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What is Motivation?

One of the most frequently quoted definition describes work motivation as “a set of energetic forces both within and beyond and individual’s being, to initiate work related behavior and to determine its form, direction, intensity and duration.” This is the application of a psychological understanding of the motivated state of person. Young (1961) defines the study of motivation as “a search for all the determinants of human and animal activity.” For example, desire to earn more money is a motivation that evoke an individual to work hard towards its goals and objectives.

Motivation is described as “one of the most pivotal concerns of modern organizational research. Just like anything that is considered pivotal, motivation influences many other important issues within an organization: employe performance, employee retention, creativity and problem solving and other actions, if we combine motivation with other measures such as commitment. No wonder, motivational studies are the most researched topics in the area of organizational behavior.”

Jones (1965) has said that motivation has to do with – why behavior gets started, is energized, is sustained, is directed, is stopped and what kind of subjective reaction is present in the person when all this is going on. Work motivation refers to how much a person tried to work hard and work well – it refers to the arousal, direction and persistence of effort in a work setting.

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From these definitions, we understand that

  • Work motivation results both from the context (e.g.: organizational reward systems, the nature of the work being performed) and forces inherent in the person (e.g.: individual needs and motives).
  • But however caused, motivation is with the person – we cannot observe motivation directly. We can measure only the observable manifestations of work motivation, which itself is a complex psychological process.
  • Application of psychological insights of motivation should be combined with an understanding of the social side of the individual and the organizational requirements of outcomes.


Features of Motivated Behavior

Arousal and Goal Directedness

Motivation is towards some goal. Whatever the goal, it can generally be classified into two types: achieving something desirable (because it would lead to pleasure) or avoiding something undesirable (because that would lead to pain).

Patterns of Motivated behavior and Choice of Goals

A change in our environment arouses some behavior in all of us – but how can we explain individual difference in behavior then? Then answer is that different persons go for different goals and then for different set of behavior for achieving those goals. This choice can then become pattern of individual behavior and is often repeated. For example, many of us want a ‘good life’, but some believe that life is good when something is accomplished. Accomplishment then becomes a goal instrumental for achieving the final goal of a ‘good’ (perhaps meaningful, happy, satisfying) life.

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Intrinsic or Extrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation causes people to do something because they find spontaneous satisfaction from the activity itself and from the end goal directly satisfied by it – it is a need in its own right. Intrinsically motivated people engage in a specific behavior because to them, it is inherently enjoyable, challenging, interesting, satisfying or meaningful. When an activity is intrinsic motivator, a person sees it as an opportunity for new learning, making important contributions, enjoying responsibility and autonomy and being creative.

Extrinsic motivation, in contrast, requires the offer of some outcomes of an act, so that satisfaction comes not only from the activity itself but from the extrinsic outcomes to which the activity leads. For an extrinsically motivated person, work is only a means that is necessary to be done in order to obtain the rewards associated with the job – which may be money or something else. Extrinsic motivation is needed because:

  • The ‘right’ intrinsic motivation is difficult to create for all
  • Not all intrinsic motivation is always ethical or desirable
  • Organizations need a common denominator for all the efforts


The motivated behavior continues until the goal is achieved through an effort sustained over time and in the face of obstacles and failure. Persistence helps us distinguish motivation from similar concepts such as job satisfaction. While job satisfaction is an attitude with a behavioral component, it is possible to find satisfied people without motivation to work. On the other hand, it is also possible to find motivated workers who express dissatisfaction over various aspects of work.

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Individual, Group and Organizational Level of Analysis

Motivation has basically remained within the domain of individual dynamics of behavior. However, with increasing popularity of groups and teams as the basic units of organization and performance, managers need to understand and create group motivation and design work contexts that create and maintain group motivation. Further, in these times of large-scale organizational change, turn around, downsizing, mergers-and-acquisitions and cross border alliances; understanding of motivation at the organizational level can be very useful.

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About Sonia Kukreja

I am a mother of a lovely kid, and an avid fan technology, computing and management related topics. I hold a degree in MBA from well known management college in India. After completing my post graduation I thought to start a website where I can share management related concepts with rest of the people.