Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Motivation in the Workplace and Positive Psychology. Jonathan Smeltzer. Saint Mary s University

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Industrial/Organizational Psychology:

Motivation in the Workplace and Positive Psychology Jonathan Smeltzer

Saint Mary’s University


An Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Industrial/Organizational (I/O) psychology is a division within the field of psychology;

Division 14 of the American Psychological Association (APA), the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP). Psychology “…is defined as the scientific study of thinking and behaviour” (Muchinsky, 2012, p. 2), whereas I/O psychology is defined as “…the scientific study of the workplace” (Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc., 2012).

The mandate of I/O psychologists is to analyze and implement changes to an organization that will produce a desired result; positive, proactive changes to an organization as a whole and/or groups within the organization. Two examples of the I/O mandate are helping the employees balance their work/family life and also by increasing the synergy between the workplace and the workforce, especially during the challenging stages of change (Muchinsky, 2012).

Within the field of I/O psychology there are multiple sub-specialties, and each of these specialities has its own role within the organization. According to Muchinsky (2012) there are six-subspecialties - Organizational Development, Ergonomics, Quality of Work Life, Selection

& Placement, Training & Development, and Performance Appraisal.

Organizational development (OD) focuses on areas within an entire organization to maximize the levels of satisfaction amongst employees and also to analyze and implement change (“Psychology,” n.d.). In most organizations, the Human Resource (HR) department is responsible for implementing change, and the changes that originate from HR are typically focused on improving employee working situations or improving the organizations values (Heathfield, 2012).


Ergonomics, also known as engineering psychology, is the study of how people interact with and use equipment in the most comfortable and effective manner (“ergonomics,” n.d.). In today’s modern workplace, the HR department is largely responsible for ensuring that workers have access to the right equipment for their job.

Quality of work life can be acknowledged as the study of job satisfaction and identifying the key factors that enhance the productivity levels of individuals (“Psychology,” n.d.). As stated by Frederick Herzberg, “happy workers were productive workers” (Catano, Day, &

Kelloway, 2011, p. 10) and this became the framework for researchers to begin focusing their efforts on job satisfaction.

Selection and placement was formed to aid the American Military with the selection and placement of the influx of American military personnel. Standardized tests were created to measure the applicants’ intelligence, which in turn would be used to place the applicants in a suitable occupation. Although originally developed for the military, selection and placement is not limited to military occupations and this form of testing is frequently used by all levels of government and corporations today. The basis of selection and placement is to find the right person for the right job (Muchinsky, 2012).

Training and development is an important facet of organizations and individuals alike.

This specialization helps organizations by “formulating and implementing technical training and management development programs” (“Psychology,” n.d.) and also evaluates the effectiveness of current and new training and development programs; the deliverables are commonly measured in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, satisfaction, and productivity.


In Industrial and Organizational (I/O) psychology, psychologists have many different roles that relate directly to how management and their subordinates are valued throughout the organization. One aspect is developing criteria that can be used to measure performance.

Performance appraisals are used by organizations to evaluate an individual’s job related

performance. Typically, the results of performance appraisals are directly related to an increase of salary, a promotion and/or a bonus, and conversely, these appraisals can also result in a suspension, a decrease of salary, and/or termination of employment (Associates, 2010).

To aid in the successful delivery of the goals presented in the mandate and in each of the sub-specialties, the organization must instil motivation into its corporate culture and into its employees (Fox, 1998).

Motivation in the Workplace

Motivation can be defined as having the will and desire to start, revisit, and finish a task, or simply stated as the act of doing; the drive or interest an individual has (“motivation,” n.d.).

Motivation in the workplace can be described as having the desire to achieve success and to meet or exceed the organization’s goals. Although the choice of being motivated is ultimately in the hands of an individual employee, an organization is responsible to ensure that its employees are motivated and productive members. There are a host of methods that can be selected to instil motivation, and contrary to popular belief, not all of the methods result in financial gains for the employee.

Financial incentives are the most common method that organizations use to increase motivation amongst employees. Quite often, this method is utilized in organizations that have measured outputs, such as in production and sales organizations. The organization will reward


its employees if they surpass the company’s sales target, usually in the form of a bonus.

Employees are typically self-motivated to exceed these targets, or goals. Another form of financial incentive is profit sharing. When the entire organization succeeds and profits from the employees combined efforts, the organization rewards its employees with a share; share % can vary depending on the type of business and the employees’ stature (BizHelp24, 2009).

