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The Relationship Between Employee Motivation and Delegation

Different motivational theories can directly impact an employee’s contribution to the overall success of an organization. Additionally, motivational theories can influence the behaviors and leadership methods within an organization. The result of employee motivation combined with leadership theories will influence employee satisfaction. This article will review factors that are directly attributed to employee satisfaction.


Throughout history motivational theories have been used by organizations to improve organizational performance. Theories that can assist organizations into effectively motivating their employees include Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory, Maslow’s Theory of Motivation as well as Vroom’s Expectancy Theory of Motivation. Herzberg (1965) identified job satisfiers as employee motivating factors. These job satisfiers include achievement, recognition, responsibility and an opportunity for advancement. Herzberg found that these satisfiers directly attributed to motivating employees to achieve high levels of performance.

Also included in this theory are hygiene factors, or dissatisfiers. The presence of hygiene factors resulted in health, comfort and social well-being. If these factors were removed an employee would likely experience dissatisfaction, resulting in a withdrawal from their organization (Drews, 1977). Hygiene factors include company policy, interpersonal relations, working conditions, salary or job security (Herzberg, 1965).

The Motivation-Hygiene Theory has undergone criticisms for oversimplification of the elements that contribute to job satisfaction. Drews (1977) identifies that specific job factors may be satisfying for some individuals where they may be dissatisfying to others. In addition, individuals with low-self esteem may respond differently to motivating factors in their lives versus the response from individuals with high self-esteem. A recent review of the theory suggests that specific satisfiers in the workplace no longer attribute to job satisfaction. Employees are no longer generally motivated by safe work environments, pay and job security (Cudney, 2009).

Comparatively, Maslow (1943) identified that an employee’s needs must be met in order to become motivated. Maslow’s Theory of Motivation identified five levels of human motivation that include:

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Social
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-Actualization

The hierarchy of needs can be used a basis that identify various benefits an organization can offer employees to satisfy employee needs and subsequently increase revenue and decrease expenses (Sadri & Bowen, 2011). Maslow (1943) identified the physiological need to be the most basic human need, which includes the need for food, water, air and shelter. This need can be met by organizations through monetary compensation, a comfortable work environment and a healthy work-life balance. The second level, safety, is defined as the need to be safe from physical and psychological harm (Maslow, 1943). This need is presently supported today by providing employees with medical benefits, job security and retirement plans (Sadri & Bowen, 2011). The social need or the need for affection and belonging can be applied to the organization by providing the employee with a sense of importance. Teams or company programs such as outings help to satisfy this need.

Esteem as identified by Maslow (1943) suggests that all individuals have a need for a firmly based high evaluation of themselves for self-esteem and for the esteem of others. In modern organizations the esteem need can motivate employees through recognizing employees for their work, or defining work with specific career possibilities. The final need, the need of self-actualization or the desire for self-fulfillment, is achieved by an individual becoming everything that they are capable of. At this level, employees are becoming motivated and inspired to perform at their highest levels (Sadri & Bowen, 2011).

Maslow’s Theory of Motivation has been subjected to recent criticisms due to the fact that the theory was developed within a culturally homogenous group. Cultural values between different groups suggest that not all cultures share the same values and do not place the same priorities on the five levels of human motivation (Jelavic, 2009). Additionally, Buhler (2003) identifies the importance for managers to regularly assess all employees to determine their current level in the hierarchy of needs. He states that is imperative to understand that individual’s needs will change of time and that not all employees are at the same level. Therefore, motivating factors should be tailored to each individual rather than the entire population (Buhler, 2003).

The Expectancy Theory of Motivation suggests that individuals can continuously evaluate the outcomes of their behaviors to assess the likelihood that their actions result in the expected outcome (Burton, Yi-Ning, Grover & Stewart, 1992). The theory utilizes both the valence model and the force model. The valence model strives to capture the perceived attractiveness of an outcome by aggregating the attractiveness of all outcomes based on the resulting outcomes (Geiger & Cooper, 1996). The force model captures the motivational force to act by associating the expected outcomes and their individual attractiveness.

Geiger and Cooper (1996) suggest that individuals may apply additional cognitive models, aside from those identified with the Expectancy Theory when reaching effort level decisions. They determined that individuals may display increased effort levels more dramatically for lower ranges of expected successes versus upper ranges of expected successes. Geiger and Cooper (1996) also determined that the Expectancy Theory of Motivation is limited to a particular culture and may not produce the same results across cultures.

Burton et al. (1992) applied the Expectancy Theory of Motivation to assess the motivation to use an expert computer system. They focused on employee attitudes to use the system and measured the behavioral intention to use the system. The result would display the success of the system and indicate user satisfaction. Burton et al. (1992) found that the Expectancy Model could be successfully applied to close the gap between the capabilities of a new expert system when factoring the expected outcomes the user seeks and the extent to which employees use it.


Leadership theories can have a powerful effect on motivating employees. They were developed to assist in the improvement of an individual’s skill and abilities to perform (Ray & Goppelt, 2011). As leadership theories aim to improve the performance of leaders, the end result is to improve the overall performance of their followers (Ray & Goppelt, 2011). Both transactional and transformational leadership theories focus on increasing the effectiveness of leaders.

