Is It Important for a Manager

June 28, 2018 Psychology

Theory when striving to improve an employee’s job satisfaction and motivation? Understanding what motivated employees and how they were motivated was thXof many researchers following the publication of the Hawthorne Study results (Terpstra, 1979). Five major approaches that have led to our understanding of motivation are Maslow’s need-hierarchy theory, Herzberg’s two- factor theory, Vroom’s expectancy theory, Adams’ equity theory, and Skinner’s reinforcement theory.

John Stacey Adams’ Equity Motivation Theory allows you to put workplace psychology into action and increase your own or your team’s motivation. Adams’ equity theory builds on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory, and was first presented in 1963. (Adams, 1965) Adams’ Equity Theory calls for a fair balance to be struck between an employee’s inputs (hard work, skill level, tolerance, enthusiasm, etc. ) and an employee’s outputs (salary, benefits, intangibles such as recognition, etc. ).

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According to the theory, finding this fair balance serves to ensure a strong and productive relationship is achieved with the employee, with the overall result being contented, motivated employees. John Stacey Adams, a workplace and behavioral psychologist, put forward his Equity Theory on job motivation in 1963. There are similarities in the simpler theories of Maslow, Herzberg and other pioneers of workplace psychology, in that the theory acknowledges the subtle and variable factors affect each individual’s assessment and perception of their relationship with their work and thereby their employer.

The theory is built-on the belief that employees become de-motivated, both in relation to their job and their employer, if they feel as though their inputs are greater than the outputs. Employees can be expected to respond to this in different ways, including de-motivation (generally to the extent the employee perceives the disparity between the inputs and the outputs exist), reduced effort, becoming disgruntled, or, in more extreme cases, perhaps even disruptive. (Adams, 1965) However, awareness and cognizance of the wider situation and comparison feature more strongly in Equity Theory than in many other earlier motivational models.

Therefore, the equity theory model extends beyond the individual self and incorporates influence and comparison of other people’s situations. For example; colleagues and friends in forming a comparative view and awareness of equity, which commonly manifests as a sense of what is fair. In other words, when people feel fairly or advantageously treated they are more likely to be motivated; when they feel unfairly treated they are highly prone to feelings of disaffection and de-motivation. The way that people measure this sense of fairness is at the heart of Equity Theory.

In terms of how the theory applies to work and management, we each seek a fair balance between what we put into our job and what we get out of it. But how do we decide what is a fair balance? The answer lies in Equity Theory. Importantly we arrive at our measure of fairness by comparing our balance of effort and reward, and other factors of give and take (the ratio of input and output) with the balance or ratio enjoyed by other people, whom we deem to be relevant reference points or examples.

This means that Equity does not depend on our input-to-output ratio alone; it depends on our comparison between our ratio and the ratio of others. Adams called personal efforts and rewards and other similar ‘give and take’ issues at work respectively ‘inputs’ and ‘outputs’. Inputs are logically what we give or put into our work. Outputs are everything we take out in return. Equity and thereby the motivational situation we might seek to assess using the model, is not dependent on the extent to which a person believes reward exceeds effort nor even necessarily on the belief that reward exceeds effort at all.

Rather, equity and the sense of fairness which commonly underpins motivation is dependent on the comparison a person makes between his or her reward/investment ratio with the ratio enjoyed (or suffered) by others considered to be in a similar situation. These terms help emphasize what people put into their work includes many factors besides working hours, and what people receive from their work includes many things aside from money. Adams used the term ‘referent’ others to describe the reference points or people with whom we compare our own situation, which is the pivotal part of the theory.

Equity Theory is quite different from merely assessing effort and reward. Equity Theory adds a crucial additional perspective of comparison people we consider in a similar situation. Equity theory thus helps explain why pay and conditions alone do not determine motivation. We form perceptions of what constitutes a fair ratio (a balance or trade) of inputs and outputs by comparing our own situation with other (reference points or examples) in the market place as we see it. In practice this helps to explain why people are so strongly affected by the situations (and views and gossip) of colleagues, friends, partners etc. in establishing their own personal sense of fairness or equity in their work situations. Adams’ Equity Theory is therefore a far more complex and sophisticated motivational model than merely assessing effort (inputs) and reward (outputs). The actual sense of equity or fairness (or inequity or unfairness) within Equity Theory is arrived at only after incorporating a comparison between our own input and output ratio with the input and output ratios that we see or believe to be experienced or enjoyed by others in similar situations.