Although financial incentives create an immediate motivation, it is not always a long- term benefit. The most valued motivation to an employee is the intrinsic values and motivation that an employee receives from an organization. This is often found in the form of a non- financial incentive. Some examples of non-financial incentives are job enlargement and job enrichment.

Job enlargement is the process of increasing the number of similar tasks that an employee must perform (Fane, George, & Jones, 2005). For example, a warehouse employee that normally only unloads a truck has now been asked to also help load the trucks. The level of responsibility has not increased but the employee has now been given a similar task to perform. Most

employees would welcome the opportunity for additional tasks as it relinquishes job boredom and reinvigorates the employees’ motivation.

Job enrichment is a fundamental concept in increasing motivation in an employee. The concept behind this method is that an employee with more responsibility at a higher level and more involvement in the workplace will be motivated and will be a more productive member of the team (Fane, George, & Jones, 2005). Employees also feel valued within the organization after being presented with more responsibility and the intrinsic motivation will stay with the employee, unless the responsibilities are withdrawn from the employee.


Theories of Motivation

Throughout the last century, even more so within the last 50 years, there have been many theories of motivation that have been designed to try to explain the processes behind what

motivates people in society and in the workplace (Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011). Some of the more commonly known theories of workplace motivation are as follows:

 Need Theories

o Maslow Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow, A., 1943) o McClelland’s Need Theory (McClelland, D., 1961)

 Equity Theory (Adams, J. S., 1963)

 Expectancy Theory (Vroom, V.H., 1964)

 Goal-Setting Theory (Locke, E., 1968)

 Reinforcement Theory (Skinner, B.F., 1969)

 Self-Determination Theory (Deci, E.L. and Ryan, R.M., 1971+)

 Job Characteristics Theory (JCT) of Motivation (Hackman, J.R. and Oldham, G.R., 1976) (Muchinsky, 2012) & (Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011)

Note: The aforementioned theories are listed in chronological order in regards to their inception. This list does not take into account the dates of revisions to the original theories.

Need theories are based on the concept that human beings all have a need or a desire to succeed. Maslow’s hierarchy consists of five categories, listed according to most basic need to highest level attained: ‘Physiological’, ‘Safety’, ‘Love, Affection, and Belongingness’, ‘Esteem’, and ‘Self-Actualization’. Maslow stated that humans need to fulfill the most basic needs first in order to progress up the pyramid; physiological needs are basic survival needs such as food and water. Once the individual has successfully attained the first need, they will become motivated to reach the next level, and so on.


McClelland’s need theory is based on three needs: The need for achievement, the need for affiliation, and the need for power. By understanding employees’ needs, the organization can place these employees in positions that best suit their needs. For example, an employee who has a need for affiliation, meaning that they want to be like by others, may not be the best candidate for a managerial position, since managers frequently are tasked with breaking bad news to others, i.e. - job termination. In comparison, an employee with a need for power may not be suited for job positions requiring frequent team work assignments, as that employee will always want to stand out above the others (Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011).

Equity theory can be best described as an evaluation and a comparison of ones own efforts for any given situation to those of their coworkers and colleagues. One example of equity theory is evident in comparing work output, or productivity. For the basis of this example we will assume that all employees make the same salary and that the required output of the

organization is rated at 65%. G.S. has a productivity level which is above average at 85%; G.S.

doesn’t receive any additional praise or reward for overachieving. G.S. could perceive that his/her additional work has not been noticed by his/her superiors and could feel that the additional work is wasted. G.S. could decide upon one of the following options:

1. Lower the level of output to the standard of the organization (65%).

2. Speak to management/supervisor about receiving a raise for the additional work output.

3. Change the perception about the additional output, i.e. - continue the high level of output because he/she is self-motivated to work hard and because he/she enjoys the work.

4. Quit the job and find work elsewhere.

(Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011)

It is important to note that in any given situation, the perception of what’s right, wrong, or fair will differ amongst each individual.


Expectancy theory is a motivation theory that can be defined as the relationship between the amount of effort an employee exerts and the resulting performance. This theory is based on five key measures: Job Outcomes, Valences, Instrumentality, Expectancy, and Force

(Muchinsky, 2012).

Job outcomes are the benefits the employee receives from the organization; salary, medical benefits, RRSP matching, tuition reimbursement, promotions, etc.

Valences are defined as the “…attractiveness or anticipated satisfaction…” (Muchinsky, 2012, p. 367) of the job outcomes, as perceived by the employee, i.e. – the intrinsic value.

Instrumentality is the employee’s belief that the reward will be given if the performance levels are reached (Changing Minds, 2012). Instrumentality can be measured on a scale from 0 - 1, with 0 meaning that the outcome is not related to job performance and 1 meaning that the outcome is fully related to job performance (Muchinsky, 2012).

