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The Only Real Motivator is Money - Dissertation Sample

21 Mar 2017Dissertation Samples

Motivating employees, is one of the most important managerial functions (Nel et al., 2004). Motivation seems at the heart of management, and therefore should be one of the foremost subjects to be studied when it comes to organizational behaviour and human resource management. Therefore motivation seems central to organizational human behaviour theories, and forever have theorists tried to explain what motivates people, arguably simply to then apply new theories on people working in organizations, in hopes of making them work more dynamic and more efficient, in order to make organizations run more effectively.

The evolution of motivational theories is long and diverse and the views of the subject matter have a large spectrum of differing opinions. There are differences in opinion of whether people are all the same, or whether there are different groups of people. Therefore also different theories on what motivates people, if there are various factors, or if people are simply only have one motivational factor, namely the economic gain, in short: money.

But leaving the varying theories on people’s nature and what motivates them, firstly it is important to establish what motivation actually is. Motivations are “Psychological processes that arouse and goal-direct behaviour” (Kreitner et al. 1999; 181). Now simply put, motivation seems to be ways that stimulate and excite ones behaviour towards something. It seems to make one want to do something. It also seems to focus ones attention towards reaching a purpose and during the course of such makes one more ambitious and target oriented. The reasons why these psychological processes happen shall be the focus of this assignment. Because if money really is the only motivator, then no other reasons but monetary aspirations should be able to trigger the psychological process called motivation. Therefore, if the statement is to be proven correctly, people should only be enthused at the prospective of gaining money, and no other influences should be able to cause that very same stimulation.

In this assignment theories of writers such as Abraham Maslow, Frederick Herzberg, Winslow Taylor, Douglas McGregor, Victor Harold Vroom and Stacey Adam will be outlined and analyzed, in hopes of finding an answer to the long unsolved conundrum if money really is the only motivational tool managers have at their hands in order to motivate their employees. The beginning of the discussion will be divided into there groups of motivation: Instrumentality-, Needs- and Cognitive theories. In the end of the discussion themes like commitment, empowerment and organizational citizenship will be addressed.  

The following assignment is by no means exhaustive, but rather scratches the surfaces of the theories introduced. Therefore, further research would be required to offer a more complete picture on the subject matter before answering the question of whether money is the only real motivator. Also should be outlined that since there are so many theories and views on the topic matter, that it could be argued that there is no right nor wrong answer, but that it is rather a matter of personal judgement on which theory one finds most convincing. 


In the quest of finding an answer of what motivates people, when it comes to work matters, it seems to be inherently important if people actually do like to work or not? Because if they do not like to work, then the innate answer seems that money would be the only incentive for them to work. How many of the people one knows really like their job? If they like their job, why is that, why do they like to work, what is the push that keeps them going back everyday. And if they don’t like to work, why do they do it then? Well, for the second scenario, one could argue that the money is the main motivator, as they need to survive. If however they do like their job, then it seems unlikely that money is the only motivating factor. But before putting forward anymore assumptions, an analysis of the main theories if people like to work or not shall be made.  

There are three main groups of motivation: Instrumentality-, Needs- (Content) and Cognitive theories (Stredwick, 2000). 

Instrumentality is a motivation theory from the early 1900’s and believes that employees have no other motivation but money (ibid.). Also from this time come the works of  
Winslow Taylor. Taylor arguably could be regarded as the founder figure of management philosophy. He believed that people inherently did not like to work, and thus had to be motivated through incentive systems (money), and punished to discourage noncompliant behaviour (Drummond, 2000). He wrote his theories around 1910, and when looking at the working conditions of this time and comparing them to 1990 to 2005, one could argue that his view might be outdated, and may not necessarily apply to current working conditions.

Newer theories on this particular matter are from the theorist Douglas McGregor, and although he has written his paper 45 years ago (1960) it arguably could still be seen as one of the leading theories in this area. McGregor believed that there are two types of people and thus in his x and y theory he presumes that people either don’t like (x) to work or do like (y) to work (Stredwick, 2000). It seems that McGregor progressed from Taylor and already made a distinction between two types of people, instead of presuming everyone is the same, such as Taylor seems to have done. Arguably this is also due to the different times these two writers have live in. 

Above, two different theories were outlined, one arguing that all the people are simply and solely motivated through economical gains, and thus arguing that the only real motivator is money. The other theory believes there to be a difference in people, and thus that would then imply that there are different processes that would motivate the different people. 

Now, moving on to the Needs theories, which emphasises that unsatisfied needs will lead to tensions and disequilibrium (Stredwick, 2000). The most popular writers of this theory arguably are Abraham Maslow with his hierarchy of needs and Herzberg with his two factor theory, job enlargement and extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation

Maslow – Hierarchy of needs

The father of humanistic psychology introduced the theory of the hierarchy of needs (Maslow et al., 1998).

