Motivating Employees: Why It Matters

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Motivating Employees: Why It Matters
What motivates you to do what you do? How do you motivate others to help you or to
accomplish things on their own? You have already learned about the role both managers
and employees play in helping organizations reach their goals. As a manager, you are
expected to lead and manage people. As an employee, you are given job-specific duties
and responsibilities to perform. Neither leading nor following will happen unless people
are motivated.
This video ( on the motivational strategies used by
Zappos is a good place to begin our discussion of motivation in business. What motivates
the employees at Zappos? Is it high salaries? Long vacations? The chance to shave their
heads at the company picnic once a year? As you watch the video, pay attention to what
really motivates Zappos workers.
Since the 1920s, researchers have studied human behavior, developing a variety of
theories to explain the driving force behind motivation. These theories range from the
need to provide a safe and secure environment to the desire not to experience negative
consequences from action or inaction. Understanding the basis for motivation and how
motivational approaches work within an organization can help you and your business be
As you read on, ask yourself the following questions:
What motivates me?
How have others tried to motivate me?
Which motivational approaches have been the most and least successful?
When have I been successful in motivating others?
How can I use this information to be successful in my personal and professional life?
The Hawthorne Studies
Learning Resource
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Many of today’s ideas about the connection between human motivation and employee
performance can be traced back to discoveries from the Hawthorne studies.
Hawthorne Works, c. 1920
During the 1920s, Elton Mayo conducted a series of studies on workers at the Hawthorne
plant of the Western Electric Company in Illinois. These studies changed the direction of
motivational and managerial theory from earlier studies, in particular Frederick Taylor’s
“man as machine” view that focused on ways of improving individual performance.
In contrast, Hawthorne set the individual in a social context. He argued that an
employee’s work surroundings and coworkers have as much influence over performance
as skill and ability. The Hawthorne studies are credited with focusing managerial strategy
on the sociopsychological aspects of human behavior in organizations.
This video ( from the AT&T archives contains
interviews with individuals who participated in these studies. It provides insight into the
way the studies were conducted and how they changed employers’ views on worker
The studies originally examined the effects of physical conditions on productivity and
whether workers were more responsive and efficient under certain environmental
conditions, such as better lighting. The results were surprising: Mayo found that workers
were more responsive to social factors—such as their manager and coworkers—than the
other factors being investigated. When the lights were dimmed again and the workplace
was returned to pre-experimental conditions, productivity rose to its highest level and
absenteeism plummeted.
Mayo had discovered that workers responded when they received more attention from
their managers: Employees were more productive when they felt that their managers
cared about and were interested in their work. The studies also found that although
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financial incentives are important drivers of worker productivity, social factors are equally
The Hawthorne studies also included a number of other experiments, including one in
which two women were chosen as test subjects and were asked to choose four other
workers to join the test group. Each person’s performance was measured before they
were grouped in a separate room from other employees, and their performance continued
to be measured for five years as they worked assembling telephone relays. In the
experiment room, they were assigned to a supervisor, who sometimes used the test
subjects’ suggestions to make changes.
The researchers then measured how different variables affected group and individual
productivity. Changing a variable usually increased productivity, even if the variable was
just a change back to the original condition. The researchers concluded that the
employees worked harder because they thought they were being monitored individually.
They hypothesized that choosing one’s coworkers, working as a group, being treated as
special (as evidenced by working in a separate room), and having a sympathetic supervisor
were the real reasons for the productivity increase.
The Hawthorne studies showed that people’s work performance is dependent on social
issues and job satisfaction. The studies concluded that tangible motivators, such as
monetary incentives and good working conditions, are generally less important in
improving employee productivity than intangible motivators, such as meeting individuals’
desire to belong to a group and be included in decision making and work.
Licenses and Attributions
Chapter 10: Motivating Employees ( by Linda Williams and
Lumen Learning from Introduction to Business is available under a Creative Commons
Attribution 4.0 International ( license.
UMGC has modified this work and it is available under the original license.
© 2022 University of Maryland Global Campus
All links to external sites were verified at the time of publication. UMGC is not responsible for the validity or integrity
of information located at external sites.

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