Employee motivation and job satisfaction have long been very important functions of human resource management. Psychological processes that stimulate voluntary actions towards the desired goals are collectively known as motivation. Various theories have been used to explain how employee motivation and job satisfaction occur (Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt and Osborn, 2005). This paper will focus on need theories, individual differences, cognitive theories, situational theories, and job satisfaction theories. Needs theories explain the internal factors that motivate an employee’s behavior and they generally assume that employees are often motivated by unfulfilled needs. According to Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt and Osborn (2005), needs are defined as psychological insufficiencies that provoke a person to respond in one way or another. A person’s needs can either be strong or weak and they are influences by place, time, and environmental factors. Examples of needs theories include Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Theory X and Theory Y, ERG Theory, Mclelland’s Need Theory, and Herzberg’s two-factor theory. Employee motivation can also be explained based on individual differences theory. Examples of individual differences include personality orientation, cognitive ability, mental ability, and affective dispositions. Individual differences theory assumes that employees will feel motivated if an organization provides them with a work environment that takes care of their differences (Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt and Osborn, 2005).
Cognitive theories of motivation assume that a person’s behavior is motivated by the manner in which he or she processes and interprets information. Therefore, cognitive theories view motivation as a set of behaviors that are directed by the type of information available. For instance, expectations based on past experiences may motivate a person to work hard to achieve specific goals. Examples of cognitive theories of motivation are expectancy theory and goal-setting theory. According to Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt and Osborn (2005), different situations in an organizations may indirectly influence an employee’s behavior. Situational theories of motivation assume that different situations in an organization demand different types of employee behavior. This is because every activity performed by an employee is always a solution to a specific situation. The situation factor compels an employee to adapt his or her behavior to the situation at hand in order to come up with a solution. The leader must therefore create a set of attitudes and values that employees are able to deal with for them to focus on those activities that can yield appreciated results (De Cremer and van Knippenberg, 2002).
Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt and Osborn (2005) define job satisfaction as a positive emotional state that results from evaluation of an employee’s job experiences. Therefore, job satisfaction is a measure of work expectations that an employee has in an organization. Job satisfaction theories assume that employees will develop positive attributes and feelings towards work if their organizations provide them with job characteristics and working conditions that meet their expectations. Example of job satisfaction theory is equity theory which assumes that employees become more satisfied if their organization handles them with maximum fairness. Many employees today are concerned with the issue of fairness because of the difference in complexity of activities they are required to perform as well as variation in individual skills and competencies (Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt and Osborn, 2005).
Example of a case showing the relevance of employee motivation and job satisfaction in an organization is at ABC Company where the management replaced paper records with the use of modern computers to store information, yet its employees lacked the necessary computer skills. ABC is a paper manufacturing company that was founded five years ago. Since the company began its operations, employees have been using files to keep inventory and sales records. Just recently, the management decided to replace files with modern computers which require employees to keep inventory and sales records in soft copy instead of hard copy. Unfortunately, ABC’s management failed to consider the fact that its employees need to be trained on how to use the computers before they can be allowed to replace paper method of record keeping with modern technology. Due to lack of motivation and job satisfaction, employees who lacked computer knowledge have decided to leave ABC for other companies which are ready to provide them with good working environments (Schermerhorn, Jr., Hunt and Osborn, 2005).
The best group of theories that is applicable to ABC’s case is individual differences theories. This is because, employees’ ability and skills are very important for the success of every organization, yet ABC Company has ignored the role that this plays in employee motivation and promotion of job satisfaction. The current organizational environment is characterized by rapid changes in technological advancements (Nadler, Gerstein and Shaw, 1992). For this reason, organizations must focus on individual differences and be ready to train employees on the way they want their operations to be conducted (De Cremer and van Knippenberg, 2002). Individual differences theory is advantageous in explaining employee motivation and job satisfaction because it promotes organizational development by assisting companies to ensure that all employees are proficient in task performance. However, individual differences theory may be costly for organizations that are obliged to plan for thorough employee training suppose changes are to be made in the organization (Nadler, Gerstein and Shaw, 1992).