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Adam's Equity Motivation Theory : Putting Workplace Psychology into Action

Motivation is one of the most researched subjects in the field of organizational behavior. Many theories have been put forward that seek to explain why people need motivations, where do they look for motivation, who can give it to them and in what forms and what happens if there is a lack of motivation.

Some of the important theories are:

• Reinforcement theories
• Need theories
• Cognitive theories

B.F.Skinner proposed the reinforcement theory which states that behavioral changes depend upon the individual responses to environmental stimuli. This is known as the Stimuli-Response model, whereby repetition of a stimuli-response happens when there is a positive reinforcement and when there is a negative reinforcement there is decreased frequency of a particular response. Herzberg’s two-factor theory where behavior is dependent on motivators and hygiene factors also falls under this category. Amongst the need theories, Abraham Maslow’s need theory is best known. Maslow suggests that human beings have a hierarchy of needs. An individual satisfies the lower needs before moving on to the higher needs. This theory appeals to the workplace because it explains the desire to improve and move higher up the organizational ladder.

Cognitive theories focus on the human being as a rational thinking individual. This person will look into the pros and cons of a situation before taking any decision. This places motivation at the individual level. On of the most prominent examples of this category is John Stacey Adam’s Equity Motivation Theory. It was first proposed in 1963 and draws on Maslow’s need theory and Herzberg’s two-factor theory.

The equity theory states that the employee would be demotivated if she perceives that her inputs are greater than the outputs that are delivered by the company. An employee wants to be treated fairly or equitably. The common inputs that the employee provides at work are hard work, skill, commitment, adaptability, tolerance, trust, determination, enthusiasm, etc… An employee works out the pros and cons of his situation by looking at his input-output ratio and comparing it with that of the others who are in a similar job role.

There are two major kinds of inequities at work, underpayment and overpayment. Underpayment is a state of mind of the worker when he feels that he does not receive enough compensation from the firm for the amount of inputs he has given.

He would deal with such a situation in one of the following possible ways:

• Increase Outcome: He would confront the boss and ask for a hike in salary. He might also take work home so as to achieve higher targets.
• Decrease Input: He might decide to cut down on the amount of work he does so as to balance the pay that he receives.
• Leave: When the inequity cannot be balanced by any of the above methods, he might decide to leave the firm.

Overpayment is case where an employee receives more compensation for the work he does when compared to others of the same level. He would do one of the following to balance the situation:

• Increase Input: He would put in more work so as to earn more compensation and/or benefits.
• Decrease Outcome: This is the most unlikely case where he might ask for a cut in her pay.
• Distortion: He might reason it out by telling himself (and others) that hir work is of a higher quality and he accomplishes much more in lesser time.

The problem with the equity theory is that it does not explain irrational behavior. Irrational behavior can be best countered by encouraging employees not to make unreasonable comparisons within the firm. A just performance appraisal system that is transparent would also help ease irrational behavior. Proving positive feedback, recognition and praise go a long way in keeping the employees motivated. Also, a sense of accountability and responsibility must be inculcated so that they can take pride in their work when they do it well.

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