The Science of Improving Motivation at Work

motivation at work

The topic of employee motivation can be quite daunting for managers, leaders, and human resources professionals.

Organizations that provide their members with meaningful, engaging work not only contribute to the growth of their bottom line, but also create a sense of vitality and fulfillment that echoes across their organizational cultures and their employees’ personal lives.

“An organization’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage.”

In the context of work, an understanding of motivation can be applied to improve employee productivity and satisfaction; help set individual and organizational goals; put stress in perspective; and structure jobs so that they offer optimal levels of challenge, control, variety, and collaboration.

This article demystifies motivation in the workplace and presents recent findings in organizational behavior that have been found to contribute positively to practices of improving motivation and work life.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Goal Achievement Exercises for free . These detailed, science-based exercises will help you or your clients create actionable goals and master techniques to create lasting behavior change.

This Article Contains:

Motivation in the workplace, motivation theories in organizational behavior, employee motivation strategies, motivation and job performance, leadership and motivation, motivation and good business, a take-home message.

Motivation in the workplace has been traditionally understood in terms of extrinsic rewards in the form of compensation, benefits, perks, awards, or career progression.

With today’s rapidly evolving knowledge economy, motivation requires more than a stick-and-carrot approach. Research shows that innovation and creativity, crucial to generating new ideas and greater productivity, are often stifled when extrinsic rewards are introduced.

Daniel Pink (2011) explains the tricky aspect of external rewards and argues that they are like drugs, where more frequent doses are needed more often. Rewards can often signal that an activity is undesirable.

Interesting and challenging activities are often rewarding in themselves. Rewards tend to focus and narrow attention and work well only if they enhance the ability to do something intrinsically valuable. Extrinsic motivation is best when used to motivate employees to perform routine and repetitive activities but can be detrimental for creative endeavors.

Anticipating rewards can also impair judgment and cause risk-seeking behavior because it activates dopamine. We don’t notice peripheral and long-term solutions when immediate rewards are offered. Studies have shown that people will often choose the low road when chasing after rewards because addictive behavior is short-term focused, and some may opt for a quick win.

Pink (2011) warns that greatness and nearsightedness are incompatible, and seven deadly flaws of rewards are soon to follow. He found that anticipating rewards often has undesirable consequences and tends to:

  • Extinguish intrinsic motivation
  • Decrease performance
  • Encourage cheating
  • Decrease creativity
  • Crowd out good behavior
  • Become addictive
  • Foster short-term thinking

Pink (2011) suggests that we should reward only routine tasks to boost motivation and provide rationale, acknowledge that some activities are boring, and allow people to complete the task their way. When we increase variety and mastery opportunities at work, we increase motivation.

Rewards should be given only after the task is completed, preferably as a surprise, varied in frequency, and alternated between tangible rewards and praise. Providing information and meaningful, specific feedback about the effort (not the person) has also been found to be more effective than material rewards for increasing motivation (Pink, 2011).

hawthorne effect

They have shaped the landscape of our understanding of organizational behavior and our approaches to employee motivation. We discuss a few of the most frequently applied theories of motivation in organizational behavior.

Herzberg’s two-factor theory

Frederick Herzberg’s (1959) two-factor theory of motivation, also known as dual-factor theory or motivation-hygiene theory, was a result of a study that analyzed responses of 200 accountants and engineers who were asked about their positive and negative feelings about their work. Herzberg (1959) concluded that two major factors influence employee motivation and satisfaction with their jobs:

  • Motivator factors, which can motivate employees to work harder and lead to on-the-job satisfaction, including experiences of greater engagement in and enjoyment of the work, feelings of recognition, and a sense of career progression
  • Hygiene factors, which can potentially lead to dissatisfaction and a lack of motivation if they are absent, such as adequate compensation, effective company policies, comprehensive benefits, or good relationships with managers and coworkers

Herzberg (1959) maintained that while motivator and hygiene factors both influence motivation, they appeared to work entirely independently of each other. He found that motivator factors increased employee satisfaction and motivation, but the absence of these factors didn’t necessarily cause dissatisfaction.

Likewise, the presence of hygiene factors didn’t appear to increase satisfaction and motivation, but their absence caused an increase in dissatisfaction. It is debatable whether his theory would hold true today outside of blue-collar industries, particularly among younger generations, who may be looking for meaningful work and growth.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory proposed that employees become motivated along a continuum of needs from basic physiological needs to higher level psychological needs for growth and self-actualization . The hierarchy was originally conceptualized into five levels:

  • Physiological needs that must be met for a person to survive, such as food, water, and shelter
  • Safety needs that include personal and financial security, health, and wellbeing
  • Belonging needs for friendships, relationships, and family
  • Esteem needs that include feelings of confidence in the self and respect from others
  • Self-actualization needs that define the desire to achieve everything we possibly can and realize our full potential

According to the hierarchy of needs, we must be in good health, safe, and secure with meaningful relationships and confidence before we can reach for the realization of our full potential.

For a full discussion of other theories of psychological needs and the importance of need satisfaction, see our article on How to Motivate .

Hawthorne effect

The Hawthorne effect, named after a series of social experiments on the influence of physical conditions on productivity at Western Electric’s factory in Hawthorne, Chicago, in the 1920s and 30s, was first described by Henry Landsberger in 1958 after he noticed some people tended to work harder and perform better when researchers were observing them.

Although the researchers changed many physical conditions throughout the experiments, including lighting, working hours, and breaks, increases in employee productivity were more significant in response to the attention being paid to them, rather than the physical changes themselves.

Today the Hawthorne effect is best understood as a justification for the value of providing employees with specific and meaningful feedback and recognition. It is contradicted by the existence of results-only workplace environments that allow complete autonomy and are focused on performance and deliverables rather than managing employees.

Expectancy theory

Expectancy theory proposes that we are motivated by our expectations of the outcomes as a result of our behavior and make a decision based on the likelihood of being rewarded for that behavior in a way that we perceive as valuable.

For example, an employee may be more likely to work harder if they have been promised a raise than if they only assumed they might get one.

Expectancy Theories

Expectancy theory posits that three elements affect our behavioral choices:

  • Expectancy is the belief that our effort will result in our desired goal and is based on our past experience and influenced by our self-confidence and anticipation of how difficult the goal is to achieve.
  • Instrumentality is the belief that we will receive a reward if we meet performance expectations.
  • Valence is the value we place on the reward.

Expectancy theory tells us that we are most motivated when we believe that we will receive the desired reward if we hit an achievable and valued target, and least motivated if we do not care for the reward or do not believe that our efforts will result in the reward.

Three-dimensional theory of attribution

Attribution theory explains how we attach meaning to our own and other people’s behavior and how the characteristics of these attributions can affect future motivation.

Bernard Weiner’s three-dimensional theory of attribution proposes that the nature of the specific attribution, such as bad luck or not working hard enough, is less important than the characteristics of that attribution as perceived and experienced by the individual. According to Weiner, there are three main characteristics of attributions that can influence how we behave in the future:

Stability is related to pervasiveness and permanence; an example of a stable factor is an employee believing that they failed to meet the expectation because of a lack of support or competence. An unstable factor might be not performing well due to illness or a temporary shortage of resources.

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”

Colin Powell

According to Weiner, stable attributions for successful achievements can be informed by previous positive experiences, such as completing the project on time, and can lead to positive expectations and higher motivation for success in the future. Adverse situations, such as repeated failures to meet the deadline, can lead to stable attributions characterized by a sense of futility and lower expectations in the future.

Locus of control describes a perspective about the event as caused by either an internal or an external factor. For example, if the employee believes it was their fault the project failed, because of an innate quality such as a lack of skills or ability to meet the challenge, they may be less motivated in the future.

If they believe an external factor was to blame, such as an unrealistic deadline or shortage of staff, they may not experience such a drop in motivation.

Controllability defines how controllable or avoidable the situation was. If an employee believes they could have performed better, they may be less motivated to try again in the future than someone who believes that factors outside of their control caused the circumstances surrounding the setback.

Basic Attribution Categories

Theory X and theory Y

Douglas McGregor proposed two theories to describe managerial views on employee motivation: theory X and theory Y. These views of employee motivation have drastically different implications for management.

He divided leaders into those who believe most employees avoid work and dislike responsibility (theory X managers) and those who say that most employees enjoy work and exert effort when they have control in the workplace (theory Y managers).

To motivate theory X employees, the company needs to push and control their staff through enforcing rules and implementing punishments.

Theory Y employees, on the other hand, are perceived as consciously choosing to be involved in their work. They are self-motivated and can exert self-management, and leaders’ responsibility is to create a supportive environment and develop opportunities for employees to take on responsibility and show creativity.

Theory X is heavily informed by what we know about intrinsic motivation and the role that the satisfaction of basic psychological needs plays in effective employee motivation.

Theory X & Y

Taking theory X and theory Y as a starting point, theory Z was developed by Dr. William Ouchi. The theory combines American and Japanese management philosophies and focuses on long-term job security, consensual decision making, slow evaluation and promotion procedures, and individual responsibility within a group context.

Its noble goals include increasing employee loyalty to the company by providing a job for life, focusing on the employee’s wellbeing, and encouraging group work and social interaction to motivate employees in the workplace.

Features of Theory Z

There are several implications of these numerous theories on ways to motivate employees. They vary with whatever perspectives leadership ascribes to motivation and how that is cascaded down and incorporated into practices, policies, and culture.

The effectiveness of these approaches is further determined by whether individual preferences for motivation are considered. Nevertheless, various motivational theories can guide our focus on aspects of organizational behavior that may require intervening.

Herzberg’s two-factor theory , for example, implies that for the happiest and most productive workforce, companies need to work on improving both motivator and hygiene factors.

The theory suggests that to help motivate employees, the organization must ensure that everyone feels appreciated and supported, is given plenty of specific and meaningful feedback, and has an understanding of and confidence in how they can grow and progress professionally.

