Every organization wants to avoid employing half-hearted employees, but even the most motivated person can feel down and dissatisfied. The motivation issue is one of the main problems in the organizational setting. No wonder, this is one of the most frequently researched topics in organizational behavior (Robbins & Judge, 2016). There are various motivation theories. This report will review three contemporary theories in this topic: Equity Theory, Reinforcement Theory, and Expectancy Theory.

Equity Theory by Stacy Adams

In 2016, U.S. Women’s Soccer National Team (UWSNT) players filed a complaint regarding wage discrimination as they were paid four times less than the male players despite their superior achievement and higher revenue generation (Bonesteel, 2016). The USWNT players may earn much bigger wages compared to many other jobs done by females, but still, they feel dissatisfied about their wages. The dissatisfaction occurred not because of the amount of their income, but because of the comparison of their salary with the men’s team. In this case, the Equity Theory is applied.

According to the theory, people will take the ratio of their output to their inputs and compare it to the ratio of others, usually someone doing a similar job or a co-worker (Robbins & Judge, 2016). The UWSNT players compared the ratio of their output (achievement, revenue generation, audience attraction, etc..) to their input (hard work, professionalism, attitude, etc.) and compare it to the ratio of others; in this case, the U.S. male soccer players. They found that the ratio is really discriminative, hence they felt that the situation is unfair. The theory suggested that people will act to eliminate such inequity using various ways, and it’s certainly what happened.

Robbins & Judge (2016) stated that in a motivation theory discourse, the Equity Theory has received many criticisms. For example, many researchers have shown that if the inequities are caused by overpayment, it does not considerably affect the behavior. Other critics have shown that everyone differs in equity-sensitiveness. Nonetheless, this theory is an important study in the area of organizational justice which aims to establish fairness in the workplace.

Also read about Four Theoretical Contributions to Organizational Theory

Reinforcement Theory by B.F. Skinnier

When a mother promised her son that she would buy him a car if he can achieve a perfect GPA, he did behave like a diligent focused student as her mother wish. However, when he actually got the perfect score, and his mom couldn’t fulfill her promise, no matter what his mother promise him later, his determination in studying declined. This is the kind of story that portrays the Reinforcement theory.

Reinforcement theory suggests that behavior can be explained by its consequences. The theory has some segments to it, but the most relevant to the theory of management is B.F. Skinnier’s Operant Conditioning Theory (Robbins & Judge, 2016). The theory stated that people will most likely act in the desired behaviors if they are positively reinforced for doing so. One kind of reward is considered the most effective if it is immediately followed by the desired response.

On the contrary, a behavior that is not rewarded, or is punished, is less likely to be repeated. The theory ignores the internal cognitive process and focuses on the external cause. In the mother-son case, the theory doesn’t concern with the internal process of the son, e.g. whether he desires a car or not, but if the reinforcement successfully alters the son’s behavior into what his mother desire, then this behavior is more likely to be repeated when the son is promised another reward.

Reinforcement theory ignores the inner state of the individual and concentrates solely on what happens when the individual takes some action (Robbins & Judge, 2016). However, since it does not concern with behavior initiation, it is not, strictly speaking, a theory of motivation. But it does provide a powerful means of analyzing what controls behavior, and this is why we typically consider it in discussions of motivation.

Expectancy Theory by Victor Vroom

This motivation theory is proposed by a Yale University professor, Victor Vroom. According to Vroom, motivation can be simplified to deciding how much effort to apply to a particular task (Kinicki & Fugate, 2017). The process is based on a two-part sequence of expectations, added by the valence. The first part is the effort-to-performance relationship (Expectancy), which is the probability perceived by an individual that a certain amount of effort will lead to a certain level of performance (Robbins & Judge, 2016). The second part is the performance-to-reward relationship (Instrumentality), which is the perceived relationship between the performance and how it will bring forth the reward (Kinicki & Fugate, 2017). These two stages are followed by the degree to which the reward is valued by the individual, which is the Valence (Lægaard & Bindslev, 2006).

Lægaard & Bindslev (2006) stated that the three variables (Expectancy, Instrumentality, and Valence) build up the motivation by the formula: Motivation = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence

It means that if one of the three variables is too low, then the overall motivation will also be low. Thus, in order to increase motivation, managers should not only push for performance and reward but should foster the employees’ faith that their effort will result in performance, which will result in a reward that they valued.


Many studies support the reliability and accuracy of the Expectancy Theory. In a motivation discourse, the Expectancy Theory is superior to the other two described above. The main issue for this theory is the rational assumption that every individual is able to make a rational choice (Lægaard & Bindslev, 2006). Ivancevich et al. (2013) mentioned a research study that rated 73 organizational behavior theories by their overall importance, scientific validity, and practical usefulness. It has been reported that expectancy theory has high levels of importance, validity, and usefulness.

In my empirical experience, the Expectancy Theory seemed to be the most useful theory in motivating employees, compared to the other two. However, it also involves some problems, such as the difficulty in objectively and accurately predicting the degree of expectancy, instrumentality, and valence. It boils down to the sharpness of the managers and the rationality of the employees. Nevertheless, equity theory, reinforcement theory, and expectancy theory are important research field in motivational theory and the overall organizational behavior studies.


Bonesteel, M. (2016, March 31). Five U.S. women’s soccer players file wage discrimination complaint. Washington Post.

Ivancevich, J. M., Konopaske, R., & Matteson, M. T. (2013). Organizational Behavior and Management (10th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Kinicki, A., & Fugate, M. (2017). Organizational Behavior: A Practical, Problem-Solving Approach (2nd ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Lægaard, J., & Bindslev, M. (2006). Organizational Theory (1st ed.). Ventus Publishing ApS.

Robbins, S. P., & Judge, T. A. (2016). Organizational Behavior, Global Edition (17th ed.). Pearson.

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