Expectancy is the employee’s belief that the increased effort will result in increased performance (Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011). Like instrumentality, expectancy can also be measured on a scale of 0 – 1; 0 probability means that an increase in effort will not result in an increase of performance and a probability of 1 means that the increase in effort will result in an increase of performance (Muchinsky, 2012).

The last measure, force, is the actual amount of effort that the employee has in regards to motivation. In theory, the greater the force, the greater the motivation the employee has, and vice-versa (Fane, George, & Jones, 2005).


The diagram below shows the relationship between the three major factors of motivation;

expectancy, instrumentality, and valence and depicts the flow of forces toward the outcomes.


(Fane, George, & Jones, 2005)

Goal-setting theory is based on the premise that one is self-motivated towards reaching the specific goals that have been assigned to the individual. In the workplace, management may set specific sales targets for an employee, and this theory states that the employee will motivate him/herself to achieve these targets, also referred to as goals (Muchinsky, 2012). In theory, the harder the goal is to achieve, the harder the employee will work. This unfortunately is not true in all cases. If the employee has low motivation in the first case then there is a very good chance that the employee will reject the goal and will not be motivated to complete the tasks required.

Conversely, some employees who are extremely motivated might view the task to be too easy and of little importance and may choose not to complete the task. In order for the goal-setting theory to be effective the employees must a) accept the goal and commit themselves and b)

“…have the required knowledge and abilities to achieve the goal” (Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011, p. 262). In addition, praise and feedback are also factors that exhibit higher levels of performance and motivation (Muchinsky, 2012).


Reinforcement theory was derived from “…Skinner’s (1969) work on operant

conditioning” (Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011, p. 264) and is considered to be one of the more basic motivation theories. In the workplace, management may use any of, or a combination of, the following methods for controlling the employees’ behaviour:

 Positive Reinforcement

 Negative Reinforcement

 Punishment

(Management Study Guide, 2012)

Positive reinforcement is the promotion of positive behaviour through the use of positive responses; giving employees praise or rewards, based on the situation. Negative reinforcement is similar, except that the employee is given praise or rewards based on the elimination of a

negative behaviour (Management Study Guide, 2012). Punishment is the process removing undesirable behaviour and eliminating the future use of said behaviour by employing punishment, i.e. - instead of using reinforcement techniques, the employee is written up, suspended, or demoted for engaging in negative behaviour (Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011).

Self-determination theory is currently a very popular workplace motivation theory (Catano, Day, & Kelloway, 2011). This theory is based on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation;

internal and external, respectively. Intrinsic is a self motivation that causes you to start, revisit, or complete a task because you personally enjoy doing it versus the external motivation of doing a task because of the tangible rewards that are received. Quite commonly, extrinsic motivation is a form of monetary reward that an employee receives, for example, receiving a bonus for having a high level of performance. In some cases however, extrinsic motivation can lead to an increase of intrinsic motivation. An example of this is when your manager provides you with verbal


recognition. The extrinsic motivation is the received reward, or praise, and the intrinsic

motivation is the new found self-determination to continue the high level of work (Boje, Leavitt,

& Pondy, 1988).

Job characteristics theory (JCT) of motivation was created to identify what work

conditions create motivation for an employee. This theory is based on five characteristics; skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback. Using this theory, employers can apply known/inferred data into an algorithm to determine what characteristic needs to be changed to increase the motivation for the employee. The algorithm is called motivating potential scores (MPS) and is shown below:

Although this theory has been recently challenged as being ‘outdated’ in terms of the ever changing dynamics of the workplace, i.e. - social dynamics within an organization, Oldham and Hackman (2010) have stated that the theory is still relevant, and a meta-analysis conducted by Fried and Ferris (1987) showed that the theory was still reasonable valid (Catano, Day, &

Kelloway, 2011).

An important note regarding the widespread theories of motivation is that there isn’t one decisive theory. Motivation in the workplace is a widely debated topic and the combined use of the theories can provide a proving ground for I/O psychologists to conclude what method(s) works best in their organization.

An Introduction to Positive Psychology

In 1998, Martin E. P. Seligman introduced positive psychology to the APA during his APA Presidential Address (Froh, 2004). Positive psychology is “… a reoriented science that


emphasizes the understanding and building of the most positive qualities of an individual:

optimism, courage, work ethic, future-mindedness, interpersonal skill, the capacity for pleasure and insight, and social responsibility” (Seligman, 1999).

