Motivation, Commitment and Engagement (Primal Differences for HR Thought Plan)

Motivation, Commitment and Engagement (Primal Differences for HR Thought Plan)

By  Gaurav Kapil

Under pressure of ever-increasing competitiveness of ever-changing economy, HR Department of every Organization is focused on launching beautifully created training programs and development workshops for capturing the ‘focus’ of employee on his job, for creating that ever-elusive capability and to fire motivation resembling ‘live company, breathe company, sleep company’.


In simple words all above training & development programs have one primal agenda that is to make employees more productive, one of ways of which is to make them ‘engaged’.

This particular phenomenon where employee has his complete ‘focus on the job’ is known by many terms in Organizations simply as employee engagement, engaged performance, committed employee, motivated employee or many a times by more exotic names like people oriented job capability module etc.

Notwithstanding above what is observed in common is that HR professionals with all their good intent still create programs which intermix the concepts of Organizational Behavior. In this particular thought paper I have tried to clarify how three widely used yet commonly misunderstood concepts of ‘Motivation’, ‘Commitment’ and ‘Engagement’ are primarily different from each other.

What is: Motivation is energy behind attainment of a particular desire. As per Arnold J. Robertson (Work Psychology, 1991) Motivation is a behavior that consists of:
1. Direction of desire
2. Effort for that attaining that desire
3. Persistence for attaining that desire
It is to be noted that it is variability of above 3 elements Direction, Efforts, Persistence that will determine the direction & extent of Motivation in a person.

Theory: Motivation has been a part of numerous researches, experiments and studies. From as old as Indian Scriptures like Vedas describing Motivation as basic desires which drives ego to achieve intended results or Aristotle that it was “the real or the apparent good” of some anticipated consequence, or image of “what is to come” derived in “reference to what is present,” that simulated a living organism to pursue it (if positive) or avoid it (if negative).

Famous theories which have left their impregnating effect on HR scenario are:

1) Theroy X and Theory Y (Douglas McGregor):
Theory X and Theory Y are about working style of a supervisor/organization in relation to their subordinates/employees.
a. Theory X assumes that an employee by nature is unproductive therefore has to be motivated to work better through coercion only.
b. Theory Y goes exactly opposite and assumes that employee when committed will be self-directed and highly productive.

Observation: It is to be noted that though Theory X has been shown by research to be counter-productive, conclusive research on Theory Y has NOT been conducted till date. Therefore author’s view is that one cannot solely rely on either of them for basing one’s decisions.

2) Herzberg’s 2-Factor Theory (Herzberg):
The Herzberg 2-Factor theory contemplates about what an employee perceives good and bad about in a working environment.
a. Satisfiers (Motivator): Employees feel good about job content, public recognition, challenge, development opportunities, working culture in the working environment.
b. Dissatisfiers (Hygiene Factor): Employees feel bad about supervision, policy and administration, salary and working conditions.

Observation: When surveys are conducted then high score in Motivators indicates that employee takes that self-initiated steps or work an extra mile out of Commitment. High score in Hygiene factor is just indicator that employee is not dissatisfied yet since high score doesn’t add to Commitment by employee. While going through complete research of Herzberg, readers will observe that this theory can be claimed as one of the first base on which HR Departments initiated Job Enrichment and Intrinsic Motivation workshops.

3) Hierarchy of Needs (Maslow): Maslow argued that there are 5 needs of every person and person acts on them as per his position in hierarchy model. As per Maslow’s hierarchy the needs of person always starts at bottom of 1st level and only when this level is satisfied employee shall move to higher level.

5th level: Self Actualization: Challenge, creativity, realization of potential etc.

4th level: Esteem Needs: Self-esteem, confidence, respect etc.

3rd level: Belonging Needs: Relationships including social circles etc.

2nd level: Safety Needs: Security of self, family, resources etc.

1st level: Physiological Needs: Food, water, air etc.

