Motivation or money: what drives us to get out of bed each morning?

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I recently saw a retweet based on a motivational quote attributed to Donald Trump; @motivatquotes tweeted “Money was never a big motivation for me, except as a way to keep score. The real excitement is playing the game”.  By the time I saw it, it had 33 retweets, and one comment disagreeing with the quote and emphatically stating that today money is a motivator.

Motivation is something that can’t be seen, it can’t be bought at the local supermarket.  It is however something that drives us all.  Under normal circumstances when we are hungry we will eat, when we are cold we will put another layer on.  These basic motivators help us to stay alive.

There are many theories linked to motivation. Herzberg’s theory suggests two types of motivator: hygiene factors (including salary) and positive motivators.  Maslow identified a hierarchy of needs with each level having to be satisfied before one can move to the next level.

Others have replaced these simplistic models.  Expectancy theory views motivation as a behaviour which is part of the process that explains the choices people make.  Choice made is based on three things:

  • Expectancy (what will I get out this if I perform in a certain way?)
  • Instrumentality (what is the likelihood that I will be rewarded for my performance?)
  • Valence (what is the likely value of the reward I think I will get, and how much do I want it?).

So, it all comes down to maths.  Motivation = Expectancy x Instrumentality x Valence.

So is money a motivator or is Donald Trump basically right?  Expectancy theory tells us that it can be.  But if we “do the math” it also tells us that there’s much more to it.  Money can be a motivator provided that the relationship between money and performance is very carefully crafted and that other issues like team working and company culture are considered too.

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