Challenges of Positive Psychology

Positive psychology, being relatively new to the world of psychology, is not immune from criticism. There is an ongoing debate based on the assumption that “…if there is a positive psychology, then the rest of psychology must be negative psychology…” (Gable & Haidt, 2005).

Although psychology is based on the study of the negative elements and effects to the human brain and body, psychology itself is not negative in its nature.

Barbara S. Held is an author and professor of Psychology and Social Studies at the Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, USA. Barbara Held has stated that there are many different ways that the positive psychology movement is negative (Held, 2004). The follow excerpt has been taken from an article in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, authored by Barbara S. Held, titled “The Negative Side of Positive Psychology”, which states two possible ways that positive psychology is negative:

1. “Negativity that can be found within the positive psychology movement…”

a. “…negativity about negativity itself, which is explored by way of research in health psychology and coping styles…”

b. “…negativity about the wrong kind of positivity, namely, allegedly unscientific positivity, especially that which Seligman purports to find within humanistic psychology…”

2. “Negative side effects of positive psychology’s dominant, separatist message...”


(Held, 2004)

Most of the negativity surrounding the field of positive psychology is based on the word positive in positive psychology. The majority of critics all seem to be saying the exact same thing and they are fixated on the word negative. In reality, there is not a right or wrong answer to whether positive psychology is negative or whether the rest of psychology must be negative because there is a positive psychology; everyone is entitled to have their own opinion (Gable &

Haidt, 2005).

Psychology was founded on the principle of helping people; positive psychology is simply a branch of psychology that focuses on helping people using methods based on optimism and positivity.

Positive Psychology in the Workplace

Many of the core competencies of positive psychology are directly inline with the mandate of I/O psychology. As previously stated, the mandate of I/O psychology is to analyze and implement positive, proactive changes to the organization by helping the employees balance their work/family life and also by increasing the synergy between the workplace and the

workforce (Muchinsky, 2012). Positive psychology is based on the concepts of helping people lead a more productive life, both inside and outside of the workplace, encouraging the

development of individuals’ talents, in this case motivation in the workplace, and also creating and maintaining positive organizational behaviour (Wilner, 2011).

Implementing the concepts of positive psychology into the workplace may seem rather daunting at first, especially since it is rather new and change is sometimes a difficult barrier to break. Ironically, the very methods that are in use today, such as the reinforcement theory, are


ingrained in positive psychology. Praise and positive reinforcement are very powerful tools in instilling motivation into an individual. People in all levels of an organization, not only the I/O psychologists and HR professionals, can help create and promote positivity and optimism. All that is required by the individual is an optimistic outlook and the want for a change to happen.

There are a number of theories that strive to achieve positivity and optimism in the

workplace. The Job Characteristics Theory (JCT) of motivation and the Job-Demands Resources (JD-R) model are both examples of theoretical approaches to the growing field of positive

psychology (Bakker & Schaufeli, 2008).

The benefits of positive psychology is inherent by nature, and since the individual is aware of and collecting the reward of the positive changes in their life, they will become much more motivated to succeed and achieve the goals that are common to the organization as a whole, especially if the organization maintains a positive culture (Cameron & Spreitzer, 2012).


I/O psychologists play an enormous role in today’s organizations. They must also

constantly adapt their methods and views with the ever changing workforce. Even with all of the various theories that have been created to help these professionals in their respective fields, there is always an outside variable that will create difficulties, in this case, the lack of motivation in the workplace.

Motivation has been, and will always be a driving force of the workplace. A major obstacle for I/O psychologists and managers of organizations is trying to decide which method(s) will work best in their particular situation, and then after the method has been implemented, they still have the difficult task of trying to maintain motivation in their employees.


Positive psychology, while still being relatively new, is a valid and progressive field of psychology and although not originally developed for I/O psychology, it has been accepted as an alternate method of delivering motivation to individuals in the workforce. It is important to note that I/O psychologists can not rely solely on the effects of positive psychology to instil

motivation; they can use it as an appropriate medium when applicable. Optimism and positivity are very important in creating and maintaining motivation in organizations, employees, and individuals. A key variable that must been taken into account is that for positive psychology to be effective the employee or organization must have an optimistic outlook and be open to or accepting to change; negativity and a pessimistic outlook will create an undesirable result for the organization.

Whether you use decide to accept the new field of positive psychology as a delivery method of motivating organizations and employees, or if you use one of the original workplace motivation theories, the key concepts are the same. Positive growth starts at the top and works its way down throughout the organization and motivation is a process that involves positive and optimistic changes within an individual.



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