Observation: It is to be noted that researches show that this hierarchy is not always strictly followed and model itself appears to be inconsistent with same experiment repeated in society based in Asian countries like India. It is also observed that needs at lower levels does not disappear once a person is on higher level, making a person always vulnerable to variables of environment.

4) McClelland’s Achievement Model: Author has found Achievement Model to be one of the least understood concepts on Motivation but one of the most powerful in application. McClelland used Thematic Appreciation Test (TAT) for arriving at research results. This theory states that every person has 3 dominant needs and that each need can measured:
a. Need for Achievement (N-Ach): Need for achievement indicates the need of individual to continually keep on achieving and excelling at their endeavors. This need is benchmarked against self-determined/accepted performance standards.
b. Need for Affiliation (N-Affil): Need for affiliation indicates need of an individual for belonging to groups, teams, society, relationships.
c. Need for Power (N-Pow): This indicates need for having Institutional or Personal power. This may be redefined as need for having control over people and situations. High N-Pow (institutional power) is requisite for effective leadership.

Observation: McClelland focused primarily on Need for Achievement. His assertion mentioned following combinations:
i. For high standards of excellence employee should have High N-Ach.
ii. Good managers should have High N-Pow and low N-Ach.
iii. N-Affil should be lower than N-Pow for effective behaviors, as high N-Affil scorer may tend to nepotism, favoritism or submissive behaviors.

5) Diverse Research on Motivation
Understanding & appreciation of Motivation is the basis on which HR Professional conceptualizes, develops and implements Organization policies. Experiments by Dan Ariely (Predictably Irrational, Harper Collins ed. 2009, Pg: 67-88), by Margaret S Clark (Record keeping in two types of relationships, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 47, Issue 3, September 1984, Pages 549-557) and Alan Fiske (Four Elementary Forms of Sociality, Psychological Review, 1992) one can observe that there exists primarily two separate categories of Relationships in every individual’s mind:
a. Exchange or Market norms where individual thinks only in terms of money, trading for any service given or provided. Essence is of Give & Take.
b. Community or Social norms where requests are friendly requests on the basis of strength of relationships and need only without any thought to monetary value. Essence is To Give As Much As I Can.

Observation: Above 2 relationship spheres operates in different manner. It was found that Communal Norm is more productive but highly susceptible to mutate into Exchange Norm even if an iota of Exchange Norm is involved. These experiments indicate following implications for HR:
i. Dependence on Monetary benefits only as a motivator leads to trade thinking only without any increase in commitment, engagement or motivation as desired.
ii. Employees’ relatedness with their Organizations, Peers, Superiors and Subordinates are Social Exchange. Social exchanges work best when kept away from any type of monetary exchanges. Social Rewards, Appreciation and Commitment work best when kept separated from any type of monetary benefit.
iii. Social Rewards are much better motivators than monetary rewards.

What is: Commitment refers to attachment and loyalty to a cause or to a role model. As per Mowday, Porter (Employee-Organization Linkages, 1982) Commitment refers to 3 characteristics:
1) Desire to ‘remain’ a member of Organization.
2) Belief in & acceptance of values & goals of Organization.
3) Readiness to exert considerable effort on behalf of the Organization.

Observation: From above theory it is observed that ‘readiness to exert considerable effort’ is what makes difference with respect to presence of commitment. However this readiness also creates confusion often misquoted as employee engagement.

The problems with concept of Commitment especially when espoused by HR are as follows:
1) The measure of Commitment cannot be same for everyone, since organization is coalition of different interest groups (Management, Union, IR Department, Finance, Operative units etc.). The varying motivation of different interest groups brings up the question: ‘Commitment to What?’ (Power in and around Organizations by Mintzberg, 1983).

2) Author will place an argument that another problem with HR rational of Commitment is that at any point of time people have multiple commitments, which are consistently changing due to internal factors like new found interest, focus on society etc. and external factors like change in policy, devaluation of currency etc. Individual behavior of an employee therefore will keep changing due to intensities of these different multiple commitments.