To prevent job dissatisfaction, companies must make sure to address hygiene factors by offering employees the best possible working conditions, fair pay, and supportive relationships.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs , on the other hand, can be used to transform a business where managers struggle with the abstract concept of self-actualization and tend to focus too much on lower level needs. Chip Conley, the founder of the Joie de Vivre hotel chain and head of hospitality at Airbnb, found one way to address this dilemma by helping his employees understand the meaning of their roles during a staff retreat.

In one exercise, he asked groups of housekeepers to describe themselves and their job responsibilities by giving their group a name that reflects the nature and the purpose of what they were doing. They came up with names such as “The Serenity Sisters,” “The Clutter Busters,” and “The Peace of Mind Police.”

These designations provided a meaningful rationale and gave them a sense that they were doing more than just cleaning, instead “creating a space for a traveler who was far away from home to feel safe and protected” (Pattison, 2010). By showing them the value of their roles, Conley enabled his employees to feel respected and motivated to work harder.

The Hawthorne effect studies and Weiner’s three-dimensional theory of attribution have implications for providing and soliciting regular feedback and praise. Recognizing employees’ efforts and providing specific and constructive feedback in the areas where they can improve can help prevent them from attributing their failures to an innate lack of skills.

Praising employees for improvement or using the correct methodology, even if the ultimate results were not achieved, can encourage them to reframe setbacks as learning opportunities. This can foster an environment of psychological safety that can further contribute to the view that success is controllable by using different strategies and setting achievable goals .

Theories X, Y, and Z show that one of the most impactful ways to build a thriving organization is to craft organizational practices that build autonomy, competence, and belonging. These practices include providing decision-making discretion, sharing information broadly, minimizing incidents of incivility, and offering performance feedback.

Being told what to do is not an effective way to negotiate. Having a sense of autonomy at work fuels vitality and growth and creates environments where employees are more likely to thrive when empowered to make decisions that affect their work.

Feedback satisfies the psychological need for competence. When others value our work, we tend to appreciate it more and work harder. Particularly two-way, open, frequent, and guided feedback creates opportunities for learning.

Frequent and specific feedback helps people know where they stand in terms of their skills, competencies, and performance, and builds feelings of competence and thriving. Immediate, specific, and public praise focusing on effort and behavior and not traits is most effective. Positive feedback energizes employees to seek their full potential.

Lack of appreciation is psychologically exhausting, and studies show that recognition improves health because people experience less stress. In addition to being acknowledged by their manager, peer-to-peer recognition was shown to have a positive impact on the employee experience (Anderson, 2018). Rewarding the team around the person who did well and giving more responsibility to top performers rather than time off also had a positive impact.

Stop trying to motivate your employees – Kerry Goyette

Other approaches to motivation at work include those that focus on meaning and those that stress the importance of creating positive work environments.

Meaningful work is increasingly considered to be a cornerstone of motivation. In some cases, burnout is not caused by too much work, but by too little meaning. For many years, researchers have recognized the motivating potential of task significance and doing work that affects the wellbeing of others.

All too often, employees do work that makes a difference but never have the chance to see or to meet the people affected. Research by Adam Grant (2013) speaks to the power of long-term goals that benefit others and shows how the use of meaning to motivate those who are not likely to climb the ladder can make the job meaningful by broadening perspectives.

Creating an upbeat, positive work environment can also play an essential role in increasing employee motivation and can be accomplished through the following:

  • Encouraging teamwork and sharing ideas
  • Providing tools and knowledge to perform well
  • Eliminating conflict as it arises
  • Giving employees the freedom to work independently when appropriate
  • Helping employees establish professional goals and objectives and aligning these goals with the individual’s self-esteem
  • Making the cause and effect relationship clear by establishing a goal and its reward
  • Offering encouragement when workers hit notable milestones
  • Celebrating employee achievements and team accomplishments while avoiding comparing one worker’s achievements to those of others
  • Offering the incentive of a profit-sharing program and collective goal setting and teamwork
  • Soliciting employee input through regular surveys of employee satisfaction
  • Providing professional enrichment through providing tuition reimbursement and encouraging employees to pursue additional education and participate in industry organizations, skills workshops, and seminars
  • Motivating through curiosity and creating an environment that stimulates employee interest to learn more
  • Using cooperation and competition as a form of motivation based on individual preferences

Sometimes, inexperienced leaders will assume that the same factors that motivate one employee, or the leaders themselves, will motivate others too. Some will make the mistake of introducing de-motivating factors into the workplace, such as punishment for mistakes or frequent criticism, but negative reinforcement rarely works and often backfires.

It’s important to keep in mind that motivation is individual, and the degree of success achieved through one single strategy will not be the most effective way to motivate all employees.

essay motivation workplace

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There are several positive psychology interventions that can be used in the workplace to improve important outcomes, such as reduced job stress and increased motivation, work engagement, and job performance. Numerous empirical studies have been conducted in recent years to verify the effects of these interventions.

Psychological capital interventions

Psychological capital interventions are associated with a variety of work outcomes that include improved job performance, engagement, and organizational citizenship behaviors (Avey, 2014; Luthans & Youssef-Morgan 2017). Psychological capital refers to a psychological state that is malleable and open to development and consists of four major components:

  • Self-efficacy and confidence in our ability to succeed at challenging work tasks
  • Optimism and positive attributions about the future of our career or company
  • Hope and redirecting paths to work goals in the face of obstacles
  • Resilience in the workplace and bouncing back from adverse situations (Luthans & Youssef-Morgan, 2017)

Job crafting interventions

Job crafting interventions – where employees design and have control over the characteristics of their work to create an optimal fit between work demands and their personal strengths – can lead to improved performance and greater work engagement (Bakker, Tims, & Derks, 2012; van Wingerden, Bakker, & Derks, 2016).

The concept of job crafting is rooted in the jobs demands–resources theory and suggests that employee motivation, engagement, and performance can be influenced by practices such as (Bakker et al., 2012):

  • Attempts to alter social job resources, such as feedback and coaching
  • Structural job resources, such as opportunities to develop at work
  • Challenging job demands, such as reducing workload and creating new projects

Job crafting is a self-initiated, proactive process by which employees change elements of their jobs to optimize the fit between their job demands and personal needs, abilities, and strengths (Wrzesniewski & Dutton, 2001).

leadership and motivation

Today’s motivation research shows that participation is likely to lead to several positive behaviors as long as managers encourage greater engagement, motivation, and productivity while recognizing the importance of rest and work recovery.

One key factor for increasing work engagement is psychological safety (Kahn, 1990). Psychological safety allows an employee or team member to engage in interpersonal risk taking and refers to being able to bring our authentic self to work without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career (Edmondson, 1999).

When employees perceive psychological safety, they are less likely to be distracted by negative emotions such as fear, which stems from worrying about controlling perceptions of managers and colleagues.

Dealing with fear also requires intense emotional regulation (Barsade, Brief, & Spataro, 2003), which takes away from the ability to fully immerse ourselves in our work tasks. The presence of psychological safety in the workplace decreases such distractions and allows employees to expend their energy toward being absorbed and attentive to work tasks.

Effective structural features, such as coaching leadership and context support, are some ways managers can initiate psychological safety in the workplace (Hackman, 1987). Leaders’ behavior can significantly influence how employees behave and lead to greater trust (Tyler & Lind, 1992).

Supportive, coaching-oriented, and non-defensive responses to employee concerns and questions can lead to heightened feelings of safety and ensure the presence of vital psychological capital.

Another essential factor for increasing work engagement and motivation is the balance between employees’ job demands and resources.

Job demands can stem from time pressures, physical demands, high priority, and shift work and are not necessarily detrimental. High job demands and high resources can both increase engagement, but it is important that employees perceive that they are in balance, with sufficient resources to deal with their work demands (Crawford, LePine, & Rich, 2010).

Challenging demands can be very motivating, energizing employees to achieve their goals and stimulating their personal growth. Still, they also require that employees be more attentive and absorbed and direct more energy toward their work (Bakker & Demerouti, 2014).

Unfortunately, when employees perceive that they do not have enough control to tackle these challenging demands, the same high demands will be experienced as very depleting (Karasek, 1979).

This sense of perceived control can be increased with sufficient resources like managerial and peer support and, like the effects of psychological safety, can ensure that employees are not hindered by distraction that can limit their attention, absorption, and energy.

The job demands–resources occupational stress model suggests that job demands that force employees to be attentive and absorbed can be depleting if not coupled with adequate resources, and shows how sufficient resources allow employees to sustain a positive level of engagement that does not eventually lead to discouragement or burnout (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001).

And last but not least, another set of factors that are critical for increasing work engagement involves core self-evaluations and self-concept (Judge & Bono, 2001). Efficacy, self-esteem, locus of control, identity, and perceived social impact may be critical drivers of an individual’s psychological availability, as evident in the attention, absorption, and energy directed toward their work.

Self-esteem and efficacy are enhanced by increasing employees’ general confidence in their abilities, which in turn assists in making them feel secure about themselves and, therefore, more motivated and engaged in their work (Crawford et al., 2010).

Social impact, in particular, has become increasingly important in the growing tendency for employees to seek out meaningful work. One such example is the MBA Oath created by 25 graduating Harvard business students pledging to lead professional careers marked with integrity and ethics:

The MBA oath

“As a business leader, I recognize my role in society.

My purpose is to lead people and manage resources to create value that no single individual can create alone.

My decisions affect the well-being of individuals inside and outside my enterprise, today and tomorrow. Therefore, I promise that:

  • I will manage my enterprise with loyalty and care, and will not advance my personal interests at the expense of my enterprise or society.
  • I will understand and uphold, in letter and spirit, the laws and contracts governing my conduct and that of my enterprise.
  • I will refrain from corruption, unfair competition, or business practices harmful to society.
  • I will protect the human rights and dignity of all people affected by my enterprise, and I will oppose discrimination and exploitation.
  • I will protect the right of future generations to advance their standard of living and enjoy a healthy planet.
  • I will report the performance and risks of my enterprise accurately and honestly.
  • I will invest in developing myself and others, helping the management profession continue to advance and create sustainable and inclusive prosperity.