He argues that people will always try and climb up this hierarchy, and when one need is satisfied, humans will try and satisfy the next need (Antonides, 1991, Austin, 2002, Carbone and Soeder, 1995). 

Although it could be argued that money is required to satisfy the lower needs, it seems that Maslow did not believe money to be the only motivator. However, money will be required to satisfy the lower needs, but then it could be argued that the motivation is not really attaining the money, but rather finding a way to satisfy the needs, the real motivator. Nevertheless, there seems to be some critics of this theory, as exceptions are apparent. Considering that there are artists who would rather not eat, but be able to perform their art (Author Unknown, 2002). 

And also again, Maslow’s theory was written in the 1960’s and may be argued to be a little outdated. Rodgers (2004) points out that the society has changed enormously since Maslow had done his research, and thus it may not be as applicable anymore.  

Hoffman (1996:142) argues that in the American value system nowadays, success of life is defined in materialistic terms ….. “…the whole American dream thing today is phrased materialistically”. Just when looking at what it is that people find successful, it could be argued that it usually seems to be a business men who makes a lot of money, such as Donald Trump, and his success is measured in the amount of property or cars he owns. Success is rarely recognized in a social worker who may have helped or even saved numerous peoples lives. Hoffman (1996) also outlines that the higher needs in the hierarchy are also the ones aspired by most religious groups. 

Islam, just like Christianity, and Buddhism outlines the responsibility of everyone to love family and friends and neighbours and give to the needy (.El-Falah, 1997, Suzuki, 1983, Robert Barclay, 1799). This would suggest that the underlying religious motivations are not economical, but rather that they focus on social needs and self actualization and thus are in line with the higher Maslow needs. However, on the other spectrum it seems that the main religion of the West, Christianity, has pushed forward individualism and the economic gain view. Hill (2002) argues that the Christian religion is what made the Western countries gain their economical superiority. This boost of capitalism, and hence wealth was especially due to certain aspects of the Protestant Ethic, namely the disciplined and motivated workforce, creating ‘modern’ profit-maximising individuals (Weber, 1930, cited in Lessnoff, 1994).

Herzberg – Two factor theory, job enlargement, extrinsic vs. intrinsic motivation

Herzberg (1968, cited in Huczynski and Buchanan, 2001:255) talks about “…..the ‘two-factor theory’ of motivation, the two sets of factors being motivator and hygiene factors…”.  The motivator factors, he argues, should lead to job satisfaction, and the hygiene factors should remove job dissatisfaction (Herzberg, 1968). Money is seen as a hygiene factor, and this then would suggest that money in this theory is not seen as a motivator, but only as something that removes dissatisfaction. 

“If you want people motivated to do a good job, give them a good job to do” (Herzberg cited in Hiam, 2003:89) Herzberg’s Job enrichment, means to vertically expand the job, so that people have more responsibility and more variety in their jobs (Hiam, 2003). The logic seems simple, if people have more varying daily routines, than the possibility that they get bored of it is less likely. Also might they feel more “important” and more “involved” in the organization, and this might lead to the motivation of certain people.  

Herzberg makes a distinction between Internal vs. External motivation, and argues that the only real motivated person is the one motivated intrinsically (cited in Hiam, 2003). This again links to Herzberg’s other theories that money can not act as a real motivation, but that only personal motives can lead to real motivation. 

However, in a study conducted by Goldsmith et al. (2000) they identified that efficiency wages did increase personal efforts. And this would then imply that extrinsic pulls do provide motivation to employees, or maybe it is due to the equity theory which will be discussed later on.  

When linking this to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it could be argued that the hygiene factors could be linked to the physical needs. Because if the lower needs are not satisfied according to the theory of Maslow, then the higher needs can not be attained. And if the hygiene factors are not met, then this will lead to dissatisfaction, and hence satisfaction will be impossible to achieve. Thus, it could be argued, that in both theories, it has been acknowledged that money is required and therefore could be seen as a “motivating” factor (although Herzberg does not call it such), but that however, it is merely a “must” for a job, and not a motivator. And in the Herzberg theory, even if the hygiene factors are provided, further hygiene factors will not lead to job satisfaction, and thus arguably may not be used as further motivators. And the same seems to hold true for Maslow’s theory, once the physical needs are covered, further money would arguably not provide further motivation.   

However, there are also valuable critics of the Herzberg theory, which one should consider when being inspired by his theory. A study by Ewan (1963, cited in Wilson 2004:149), demonstrated that “hygiene factors, dissatisfiers, actually acted as satisfiers while satisfiers (motivators) sometimes acted in the predict manner and sometimes caused both satisfaction and dissatisfaction”. Herzberg, like many other theorists, simply has put forward a theory which he presumes fits all people the same. Already Taylor and Maslow seemed to have presumed such. But one could argue that not all people are the same, but that we are all individuals and thus different when it comes to what it is that really motivates us. Some people may like a routine job, in such they don’t have any responsibilities nor to they have to worry about anything, and therefore enlarging their job by introducing some motivator factors, may actually induce dissatisfaction. 

