Workplace Behaviour Reflective Journal

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Motivation in the Workplace


Reflective Journal on Motivating Generation Y’ers in the Workplace


‘If only our employees were motivated, then we'd get the results we need.’ How many times have you heard a similar statement at work?

Effective management generally entails the creation, development and maintenance of an environment in which individuals in an organization work together to accomplish common organizational goals. To achieve this, a manager needs to know how to motivate people to perform. Ideally, organizational roles, the staffing of those roles and the entire process of leadership must be built on the knowledge of motivation (Koontz & Weihrich, 1988). Zimmerman (1988) further reiterates that an organization cannot effectively achieve its mission without motivating its personnel towards the achievement of its set goals. Thus, employee motivation is imperative to the success of any organization.  

What is motivation? Reece and Brandt (2008, p.161) defines motivation as ‘the influences that account for the initiation, direction, intensity and persistence of behavior’. Motivation, in my opinion, is one of the most difficult pieces in the management puzzle. Over the last five years, my department has seen an influx of younger generation employees whose needs, expectations and values are markedly different from the existing staff who belong to an earlier generation. The traditional ‘tried and tested’ methods of motivation no longer worked for everyone. As a manager and a team member, I agree that motivation is key to employee performance but after a few years in the trenches, trying to develop, reward, and improve staff performance, I began grabbing for any old bit of the motivational jigsaw and in frustration, attempted to jam ill-suited pieces into place at times. The lecture by Dr Jo Pryce on Motivating Yourself and Others was timely as it has helped me to re-examine myself and my understanding of human behavior in terms of motivation and put me in a better position to address this issue in my workplace.  

Motivational theories can broadly fall under two categories: scientific and behavioral. In this paper, I would like to review the behavioral approach advocated by Abraham Maslow, Douglas McGregor and Frederick Herzberg in the light of my workplace experiences. The figure below suggests how these theories contribute to my understanding of motivation.

Employees’ Needs  + Manager’s Attitude  + Employees’ Job  =  Employee Motivation    

     (Maslow)                      (McGregor)               (Herzberg)

Understanding Employees’ Needs – Maslow

In the article, “A Theory of Human Motivation” (Maslow, 1943) argues that individuals are motivated to satisfy different kinds of needs, some of which are more prepotent than others. He represents this prepotency of needs as a hierarchy as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs


The hierarchical nature of this framework suggests that higher, unsatisfied needs usually appear after the satisfaction of those on the lower level. Each of these needs operates at all times, although one deficient set dominates the individual at any one time and circumstance.

Judging by the policies, procedures and practices in my organization, it has to a large extent addressed these needs. It provides up-to-date amenities, a safe working environment, good salary, job security and retirement benefits. We have a childcare center in our premises and a plethora of talks, social activities etc. aimed at improving social networking and work-life balance. In addition, there is adequate provision for achievement and recognition and clear channels for personal growth and advancement. The level of motivation is therefore expected to be very high. Yet, on the ground this is not the case.

One of the key reasons can be traced to the marked difference in the work ethics, values and behavior of the younger Generation Y (those who were born between 1980 and 1994) ( Davie, 2009, p. A6) staff and the incumbent Generation X. The original staff is a tightly knitted group who are above 45 years of age. Most of us share similar life experiences and are at about the same stage of life. We hold conservative values of hard work, humility, respect, commitment and interaction which mirror the ethos of the organization. Thus, the level of motivation exhibited by the existing group is very high. However, the Generation Y’ers in my department do not share these values. They would rather be ‘Facebooking’ with friends (belongingness and love needs) rather than socialize with the rest of the staff during breaks. During meetings, they can be rather blunt with their comments and display impatience (esteem needs) inadvertently irking some of the older staff members. The new attitude of Gen Y to the workplace has lead to some uneasiness between the generations in the department. A survey by Lee Hecht Harrison in 2005 found that 60% of employers experience tension between employees from different generations. This tension is often two-way with 70% of older employees dismissive of younger workers’ abilities while 50% of younger employees are dismissive of older co-workers. 

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Most of them have also voiced their disappointment over the strict dress code and regimented work schedule and feel that they should have the flexibility to report late or end earlier as per their teaching schedule (physiological needs). They reason that they could do their administrative work at home and students could have access to them any time through their cell phones or via the internet.

According to a global report by Pricewaterhouse-Coopers (2008), 61 per cent of CEOs say they have difficulty recruiting and integrating younger workers. Thus, it is no surprise that I find it increasingly ...

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