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Instructor Overview

Motivation comes into play whenever work is being done. In some cases, the work itself may be somewhat unattractive. At other times, it may simply be the same work that is being done day to day. Whatever the circumstances, employers must tap into ways to interest their employees in coming into work every day. I-O psychologists assist employers in designing work that employees will want to do and perhaps even enjoy doing. Motivation theory has built upon theories from many different disciplines within psychology.

This module covers how different psychological theories (i.e., reinforcement theory and goal-setting theory) are applied to motivate employees. The lecture revolves around two cases described below. In addition, lecture overheads with some theoretical background and discussion questions are also provided.


Motivation Case #1

A group of students in a psychology class created a procedure to motivate the class as a whole to study hard and to strive to achieve good grades. With the permission of the teacher, they invented an incentive system, which led to constructive competition among the students in order to attain the highest grades (i.e., higher productivity). It also created an atmosphere of collegiality, fun, and a broader level of participation in lectures.

Students collected 50 cents from each student (and a dollar from the teacher) and declared the sum total as a reward to be divided between the two students with the highest scores in each test given in class. In return, the highest scorers had to acknowledge the support system in the class by bringing in goodies for the rest of the class.

This procedure was repeated for the second test. The class as a whole did much better than on the first exam and most students achieved grades ranging from B- to A. Because all the tests were multiple choice, the scoring system was objective and there was no subjectivity on the part of the teacher in assigning grades. The sense of accomplishment for most students led the class to continue with this strategy for the rest of the semester.

Motivation Case #2

A car dealership has instituted an incentive program for its salespeople based on the achievement of various levels of goals. The method was:

1) Earn five stickers for selling five cars in a month

Earn ten stickers for selling seven cars in a month

Earn twenty stickers for selling ten cars in a month

2) Exchange the five stickers for one extra day of paid vacation

Exchange the ten stickers for two extra days of paid vacation

Exchange the twenty stickers for either a bonus of 500 dollars or four

days of extra paid vacation.



I-O psychologists also help employers design compensation systems and incentive plans that will help to motivate employees. Perhaps direct the discussion among the students by also asking them if they’ve had a job where they worked on commission or for bonuses. That will help to make the goal-setting concept more concrete for the students.


Motivation and Performance References

Lawler, E.E. (1994). Motivation in work organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Locke, E.A. (1968). Toward a theory of task motivation and incentives. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 3, 157-189.

Locke, E.A. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Lowenberg, G. & Conrad, A.K. (1998). Current perspectives in industrial/organizational psychology (Chapter 10, Motivation: Theories and Applications). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Luthans, F., & Kreitner, R. (1985). Organizational behavior modification (2nd ed.). New York: Scott, Foresman.


Suggested Films and Videotapes

Lincoln Electric (CBS 60 Minutes, 1992).

Although it may be a little dated, this segment deals with the motivational value of pay.


Motivation. (Insight Media #PM154).

Explains why people think, behave and make the choices they make. Factors that motivate are explored including curiosity, the need for achievement, and intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. Reinforcement theory and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are discussed.


Business, Behaviorism, and the Bottom Line.

This film illustrates the use of reinforcement principles, motivation concepts, and employees’ performance levels at work by Emery Air Freight management.

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