Transformational leadership theories attempt to engage the leader/follower relationship through modifying specific aspects of the relationship to join their purposes (Humphrey, 2012). Transformational leadership has been used to motivate and encourage both leaders and followers to perform above minimal requirements. Effective transformational leadership will motivate the subjects to perform above their own expectations (Humphrey, 2012).

Transactional leadership has been identified as the relationship between a leader and follower that consists of an exchange between the two, often an instruction. Based on the outcome of the follower’s performance, the leader would issue a reward or punishment (Humphrey, 2012). The role of transactional leadership has been associated with institutionalized learning. By setting clear goals and rewards, these theories may contribute to reducing organizational complexity (Vaccaro, Jansen, Van Den Bosch & Volberda, 2012).

Transformational Leadership

One example of the transformational leadership concept can be found in the Situational Leadership Model. Hersey and Blanchard’s (1982) Situational Leadership Model focused on increasing leadership effectiveness. As employees begin with a high task and low relationship and transition into a delegation phase employees become able, willing and confident to perform tasks. This theory postulates that a leader must take differing approaches to leadership styles. Ultimately the goal is that the employee is skilled enough so that the leader can effectively delegate. (Hersey, 2009; Hersey & Blanchard, 1982).

Although the Situational Leadership Model is practiced in organizations throughout the world, it is not wholly accepted. Butler and Reese (1991) performed an empirical examination on the model by studying the effects of the model on sales performance. Sales performance did not increase after applying the model. Therefore, they state that the model is incomplete in the description of leadership styles as well as the situations facing the leaders (Butler & Reese, 1991). To support the hypothesis that the model is incomplete, Robbins (1989) stated that tests that have studied the model were not comprehensive.

The increasing need for employees to telecommute has lead to support for the Situational Leadership model. The application of the model allows leaders to effectively manage their telecommuters (Farmer, 2005). In a virtual setting, the leader must use various methods of leadership to increase communication effectiveness. When the model is utilized effectively, the adaptability of the leader is higher in comparison to leaders who do not utilize the model (Silverthorne & Wang, 2001).

Transactional Leadership

Leaders must possess transactional leadership qualities before they are able to display transformational leadership traits (Humphrey, 2012). The Contingency theory has been applied in organizations to improve leadership by selecting the right leader for a particular situation, or by changing the situation to fit the leader’s style (Fiedler, 1972). Fiedler stated that leaders must be selectively assigned to specific and challenging roles in order to motivate their subordinates (Fiedler, 1972). Both criticisms and strengths have been applied to the theory. da Cruz and Pinheiro (2011) identified that the model cannot be applied to all organizational situations.

The theory also suggests that anyone can be a leader if they carefully select the situations adjust to their leadership style (da Cruz & Pinheiro, 2011). Weaknesses identified with the theory also include that additional variables are necessary to describe most situations and that the scales would not be applicable over time (Armandi, Oppedisano & Sherman, 2003). In addition, Northouse (1997) stated that the theory does not explain what organizations should do in the event there is no adjustment between the leader and the situation.

In support of the theory Northouse (1997) described the key strengths as it extended the knowledge of leadership by focusing on situational impact. Additionally it does not require individuals to be efficient in all situations. Prior to the theory, leadership was focused on improving the style alone, without consideration of the various situations (Northouse, 1997). As the primary theory associated with situational leadership, the value of this theory is remarkably significant in today’s leadership methods (Armandi et al., 2003).

The normative decision model improves leadership effectiveness by establishing a decision tree that determines the amount of participation in decision making through various situations (autonomy) (Vroom, 1973). Long and Sperlock (2008) describe that the model assists in determining employee participation levels based on a decision made through consultation, group discussion or an individual. Initially Vroom (1973) attempted to test the validity of the model by studying decision making processes of 136 managers. Mischel (2004) indicates that the model has been substantially altered since the original study.

Field (1982) suggested that the normative decision making model was useful for managers in two ways. The model may be used as a device to for individual learning regarding the use of different decision process and in different situations. It is also a useful tool to increase overall decision effectiveness (Field, 1982). Additional methodical testing of the model resulted in reports that leader behavior by conforming to the model is more effective that violating the principles of the model (Ettling & Jago, 1988).

Sheppard (1984) described that managerial behavior when managing conflict does not apply to the normative model. When dealing with conflict managers must make autocratic decisions instead of following the model (Sheppard, 1984). Additional critique of the model includes that it only focuses on one aspect of leadership. The model does not identify why a leader perceives problems and subordinate reactions as they do (Paul & Ebadi, 1989).


This article reviewed related documentation on motivational theories, as well as leadership theories. Managers have the ability to apply a variety of methods, whether through motivation or leadership, to promote the abilities of their employees. Further research will describe the research methodology utilized to collect and study the data on the relationship between employee delegation and motivation. 

Dustin Meek is Director of Operations for a software development and call center organization.  He is currently pursuing his MBA.