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Motivational Theories Revisited

In the mid-1950s, psychologist Abraham Maslow published his famous Hierarchy of Needs.  This pyramid comprised five levels, with Physiological Needs at the base and Self-Actualization at the top of his model.  According to Maslow, all five of these levels were capable of motivating people, in the order he laid them out in his hierarchy.  Maslow argued that once individuals had their Physiological needs met, they could then be motivated by their Safety needs, and so on up the hierarchy.

About 12 years later, Frederick Herzberg, another psychologist, theorized that only Maslow’s Esteem and Self-Actualization (and part of his Social) need systems actually serve as direct sources of motivation. Herzberg labeled these upper need levels Motivators and referred to the lower need levels as Hygiene factors.  It’s important to note that Herzberg wasn’t dismissing Maslow’s theory.  He was simply asserting that only the top half of Maslow’s model, the higher-level needs, were capable of motivating individuals, and leading to their engagement.

For several decades, following the publication of Herzberg’s findings, there was very little research into motivation.  Then, at the beginning of the 21st century, new research was conducted that, in the end, validated Herzberg’s findings.  This latest research was featured in a book called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink.

The new research found that when it comes to motivating individuals in today’s increasingly knowledge-based economy, true motivation comes from a focus on three factors of the work environment: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

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