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Motivation at work: a key issue in remuneration

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MOTIVATION AT WORK: a key issue in remuneration To be effective, remuneration systems should be based on sound understanding of the motivation of people at work. However, this has proved to be an extremely complex topic, and very often reward systems used by employers have been based on simplistic motivation theories and they have failed. In this article I describe the most significant contributions to the theory of motivation, leading up to a review of current understanding of this complex subject. This leads us into examining strategies for reward systems aimed at motivating better performance; and the scope for integrating reward systems into strategies for changing other human resource management systems. Motivation Theories Theories of motivation to work have passed through many stages, influencing and being influenced by the prevailing management ideologies and philosophies of each era. Although we can trace a sequence to this development, it does not mean that the old theories have died. There are employers and managers and employees today adhering vigorously to one or other of them, basing their belief not on research or empirical evidence but on an almost ideological framework of values and assumptions. These help them understand their own role and those of others around them. The poor quality of comprehension about how reward systems affect behaviour can be blamed partly on the confusion generated by so many conflicting theories of motivation and conflicting case examples. During the early part of this century the predominant theory about management was the classical or "scientific" management approach. This theory portrayed working people as making rational economic calculations and following a consequent logical pattern of behaviour at work (see Taylor, 1947). Employers, who accepted this theory, believed that their workforce were driven by the desire to earn the most money possible. Elaborate financial incentive schemes were developed, based on work measurement using stop-watches to determine how long each element of each task should take. ...read more.


The situation changed, and they become more highly motivated by the incentive bonus scheme, when they started to keep their own pay packet. Other researchers have reported variations in motivation. Michael White (1973) found UK managers in a sample of 2246 showed six distinctive patterns of motivation (material rewards, status and prestige, security and social issues, job interest, variety and challenge, and leadership). Blackburn and Mann (1979) found in a sample of 1000 low skilled workers a wide range of "orientations", or motivations to work. These included such things as pay, hours of work, promotion opportunities, autonomy, working indoors, intrinsic features of the work, how worthwhile the work was, relationships with colleagues, and working conditions. These kinds of studies certainly support the "contingency theory" approach, which says that management strategies (including payment systems) should be designed specifically to suit the host organisation and its employees and managers. However the picture is very much complicated by the fact that there is also a body of research which indicates that needs are neither instinctive nor fixed for individuals. They vary with changes in personal circumstance, and can be modified by making desired rewards more available or less available. White's study showed that the managers who were most likely to be motivated by security and social needs were those who had reached a peak in their careers, and for whom some of the other motivators were no longer available. Job interest was a motivator for people who had interesting jobs, variety and challenge were motivators for people with challenging jobs, and so on. In many cases it is impossible to ascertain which came first, the motivation or the choice of career. But this is not so with those people whose careers had peaked. If it is true that people often adapt their needs to match the rewards which are available to them, then this would explain why Goldthorpe (1968) ...read more.


4: REINFORCEMENT: Procedures should be put in place with care to give employees reinforcement, encouragement, guidance, and feedback so that they are aware of their employers' interest in their performance and they can quickly learn how to earn the desired reward (Expectancy Theory; also Behaviour Modification Theory; also Reactance Theory) 5: RELEVANCE OF REWARD: Time should be spent making sure employees are interested in earning the proposed rewards (from: Expectancy Theory; also Contingency Theory) 6: GOALS: Employees should be consulted about the goals, targets, or behaviour changes which will earn the reward, and these should be made as specific and clear as possible (from: Goal Theory; also Expectancy Theory; also Reactance Theory) It will be noticed that many of the above principles require as much if not more effort from supervisors and managers as from the workers they are managing. Too often in the past poor performance has been blamed entirely on workers, and only recently have writers recognised that poor employee performance is often related to poor management. Seeking to motivate employees is a red herring that has sometimes used to turn attention on others, rather than face up to one's own responsibilities and faults in this area. Reward Systems and other Human Resources Management Strategies Pay is a topic guaranteed to hold the attention of most employees in most organisations. For that reason, a programme involving changing a reward system can be used as a mechanism for easing in other kinds of changes such as re-structuring. It is a common mistake for employers to assume that they should delay any changes to their remuneration or reward structure until after they have completed other changes, especially when these changes involve extensive internal re-structuring. By doing this they miss the opportunity to involve employees closely in the process and to gain their co-operation with change as part of the package associated with the new remuneration system. ...read more.

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