In exercising my professional duties according to these principles, I recognize that my behavior must set an example of integrity, eliciting trust, and esteem from those I serve. I will remain accountable to my peers and to society for my actions and for upholding these standards. This oath, I make freely, and upon my honor.”

Job crafting is the process of personalizing work to better align with one’s strengths, values, and interests (Tims & Bakker, 2010).

Any job, at any level can be ‘crafted,’ and a well-crafted job offers more autonomy, deeper engagement and improved overall wellbeing.

There are three types of job crafting:

  • Task crafting involves adding or removing tasks, spending more or less time on certain tasks, or redesigning tasks so that they better align with your core strengths (Berg et al., 2013).
  • Relational crafting includes building, reframing, and adapting relationships to foster meaningfulness (Berg et al., 2013).
  • Cognitive crafting defines how we think about our jobs, including how we perceive tasks and the meaning behind them.

If you would like to guide others through their own unique job crafting journey, our set of Job Crafting Manuals (PDF) offer a ready-made 7-session coaching trajectory.

essay motivation workplace

Prosocial motivation is an important driver behind many individual and collective accomplishments at work.

It is a strong predictor of persistence, performance, and productivity when accompanied by intrinsic motivation. Prosocial motivation was also indicative of more affiliative citizenship behaviors when it was accompanied by motivation toward impression management motivation and was a stronger predictor of job performance when managers were perceived as trustworthy (Ciulla, 2000).

On a day-to-day basis most jobs can’t fill the tall order of making the world better, but particular incidents at work have meaning because you make a valuable contribution or you are able to genuinely help someone in need.

J. B. Ciulla

Prosocial motivation was shown to enhance the creativity of intrinsically motivated employees, the performance of employees with high core self-evaluations, and the performance evaluations of proactive employees. The psychological mechanisms that enable this are the importance placed on task significance, encouraging perspective taking, and fostering social emotions of anticipated guilt and gratitude (Ciulla, 2000).

Some argue that organizations whose products and services contribute to positive human growth are examples of what constitutes good business (Csíkszentmihályi, 2004). Businesses with a soul are those enterprises where employees experience deep engagement and develop greater complexity.

In these unique environments, employees are provided opportunities to do what they do best. In return, their organizations reap the benefits of higher productivity and lower turnover, as well as greater profit, customer satisfaction, and workplace safety. Most importantly, however, the level of engagement, involvement, or degree to which employees are positively stretched contributes to the experience of wellbeing at work (Csíkszentmihályi, 2004).

Daniel Pink (2011) argues that when it comes to motivation, management is the problem, not the solution, as it represents antiquated notions of what motivates people. He claims that even the most sophisticated forms of empowering employees and providing flexibility are no more than civilized forms of control.

He gives an example of companies that fall under the umbrella of what is known as results-only work environments (ROWEs), which allow all their employees to work whenever and wherever they want as long their work gets done.

Valuing results rather than face time can change the cultural definition of a successful worker by challenging the notion that long hours and constant availability signal commitment (Kelly, Moen, & Tranby, 2011).

Studies show that ROWEs can increase employees’ control over their work schedule; improve work–life fit; positively affect employees’ sleep duration, energy levels, self-reported health, and exercise; and decrease tobacco and alcohol use (Moen, Kelly, & Lam, 2013; Moen, Kelly, Tranby, & Huang, 2011).

Perhaps this type of solution sounds overly ambitious, and many traditional working environments are not ready for such drastic changes. Nevertheless, it is hard to ignore the quickly amassing evidence that work environments that offer autonomy, opportunities for growth, and pursuit of meaning are good for our health, our souls, and our society.

Leave us your thoughts on this topic.

Related reading: Motivation in Education: What It Takes to Motivate Our Kids

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Laloni Everitt

Good and helpful study thank you. It will help achieving goals for my clients. Thank you for this information

Olivera novitović, PhD

A lot of data is really given. Validation is correct. The next step is the exchange of knowledge in order to create an optimal model of motivation.


A good article, thank you for sharing. The views and work by the likes of Daniel Pink, Dan Ariely, Barry Schwartz etc have really got me questioning and reflecting on my own views on workplace motivation. There are far too many organisations and leaders who continue to rely on hedonic principles for motivation (until recently, myself included!!). An excellent book which shares these modern views is ‘Primed to Perform’ by Doshi and McGregor (2015). Based on the earlier work of Deci and Ryan’s self determination theory the book explores the principle of ‘why people work, determines how well they work’. A easy to read and enjoyable book that offers a very practical way of applying in the workplace.

Annelé Venter

Thanks for mentioning that. Sounds like a good read.

All the best, Annelé

Ida H Rivera

Motivation – a piece of art every manager should obtain and remember by heart and continue to embrace.

Sanjay Patil

Exceptionally good write-up on the subject applicable for personal and professional betterment. Simplified theorem appeals to think and learn at least one thing that means an inspiration to the reader. I appreciate your efforts through this contributive work.

Nelson Guevara

Excelente artículo sobre motivación. Me inspira. Gracias


Very helpful for everyone studying motivation right now! It’s brilliant the way it’s witten and also brought to the reader. Thank you.

Robyn Walshe

Such a brilliant piece! A super coverage of existing theories clearly written. It serves as an excellent overview (or reminder for those of us who once knew the older stuff by heart!) Thank you!

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Motivation in the workplace

There are people out there in the workforce that believe they are obligated to do their best at their job simply because that is what is expected from all of us as humans. On the other hand, there are those out there that want to only do as much as they can get away with doing. No matter which one of these employees you are or are working with companies and employer’s need to understand the concept of motivation. Motivation comes in many forms such as money, benefits, or simple recognition within.

Motivation also leads to higher productivity and profit and that is what we are all looking for in business. The key to unlocking peak performance from your work force is the concept of human motivation. In addition, the key to motivation revolves around one fundamental principle: “What’s in it for me? ” (WIIFM). We have all been socialized to believe that only “selfish” people consider “What’s in store for me. ” When in reality all people are motivated first by self-interest. The word selfish is used as a negative label for someone’s perceived behavior.

Understanding the concept of self-interest is perhaps the only way we will understand our need to achieve. Self-interest or feeling good about your self is a fundamental ingredient of motivation. When you work an extra hour, not on the clock, you are doing it for one real reason. It makes you feel good to either get the job done well or to help someone else. In the end you might get some sort of recognition in the company but usually you will not stay an hour extra today to get a gold star in two weeks from now. Dr.

Gerald Kushel, has stated in his book “Reaching the Peak Performance Zone”; there are several variables involved in motivation. Among them are intensity, durability, context and value (reward). Motivation intensity has a big part in how hard someone will work for his or her reward. If an employer offers a reward that does not mean a lot to the employee then they will not work for it. Intensity has to do with how strongly the person wants the reward (Opportunities in Human Resource Management Careers, Traynor and McKenzie).

A person can be highly motivated, mildly motivated or only slightly motivated. The person answers the question “What’s in it for me? ” with “Something I want very much,” the performer is considered highly motivated. If the answer is “I can take it or leave it,” that performer is considered only slightly motivated. Durability has to do with how long lasting the motivation is (duration) ( Managing Human Resources , Sherman, Bohlander, Snell). Motivation tends to last longer when it is reinforced intermittently rather the consistently. Some how, intermittent rewards are stronger.

A person can come to expect the reward rather than see it as a treat, which it is supposed to be. Psychologists have believed this for years. Perhaps it has to do with the uncertainty or the surprise factor of the stimulus. We tend to take for granted and not appreciate the thing that has become routine. There is a certain excitement factor and something we cannot take for granted or assume. We have learned that the intensity and duration of a given motivator are enhanced if the reward is immediately given following the act of behavior (Managing Human Resources, Sherman, Bohlander, Snell).

This immediate reinforcement leaves no confusion in the mind of the performer, as to what the reward is for. For example if you tell an employee, “If you finish this stack of paper work and type this letter for me I will treat you to lunch. ” If you choose to tell this person “I owe you one. ” and do not give them their reward until the following week, they might have already forgotten what it was for. In turn, when you ask for another favor and promise a reward your employee will be less motivated to do it.

What might ordinarily be perceived as a reward to one person it might be a punishment to another. You must custom fit a reward system to your employees and jobs to get the ultimate performance from you reward system. Furthermore, the more value the recipient of the reward places on the completion of the behavior that is being rewarded, the more powerful and personally rewarding it is. Context is the time, the place and the way the reward is delivered (Managing Human Resources, Sherman, Bohlander, Snell). Context is partly a matter of the culture of a particular organization.

What that mans is, when a certain motivator is offered in a particular corporation, it may not have the same value it has when it is offered in another place. For example, an “employee of the month” parking space may be a meaningful reward in some companies, meaningless in some companies, or even a demotivator for some people in other companies. It all depends on what is perceived as “valued” by the corporate culture. To be demotivated means that neither the energy nor the commitments are there. Negative reinforcement often proves to be highly demotivating.

In one form or another, these have been used in business settings for a long time . Negative reinforces include such things as “taking names,” “kicking butt,” penalties, reprimands, docking or withholding pay, canceling vacations, removing privileges, and showing contempt for or ignoring the performer. Demotivation is worse then no motivation at all. Positive reinforcement works better. Positive reinforces include such things as recognition, respect, praise, better working conditions, money, paid vacations, fringe benefits, prizes, etc.

There are two types of motivators, intrinsic and extrinsic (Managing Human Resources, Sherman, Bohlander, Snell). The word motivation often brings things to mind like money, or special privileges, like the key to the executive washroom. These are extrinsic, meaning external. Someone else is dangling this particular item in front of you as a way of getting you to do something. Intrinsic motivators are internal. They originate entirely from within you. Intrinsic motivation tends to be deeper and more powerful than extrinsic motivation. The effects tend to last longer too, with intrinsic motivation.

