Work Motivation

Date: Nov 8, 2018


With the growing intensity of business and organizational competition, companies invest the growing amount of finances and creativity in the development of effective human resources. The importance of staff in the system of organizational resources is justified by their uniqueness, inimitability and the potential to become the main source of sustained competitive advantage. Not surprisingly, motivation occupies one of the leading positions among the most popular topics of organizational theory and research, since staff cannot be effective if it is not motivated to work. Yet, people are motivated by a variety of factors and no single motivation strategy can be regarded as universal. Organizations must develop motivational approaches and models based on a thorough analysis of their environmental conditions and circumstances of workplace performance. Although most workers have similar basic needs, the ways in which they perceive and experience those needs considerably vary from one employee to another. At times, individual strategies to motivate employees will be more effective and economically justified than the strategies developed to cover the entire staff. The purpose of current report is to propose an individual- and organizational-level strategy to boost employee motivation at Imbroglio, a multi-national company that has recently gone through downsizing. The report will include a general discussion of motivation and most relevant motivation theories, the effects of downsizing on employee motivation and morale and a description of one organization-level and two individual strategies to motivate the employees, who face new challenges after downsizing.

The What and Why of Motivated Employees

The topic of employee motivation enjoys sustained popularity in literature on organizational development and organizational change. From both theoretical and practical perspectives, motivation remains the most challenging aspect of organizational performance. According to Herrera (2002, p. 4), "finding sources of employee motivation has been the life's work of many researchers, psychologists, management gurus, and an assortment of other very intelligent people." Nevertheless, no one has ever managed to produce a single and universally effective conceptual model of motivation in the workplace. The absence of such model is associated with the complexity of motivation as a concept and a practical aspect of work in organizations. Reece (2010, p. 140) defines motivation as the complex set of influences that change the patterns of initiation, direction, persistence and intensity of certain behaviors. The number and diversity of such factors are virtually limitless (Reece 2010, p. 140). Yet, most psychologists and organization researchers focus on the most important categories. First, physiological factors of motivation include the basic needs (Reece 2010, p. 140). Second, emotional factors cover a broad set of influences, from pain and sorrow to love and betrayal (Reece 2010, p. 140). Third, cognitive factors refer to one's perceptions of the surrounding reality, values and principles followed in everyday routines (Reece 2010, p. 140). Fourth, social factors imply the influence of the environment, such as family members, social media or various sociocultural forces, on motivation (Reece 2010, p. 140). Certainly, these factors alone can hardly be helpful in the analysis of the most prospectively effective strategies of employees’ motivation for Imbroglio. Much more interesting is what information the other researchers provide about the most promising approaches to motivating workers.

How Employees Can Be Motivated

The current state of research suggests that contemporary scholars have consistently failed to reach any consensus on the most viable solutions to motivational problems among employees. Yet, in no case should the lack of such consensus be treated as a serious issue. Quite on the contrary, the absence of any universal strategies implies the need for organizations to develop unique strategies and solutions, which would be tailored to the specific conditions of workplace performance and the most peculiar employees’ needs. Actually, needs often stand at the very center of motivation theories. Hockroch (2014, p. 10) mentions Maslow's hierarchy of needs and suggests that "needs for safety, security, and belongingness play a major role in employees' motivation." On the basis of these needs, Hockroch (2014, p. 10) proposes that managers and business owners use compensation incentives to motivate their workers. Such incentives can create an atmosphere of job security and even promise future career development and growth, thus satisfying workers' craving for safety and belongingness. In addition, financial incentives coupled with career development and training have the potential to make employees better motivated, as they are trying to cope with their workplace obligations (Hockroch 2014, p. 10).

Beyond satisfying their needs, employees also need to be clear of their roles and confident that the organization provides the structure, resources and processes needed to successfully accomplish their workplace obligations (Dent, Holton & Rabbetts 2010, p. 31). It is through the organization that reward systems to motivate employees are developed and implemented. However, organizations alone cannot guarantee high levels of motivation in their employees. Leaders as well as managers are expected to play an important role in attracting and retaining the most prospective workers (Dent, Holton & Rabbetts 2010, p. 32). Simultaneously, Dent, Holton and Rabbetts (2010, p. 32) suggest that individuals themselves must be clear about what motivates them and, consequently, can achieve higher levels of workplace motivation. It is possible to assume that organizations must assist their employees in developing a better understanding of their most salient motivational factors. Such knowledge will then be used to create the most suitable mechanisms of better motivation and workplace performance, which incorporate the elements of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and respond to the most sophisticated needs of workers.