This comparative aspect of Equity Theory provides a far more fluid and dynamic appreciation of motivation than typically arises in motivational theories and models based on individual circumstance alone. For example, Equity Theory explains why people can be happy and motivated by their situation one day, and yet with no change to their terms and working conditions can be made very unhappy and de-motivated, if they learn for example that a colleague (or worse an entire group) is enjoying a better reward-to-effort ratio. It also explains why giving one person a promotion or pay-raise can have a de-motivating effect on others.

Note also, importantly, that what matters is the ratio, not the amount of effort or reward per se. This explains for example why and how full-time employees will compare their situations and input-to-output ratios with part-time colleagues, who very probably earn less, however it is the ratio of input-to-output – reward-to-effort – which counts, and if the part-timer is perceived to enjoy a more advantageous ratio, then so this will have a negative effect on the full-timers sense of Equity, and with it, their personal motivation.

Remember also that words like efforts and rewards, or work and pay, are an over-simplification and hence Adams’ use of the terms inputs and outputs, which more aptly cover all aspects of what a person gives, sacrifices, tolerates, invests, etc. , into their work situation, and all aspects of what a person receives and benefits from in their work and wider career, as they see it. If we feel are that inputs are fairly rewarded by outputs (the fairness benchmark being subjectively perceived from market norms and other comparable references) then generally we are happier in our work and more motivated to continue inputting at the same level.

If we feel that our ratio of inputs to outputs is less beneficial than the ratio enjoyed by referent others, then we become de-motivated in relation to our job and employer. inputsequity dependent on comparing own ratio of input/output with ratios of ‘referent’ othersoutputs Inputs are typically: effort, loyalty, hard work, commitment, skill, ability, adaptability, flexibility, tolerance, determination, heart and soul, enthusiasm, trust in our boss and superiors, support of colleagues and subordinates, personal sacrifice, etc. People need to feel that there is a fair balance between inputs and outputs.

Crucially fairness is measured by comparing one’s own balance or ratio between inputs and outputs, with the ratio enjoyed or endured by relevant (‘referent’) others. Outputs are typically all financial rewards – pay, salary, expenses, perks, benefits, pension arrangements, bonus and commission – plus intangibles – recognition, reputation, praise and thanks, interest, responsibility, stimulus, travel, training, development, sense of achievement and advancement, promotion, etc. People respond to a feeling of inequity in different ways.

Generally the extent of de-motivation is proportional to the perceived disparity with other people or inequity, but for some people just the smallest indication of negative disparity between their situation and other people’s is enough to cause massive disappointment and a feeling of considerable injustice, resulting in de-motivation, or worse, open hostility. Some people reduce effort and application and become inwardly disgruntled, or outwardly difficult, recalcitrant or even disruptive. Other people seek to improve the outputs by making claims or demands for more reward, or seeking an alternative job.

Understanding Equity Theory and especially its pivotal comparative aspect helps managers and policy-makers to appreciate that while improving one person’s terms and conditions can resolve that individual’s demands (for a while), if the change is perceived by other people to upset the Equity of their own situations then the solution can easily generate far more problems than it attempted to fix. Equity Theory reminds us that people see themselves and the way they are treated in terms of their surrounding environment, team, system, etc. ot in isolation and so they must be managed and treated accordingly. The diagram emphasizes the calibration of the scales; the comparison of input/output ratios is the crucial aspect, not merely a judgment of whether rewards are appropriate for efforts: It is important for a manager to consider several factors when striving to improve an employee’s job satisfaction, motivation level, etc. , and what can be done to promote higher levels of each. Managers need to strike a healthy balance here, with outputs on one side of the scale; inputs on the other both weighing in a way that seems reasonably equal.


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