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Motivation Theory in the Workplace, Essay Example

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The humanistic theory of motivation offers a means of establishing specific behavioral patterns in order to achieve specific goals and objectives. Work-based motivation supports the ability to achieve specific milestones within the career path that are driven by feedback and goal-setting behaviors (Chadrick, 2010). In this context, professional experiences are likely to be most successful when there is a series of steps in place to allow employees to reach the next steps of their career (Chadrick, 2010). From personal experience, this theory is applicable because it supports my personal goal development framework which motivates me to achieve my goals throughout the year. However, it is my manager’s responsibility to assist me in identifying my goals for the coming year and to develop methods to reach those goals in an effective manner.

Motivation is also driven by professional expectations and needs within the workplace setting (Herzberg, 2003). These contributions require managers to recognize where motivation is necessary and to develop a system to motivate employees towards the greater good for their careers and for the organization (Flynn, 2011). My manager’s ability to conduct an appropriate and effective performance review also plays a critical role in supporting my growth by recognizing my potential and contributions to the organization (Smith and Mazin, 2004).

I am consistently committed to my growth and development through the activities in which I participate to promote professional and organizational growth. I also believe that the humanistic approach to motivation requires a level of understanding and acceptance that goes beyond what is written in a performance evaluation, as there are significant inherent factors that must be addressed to improve employee performance. In addition, small yet gradual improvements are likely to be effective in supporting professional growth within a given position and organizational framework. These contributions are the key to successful and consistent motivation in the workplace setting.

Chadnick, E. (2010). Giving feedback that fuels success. Canadian HR Reporter , 23(15), 19-24.

Flynn, S. (2011). Can you directly motivate employees? Exploding the myth. Development and Learning in Organizations , 25(1), 11–15.

Herzberg, F. (2003). One more time: How do you motivate employees? Harvard Business Review , 81(1), 88–96. Retrieved from

Smith, S., & Mazin, R. (2004). Performance management: How do I evaluate performance and conduct meaningful performance reviews? From The HR answer book (pp. 41–59). New York: American Management Association International.

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Essays About Work: 7 Examples and 8 Prompts

If you want to write well-researched essays about work, check out our guide of helpful essay examples and writing prompts for this topic.

Whether employed or self-employed, we all need to work to earn a living. Work could provide a source of purpose for some but also stress for many. The causes of stress could be an unmanageable workload, low pay, slow career development, an incompetent boss, and companies that do not care about your well-being.  Essays about work  can help us understand how to achieve a work/life balance for long-term happiness.

Work can still be a happy place to develop essential skills such as leadership and teamwork. If we adopt the right mindset, we can focus on situations we can improve and avoid stressing ourselves over situations we have no control over. We should also be free to speak up against workplace issues and abuses to defend our labor rights. Check out our  essay writing topics  for more.

5 Examples of Essays About Work

1.  when the future of work means always looking for your next job by bruce horovitz, 2. ‘quiet quitting’ isn’t the solution for burnout by rebecca vidra, 3. the science of why we burn out and don’t have to by joe robinson , 4. how to manage your career in a vuca world by murali murthy, 5. the challenges of regulating the labor market in developing countries by gordon betcherman, 6. creating the best workplace on earth by rob goffee and gareth jones, 7. employees seek personal value and purpose at work. be prepared to deliver by jordan turner, 8 writing prompts on essays about work, 1. a dream work environment, 2. how is school preparing you for work, 3. the importance of teamwork at work, 4. a guide to find work for new graduates, 5. finding happiness at work, 6. motivating people at work, 7. advantages and disadvantages of working from home, 8. critical qualities you need to thrive at work.

“For a host of reasons—some for a higher salary, others for improved benefits, and many in search of better company culture—America’s workforce is constantly looking for its next gig.”

A perennial search for a job that fulfills your sense of purpose has been an emerging trend in the work landscape in recent years. Yet, as human resource managers scramble to minimize employee turnover, some still believe there will still be workers who can exit a company through a happy retirement. You might also be interested in these  essays about unemployment .

“…[L]et’s creatively collaborate on ways to re-establish our own sense of value in our institutions while saying yes only to invitations that nourish us instead of sucking up more of our energy.”

Quiet quitting signals more profound issues underlying work, such as burnout or the bosses themselves. It is undesirable in any workplace, but to have it in school, among faculty members, spells doom as the future of the next generation is put at stake. In this essay, a teacher learns how to keep from burnout and rebuild a sense of community that drew her into the job in the first place.

“We don’t think about managing the demands that are pushing our buttons, we just keep reacting to them on autopilot on a route I call the burnout treadmill. Just keep going until the paramedics arrive.”

Studies have shown the detrimental health effects of stress on our mind, emotions and body. Yet we still willingly take on the treadmill to stress, forgetting our boundaries and wellness. It is time to normalize seeking help from our superiors to resolve burnout and refuse overtime and heavy workloads.

“As we start to emerge from the pandemic, today’s workplace demands a different kind of VUCA career growth. One that’s Versatile, Uplifting, Choice-filled and Active.”

The only thing constant in work is change. However, recent decades have witnessed greater work volatility where tech-oriented people and creative minds flourish the most. The essay provides tips for applying at work daily to survive and even thrive in the VUCA world. You might also be interested in these  essays about motivation .

“Ultimately, the biggest challenge in regulating labor markets in developing countries is what to do about the hundreds of millions of workers (or even more) who are beyond the reach of formal labor market rules and social protections.”

The challenge in regulating work is balancing the interest of employees to have dignified work conditions and for employers to operate at the most reasonable cost. But in developing countries, the difficulties loom larger, with issues going beyond equal pay to universal social protection coverage and monitoring employers’ compliance.

“Suppose you want to design the best company on earth to work for. What would it be like? For three years, we’ve been investigating this question by asking hundreds of executives in surveys and in seminars all over the world to describe their ideal organization.”

If you’ve ever wondered what would make the best workplace, you’re not alone. In this essay, Jones looks at how employers can create a better workplace for employees by using surveys and interviews. The writer found that individuality and a sense of support are key to creating positive workplace environments where employees are comfortable.

“Bottom line: People seek purpose in their lives — and that includes work. The more an employer limits those things that create this sense of purpose, the less likely employees will stay at their positions.”

In this essay, Turner looks at how employees seek value in the workplace. This essay dives into how, as humans, we all need a purpose. If we can find purpose in our work, our overall happiness increases. So, a value and purpose-driven job role can create a positive and fruitful work environment for both workers and employers.

In this essay, talk about how you envision yourself as a professional in the future. You can be as creative as to describe your workplace, your position, and your colleagues’ perception of you. Next, explain why this is the line of work you dream of and what you can contribute to society through this work. Finally, add what learning programs you’ve signed up for to prepare your skills for your dream job.

For your essay, look deeply into how your school prepares the young generation to be competitive in the future workforce. If you want to go the extra mile, you can interview students who have graduated from your school and are now professionals. Ask them about the programs or practices in your school that they believe have helped mold them better at their current jobs.

Essays about work: The importance of teamwork at work

In a workplace where colleagues compete against each other, leaders could find it challenging to cultivate a sense of cooperation and teamwork. So, find out what creative activities companies can undertake to encourage teamwork across teams and divisions. For example, regular team-building activities help strengthen professional bonds while assisting workers to recharge their minds.

Finding a job after receiving your undergraduate diploma can be full of stress, pressure, and hard work. Write an essay that handholds graduate students in drafting their resumes and preparing for an interview. You may also recommend the top job market platforms that match them with their dream work. You may also ask recruitment experts for tips on how graduates can make a positive impression in job interviews.

Creating a fun and happy workplace may seem impossible. But there has been a flurry of efforts in the corporate world to keep workers happy. Why? To make them more productive. So, for your essay, gather research on what practices companies and policy-makers should adopt to help workers find meaning in their jobs. For example, how often should salary increases occur? You may also focus on what drives people to quit jobs that raise money. If it’s not the financial package that makes them satisfied, what does? Discuss these questions with your readers for a compelling essay.

Motivation could scale up workers’ productivity, efficiency, and ambition for higher positions and a longer tenure in your company. Knowing which method of motivation best suits your employees requires direct managers to know their people and find their potential source of intrinsic motivation. For example, managers should be able to tell whether employees are having difficulties with their tasks to the point of discouragement or find the task too easy to boredom.

A handful of managers have been worried about working from home for fears of lowering productivity and discouraging collaborative work. Meanwhile, those who embrace work-from-home arrangements are beginning to see the greater value and benefits of giving employees greater flexibility on when and where to work. So first, draw up the pros and cons of working from home. You can also interview professionals working or currently working at home. Finally, provide a conclusion on whether working from home can harm work output or boost it.

Identifying critical skills at work could depend on the work applied. However, there are inherent values and behavioral competencies that recruiters demand highly from employees. List the top five qualities a professional should possess to contribute significantly to the workplace. For example, being proactive is a valuable skill because workers have the initiative to produce without waiting for the boss to prod them.

If you need help with grammar, our guide to  grammar and syntax  is a good start to learning more. We also recommend taking the time to  improve the readability score  of your essays before publishing or submitting them.

essay motivation workplace

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Employee Motivation as a Component of Performance Management Synthesis Essay

Introduction, understanding employee motivation, a brief review of motivational theories, the complexity of employee motivation, how organizations motivate their employees, reference list.

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A substantial number of organizations have embraced strategic human resource management practices in the modern economic times. The reason for embracing strategic human resource management is that it is comprehensive and responsive to all the issues of management that arise in organizations.

Most of the literature on organizational management point to the fact that employees are the most critical resources in organizations.

This statement is backed by the fact that employees are the key pillars behind applicability and functioning of the non-human resources in organizations.

Therefore, one of the areas that are given a lot of attention in strategic human resource management is the management of the expectations and demands of employees in organizations.

While the management of employees is termed as one of the most complex tasks, it remains to be the most vital role for organizational managers (Armstrong & Baron 2002: 42).

The complexity of managing employees comes from the fact that managing employees entails the management of their needs, expectations, as well as their emotions. Modern human resource managers in organizations are charged with managing performance (Boudreau 1998: 3).

According to Miner (2003: 250), motivation is one of the key functions of organizational performance in contemporary organizations.