Imbroglio and Change through Downsizing

The discussion and development of motivation strategies would have been incomplete without considering the effects of downsizing on the company’s employees. At the center of the organizational change at Imbroglio was the decision to restructure and reduce the existing workforce by 40 percent. Consequently, the remaining workers had to reconcile with the growing workloads and many of them had to assume new roles. To a large extent, downsizing became a huge burden on many employees who have managed to survive the organizational change initiative. Employees vary considerably in their reactions to organizational change (Appelbaum et al. 1997, p. 278). Still, most of them are likely to experience the so-called downsizing syndrome, which has considerable impacts on employee’s motivation and, at the same time, profound implications for the quality and consistency of motivation strategies.

To start with, downsizing is usually a strategic decision made with the goal of reducing inefficiency and waste and creating a strong basis for organizational growth in a long-term perspective (Appelbaum et al. 1997, p. 279). The expected benefits and outcomes are numerous, from smoother communications and lower overheads to greater entrepreneurship, reduced bureaucracy and improved decision making (Appelbaum et al. 1997, p. 279). In the meantime, one of the chief factors of downsizing problems and failures is that many organizations simply do not account for the effects their downsizing decisions are likely to have on employees. It is what Appelbaum et al. (1997, p. 280) call "the people factor", which is closely related to surviving employees. After the downsizing process is completed, many employees face questions that cannot always be answered. One of the key concerns is that employees tend to be misinformed about their place in the new organizational hierarchy, new obligations and expected performance standards (Appelbaum et al. 1997, p. 280). No less frequent are extra work demands – as the number of employees decreases, the organization must successfully balance the number and qualifications of its staff with the strategic and tactical goals of business performance. Downsizing may also change the amount of career advancement opportunities, while employees themselves will grow doubtful about the value of their expertise in the changed organization (Appelbaum et al. 1997, p. 280). All these facts are the symptoms of the so-called "survivor syndrome", which creates confusion among employees and does not allow them to work effectively, even though they should be happy to have survived the change.

Organization-Level Interventions

Problems identified. The most common way for organizations to boost employees’ motivation is through the development of common policies and strategies to target the entire staff. However, such strategies must be based on a thorough analysis of the main motivational issues facing organizations, particularly after downsizing. It is no secret that, after 40 percent of the staff were laid off, the survivors are likely to experience stress bordering on depression (Appelbaum et al. 1997, p. 280). They are lost and confused, while managers are developing "leaner" approaches with regard to purchasing equipment and materials, employees are experiencing the growing pressure for creativity and innovation, which should become the main source of the organization's competitive advantage in the long run. Additionally, the pace of change has been so rapid that not all downsizing survivors have managed to realize its seriousness and scope. Therefore, time has come to understand and identify the motivational needs of workers.

Strategic Recommendations

The new motivational strategy at Imbroglio should start with the detailed analysis of the factors and forces behind employee’s motivation. To avoid the growing severity of the survivor syndrome, the company must organize individual and collective meetings with employees to clarify their emerging and existing needs and possible ways to satisfy them. Such recommendation is based on the information provided by Dent, Holton and Rabbetts (2010, p. 32): on the one hand, individuals themselves must be clear about what motivates them. On the other hand, the leader is expected to provide guidance and motivational leadership in ways that value and recognize the talents and needs of each employee. To make it happen, the leader must take some time to understand what it is that makes his/her employees motivated and effective (Dent, Holton & Rabbetts 2010, p. 32). The analysis of such motivational factors may take a lot of different forms, depending on the level of comfort employees experience with regard to collective, individual meetings, oral or written discussions. Simultaneously, based on the company's downsizing experiences and the level of confusion experienced by employees, the organization-level motivational strategy must invariably include the following elements: profit sharing mechanisms, employee engagement schemes, job redesign approaches and ethical leadership.