Therefore it is entirely a different notion of Commitment that is defined as adhering to organization’s value system, which is actually Compliance as expressed by employee vs. the Commitment as desired by HR. (Mowday, Porter.)

3) When two separate areas that is “Commitment to What” and “Multiple Commitments” are read together then one can observe that presence of ‘Direction of Commitment’ and ‘Intensity of Commitment’ makes linkage to performance a concern. As per D E Guest (Personnel Management: The end of orthodoxy; British Journal of Industrial Relations, pp: 149-176, 1991) high organizational Commitment is associated with lower labour turnover and absence, but there is no clear link to performance. That is to say high commitment does not lead to high performance on job. On a lighter note this is analogous to: High Overtime does not necessarily mean High Productivity.

Commitment to Organization in itself may not lead to higher job performance, since individual employee efforts are rarely visible in Big Picture of organizational performance. However commitment to a cause of organization (or even a team) led by competent Leader should show desired results i.e. direction given by Team Leader becomes sole guidance for directing the efforts of committed employees in that team. This in turns also places important observation that when HR is basing its program and planning on commitment then following is to be kept in mind:

i. Employee to be committed to Team and Organization both.
a. Organizational commitment can also be built by better implementation of company policies and practices.
b. Team commitment can be built by allowing people to affiliate more.

ii. Team commitment and thereby team results are dependent on Team leader.

What is: Engagement is said to be present when an employee displays positive discretionary behaviors and efforts towards completion of the job. This can be understood as below:
1. Discretion in behavior and efforts: A Person when chooses to perform an action/behavior or chooses to not to perform an action/behavior is said to have exercised discretion at his disposal.

2. Positive Discretion in behavior and efforts: A Person when chooses to perform an action/behavior or chooses to not to perform an action/behavior, both of them when lead to completion of job is said to have exercised positive discretion at his disposal. A negative discretion shall be slacking at work.

3. Intensity of Positive Discretion in behavior and efforts: It is the extra mile which an employee is willing to walk for completion of his job defines the presence of engagement. A high intensity of positive discretion actions assures that seemingly long stuck issues get resolved.

1. High Commitment may not always lead to job engagement, yet it is than low commitment.
2. A highly productive employee may not necessarily be attuned to Corporation. In worst case scenarios such an employee shall resign or display hyper competitiveness damaging work environment.

Application: As per research by IDS, London (HR Studies Update, 2007a) there are 2 elements which are present in any genuine engagement:
1. Rational Aspect: This aspect talks about employee’s rational understanding of their roles, work itself, fitment of work with Business, economy oriented issues etc.
2. Emotional Aspect: This aspect talks about employee’s feelings of their roles, work-value alignment, relationships etc.

It is to be noted that both of above aspects shall overlap at many times e.g. work itself is source of rational thought as a economic cycle, also it is related to confidence of employee. Finally, analysis by V Vroom (Work & Motivation, 1964) indicated that it is High Performance that leads to Job Satisfaction i.e. a productive worker need not be satisfied worker and a satisfied worker need not be a productive worker. That is also to say Organizations can now base decision that:
i. Job Engagement is about Work or Job itself

a. Giving an individual a job, which she likes, is creating Employee Engagement.

b. Training her to do her Job better is better Engagement.

c. Creating Environment which enables her to do her Job better is better Engagement.

d. Letting her do the Job where she can succeed is Job Engagement.

e. Ideally, a job should irresistible that employee finds solace in his job (musicians, artists etc).

ii. Job Engagement is NOT about
a. If Employee doesn’t like his ‘Job’ then engagement cannot be found, even if his performance is superior.
b. Breaking rhythms of work (micromanaging), interruptions in work (meetings!), dictating that is ‘factors which lead to a feeling in an individual that one will not be able to do her job to her own satisfaction is losing engagement’.
c. Learning opportunities on the job may or may not increase engagement.

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Copyright © Gaurav Kapil 2010

Gaurav Kapil MBA (HR): MDI, Gurgaon Electronics & Communication Engineer: OIST-RGTU Graphologist: KIT


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