A common question that is posed to people seeking human resource management positions in organizations revolves around the techniques that can be used to motivate employees (Katou & Budhwar 2006: 1223).

In this paper, it is argued that employee motivation is a complex exercise, yet the most critical function of organizational performance in modern organizations.

This paper explores motivation as one of the key components of performance management in organizations. The paper begins by developing the real value and meaning of motivation.

The paper transits to the exploration of the manner in which employees are motivated. This is done through digging deep into motivational theories and real examples of how organizations implement employee motivation programs.

As observed in the introduction, employee motivation is one of the key components of performance management. Different organizations adopt different techniques of motivating their employees. There exists no defined and static way of motivating employees in organizations.

What is evident in contemporary organizational management is that organization’s managers build on motivational techniques, while choosing best practices in employee motivation. This is due to the variation in operational structures and design of human resource development practices in each organization.

It is critical to define motivation in order to give a clear room for putting the term in the context of organizational management. Motivation can be defined as a psychological feature that is meant to make people act towards a given set of objectives.

Digging deeper into the meaning of the term motivation, it comes out that motivation is coined from the verb motive. Motive can mean desires, needs, demands, drives, and wants within a person (Gollwitzer 1996: 476).

Basing on this premise, motivation can be defined as the process of stimulating a person to behave in a way that favours the accomplishment of certain goals. Therefore, the observation that motivation is a process implies that it is a continuous exercise.

This is likened to the fact that the needs of people are complex and keep changing with the environment under which they are placed at a given time.

Moving back to the organizational context, it has been observed that the factors that stimulate the behaviour of employees include the desire for success, the desire for money, the need for recognition, and the desire for teamwork and job satisfaction among other individually and group derived needs (Armstrong 2007: 395).

Bruce (2006: 1) observed that the need for motivation in organizations is inevitable. One of the main roles of organizational managers is to ensure that employees discharge performance in the best of their skills and abilities.

Therefore, the role of organizational leaders is to ensure that they arouse interest in the employees, which is vital for gearing the employees toward improving the standards of performance when discharging their roles in the organization.

Up to this point, it can be said that the role of motivating employees lies squarely with organizational leaders. What ought to be asked is whether organizations can attain their goals without the embrace of motivation.

A simple answer to this question is that performance management is the core pillar of performance in modern organizations. This is evident across almost all industries in the world today (Bruce 2006: 2).

According to Management Study Guide (n.d.: 1), the process of employee motivation can be understood better by putting three stages into consideration.

These stages are: a need or drive, a stimulating ground in which the needs of employees are aroused and the satisfaction of the needs of employees, which is often accompanied by the accomplishment of the organizational performance goals.

The second stage implies that the employees may have needs that are not visible or understood by the management. Therefore, it is the role of the human resource managers to provide a ground on which the employees feel comfortable to raise their demands in which their needs are depicted.

It can, thus, be said that motivation is the source of employee morale, which comes from the feeling that their needs have been met. The needs are best met through development and implementation of a desirable incentive plan.

Of critical relevance in employee motivation is the increase of the level of attachment of the employees to the organization (Management Study Guide n.d.: 1).

A critical observation of management denotes that employee motivation is an exercise that has been in application in organizations even before the 20 th century.

The existence of motivational theories that date back to the pre-classical times to the classical theories of motivation and the contemporary motivational theories denotes that motivation is a vital and an applicable theory in organizational management.

The classical theories of motivation were prevalent during the 1950s, the time when most organizations in Western Europe were setting up proper structures to enhance competitiveness.

The three main motivational theories that were developed in the mid 20 th century and which have remained relevant into modern organizational managers include the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, Herzberg’s two factor theory and the theory X and theory Y (Management Study Guide n.d.: 1).

These theories provide the main ground on which the modern concepts and models of motivation are derived.

It can be noted that the contemporary organizational environment depicts an increase in the number of factors that are affecting organizational management, yet the classical theories remain to be the core pillars on which the foundations of motivation are based (Hoffmann 2007: 11).

The contemporary theories of motivation try to absorb emerging issues of management. This is due to the observation that the contemporary environment in which employees work is quite dynamic.

Contemporary theories bring out the significant changes in human behaviours and non-human factors and how they play out in the motivation of organizational employees.

These theories include: the goal setting theory, the reinforcement theory, the expectancy theory of motivation, the equity theory of motivation, and the McClelland’s theory of needs among other theories and models of motivation.

One of the main differences between the classical theories and the contemporary theories is that the contemporary theories of motivation are applied within the spectrum of human resource management.

This implies that the contemporary theories are more responsive to organizational change compared to the classical theories, which were based on the principles of personnel management (Hoffmann 2007: 11).

There is another category of employee motivation theory known as content motivational theories. These theories are often based on the needs of the workers in organizations.

The needs of employees keep shifting and so do these theories seek to explore how employee motivation can be attained within such an environment. Motivation is mostly seen as a factor that comes from the internal drive of the employees, which comes from the satisfaction of the demands of the workers.

The role of managers is expansive under these theories. Managers are charged with an extra role of ensuring that employees air out their views about the developments in the external and internal environment of the organization.

Changes in the internal and external environment of the organizations result in shifts in the demands and needs of employees. The change may be positive, meaning that it has a minimal impact on the employees and their needs.

The change may also be negative, meaning that it attracts new demands and needs of the employees. Most of the contemporary theories of employee motivation mentioned in the above paragraph can also fit in this category of motivational theories (Naoum 2001: 230).

Ankli and Palliam 2006 (7) observed that the most critical question that comes to the mind of people when talking about employee motivation is whether employees can be motivated.

According to Meyers et al. (2004: 991), research in the field of organizational motivation is still highly fragmented, which makes it difficult to develop a common understanding of how motivation ought to be implemented by organizational managers.

Instead of building on each other’s findings, researchers prefer to explore their researches on factors that impact on employee motivation solely. This is one of the sources of difficulties in comprehending the issue of employee motivation.

The other concern about the applicability of employee motivation comes from the fact that the operational environment in which organizations prevail is quite dynamic and often results in changes in the needs of employees.

The dynamics of the environment can result in scenarios where the needs of employees override the capacity of the organization to fulfil or respond to the needs and demands.

An example is the recent global economic recession where the financial needs of employees rose significantly, yet most organizations suffered massive financial losses and could not meet the financial needs of their employees.

However, it has been observed that organizations apply diverse tactics of managing the needs and expectations of employees (“Keeping employees motivated during difficult times” 2009: 53-54).

According to Ankli and Palliam (2006: 8), the needs of employees may be satisfied directly or indirectly, which means that motivation is exercised irrespective of the conditions that are facing the organization.

In fact, the real test of the potential of human resource managers to motivate organizations is seen during times when organizations are facing tough economic times. This implies that other tactics, other than the direct fulfilment of the employee needs and demands, have to be applied.

A lot of uncertainties take course in organizations during tough times. This raises the level of anxiety among employees, who worry about the potential of the organization to meet their needs. In such events, organizational managers are forced to reassure the employees through application of motivational models that are meant to retain the employees.

This is a daunting task, considering the fact that other organizations may be offering attractive opportunities to the skilled employees. This can come out clearly when trying to explore the relationship between motivation and employee retention.

What is evident in the study of employee motivation is that motivation is a complex activity that has to be effectively approached by the organization in order to meet the goals of organizational performance (“Keeping employees motivated during difficult times” 2009: 53-54).

In their exploratory research, in which they sought to establish the sources of employee motivation in organizations, Ankli and Palliam (2006: 8) found out that motivation is directly linked to the behaviour of employees. Therefore, motivating employees entails the effort to change the behaviour of employees.

By factoring the aspects of organizational behaviour in organizational performance appraisal, it comes out clearly that motivation is a complex process since it is not only bases on changing behaviour, but also a set of behaviours. In a number of circumstances, the behaviours may be generative and circular.

The aspect of employee behaviour change in motivation invites organizational managers to divide motivation into distinct categories of factors that affect the needs and demands of employees, and by extension affecting the behaviour of employees (Ankli & Palliam 2006: 8-9).

According to (Beswick 2007: 1), the linkage between employees and rewards, on the other hand, depicts a broader picture of the concept of motivating employees. The rewards go hand in hand with motivation. However, it is not clear whether all rewards fulfil their intended purpose.

Rewards may fail to achieve the desired objectives, especially in scenarios where organizational managers have not fully inspired the employees to bring out their needs and demands (Management Study Guide n.d.: 1).

As noted earlier in this paper, organizational performance management is one of the most critical parameters that determine the ability of an organization to compete with other organizations in the industry and the collective economy in which an organization operate.

Performance management cannot be fully explored without the explication of performance appraisal. According to Benson and Dundis (2003: 315), one of the key components of organizational appraisal systems is motivation. By extension, it can be said that motivation lies at the centre of performance management.

A deeper look across most organizations in the contemporary world reveals the emphasis on strategic human resource management (Latham & Pinder 2005: 485). One of the strategies of managing employees, which receives a vast amount of attention in most organizations, is motivation.

This can be understood by factoring in the theory of hierarchy of needs by Abraham Maslow. Irrespective of the fact that it is a classical theory, the Maslow’s theory provides the ground on which motivational practices are devised and implemented in contemporary organizations.

The main feature of the Maslow theory is the needs of people (Benson & Dundis 2003: 316).

Evidence across a substantial number of organizations across the globe reveals that motivation often begins with the unearthing of the needs of the employees and the devise and the implementation of plans to satisfy the needs of the employees.

The question that should be posed at this point is whether motivation is only founded on the needs and satisfaction of the needs.

This is not the truth; however, it is evident that motivation cannot be fully attained in any organization without satisfying the needs of employees.

It is the needs of employees that have to be opened up in order to reflect the increasingly challenging and competitive environment in which organizations operate (Latham & Pinder 2005: 485).

Having noted that the modern operational environment is very dynamic and challenging, it is apparent that modern managers ought to be proactive in the application of motivation in organizational functioning. There are a lot of changes in the functional environment of modern organizations.

These changes include the emerging technologies and the need for organizations to adopt the technologies, mounting competition between firms and the dynamic economic conditions.

