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Teaching guide: motivation

Use this teaching guide in the classroom to engage your students, contextualise the model/theory in real-world business and prepare them for the exam.

Section 3.6.4 Making human resource decisions.


Motivation is a much loved topic area by students and indeed is an important aspect of managing people.

The motivation of employees may affect:

  • the commitment shown to a task
  • the creativity shown in relation to a task
  • the degree of cooperation if change is happening
  • retention rates
  • labour turnover rates.

Motivation can also affect productivity and many students use this in their arguments. However, it is worth remembering that productivity also depends on factors such as technology, skills, capital equipment and training. Being motivated does not guarantee more productivity.


Frederic Herzberg’s studies surveyed managers and from this identified the effect that different aspects of work had different impacts on employees.

Herzberg identified three states of mind that employees might have:

  • motivated (or satisfied)
  • not motivated (or not satisfied or dissatisfied)
  • demotivated (or dissatisfied).

Hygiene factors are those aspects of work that, if present, prevent employees being dissatisfied. These factors focus on extrinsic elements of work, ie factors outside of the job itself such as the working conditions, the basic pay, colleagues and company rules and procedures. These factors can lead to dissatisfaction if wrong eg the workplace is cold, the rules are petty or the pay is low. However, fixing these factors simply removes the dissatisfaction – you stop complaining about the cold, the low pay and the rules.

The factors that actually motivate at work are intrinsic factors – they relate to the job itself. What motivated employees were: if the job they did had the opportunity to develop themselves, to advance or to have responsibility. These motivators such as opportunities for responsibility, advancement, achievement and personal growth are very similar to what is required to meet Maslow’s self-actualisation needs.

The significance of Herzberg’s work – known as Herzberg’s ‘two factor’ theory – is to highlight the need to have the right extrinsic factors in place (to prevent dissatisfaction) and then put in place intrinsic factors to make the job itself motivating.

Watch Herzberg’s classic Jumping for jelly beans videos on YouTube.


Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sets out levels of needs that people have. At any moment someone will be motivated by the desire to fulfil the next level on their hierarchy.

Maslow’s work highlights that what managers may want to offer to motivate an employee will depend on where they are on the hierarchy. If an employee’s social needs are met they will want to move to the next level and managers should try to meet their ego needs.

In reality, it can be difficult for managers to identify exactly where someone is on the hierarchy and it may be complex to offer different types of incentives for different employees.


Self-actualisation needs

  • Detail: the need to achieve something for yourself.
  • Managers’ actions: they can delegate to give an employee responsibility.

Ego (or esteem) needs

  • Detail: the need to be acknowledged and respected.
  • Managers’ actions: they can recognise the work of employees – this could be through praise, a certificate, a mention in the company bulletin.

Security needs

  • Detail: the need to feel safe.
  • Managers’ actions: this may be met by offering full-time employment or a contract.

Physiological needs

  • Detail: the need to survive.
  • Managers’ actions: this may be fulfilled through basic pay which enables employees to buy the essentials.
  • Note: the work of Taylor and Maslow does not necessarily conflict. Taylor’s study focused on a workforce that was likely to be at the lower end of the hierarchy and therefore basic pay met their physiological needs.


F.W. Taylor is the founder of Scientific Management. Taylor’s approach was to monitor how a task was being completed and based on this data develop the ‘one best way’ of completing a job. Managers would develop clear policies and procedures and train employees in how to do the task. From their studies managers would know what a realistic output per day was if employees followed the systems that were developed and had the right equipment and training. If employees produced less than this they would need training. If employees produced more than the target figure they will receive a bonus.

Taylor’s approach was scientific because it was based on observation and data on how work was done; that led to the development of the most efficient process for any task. Taylor’s was based on the view that money motivates people. Pay is based on the output per employees (called piece-rate). Employees would do as they were told because if they followed instructions they would be more productive and earn more.

When you can use this

The impact of changes at work on motivation are important to explore but make sure students think carefully about what the impact would be in a particular context rather than just jumping to saying it ‘increases productivity’. What impact in reality would it have in different situations?

Almost anything that changes the terms and conditions of employees is likely to have an impact on employees’ motivation. In a world of a knowledge economy and where we value creativity, employee ideas and cooperation motivation is clearly important.

Where it’s been used

  • Q11, A-level paper 1, 2017
  • Q7, AS paper 1, 2018
  • Q16, AS Paper 1, 2017
  • Q5, AS Paper 1, 2016
  • Q7, AS paper 2, 2016
  • Q4, AS paper 2, SAM set 1
  • Q5, AS paper 1, SAM set 1

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