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Employee Motivation: Are They Getting What They Expect?

Posted: April 10, 2007

Human beings are complex and motivation is a social and psychological state that does not lend itself to simple answers.

Agricultural employers are always interested in employee motivation. Human beings are complex and motivation is a social and psychological state that does not lend itself to simple answers. Just as a biologist uses a framework to study microorganisms, an employer needs a lens to help study and understand employee motivation, or lack thereof. One such lens is the Expectancy Theory of motivation.

Expectancy theory assumes that human beings choose how much they will be motivated to achieve a task. This is an important assumption because some people believe that individuals are either motivated or not and that an employer can do little or nothing about it, except try to hire motivated people. These people maintain that motivation is a result of genetics or upbringing, nature or nurture. In contrast, if people can, in fact, choose their level of motivation, then employers can take action to support and increase motivation.

Motivation depends on the interaction of three related conditions: one, the belief that increased effort leads to better performance; two, that better performance will be recognized; and three, that better performance will be rewarded with something that an employee values. If any of these conditions are not met, then motivation will not improve. For example, dairy farms often offer cash incentives for high milk quality. For this incentive to work milkers must believe that if they do a better job milking then milk quality will improve, they must know that management will reward this improvement with cash, and they must view receiving more cash as a valuable reward. If any link in the chain is broken (i.e. they don't believe that better milking will lead to improved milk quality, or they don't value more cash) then they will not be motivated to perform at a higher level.

Employers can use this expectancy theory lens to study their own employees' motivation. Analyze each job in your farm: Do employees believe and understand how their performance influences results? Do they believe that their extra effort will be recognized and rewarded somehow? Do they value the potential reward? The reward need not be cash, it could simply be praise from their supervisor, or the continued success of the farm that gives them employment.

So, what can you do to increase employee motivation? Find out what your employees really value as rewards, make sure that you are monitoring performance and know when jobs are well done, and give them the rewards they want as best you can.

Richard Stup, Human Resource Specialist, Senior Extension Associate, Penn State Dairy Alliance, Penn State Dairy Alliance is a Penn State Cooperative Extension Initative