Organizations that have proven to have the power to thrive in the current economy are those that balance the needs of employees and the organizational dynamics.

Benchmark organizations like Apple Incorporated, Microsoft Corporation and Tesco among others are often reported to invest vast amounts of resources in human resource development.

Part of the human resource development activities that are given maximum attention is the motivation of employees through physical rewards (Latham & Pinder 2005: 485).

Müller (2011: 2) argued that the rise of the Apple Incorporated into the scale of production that it enjoys today is largely attributed to the motivating factor in the organization. One can simply inquire about the mode of organizational motivation that is utilized in Apple Incorporated.

An exploration of the theories of motivation reveals that no organization can rely on a single source of motivation. Apple embraces both intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. The balance between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation is crucial to the balancing of performance in the company.

This is backed by the 50/50 theory of motivation by John Adair, which emphasizes on the need to strike a balance between extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation.

According to Adair (2006: 43) intrinsic factors of employee motivation include job design and the culture of the organization, while extrinsic factors include positive and negative incentives.

Most organizations, Apple included, are trying to draw away negative incentives, such as threats. The argument behind this development is that negative incentives have proven to be unsustainable since they only shape behaviours and actions of employees in the short-run.

In the long-run, negative incentives often degenerate into revolt by the employees, thus failing to attain its key goal of motivating employees (Wang & Lim 2008: 701-702). According to the motivational crowding theory, extrinsic motivational factors undermine the worth of the intrinsic factors of motivation in organizations.

Extrinsic motivational factors, like the fear of sanctions, put a lot of pressure on the employees, and may kill the will and the desire of the employees to work for results (Dzuranin & Stuart 2012: 3).

Müller (2011:3) observed that the organizational culture of Apple Incorporated is moulded around innovation. As part of the intrinsic factors, the company often ensures that the employees are presented with all the possible resources that are required to advance the projects of the company.

A similar practice is embraced in Microsoft Corporation. This is justified by the billions of dollars that are spent by these companies in enhancing research and development. Once the intrinsic factors have been accomplished, it becomes easy for Apple to factor in the extrinsic factors of motivation.

Not all attributes of extrinsic motivation give attention to the motivational practices in the Apple Company. The company ensures that all its employees are retained in order to enhance organizational projects, which results in innovation.

The company has an elaborate benefit scheme that ensures that its employees are remunerated accordingly. The company also offers its employees other non-performance driven incentives like insurance cover and product discounts. This creates an enabling room for a competitive organization (Müller 2011: 4).

Motivation is, thus, one of the main success factors for Apple Incorporated. The company has demonstrated its ability to sustain organizational motivation, thus remaining to be one of the most flexible organizations in the world today.

This gives the company an upper hand when it comes to competition and attraction of employees in the competitive global labour industry.

Organizations keep competing for employees who have outstanding skills; therefore, lack of motivation among employees in one company can be used as an attracting factor in another company.

Organizations value experienced employees and they are often willing to go an extra mile to maintain skills and experience (Müller 2011: 3).

While a substantial number of organizational management researchers argue for tangible rewards as one of the most embraced ways of motivating employees, the reality on the ground shows that both the tangible and intangible rewards are utilized by organizational managers.

The most common tangible reward that is used to motivate employees in organizations is financial rewards. However, it has been noted that employees do not only value financial rewards.

In order to fully motivate the employees, as opined by the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the financial rewards often come first because they help employees to fulfil their basic needs. However, the other level of motivation, which is the fulfilment of the psychological needs of the employees, is also critical.

Employees value the sense of belonging and feel more motivated when they are appreciated by the organizational management. This is better understood through an exploration of the psychological theories of organizational behaviour.

Research on organizational performance has revealed that both tangible and non-tangible resources complement one other, especially in the production setting in organizations (Dzuranin & Stuart 2012: 3).

Employee motivation if one of the most valid practices in organizational management. Most theories of organizational management point to the critical relevance of organizational employees to the existence and sustainability of organizational operations. This paper has explored the topic of employee motivation deeply.

The paper sought to answer three main questions, which are: What is employee motivation? Can employees be motivated? How can employees be motivated? As observed in the paper, there are positives and negative to each side of the questions posed.

It can be concluded that the concept of employee motivation is one of the critical features in the management of performance in organizations.

The definition of employee motivation brought about the aspect of needs, demands and aspirations, which must be guarded in order to propel the organizational employees towards attainment of the goals of organizations.

In an attempt to factor whether employee motivation is a possible exercise, it came out that employee motivation is an activity that has been implemented by organizations for a long period, ranging from the pre-classical times to the contemporary managerial era.

This was backed by the existence of theories of employee motivation theories, whose development can be traced from the early years of the 20 th century.

Motivation is a complex activity, though it remains critical to the performance of organizations. The first aspect of complexity in employee motivation is the fact that the needs of employees are diverse, which makes it daunting for organizational managers to meet these diverse needs.

This compounds the problem of attaining the desired level of motivation in employees.

The second complexity of employee motivation resonates from the fact that the contemporary operational environment of most organizations keeps changing at paces that cannot be easily anticipated, thus swaying the needs of the employees.

In spite of the complexities, organizations keep inventing techniques of managing the needs, aspirations and expectations of their employees. This is due to the fact that motivation is one of the core tools for developing an efficient workforce, which can help organizations beat the odds of competition.

“Keeping employees motivated during difficult times” 2009, Leader to Leader , vol. 2009 no. 51, pp. 53-54.

Adair, JE 2006, Leadership and motivation: The fifty-fifty rule and the eight key principles of motivating others , Kogan Page, London.

Ankli, RE & Palliam, R 2012, ‘Enabling a motivated workforce: exploring the sources of motivation’, Development and Learning in Organizations , vol. 26 no. 2, pp. 7-10.

Armstrong, M & Baron, A 2002, Strategic HRM: The key to improved business performance , Chartered Inst. of Personnel and Development, London.

Armstrong, M 2007, A handbook of employee reward management and practice , Kogan Page, Philadelphia, PA.

Benson, SG & Dundis, SP 2003, ‘Understanding and motivating health care employees: integrating Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, training and technology’, Journal of Nursing Management , vol. 11 no. 5, pp. 315-320.

Beswick, D 2007, Management implications of the interaction between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic rewards, paper presented at a Seminar, University of Melbourne, Melbourne.

Boudreau, JW 1998, ‘Strategic human resource management measures: Key linkages and the peoplevantage model’, Strategic HR Metrics and PeopleVantage, WP, pp. 98-128.

Bruce, A 2006, How to motivate every employee: 24 proven tactics to spark productivity in the workplace , McGraw-Hill, New York, NY.

Dzuranin, A & Stuart, N 2012, ‘The effect of tangible and intangible noncash rewards on performance and satisfaction in a production setting’, Management Accounting Quarterly , vol. 13 no. 4, pp. 1-9.

Gollwitzer, PM 1996, The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behaviour , Guilford Press, New York, NY.

Hoffmann, S 2007, Classical motivation theories – Similarities and differences between them , GRIN Verlag GmbH, München.

Katou, A & Budhwar, P 2006, ‘Human resource management systems on organizational performance: A test of mediating model in the Greek manufacturing context’, International Journal of Human Resource Management , vol. 17 no. 7, pp. 1223-1253.

Latham, GP & Pinder, CC 2005, ‘Work motivation theory and research at the dawn of the twenty-first century’, Annual Review of Psychology , vol. 56, pp. 485-516.

Management Study Guide n.d., What is motivation? Web.

Meyers, JP, Becker, TE & Vandenberghe, C 2004, ‘Employee commitment and motivation: A conceptual analysis and integrative model’, Journal of Applied Psychology , vol. 89 no. 6, pp. 991-1007.

Miner, JB 2003, ‘The rated importance, scientific validity, and practical usefulness of organizational behavior theories: a quantitative review’, Academy of Management Learning & Education , vol. 2 no. 3, pp. 250-68.

Müller, C 2011, Employee motivation and incentives at Apple: Do incentives really help to motivate employees? , GRIN Verlag GmbH, München.

Naoum, S 2001, People and organizational management in construction , Telford, London.

Wang, H & Lim, SS 2008, ‘Real options and real value: the role of employee incentives to make specific knowledge investments’, Strategic Management Journal , vol. 29 no. 7, pp. 701-721.

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IvyPanda. (2019, October 5). Employee Motivation as a Component of Performance Management.

IvyPanda. (2019, October 5). Employee Motivation as a Component of Performance Management. Retrieved from

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Workplace Motivation Paper Essay Samples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Workplace , Motivation , Employee , Productivity , Time Management , Human Resource Management , Company , Staff

Words: 1800

Published: 12/21/2021


Motivation is a primary need for employees to appreciate their jobs and have optimal performance. Employees are motivated differently. There are those motivated by money while others are not motivated by money but by being recognized and rewarded (Lauby, 2005). Although money, as a form of extrinsic motivation, is one of the main reasons why people go to work every day, the workplace is a bit different since it relies on staff motivation to achieve a high level of productivity from the employees, which on the other hand increases revenue. Motivation can be defined as the different processes that to contribute to a person’s strength, direction, as well as the tenacity to struggle towards achieving a particular goal (Scott, 2014). This can be understood as the force that determines why people may execute certain undertakings. Motivated and excited employees will perform their tasks to the best of their abilities, which would lead to an increase in production numbers. This paper is therefore aimed at discussing the workplace motivation in Apple Inc. The paper will look at various motivational strategies employed by the company and their impacts on productivity, different ways used to improve employee performance, staff resistance to increasing productivity, the effects of motivation on employees and the management, and the application of motivational theory. Whenever an individual becomes employed at the Apple Inc., they always attain a sense of commitment and pride because of the company’s success hence they gain a convinced expectation level from the enterprise. This gives the company responsibility to sustain those expectations, which could be more through motivating them.

