Motivating staff for the best performance possible is a matter of finding the right drivers that interest them and reinforcing those drivers while providing negative reinforcement on other, unwanted behaviors.  There are two main types of theories to motivate employees - the content theory (motivation is internally based on employee needs and wants) and process theory (external factors that can be used to influence employee behavior).

Two of the most famous content theories are Maslow's hierarchy (as shown above) and Herzberg's two-factor theory.  Maslow's theory proposes that lower order (physiological) needs must be satisfied before higher order (psychological) needs can be considered.  Herzberg's theory falls in between Maslow's and other process theories and states that one set of factors causes motivation and satisfaction (content factors) and another set is responsible for dissatisfaction and low motivation (hygiene factors).

Process theories of motivation are primarily split up into Expectancy and Equity theories.  Expectancy theory focuses on the relationship between effort, performance, and rewards and as the name states, rests on expectations, instrumentality, and valence.  Equity theory is very much a match to the name - with equity theory, the employee is basically comparing themselves against others and depending upon that comparison choosing to be motivated or demotivated.

Behavior modification (BMod) specifies the crucial role of the environment in shaping behavior and states that behavior is a function of its consequences.  With BMod positive and negative reinforcement strengthen behavior, and punishment and extinction weaken behavior.  Reinforcers can be either fixed or variable and the delivery can be either at a fixed interval or at some defined ratio. Partial reinforcement schedules have powerful effects on behavior.  By changing the ratio's of reinforcement, positive behaviors can be strengthened.  This is known as behavioral shaping and is a very powerful tool.


The General Adaptation Syndrome has three key area's:
  1. Alarm - is the ‘fight-or-flight response’ that mobilizes the body and mind to defend against physical and psychological threat.
  2. Resistance 
  3. Exhaustion
Employees suffering negative stress related symptoms (Alarm/Resistance phases) generally demonstrate specific behaviors or patterns in lowered on the job performance - inattentiveness and carelessness are two prime examples.  As stress continues to build  and the cumulative effects get felt, an employee's ability to cope tends to get exhausted (Exhaustion phase - physical and mental shutdown) and they experience job burnout (a prolonged period of psychological withdrawal from work). Note however that positive stress (eustress in contrast to distress) exists also and while eustress can lead to increase effort and performance (challenges to the employee) ... too much of this too can eventually lead to exhaustion.

Environmental stress factors originate from economic, political or technological uncertainty and induce alarm reaction and cause the employee’s performance to decline.  Organisational stress factors increase in number and intensity in firms that are contemplating downsizing or outsourcing to revitalise a flagging business model (deteriorating competitive advantage).


Type A personalities are generally considered very competitive and action oriented.  They show little patience and in extreme circumstances can become hostile.  Certain Type A's exhibit Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) where their reactions are completely out of context to the situation.  Type B's by contrast are more "normal" and generally better able to handle stress and stressful situations.


Stress on the job is an unfortunate fact of life and probably something that is here to stay until the inevitable robot uprising (probably another cause for stress to be honest) but controlling our reactions to the stress we experience on the job is a crucial component of work–life satisfaction. Some common strategies for reducing stress are as follows:
  1. Exercise - notwithstanding the obvious weight loss and health implications, moderate, regular exercise is strongly correlated with personal well-being (peace of mind), rising levels of ‘good’ cholesterol and falling levels of bad cholesterol and reduction in other health risk factors.  Exercise also helps to reduce stress and can mitigate intermittent explosive disorder (IED) symptoms as discussed in further detail here.
  2. Relaxation - while exercise gets the heart pumping, relaxation in contrast does the exact opposite, but it too has a positive effect on stress reduction and overall well being.  There have been many studies conducted that positively demonstrate this behavior - in Western culture, the relaxation response is triggered through prayer, whereas in Eastern culture it is activated by meditation.  One fact to be considered though - one easy way of reducing stress is through the avoidance of and distancing of stressful situations in the first place - while not the easiest thing to do at work, its definitely something to be considered!
  3. Diet - A simple but basic concept that is popular with computer programmers is called GIGO.  This acronym stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out and it really speaks to the role of diet in stress management.  We are what we eat. Diet plays a significant, indirect role in stress management. While you might only correlate fatty foods with weight gain, the body too has stress symptoms that are triggered when "bad" foods are introduced.  These symptoms are shown by elevating bad cholesterol, lowering good cholesterol and dumping large quantities of glycogen (basic sugar) and sodium into the blood stream.  Unfortunately like everything else in life, the best strategy with diet is moderation.
  4. Guilt & shame. The key thing to establish here is that they are NOT the same thing!  Everyone makes mistakes in their life and guilt is a useful emotion when we resolve to make amends, however you are who you are and should never feel ashamed of that fact.  People who experience guilt will alleviate it by becoming more empathetic and working harder to resolve conflicts. Individuals who feel shame isolate themselves (I’m a bad person), become depressed (I’m worthless) and alienate others (It’s their fault).
  5. Build up your stress resistance. Like most things in life, "practice makes perfect" and while continuous and ongoing stress is not good for you - small doses can actually make you a better and more effective employee.The key principle is learning to handle more stress while you resolve to experience less of it. 