Following an inquiry into the last of the motivational group, namely the Cognitive motivation will be undertaken. The Cognitive theory believes that people analyse situations and figure out how they can benefit from particular courses of actions (Stredwick, 2000). Leading theories in this group are the Equity Theory from Stacey Adam and the Expectancy Theory from Victor Harold Vroom. 

Adam – Equity Theory  

The Equity theory by Adams (Robbins, 1998 & Bamberger and Meshoulam, 2000) argues that “…people strive to maintain a ratio of their own outcomes (rewards) to their own inputs (contributions) equal to the outcome/input ratios with others whom they compare themselves” (Greenberg and Baron, 2000:143). Simply put, if people feel that they are being treated unfairly by their employer, compared to somebody else, than they will not be motivated to work hard. And naturally vice versa holds true in this theory, if people feel they are being treated better than others, than they will be likely to be extremely motivated to do a good job, in order to recover the lost balance.

And both of those reactions, according to the above theory, have to do with the employees wanting to keep the right equity between what they receive and what they give, in order to feel that justice is done. This theory would then presume that people generally are justice oriented and that they are not individually selfishly thinking individuals. In the work of Kirchler et al. (1996:331) “…. the norm of reciprocity proved to be stronger than rational egoistic money maximization”. This would then imply that for most employees the equity theory would be applicable.

However, if more payment is presumed to lead to better performance and efficiency, this then would also lead to wages paid in excess, on those employees where this equity theory will not be applicable. Therefore what would be interesting here to know is how much more effectiveness it would show in those employees where the equity theory does work, and if that effectiveness was making up for the lost money on the ones where it would not work. Best would be if one could identify in advance on whom the equity theory works or not and then implement such accordingly.

However, arguably this might then destroy the morale of the one who would not be included, and might lead to a negative effect in their motivation and working behaviour. Burchett and Willoughby (2004) recognize in a study, that workers who are unaware of differing compensation systems will all work the same, but if they are aware, than their productivity will vary accordingly across reward systems. Again they acknowledge that the Equity Theory seems to be working, but however they do not attach a number on the success rate. And therefore, the equity theory, although seeming to prove to be working at times, might prove difficult to implement in an effective way.     

Vroom – Expectancy Theory

Another motivation theory of the cognitive group is Vroom’s Expectancy Theory. “People bring to work various expectations about the likely consequences of various forms of behaviour reflected in work performance” (McKenna and Beech, 2002). This theory is made up of three building blocks, namely the valence, expectancy and instrumentality: 

Valence; is what an individual wants form a job, or the perceived value of preference. Expectancy; the degree to which it is believed that efforts will lead to good performance and that the company will reward put forward efforts.

Instrumentality; the perceived likelihood that behaving in a certain way will lead to certain job features and valued rewards.
 (Woodard et al., 1994 & Huczynski and Buchanan, 2001)

Therefore, the behaviour of people will not only depend on whether they perceive that good performance will lead to greater benefits for them, but also if they value those benefits and if they believe that efforts on their behalf will lead to good performance. 

Because if someone believes that even if they do put in effort, they will not be able to perform well, why would they bother? And if the employee believes that even if the effort will lead to the desired outcome, but that outcome however will not be appreciated, than there is no need in making the effort, and if that particular outcome is not valued by the employee, than the person will not be motivated in the first place to put in some efforts.  

However, a critique of the expectancy theory points out “….that the essence of expectancy theory in work and motivation is choice behaviour” (Whaba and House, 1972:69). And that therefore the study and the formulation of the theory ignore the rationality assumption underlying choice behaviour (Whaba and House, 1972). As mentioned many times before, people arguably are very different, and it will prove most difficult to predict choice behaviour, and thus would make it impossible to use as a motivational tool.

Commitment, involvement and Empowerment 

Mowday et al. (1979:226) writes about commitment that; “It involves an active relationship with the organization, such that individuals are willing to give something of them selves in order to contribute to the organization’s well being”. Arguably, commitment should lead to motivation, as the organization’s well being is at the person’s heart, and thus the person will be motivated to work hard if it is in the benefit for the organization. Therefore, if a person can be motivated just by having a strong relationship with an organization, than arguably money has nothing to do with this motivation. And therefore this theory does not seem to believe that money is the only motivator. 

If people are committed than they might be likely to engage in Organizational Citizenship Behaviour. Organisational Citizenship Behaviour is a behaviour that exceeds the contractual agreements (Robinson and Wolfe, 1995). Therefore this theory seems closely in line with commitment, and also can it be linked with the Equity theory. Because if an employee finds out that the balance is in his/her favour (not necessarily in monetary terms), than that employee might try and bring back the equilibrium by behaving in an organizational citizenship way.