Motivational Strategies and their Effects on Productivity

There are several motivational strategies that do affect productivity. In fact, the inner motivation of an individual is what makes them have the courage to go to work every day. Productivity, on the other hand, is determined by increased performance, which results from motivated and willing staff. One thing that Apple has been done to achieve employee productivity is by ensuring that its personnel have all the requirements necessary for performing their tasks. These include office supplies, which are important in the assessment of important information for the completion of specific duties. It is clear that employees become discouraged when they are forced by circumstances to waste much time searching for specific items that are necessary to complete their daily tasks effectively (Lauby, 2005). It is also significant for every company to ensure that the staff has access to the specific needs they require. For instance, if the person who is in control of the only key to the supply room acts in ways that depict that his workmates might steal the supplies, he might create tension to the employees, which demotivates them. Petty issues like looking for office supplies can greatly affect the motivational levels of employees (Dozier, 2011). The company strategizes on offering effective training for the ongoing career development. This has proved to be a fundamental element of the process of performance that does greatly affect the productivity within the institution. For instance, assisting the employees to meet their personal goals proves to them that the company values their development and therefore, they would execute all their duties willingly, which is a key thing to giving their best for the business success. It is also important to engage the staff in solving business issues. For instance, the employees would like to be involved in developing the solution of new ideas after they are identified in the organization. This would show them that their contribution is valuable hence a key motivation factor, which would see them struggle to achieve organizational objectives. The employees should also be recognized for their efforts and praised. There are instances when workers do take on extra responsibilities like when the business is unsettled. This would call for the management to have a system of recognizing these additional efforts, which might be through simple appreciations like telling an individual “thank you” or even “good job.” These might seem like small words, but they have an effect on employee motivation for they can greatly build loyalty. A workplace that has effective systems of rewarding its employees has a great advantage of increased staff productivity (Lauby, 2005). In fact, a rewarding employee does bring positive reinforcement. The system should focus more on the staff behavior than the finances. Employees would work harder to achieve the outlined awards, which effectively increases productivity. In every institution, several organizational efforts are significant in increasing productivity. An organization’s success is determined by staff productivity. This is achieved mainly in sales, and it is imperative to ensure that the customers are handled in the right manner to promote their loyalty, which has great effect on the total sales. It is the responsibility of the leadership to recognize the strengths and the abilities of their subordinates. These might include pinpointing their unexploited potential to become leaders and cultivate efficient communication skills. These elements would lead to an improved personal performance level as well as a more effective and cohesive company. It is, therefore, paramount for an organization to develop plans and strategies to advance performance. This can be achieved through several steps. First, the management should employ effective communication of their expectations and highlight personal responsibility. This is critical since it makes every employee have a clear understanding of how their contributions towards the achievement of the organizational goals are essential to the organization’s value and success (Hamlett, 2015). The employees should also be held accountable for any tasks they undertake, their choices as well as the agreed deadlines of their tasks. Secondly, the management has a role in monitoring and evaluating the employee job performance through different time appraisals. This is important in showing the staff where they are strong in and where they need to improve. Some evaluation and recognition methods like the employee of the month, promotions and gratuities are ways of enlightening performance since individuals would like to be noticed for their achievements and efforts (Durkin, 2010).

Employees’ Resistance to Increasing Productivity

The changing aspects of the international economy, the advances in technology as well as the more assorted personnel has led to continuing change in the nature of work. This has therefore brought about the need to concentrate on the management’s challenges in developing work that would motivate and inspire the employees. For quite some time, the management has relied on the extrinsic motivators that are old and out of time. However, for Apple, the management seems to have a clear understanding that the employee compensation does not only involve salary but also some programs that inspire creativity as well as teamwork within the company to attain the best performance results. However, employees might have some resistance to any recent changes made in the corporation since they might not be aware of the benefits of the changes and how they might affect them. Therefore, for changes to be accommodated, the goal-setting theory is an effective way of increasing productivity since the company would have to communicate with the staff on the goals of the organization and the expectations of every worker.

The Management’s Philosophy of Motivation

The foundation of every positive work environment, as well as the effective motivation methods, lies on the management philosophy. For instance, the way the managers and the workers interact do affect how they behave, which has eventual effects on productivity. In a company where the managers advocate for positivity, the employees tend to be more productive (Knights & Willmott, 2007). The management must lead as an example, and they have to encourage the staff where possible for the advantage of the general institution. The management is responsible for giving the employees incentives to increase their productivity.

The Effects of the Application of Motivational Theories

The application of the motivational theory in any company is important since it explains what motivates people to perform certain behaviors. It is also vital since it assists the company in understanding the level the employees committed to the achievement of the company’s goals, which act as a means of guiding them to develop and implement the different strategies of motivation to promote productivity. It is effective for the motivational theories to be applied from the start of the business to avoid confusion to the staff since they become familiar with operations being carried on in a particular way. For instance, application of the goal-setting theory in a company, which had unclear goals might lead to staff stress since they might feel like they might not be capable of satisfying the goal’s prospects (Dozier, 2011). On the other hand, the application of the motivation theory could have implications, which might lead to unfriendly work environment because of the failure of the leadership to promote positivity through communicating with the employees. These two theories have adverse effects on the management and the employees. When the goal-setting theory is used by the leadership, they do communicate the organization’s objectives to the workers, which are the key determinants of productivity (Dozier, 2011). The absence of an effective working relationship between the leadership and the staff could bring a great challenge to the effective communication of the company’s goals, which might lead to confusion of employees on what is expected of them.

In conclusion, it is clear that workplace motivation is vital to increased productivity and the business success. Motivated employees would work extra to ensure that the organizational goals are achieved. Various motivation strategies like proper communication and rewarding the staff is significant for increasing productivity. Also, the motivation theories need to be applied at the start of the company to avoid confusing the employees on what is expected of them.

Dozier, B. (2011, March). The Effect of Motivation on Productivity. Retrieved January 2016, from barbra Dozier: Durkin, D. M. (2010, September). How To Keep Employees Motivated. Forbes, pp. 1-3. Hamlett, C. (2015). How to Improve Employee Organizational Performance. Retrieved January 2016, from Knights, D., & Willmott, H. (2007). Introducing Organizational Behaviour and Management. Boston: Cengage Learning EMEA. Lauby, S. J. (2005). Motivating Employees. Virginia: American Society for Training and Development. Scott, S. (2014). Motivation & Productivity in the Workplace. Retrieved January 2016, from


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Home — Essay Samples — Psychology — Personality Psychology — Motivation

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Motivation is what explains why people or animals initiate, continue or terminate a certain behavior at a particular time. Motivational states are commonly understood as forces acting within the agent that create a disposition to engage in goal-directed behavior.

There are four main tyoes of motivation: Intrinsic, extrinsic, unconscious, and conscious.

Theories articulating the content of motivation: Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Herzberg's two-factor theory, Alderfer's ERG theory, Self-Determination Theory, Drive theory.

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  • Procrastination

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Importance of Motivation in the Workplace Essay

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Motivation is the ingredient needed to stimulate energy and the desire in people to continually commit to performing great or giving their best at work. It is a critical aspect and involves use of internal and external factors.

People who are motivated intrinsically take pleasure in what they are doing and they are not overly concerned about external rewards. It is not uncommon to come across employees who do as little as they possibly can, miss deadlines and constantly need correction and supervision in order to perform. Such employees lack the motivation needed to push them to give their best at work.

Theoretically, the importance of motivation in the workplace is quite straightforward but empirically, it cannot be measured. Ascertaining what level of motivation is needed in order to increase productivity is difficult for the simple reason the effort of an individual cannot be easily measured by metrics. While salary is viewed as the key component of keeping employees working in any workplace, it is never enough to capitalize on the full potential of employees.

Motivation plays a significant role in the workplace and this includes:

  • It helps push the human  resource (HR) into action-Every concern demands human resource, financial and physical resources to accomplish set goals and through motivation the HR is able to capitalize on it and this helps the organization enjoy full utilization of available resources,
  •  Improves employee efficiency- The level of an employee is not solely dependent on their abilities and qualifications but getting the most out of their willingness and ability to accomplish goals. Through motivation, the productivity of employees is increased, their overall efficiency is increased and operation costs reduced.
  • Achievement of a company’s goals-The goals of any company can be achieved when the work environment is co-operative, employees act in purposive manner and are goal directed and utilization of resources is maximized. Motivation also ensures that there is proper co-operation and co-ordination which ensures that work is done properly.
  • Fosters great friendships-Employees who are motivated are more likely to feel happy and satisfied. To achieve this, an organization needs to come up with incentive plans which will benefit employees. Some of these incentives include promotion opportunities, non-monetary and monetary incentives and disincentives for underperforming or inefficient employees.

Motivation in the workplace is important not only for employees but the organization as well.

For individuals motivation is important because:

  • It helps them achieve personal goals
  • They enjoy job satisfaction
  •  Helps in self development of individuals
  • Individuals gain by working within a team that is dynamic

For the business, motivation helps by:

  • Empowering teams because employees are motivated.
  • Success and profitable because of increased employee contribution
  • Creativity and adaptability comes to the fore when making amendments
  • Creates a challenging and optimistic environment in the workplace.

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A white-collar professional sleeps at his workstation, resting his head on the keyboard.

Workplace discrimination saps everyone’s motivation − even if it works in your favor

essay motivation workplace

Professor of Sociology, University of South Carolina

Disclosure statement

Brent Simpson receives funding from the National Science Foundation and Army Research Office.

University of South Carolina provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

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When people work for discriminatory managers, they put in less effort. That’s true both when managers are biased against them and when they’re biased in their favor, according to a new paper that Nicholas Heiserman of Oklahoma State University and I have published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

To demonstrate this, we placed nearly 1,200 research participants in several experiments designed to mimic work settings, where they and other “workers” made decisions about how much effort to dedicate to a task.

In some experiments, we had participants complete number searches – by counting how many times “3” appeared in a large table of numbers, for example. The more searches a participant completed, the higher their effort was rated. Participants, working in pairs or in small groups, were told that their manager would award a bonus to one person based on how many number searches the workers completed.

To create a discriminatory situation, participants were told that there were two types of employees: blue and red. Participants were always assigned to be blue. One-third of the participants were told that the manager had a bias against blue employees, while another third were told that the manager was biased in their favor. The rest didn’t receive any information one way or the other.