Actually, the proposed strategy for the analysis of employee needs partially reflects the importance of employee engagement in organizational decision making. At the current stage of the organizational change, employees need to feel that the company hears and understands their motivational message. They need to feel that the company encourages their active participation in the most important decisions following downsizing. Yet, it is not enough to simply let employees participate in organizational decision making. As Sylvester and Patel (2014, p. 62) write, human resource professionals are in charge of making the first step towards greater employee engagement. The proposed strategy will include a number of elements, as recommended by Dent and Holton (2009, p. 38). First and foremost, the meaning and boundaries of employee engagement need to be defined. Formal processes and systems need to be in place to ensure that employees have an access to the best engagement practices and can share their impressions of engagement with others (Dent & Holton 2009, p. 38). Second, top level support is critical for the success of motivation in employee engagement initiatives (Dent & Holton 2009, p. 38). Leaders must realize that true engagement is not limited to financial rewards but entails employees' active participation in the development of the most important organizational policies and decisions. Third, engagement will not be effective without the presence of sophisticated reward systems that incorporate the elements of financial and non-financial incentives and rewards (Dent & Holton 2009, p. 39). Finally, Imbroglio will have to create and use a system of metrics to measure and evaluate employee’s progress in terms of both engagement and motivation.

As engagement presupposes the creation of a special rewards system to include both financial and non-financial incentives, it is high time for Imbroglio to consider the changes in its organizational structure, new conditions of work, new employee obligations and the ways in which the company could make employees less reluctant to take additional workloads. After 40 percent of the company staff was laid off, the growing workloads have become one of the primary issues facing employees. Such workloads and redundancies raise employee concerns about their future within the company and, at the same time, challenge their workplace and career development ambitions. In this sense, profit sharing seems to be the most suitable way to boost motivation and performance as employees undertake new roles and workplace responsibilities. The logic is simple: the more employees work the more they earn as a result of their workplace successes. According to Long (2000, p. 477), profit sharing schemes boost productivity, but the exact mechanism through which shared profits lead to better productivity results are not always clear. Still, it is possible to expect that the creation of a profit sharing scheme at Imbroglio will lead to the following results.

First, it will increase employees' individual and collective effort (Long 2000, p. 479). "Adding profit sharing to base pay creates an additional performance-contingent incentive to motivate higher worker job effort, in line with the expectancy theory of motivation" (Long 2000, p. 479). However, Imbroglio should not ignore the risks of "free-riding", when one employee increases his productivity and another employee uses its benefits without changing his/her effort (Long 2000, p. 480). Second, profit sharing will make the existing compensation schemes more attractive to downsizing survivors (Long 2000, p. 480). In most cases, profit sharing schemes increase employees’ net earnings, leading to lower turnover rates and greater motivation of employee to be creative, innovative and productive. Third, profit sharing is an excellent way to improve reward equity (Long 2000, p. 480). For the employees working at Imbroglio after downsizing it represents one of the major concerns. As they assume new responsibilities and see their colleagues engage in new activities, they certainly need to perceive that the results of their work are shared fairly among the staff. Finally, profit sharing is likely to lead to increased organizational identification and employee cooperation (Long 2000, p. 481). These financial aspects of employee motivation will be further supported through development and implementation of non-financial initiatives.

As mentioned earlier, downsizing survivors at Imbroglio experience confusion and low motivation due to the fact that they have to engage in new organizational processes and assume new workplace responsibilities. With fewer employees, Imbroglio will clearly face difficulties, as its leaders are trying to meet the strategic and tactical objectives set before the organizational change was initiated. What the company should do is review the existing job design and redesign the existing jobs in ways that would look more engaging and motivational to employees. Moreover, such redesign initiatives should be developed in a manner that boosts intrinsic employee motivation. The existing and new jobs will be redesigned to meet a number of criteria. First, they will have to ensure an appropriate work-life balance (Giancola 2011, p. 25). Second, leaders and managers will have to pay a good deal of attention to the work fulfilled by employees as a means to show their recognition and appreciation of employee’s efforts (Giancola 2011, p. 25). "Rewards and recognition are essential factors in enhancing employee job satisfaction and work motivation which is directly associated with organizational achievement" (Manzoor 2012, p. 6). Third, employees will have to be provided with a sufficient amount of decision making autonomy to encourage individual contribution to organizational performance.