Wellness and Job Stress Management

Corporate stress-management programmes have two main goals and while an employee might think their objectives are 100% benevolent  the fact is that both goals are focused on getting the most that they possibly can from their employee. 
  1. Improve overall job satisfaction and employee performance
  2. Improve the overall effectiveness of the company

Some common features of stress management programs are:

  • Theory and information about stress, its physical effects and the psychological and behavioral problems caused.
  • Tools and resources to allow an employee to determine their level of stress and have an ongoing way of measuring it.
  • Details of some relaxation and coping techniques as discussed earlier and  if a specific stressor has been identified - more specific information on how to deal with that also.

Theory Y organizations (as discussed in further detail here and here) tend to make these commitments for more positive reasons - namely the knowledge that investing in their employees pays significant future dividends from a loyalty and commitment perspective in the future.  Theory Y organizations generally exhibit 3 key preconditions for success:

  1. Rewarding performance vs. "facetime"
  2. Focusing on living and working by values
  3. Respect for the individual

A Fact of Life

One of the biggest stressors in today's world is the threat of redundancy and job loss.  Unfortunately a significant driving factor in job loss, is the trend to outsource jobs (service and manufacturing) to developing countries.  Dealing with employees - the survivors - in industries experiencing downsizing is never easy or fun. Some of the facts of life now are:
  • Domestic competition isn't - with access to the Internet and global markets, its now extremely easy for even the smallest entrepreneur to offer their products or services in any size market.  Larger organizations are also taking advantage of these trends.
  • Big companies are getting bigger - mergers and acquisitions are a continuous and ongoing trend and most often, the managers and employees who work for the loser become the next ones to be unemployed: ‘To the winner go the spoils!’ Unfortunately while not an ideal growth choice, it is often the only way for some companies to grow in saturated markets.
  • Contractors and Temporary staff - Theory X companies especially practice this strategy and employee many contract and temporary staff due to the lower costs to the business.  Loyalty in temporary staff is not a driving factor and unfortunately due to the economic situations, there is never a lack of resources to fill the role!  Additional pressure is applied in public companies for this very same reason as the outsourcing of non-core business functions (even through the loss of skilled staff) raises profits by lowering costs.


In contrast to the hard sciences like Physics and Chemistry, Organizational Behavior (OB) is a Social or soft science that is specifically focused on people and processes at work.  OB studies the relationships between operational effectiveness and employee needs and how differing factors like job satisfaction, organizational commitment and job involvement relate.

Management while a key component of the study of Organizational Behavior does not in and of itself comprise the whole of OB.  Management in fact deals with achieving the goals of OB through the people and resources of the organization.  Manager`s jobs in the 21st century have changed from what they were previously (& the rate of change is increasing significantly with Generation Y) however and have taken on more of a focus towards coaching, mentoring and conflict resolution.

Values are enduring beliefs that a person has and they help drive their behavior and actions.  Values are considered either Instrumental or Terminal.

  • Instrumental Values - how do you achieve the goals in your life?
  • Terminal Values - what are your life goals?

Read a detailed description of the information presented at the links below:

Locus of Control
  • Internal Locus of Control - personal behavior drives specific behaviors and they are responsible for their own life.
  • External Locus of Control - environment controls behaviors and outcomes are driven by forces beyond their control.
Employee behaviors are shaped by - 
  1. Achievement - people high in this area tend to go into business for themselves if not properly motivated.
  2. Affiliation - people high in this area tend to like groups and greater involvement.
  3. Power - generally of two types (1) personalized and (2) socialized.  Socialized is the better of the two as it can help energize a team and organization.  A "bad" example of personalized is a Machiavellianism personality.  This type of person has the urge to control, manipulate or influence others to achieve one’s personal ends. The high-Mach individual thrives and embraces fluid, unstructured organisational circumstances.

Job Satisfaction

Composed of various different factors, job satisfaction is not directly related to performance but rather has a complex relationship which is determined by the availability of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Read a detailed description of the information presented at the links below:

Organizational Commitment and Job Involvement

How hard will someone work on the behalf of their company?  This is a description of Organizational commitment.  This doesn't happen as quickly as Job Satisfaction, but it lasts longer once formed - although it can be impacted by economic situations (job losses and redundancies in the firm).

While organizational commitment is a positive, an employee that does not show this behavior can still have job involvement and as such will not be as negatively impacted by redundancies.