Executive Development Blog

The Role of Motivation in the Workplace

Posted by UNC Executive Development on Nov 5, 2015 12:32:00 PM


Motivation in the workplace is defined as the willingness to exert high levels of effort toward organizational goals conditioned by the effort’s ability to satisfy some individual needs (Robbins in Mobbs and McFarland, 2010). It has been studied for more than a century by psychologists, sociologists, economists, organizational development experts, and others for a simple reason. Capitalizing on understanding why people do what they do and fostering a motivated workforce means better organizational performance.


Motivated employees improve an organization’s productivity and its competitive advantage. They are more highly engaged, can better handle the unease that comes with uncertainty, generally make for better problem solvers, and are more innovative, creative, and customer focused. Organizations with highly motivated workforces, in addition to being more profitable, report having higher levels of customer satisfaction and employee retention (Campbell, n.d.).

Given the benefits experts have long known that motivation offers organizations, a proliferation of motivation theories have been introduced over the years. Most HR and talent management professionals are aware of and have tried to apply many of them. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Locke’s goal-setting theory, Skinner’s reinforcement theory, Adam’s equity theory, and Vroom’s expectancy theory, to name just a few, all made their way into management textbooks, all speculating on how to best motivate employees to increase profits. Studies eventually showed that concepts heavily based on extrinsic rewards could not adequately explain human motivation, and so scientists focused on intrinsic rewards. Until recently, however, we could not substantiate motivational theories. Neuroscience, anchored in rich research, is giving scientists new understanding into human motivation, and this can be to the advantage of all organizations.

For more information on this topic, take a moment to download a free copy of UNC Executive Development's white paper titled, "Motivation on the Brain - Applying the Neuroscience of Motivation in the Workplace.

Click to Download Full White Paper

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