There are two main theories behind motivation; Expectancy theory and Equity theory. Expectancy theory, developed by Edward Tolman, is known as a cognitive theory and was brought about to dispute previous behaviourist theories. Equity theory looked at by J. Stacy Adams, is a process theory which is actually based on the idea of inequity.
Motivation among graduate trainees can vary depending on the circumstances surrounding an individual’s employment. If they are in a career that they are extremely passionate about, they will likely put in more effort than someone who has no real determination.
Graduates are likely to be in a job for one of two reasons. They will either be there to get a foothold in the profession that they want to ultimately work in, or to make a lot of money to pay off their student debts. However in both cases, an individual will want to feel rewarded and that they are being treated fairly and in an equitable manner to their peers.
What Is Equity Theory
Although Edward Tolman and Kurt Lewin were the first people to pioneer Expectancy theory, it was Victor Vroom’s (1964) studies that applied the model to workplace motivation. The theory looks at people’s choice in options left open to them and suggests that an individual’s motivation is dependent on how much they want something and their likelihood of achieving it.
To ensure that graduates in an organisation are motivated, the company must first recognise the components that make up motivation. These are effort, direction and persistence. Effort looks at what actually motivates an individual while direction determines what behaviours an individual chooses. Persistence examines the role in which sustaining or halting a particular behaviour is important. Once a company understands that its graduates are likely to be motivated if all these criteria are positive, they can begin to formulate plans for ensuring that their employees are happy and conducting a successful job.
The expectancy theory suggests that there are three key areas that an individual must want to succeed in. These are expectancy, instrumentality and valence. Vroom suggested a formula and it implied that if an individual put no value on any of the areas they would not be motivated. It is therefore important for a company to ensure that their graduates place value on all three areas, as shown in the diagram below.
1.1 The components of Expectancy Theory
While some people believe that each of the components are distinct, it has been shown that there is a link between them and that one leads to another. As the newest employees of a company, graduates will be required to show motivation and a desire to succeed in the company. However if the company provides no set targets or options for them to fulfil the above key areas, there is a likelihood that the motivation would not be shown.
Therefore, in order for the company to motivate graduates according to expectancy theory, they must ensure that the more work an individual puts in, it will be recognisable in terms of output. For instrumentality, they should also make clear that the more work an individual does for a company, the quicker they are likely to achieve a promotion or a salary increase. As a graduate, it is likely that an individual will want this promotion but in a case where it might not matter and to ensure that valence is present, it would be important for the company to ensure that the benefits of the promotion outweigh the costs to the individual.
In a large organisation it is likely that there will be many graduates but competition to get a place initially may be fierce. It is important for the company to enforce the fact that whilst the individual was lucky to get a place, they very much deserved it and that the company values them as a person and for their talents. This in itself will increase motivation. However, as there will be many others in the same shoes it is important for a company to distinguish between each individual to ensure that their work doesn’t go unnoticed.
With so many graduates, it is important that whilst distinguishing between all of them, that none are overlooked and all feel equal to one another. J. Stacy Adams’ (1963, 1965) statement on equity theory was perhaps the most influential of its time. He argued that we ‘are motivated to act in situations which we perceive to be inequitable or unfair’ (Buchanan & Huczynski, 2004).
As a graduate, inequity is likely to occur when an individual believes they are receiving more or less than they think they deserve. In an instance where they may be being better rewarded than their counterparts it may not be of concern to them, but when their counterparts are receiving higher benefits than the individual there will be a great feeling of inequity and maybe inadequacy. Adams’ model is based on inputs and outputs and they need to be balanced and calibrated against others in the workplace in order to ensure equity as the below diagram shows.
1.2 The components of J. Stacey Adams’ Equity Theory
Graduates are likely to not have any previous experience of being in a workplace and therefore will probably make a lot more comparisons than those higher up the corporate ladder. As seen from the above diagram, the graduate’s perception of rewards and outputs includes money, recognition, responsibility, praise and enjoyment. If the graduate feels that their peers are receiving a higher token in any of these output areas, they are likely to experience inequity. Their inputs will be things such as effort, commitment, time, reliability and loyalty.
As an individual’s outputs reduce and an inequity manifests, the individual will feel compelled to act upon this reduction. They will try to correct the inequity as quickly as possible and this may involve lowering productivity, increased absenteeism or a reduced quality of the work produced. However, the limitation with this model is that it leaves inputs and outputs open to interpretation according to individual differences. For example, whilst one graduate might place large value on pay rises, another may think that these are negligible and that promotion and climbing the corporate ladder is more important.
Adams’ believes that there are strategies for reducing inequity though and in the case of a graduate where one was being paid more than another for doing similar jobs, then the following steps that an individual would take:
1) Change their outputs (i.e. ask for a pay rise)
2) Change their inputs (i.e. not put in as much effort)
3) Change the other party’s outputs (i.e. persuade superior’s to cut other’s pay)
4) Change the other party’s inputs (i.e. leave the hard work to others)
5) Change the comparable party (i.e. compare with a different individual)
6) Change attitude to inequity (i.e. reason as to why the other is receiving more outputs)
7) Leave the job
Therefore, for an organisation to use equity theory to its advantage and to ensure its graduates continue to be motivated after the first few weeks at the company, it is important to ensure that they feel that their inputs are rewarded by outputs and that their peers are not receiving more outputs than them. Obviously, there will be certain individuals who perform better than others and will deserve higher outputs. When this is the case, the company must ensure that the individual’s work is definitely above the standard of their counterparts and that it is made clear to others in the organisation why the said individual received the reward.
This will actually have a positive effect on the company in that the other graduates in the company will want to achieve a similar output benefit and therefore be motivated to work harder and in turn their inputs will increase. This will have a spiralling effect which will increase productivity and therefore in turn have a positive effect on the company.
Both theories can be used to ensure that the graduates are happy and feel aptly rewarded in their jobs. Expectancy Theory and Equity Theory both take into account the costs to the individual and the rewards that are ultimately expected. It is important for an organisation not to pass these theories by because it may ultimately have a detrimental effect to the reputation of the company. By ensuring that those at the bottom of the firm are enjoying their work and feel aptly rewarded, it will create a positive atmosphere that will ensure that the graduates remain loyal to the organisation and are more likely to stay with them rather than defect to a rival firm.