We found that those workers who knew their managers discriminated – whether it was for them or against them – completed fewer number searches than participants in the control group.

By measuring workers’ expectations that they would receive a bonus, our experiments also help show that discrimination reduces work productivity by separating effort from rewards.

This makes intuitive sense: If you know your boss is biased against people like you, you’ll have less incentive to work hard, since you know you’re unlikely to get promoted regardless. Similarly, if your boss is biased in favor of people like you, you’ll probably get promoted anyway. So, again, why work hard?

Why it matters

It’s well established that workplace discrimination leads to reduced earnings and advancement opportunities for members of disadvantaged groups.

But our results suggest that it can lower productivity of all workers, even those advantaged by it – which means discrimination may hurt firms’ bottom lines more than has been assumed.

Another of our key findings helps explain why the effects of discrimination on work effort can worsen over time. Specifically, we found that even though working for a discriminatory boss made everyone put in less effort, the disadvantaged showed the largest decline.

We suspect this could lead to a vicious cycle, where targets of discrimination respond by putting in less effort than advantaged workers. In turn, their managers may come to see them as lazier, less competent or less deserving of promotions – which can strengthen their original biases.

To test this, we ran an additional study with participants who had managerial experience. We showed them the work effort of two groups of participants from our experiments: one group that had been discriminated against, and one that benefited from discrimination against others. The latter group had higher productivity.

We labeled these groups generically as “red types” and “blue types,” and while the managers knew that one group had put in more effort, they didn’t know discrimination was the reason why.

We found that managers readily stereotyped both groups, perceiving members of the advantaged group as warmer and much more competent. Further, they said they would strongly prefer to hire, work with, promote and give bonuses to members of the advantaged category.

These findings show how discrimination can lead to behavior by employees that strengthens the negative stereotypes underlying the original act of discrimination, or even spread discriminatory stereotypes to new managers.

What’s next

Studying discrimination based on invented categories in simulated work environments can help us understand the basics of how it works, but it ignores differences in how bias operates when it comes to, for instance, race versus gender, or sexuality versus parental status. An important goal for future research is to better understand how the processes we observe play out for these real-world bases of discrimination.

For instance, following a related study , future research might measure racial biases of managers in organizations and the productivity of employees who work for them. Based on our research, we would expect employees whose managers are racially biased to be less productive than employees whose managers aren’t.

But we may expect different effects if, rather than racial discrimination, we studied the well-established pattern of discrimination against mothers in the workplace. That’s because, as we have shown in our prior work , some mothers don’t interpret clearly biased treatment of them in the workplace as discriminatory. So what happens when people work for biased managers but don’t recognize it? That’s an important question to address in future work.

The Research Brief is a short take on interesting academic work.

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Guest Essay

The Palestine Double Standard

A torn 1948 photograph shows Palestinian women and children walking away from the viewer on a winding road. A fragment of a 1900 map labeled “Palestine” appears above it. The two images are separated by significant space, and the map is upside down.

By Hala Alyan

Dr. Alyan is a Palestinian American writer, clinical psychologist and professor in New York City.

I’ve moved back to the United States twice since my birth. Once as a child, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Then again for graduate school. I’d had the privilege of a youth — adolescence and young adulthood — in countries where being Palestinian was fairly common. The identity could be heavy, but it wasn’t a contested one. I hadn’t had to learn the respectability politics of being a Palestinian adult. I learned quickly.

The task of the Palestinian is to be palatable or to be condemned. The task of the Palestinian, we’ve seen in the past two weeks, is to audition for empathy and compassion. To prove that we deserve it. To earn it.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve watched Palestinian activists, lawyers, professors get baited and interrupted on air , if not silenced altogether. They are being made to sing for the supper of airtime and fair coverage. They are begging reporters to do the most basic tasks of their job. At the same time, Palestinians fleeing from bombs have been misidentified . Even when under attack, they must be costumed as another people to elicit humanity. Even in death, they cannot rest — Palestinians are being buried in mass graves or in old graves dug up to make room, and still there is not enough space.

If that weren’t enough, Palestinian slaughter is too often presented ahistorically, untethered to reality: It is not attributed to real steel and missiles, to occupation, to policy. To earn compassion for their dead, Palestinians must first prove their innocence. The real problem with condemnation is the quiet, sly tenor of the questions that accompany it: Palestinians are presumed violent — and deserving of violence — until proved otherwise. Their deaths are presumed defensible until proved otherwise. What is the word of a Palestinian against a machinery that investigates itself, that absolves itself of accused crimes? What is it against a government whose representatives have referred to Palestinians as “ human animals ” and “ wild beasts ”? When a well-suited man can say brazenly and unflinchingly that there is no such thing as a Palestinian people?

It is, of course, a remarkably effective strategy. A slaughter isn’t a slaughter if those being slaughtered are at fault, if they’ve been quietly and effectively dehumanized — in the media, through policy — for years. If nobody is a civilian, nobody can be a victim.

In 2017, I published a novel about a Palestinian family . It was published by a respectable publisher, got a lot of lovely press, was given a book tour. I spoke on panels, to book clubs. I answered questions after readings. There was a refrain that kept coming up. People kept commenting on how human the story was. You’ve humanized the conflict. This is a human story .

Of course, literature and the arts play a crucial role in providing context — expanding our empathy, granting us glimpses into other worlds. But every time I was told I’d humanized the Palestinians, I would have to suppress the question it invoked: What had they been before?

A couple of weeks ago, in a professional space, someone called Palestinians by name and spoke of the seven decades of their anguish. I sat among dozens of co-workers and realized my lip was quivering. I was crying before I understood it was happening. I fled the room, and it took 10 minutes for me to stop sobbing. I didn’t immediately understand my reaction. Over the years, I’ve faced meetings, classrooms and other institutional spaces where Palestinians went unnamed or were referred to only as terrorists. I came of professional age in a country where people lost all sorts of things for speaking of Palestine: social standing, university tenure, journalist positions. But in the end, I am undone not by silence or erasure but by empathy. By the simple naming of my people. By increasing recognition that liberation is linked. By spaces of Palestinian-Jewish solidarity. By what has become controversial: the simple speaking aloud of Palestinian suffering.

These days, everyone is trying to write about the children. An incomprehensible number of them dead and counting. We are up at night, combing through the flickering light of our phones, trying to find the metaphor, the clip, the photograph to prove a child is a child. It is an unbearable task. We ask: Will this be the image that finally does it? This half-child on a rooftop? This video, reposted by Al Jazeera, of an inconsolable girl appearing to recognize her mother’s body among the dead, screaming out, “It’s her, it’s her. I swear it’s her. I know her from her hair”?

Take it from a writer: There is nothing like the tedium of trying to come up with analogies. There is something humiliating in trying to earn solidarity. I keep seeing infographics desperately trying to appeal to American audiences. Imagine most of the population of Manhattan being told to evacuate in 24 hours . Imagine the president of [ ] going on NBC and saying all [ ] people are [ ]. Look! Here’s a strip on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea . That’s Gaza. It is about the same size as Philadelphia . Or multiply the entire population of Las Vegas by three.

This is demoralizing work, to have to speak constantly in the vernacular of tragedies and atrocities, to say: Look, look. Remember? That other suffering that was eventually deemed unacceptable? Let me hold it up to this one. Let me show you proportion. Let me earn your outrage. Absent that, let me earn your memory. Please.

I don’t hesitate for a second to condemn the killing of any child, any massacre of civilians — this of course includes Jewish life. It is the easiest ask in the world. And it is not in spite of that but because of that I say: Condemn the brutalization of bodies. By all means, do. Condemn murder. Condemn violence, imprisonment, all forms of oppression. But if your shock and distress comes only at the sight of certain brutalized bodies? If you speak out but not when Palestinian bodies are besieged and murdered, abducted and imprisoned? Then it is worth asking yourself which brutalization is acceptable to you, even quietly, even subconsciously, and which is not.

Name the discrepancy and own it. If you can’t be equitable, be honest.

There is nothing complicated about asking for freedom. Palestinians deserve equal rights, equal access to resources, equal access to fair elections and so forth. If this makes you uneasy, then you must ask yourself why.

Here is the truth of the diasporic Palestinians: They are not magically diasporic. Their diaspora-ness is a direct result of often violent, intentional and illegal dispossession. One day a house is yours; one day it is not. One day a neighborhood is yours; one day it is not. One day a territory is yours; one day it is not. This same sort of dispossession is grounded in the same mind-set and international complicity that is playing out in Gaza.

I’m a poet, a writer, a psychologist. I’m deeply familiar with the importance of language. I’ve agonized over an em dash. I’ve spent afternoons muttering about the aptness of a verb. I pay attention to language, my own and others. Being Palestinian in this country — in many countries — is a numbing exercise in gauging where pockets of safety are, sussing out which friends, co-workers or acquaintances will be allies, which will stay silent. Who will speak.

Here’s another thing I know as a writer and psychologist: It matters where you start a narrative. In addiction work, you call this playing the tape. Diasporically or not, being Palestinian is the quintessential disrupter: It messes with a curated, modified tape. We exist, and our existence presents an existential affront. As long as we exist, we challenge several falsehoods, not the least of which is that, for some, we never existed at all. That decades ago, a country was born in the delicious, glittering expanse of nothingness — a birthright, something due. Our very existence challenges a formidable, militarized narrative.

But the days of the Palestine exception are numbered. Palestine is increasingly becoming the litmus test for true liberatory practice.

In the meantime, Palestinians continue to be cast paradoxically — both terror and invisible, both people who never existed and people who cannot return.

Imagine being such a pest, such an obstacle. Or: Imagine being so powerful.

Hala Alyan is a clinical psychologist and professor in New York City. She is the author of the novels “Salt Houses” and “The Arsonists’ City,” and several collections of poetry, including the forthcoming “ The Moon That Turns You Back .”

Source photographs by Bettmann and Sepia Times, via Getty Images.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram .


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