These initiatives will be supported by the development and use of ethical leadership frameworks, which will create a positive environment for the development and implementation of the proposed strategy. Ethical leadership by itself implies the demonstration of ethical behavior through interpersonal relationships with employees, effective two-way communication, decision making, encouragement and reinforcement (Yidong & Xinxin 2013, p. 442). The motivational benefits of ethical leadership will be two-fold. On the one hand, ethical leaders will provide the amount of top level support needed to facilitate the implementation of the proposed strategy. On the other hand, ethical leaders will serve as role models and inspire their employees to achieve more challenging goals of workplace performance, by showing their support and recognition, appreciating individual and collective efforts and setting the direction for employee development and growth. In addition to the organization-level strategy, individual employees will also have a chance to improve their motivation and workplace performance.

Individual-Level Strategies to Boost Motivation

As employees are trying to cope with the challenges raised by downsizing, they experience difficulties that are unique to their position, workplace characteristics, experience and expectations. John who has spent 25 years with the company has undergone drastic shifts in the structure of his workplace responsibilities. He is not sure that he will have enough time and efforts to learn new workplace skills. By contrast, Yvonne is a newcomer. As a result of downsizing, her department was reduced by 60 percent and she became a temporary department head. Like John, Yvonne is not sure that she can cope with her new workplace responsibilities and she is not very satisfied with the growing workloads.

First of all, both of them need to feel recognized for their efforts and, at the same time, empowered to move forward towards the most challenging professional goals. At this point of organizational change, both John and Yvonne must be recognized for their earlier efforts and successes. Such recognition has little to do with formal rewards (Hansen, Smith & Hansen 2002, p. 38). Imbroglio will have to develop a comprehensive strategy to recognize John's and Yvonne's achievements individually, so that they have a good motivational basis to stay with the company. Shiraz, Rashid and Riaz (2011, p. 1432), promotion holds the greatest promise to show recognition and boost employee motivation. However, Yvonne and John have been promoted already and they do not feel satisfied. Their motivation can improve, if managers pay greater attention to the conditions of work, work-life balance and work content (Shiraz, Rashid & Riaz 2011, p. 1432). By improving workplace conditions and enriching their jobs, the company will greatly improve the motivation and performance of these two employees.

Second, employee confusion can be related to the lack of understanding of why downsizing was necessary and what expects Yvonne and John in the nearest future. Without a concerted organizational effort, Imbroglio can never promote a sense of meaningfulness in its employees (Stumpf et al. 2013, p. 27). It is worth spending some additional amount of time to communicate with Yvonne and John individually, hear their concerns and explain to them why their participation in the organizational change is particularly important to Imbroglio. Leader communication will be of particular importance in making them more committed to their obligations and jobs (Mayfield & Mayfield 2002, p. 89). Such communication will inevitably result in increased intrinsic motivation, as both employees acquire a better understanding of their roles within the organization.

Third, both Yvonne and John need training to become more motivated in the face of new organizational challenges. The best practice perspective implies that training opportunities create superior conditions for enhancing organizational performance (Dysvik & Kuvaas 2008, p. 140). They are often considered as a wonderful exchange opportunity for managers and employees (Dysvik & Kuvaas 2008, p. 140). The nature of training will vary depending on the workplace needs of both workers. Such training courses will have a positive impact on job involvement and job motivation (Akhtar et al. 2011, p. 802). Yvonne and John will have more confidence in their skills in addition to the profit-sharing opportunities the new strategy will open to them.


The proposed strategy includes organization- and individual-level interventions. At the organizational level, the strategy to boost employee motivation will be based on a detailed analysis of their motivational and workplace needs. Profit-sharing schemes, job redesign, employee engagement and ethical leadership will shape the very basis of the strategy, its philosophy and framework. Individually, John and Yvonne as the two prospective employees will see the recognition of their efforts, coupled with advanced training opportunities, job enrichment and communication with leaders. Apparently, the proposed strategy makes a strong emphasis on non-monetary factors of employee motivation. Therefore, it has the potential to improve the intrinsic performance of employees after downsizing.

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