5 Popular Theories of Motivation that Management Experts Should Know

5 Popular Theories of Motivation that Management Experts Should Know

4 mins read755 Views Comment
Syed Aquib Ur
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager
Updated on Dec 15, 2022 15:47 IST

Motivation explains why some people in an organisation are more productive than others. The logic goes that the more one is motivated to work, the more the organisation benefits. That’s why it is important for managers to know about the different theories of motivation.


Theories of motivation are formalised, practical insights on human behaviour that study the causes driving individuals to stay motivated at work. 

In the context of business and management, motivation theories can help explore the deeper relationships between employees and organisations. 

And, maybe you started a small business or recently got into a new managerial role, knowing a few motivation theories will help your employees or subordinates. 

Explore the top five theories of motivation in management by clicking on the links below. 

  1. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
  2. Equity Theory of Motivation
  3. ERG Theory of Motivation
  4. McClelland Theory of Motivation
  5. Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a five-tier approach to human psychology. The base needs are at the bottom of a pyramid, while the complex needs advance to the top. 

The needs from bottom to top are

  1. Physiological needs – Ones that are instinctual such as food, shelter, pay check, etc.
  2. Safety needs – These are related to the freedom of having security in life. Job security is one example.
  3. Love & Belongingness Needs – Ones that provide an individual the space to be themselves. Family, group or team, etc are some examples. 
  4. Esteem Needs – These are needs that indicate getting admiration and respect from others based on the individual’s competence. An example for this would be a promotion at work.
  5. Self-actualisation Needs – These needs are the highest degree that all individuals aspire. If they are good at something, they need to be the best at it. 

Maslow’s theory of motivation discusses that the needs at the bottom of the pyramid must be satisfied first. After that, higher needs can be thought of. 

Also, explore psychology courses

Equity Theory of Motivation

This theory states that employees are concerned with being treated fairly. They should get the same rewards and compensation as the others in the same role get. 

As an organisation or small business, it is important to consider that employees should get fair salaries or wages based on the work they do. Only this can motivate them to work properly. 

According to this theory, the motivation level of the individual is based on their perception of fairness, equity and justice. 

There are three elements to consider in the equity theory. 

  • Inputs – What the employee brings to the organisation – skills, effort, loyalty, etc.
  • Outcomes – Includes the perception of how the employee is compensated for their efforts – pay, job security, etc
  • Referent – Comparison of outcomes with those who are in a similar designation to the employee

ERG Theory of Motivation 

ERG theory of motivation was introduced by Clayton Alderfer. This theory takes from Maslow’s theory of motivation with three factors/needs instead of five. 

ERG stands for Existence, Relatedness and Growth. Alderfer argues that people are motivated by multiple needs at the same time. 


Existence needs are all the physiological desires that cover the first two stages of needs in the Maslow’s hierarchy. The third and fourth stages of Maslow hierarchy fall under relatedness. Esteem also equates to growth needs in the ERG theory of motivation along with self-actualisation. 

One of the primary differences of this theory from Maslow’s hierarchy is that needs are not rigid as explained by Maslow. 

Alderfer’s predecessor argues that the base needs should be fulfilled before other needs such as esteem and self-actualisation needs can be met. Instead, one can work on growth needs even by not satisfying the base needs, according to Alderfer. 

McClelland Theory of Motivation

Propounded by David McClelland, an American psychologist, McClelland motivation theory aka Learned Needs Theory highlights three types of needs based on a person’s characteristics. 

  • Need for Achievement – This covers fulfilment of responsibilities, which may be challenging, taking risks, receiving feedback, etc.
  • Need for Power – This is a need for those individuals who value competition and winning, and improving their status.
  • Need for Affiliation – This is the need for those who demand that they be liked by others. These individuals are also great collaborators. 

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory of Motivation

The two-factor theory of motivation looks into two types of needs. These needs are applicable to one’s perception of work. This framework originated in the 1950s and is still used today to research the levels of job satisfaction among employees

Herzberg uses the term satisfaction and dissatisfaction on two completely different planes, or as he calls them, factors. He equates the opposite of satisfaction as no satisfaction instead of dissatisfaction. Likewise, the opposite of dissatisfaction is no dissatisfaction. 

Let’s look into the two factors.

  • Hygiene Factors – These are to satisfy the basic needs of employees and are essential to prevent dissatisfaction at the workplace. They include pay, administrative policies, working conditions, the reputation of the company, etc. 
  • Motivational Factors – These are directly involved with the job performance of the employee based on job satisfaction. They are recognition, responsibilities, etc. 

Parting Thoughts

So these are the most popular theories of motivation that management experts consider. Knowing what the employees and subordinates need to motivate themselves, managers can take the necessary steps to retain the best of them and help them achieve the company’s and their personal goals.


5 Types of Management Styles that Managers Must Know
5 Types of Management Styles that Managers Must Know
Which type of management style should you choose as a manager? Explore the 5 main management styles and explore their pros and cons in detail.
Span of Management – Explore its Meaning, Important Types and Common Factors
Span of Management – Explore its Meaning, Important Types and Common Factors
In business management practice, the span of management is also known as span of control, span of supervision, and span of authority. Find out the meaning, types, and factors that...read more
Explore the 8 Management Theories and How They Help Organisations
Explore the 8 Management Theories and How They Help Organisations
Explore the dynamic landscape of organisational efficiency and employee relationships through the lens of management theories. You will discover the principles that shape modern management practices, providing valuable insights for...read more
About the Author
Syed Aquib Ur Rahman
Assistant Manager

Aquib is a seasoned wordsmith, having penned countless blogs for Indian and international brands. These days, he's all about digital marketing and core management subjects - not to mention his unwavering commitment ... Read Full Bio