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Project Management: Principles of Motivation in the Workforce (Maslow Theory)

Updated: Aug 9, 2022

The more highly engaged and motivated the workforce is, the more likely the success of the organization in achieving its goals and objectives. As per Kreitner et al, performance is a product of an individual’s skills, abilities, and motivation (Kreitner, et al., 1999).

Various physiological motives such as salary, promotion, work environment, conditions of work, and social motives such as the opportunity to use one’s ability, challenging work, appreciation, positive recognition, and team leadership relationship can heavily influence staff’s motivation to work in an organization that promotes these values.

The content theory of Maslow as illustrated in the Figure below identifies the individual development and motivations of humans arranged in a series of hierarchies of importance which heavily influences the management approaches to motivation and organization structure.

Figure 7 - Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory
Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory

Applying Maslow's theory principles encourages employees to reach their full potential. By ensuring the most basic physiological (e.g., safe working environment), and security needs, the employees are self-motivated to fulfill the higher-level needs of Maslow’s triangle, hence, improving their individual performance and that of the organization.

Making employees feel part of a team, have recognition of achievements, and learn new skills as well as nurturing the needs of social relationships, self-esteem, and professional accomplishment through training programs will motivate the workforce to do better work.

A hierarchical structure limits the interaction of employees from different departments which limits professional growth. On the other side, a matrix structure offers exposure to opportunities and interaction with people due to its team arrangement, however, it also contributes to workforce insecurity after a project is finished. In a project-oriented environment such as civil engineering, the achievements of the team goals sometimes overshadow individuals’ achievements which could demotivate some employees.

As per the two-factor theory developed by Herzberg, defined as hygiene and motivator factors, “the opposite of dissatisfaction is not satisfaction but, simply, no dissatisfaction”.

Two factor theory
Two-factor theory

The Hawthorne Experiment

Although, while working conditions are included as a hygiene factor, such motivation theories could be argued by the Hawthorne Experiments which found working conditions to motivate staff.

The Hawthorne Experiment was conducted in four parts, each testing different factors such as working conditions (lighting) and attention from supervision (the response of management to complaints and having sympathetic ‘good listeners’ as interviewers). Unexpectedly, the workers under poorer working conditions were found to have a higher productivity rate thus going against the hygiene factor theory.