Dessler (1997) writes that employees tend to be committed when empowered. This again can be linked to Herzberg’s job enrichment theory. Because arguably, in most cases when empowering people, the job should get vertically expanded, and therefore creating job enrichment. However, not everyone likes the notion of being empowered. Butcher (2003:64) writes that “We’re not all ready for empowerment”. Because there are employees who’d rather not have any responsibilities, they might prefer to do their routine job day in day out, and not have to worry about anything else.


The only real motivator is money! Well, during this investigation of whether or not money is the only real motivator, we have come across various theories. And what we could already argue at the beginning of this conclusion is that, there is no consensuses on a right answer to this much investigated conundrum on what really motivates people. 

During the above analysis we have identified that there are three main groups of motivation, namely instrumentality-, needs- and cognitive theories.  The first one, instrumentality derives from theories of the early 1900’s, and could thus be argued to be slightly outdated. Theorists like Taylor were writing their works during a time were bad conditioned factory work was not merely a horror scenario in old movies but plain reality. And therefore that his argument stands for money being the only real motivator and that no one liked to work, although understandable at those conditions, could be argued to be slightly outdated and not applicable during our modern times.  McGregor, a writer of the 60’s, argues that there are people who inherently like to work and such who don’t. However, one could also argue here that the human psychology is so complex, that further theories, maybe of writer such as Kurt Lewin and George Kelly, might want to be investigated, when trying to gain a more thorough picture on the subject matter.  

The needs theories are mainly supported by Maslow and Herzberg.  Both theorists do not believe money to be the only real motivator, on the contraire, Herzberg actually argues that money can only avoid dissatisfaction, but not work as a motivator factor. Therefore, once the dissatisfaction is removed, further money will not lead to satisfaction. And the same seems to hold true for Maslow’s theory, once the physical needs are covered, further money would arguably not provide further motivation.   
However, when looking at modern expectations of live and social values, it could be argued, that not only will the physiological needs be much higher nowadays, as the standards of living are rising, but also even the higher needs, in Maslow’s hierarchy, will be materialistically influenced in this day and age, and it thus could be argued that this would make money a main attraction and therefore motivation for people. 

Herzberg instead believes that people can be motivated through job enrichment. This he underlines by the argument that real motivation can only come intrinsically, and can not be influenced extrinsically. However, there are studies arguing against this theory, and again considering that not everyone is the same, contra arguments seem plausible. Arguably there are many factors from the environment and situation a person finds themselves in that might have an influence on whether or not people might find money to be a motivation factor. A family father who just found out that his wife is pregnant again, may be very much motivated by money, although this is an external factor and although he really has all the physiological needs covered for him and his family. Nevertheless, a new baby would mean less money for other things, and would thus mean the family had to lower their standard of living, thus arguably, making extra money a very attractive motivation. Nevertheless, what also seems very likely is that there are many other examples of where the opposite would hold true. 

The cognitive motivations are mainly supported by the Adams and Vroom theories. The equity theory basically is about employees trying to find equilibrium with what they get and what they give. However, this theory as all the others seems flawed in that not all employees seem to strive to find equilibrium. Again it comes back to that not all people seem to be the same, and it might prove to be very hard to find out what makes people behave the way they do. Although we could argue, that the people who do not care about the equilibrium might be the x people, who inherently do not like to work. However, this seems rather simplistic, and there might be very many other reasons why people do not care for such an equilibrium, maybe they do like to work, but already believe that the organization they work for makes plenty of money anyhow, and they do not want to help them make even more. 

The expectancy theory is based on three factors, the valence, expectancy and instrumentality, and the motivation will depend on all of those three factors. But critiques outline that it really is about choice behaviour, and thus would make this expectancy theory another gamble. However, what should be noted here is that the expectancy theory would suggest that there are various motivational tools, and does not acknowledge money as the solely motivator. 

Commitment is about employees building up a relationship with the organization, influencing their behaviour to act for the good of the organization. They might even engage in Organizational Citizenship Behaviour, meaning they do extra work that is not in their job description, when they are committed to the organization. However, reaching those stages might require motivational tools themselves, and which tools will lead to commitment would need to be investigated further. But both those theories do not mention money as a motivational tool. 

In conclusion it can be identified that there are numerous theories on how to motivate employees, however none of them seem to be without their flaws. Many of them seem to look at people as something repetitive to which a motivational equation can be applied to. Also were many of the theories written in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and thus arguably are slightly outdated, as society, and thus the people in it have evolved quite significantly since then. 

But what can be concluded is that it could definitely be argued that money is not the only real motivator, as there are varying other theories against the presumption that money is the only real motivator. 


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