, pens, papers, and text books, and each of them has also been provided with a desktop computer.

Which teacher will be more successful?

Aislinn has many more students to teach, and there is no assistant to help her. She has books, but no computers to help the children learn. By work environment alone, Aislinn is more likely to fail. And that’s not very motivating.

Goal Setting

Employees are motivated when they’re set on the path toward a particular goal. Goal setting is essential in the effort-performance link on the expectancy framework. Management by objective (MBO) focuses on setting goals, monitoring progress, and giving feedback and correction. MBO assumes that employees must have clear, challenging, measurable and specific goals to be motivated to perform well.

The idea behind goal setting is that the company goals are cascaded down to the departments, which are then cascaded down to the employees.

Diagram showing how Company Goals filter down into the goals of three departments. In each department, goals filter down into individual goals.

The goals should be achievable and reasonable, specific and measurable. Employees want to understand exactly what’s expected of them, and they want to be able to achieve the goal set. After all, if it’s near to impossible to achieve the goal that’s been set, an employee might not even try. That can be a demotivator.

The goals should also have a reasonable time frame. If it takes a week to build a toy, an employee who’s charged with building 50 toys needs to be given more than six months to do the work. Conversely, that same employee shouldn’t be given two years to make that goal, because the work can be done more quickly than that.

Job design, training and working conditions and goal setting are all equally important parts of the work component of motivation, and a good manager understands how to manipulate these things in order to inspire his employees to work hard and feel good about what they’ve accomplished.


Did you have an idea for improving this content? We’d love your input.

Improve this pageLearn More