Individual and organisational values: laying the foundation for motivation in the workplace.

Individual and organisational values: laying the foundation for motivation in the workplace. Over the last decade, the term “values” has become a buzzword for many professionally minded people, in particular those interested in appealing to the masses such as mainstream media outlets and politicians. Ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, civilians of the Western world have been regularly reminded that such atrocity was an attack against their values, and seemingly never since WW2 have we been reminded so much that we all value freedom and democracy in our day to day lives. While the latter is probably true for most people, public figures like to express values because for most people, they “sell”. That is, they have a significant influence over the way people act in their day to day lives – if it wasn’t for George Bush reminding the millions of American ccompaivilians of their value of peace and freedom, the “War on Terror” may not have gained the immense public support that it initially did. Or could the people of America have felt so strongly about such values that they need not have been reminded, and would have acted to defend them anyway? Nonetheless, the strength of values in such scenario is undeniable, and if we step out of the political arena and into a typical Australian organisation, it becomes clear that the power of values is just as significant in the working environment too. It is for this reason that many Manager’s feel strongly about fostering values both within the individual and within organisations, as doing so effectively can result in workplace efficiency being raised to new heights, in particular in the area of employee motivation.

Motivation is key to maintaining high employee performance in the workplace, and managers have been aware of this for centuries evident by the large number of often conflicting theories that have been produced and trialled by Organisational Behaviour academics attempting to maximise its presence in employee behaviour. Motivation itself is relatively difficult to identify in a person because it cannot be observed directly; the term represents a variety of forces within a person, and thus it is only possible for 3rd parties to infer motivation. These forces within a person influence their direction (fact that motivation is never random but instead always goal orientated), intensity (extent of effort exerted towards achieving a goal) and persistence of voluntary behaviour (amount of time a person exerts this effort before giving up or achieving the goal), all of which can be for better or worse (McShane & Travaglione 2007). Organisational Behaviour theorists approach the issue of motivation from many different angles, however the most famous of models and principles produced can be separated into three distinct perspectives: Content, Process and Reinforcement. Content perspectives attempt to identify what aspects in the individual or in the workplace motivate people; in particular they focus on a person’s needs and the extent to which they are satisfied. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is perhaps the most famous of such models, which suggests that people achieve degrees of motivation by satisfying five groups of needs in order: physiological, security, belongingness, esteem and self-actualisation. As long as a need remains unsatisfied in the hierarchy, a person is said to only feel motivated to fulfil the lowest one, before he/she can move up to fulfil the others (Davidson et al. 2009). While many managers have accepted and promoted this theory, it has been suggested by many that it is flawed in the sense that the hierarchy and needs can be different for different individuals and thus other theories have grown in popularity such as Frederick Herzberg’s two factor theory, which relates motivational factors such as achievement and recognition to job satisfaction (McShane & Travaglione 2007). From the Process perspective, OB theorists have popularized expectancy theory, which suggests that motivation depends on how much someone wants something and how likely they think they are able to get it, equity theory, which suggests people are motivated to seek social equity in the rewards they receive for performance, and self-efficacy, which relates to a person’s self-belief in being able to achieve a particular goal. Lastly there is the Reinforcement perspective, which theorises that rewards, such as incentive systems, can be used to cause behaviour to change or remain the same over time, thus motivating employees to behave in a desirable manner (Davidson et al. 2009).

But while the hypothetical construct of motivation is surrounded with such elaborate theories/ models, values are not the icing on the top of the cake but the basic structure that supports the building (Argandoña 2003, p15). That is, values provide the foundation on top of which motivation, and thus such theories, is able to exist and thrive. Values are stable, assessed beliefs that steer a person’s preferences for outcomes or courses of action in a range of situations (McShane & Travaglione 2007). Chief Executive of Westpac, David Morgan, feels so strongly about values that he states that they are like “glue” that are “deeply rooted” in the organisation and the “day to day lives” of his employees (McShane & Travaglione 2007, p42). Values partly define who we are, and act as a moral compass that directs our motivation, and in turn our decisions and actions. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, an employee would not be motivated to fulfil a need of security if he/she didn’t in fact value security, such as a pension plan. Nor would expectancy theory be valid if an employee didn’t want anything to motivate him/her, nor would self-efficacy which requires a person to value a challenge if it is to aid in motivating. And even reinforcement theory would falter if the employee does not value what the employer is offering as an incentive to become motivated. Furthermore, the MARS model, which highlights the factors that directly influence a person’s voluntary behaviour, presents values as having significant influence over motivation and a person’s behaviour (McShane & Travaglione 2007). Without appealing to a person’s values, it is clear any attempt to motivate them in the workplace will likely be extremely cumbersome, as was made clear in a recent interview with two employees about the relationship between their own and their organisation’s values.

Both respondent A, who has worked for ***************** Hospital for 1 and a half years, and respondent B, who has worked for civil construction company *************** for six months, expressed satisfaction and enjoyment regarding their jobs, and coincidentally, or not, both suggested that their values, and those of their organisation, played a large part in developing such a positive attitude in their work life. Respondent A stated that she valued “honesty, respect, trust and cultural diversity”, and that her employer promoted the similar values of “hospitality, compassion, respect, justice and excellence”, which employees were encouraged to adopt from the moment their contract was signed. “I try to remember them when I am working so I can do the job as good as possible, and thus leave a good impression…with the patient after they leave”, says respondent A, who also states that she hasn’t had any significant problems at work because her “own values mostly align with those of the organisation”. This emphasis on value alignment is prominent in all the motivation theories, such as in reinforcement theory where if an employee values money, then money and related rewards can be used to align employee goals with organisational goals (McShane & Travaglione 2007). Respondent B also places similar emphasis on value alignment, stating that “it allows me to take pride in my work…value my job… [and ultimately] perform better”. But even with such emphasis placed on values, neither respondents researched their employer’s values before applying, and both made it clear that they would “probably refuse to do [a] task” at work if it went against their values, in particular in regards to unethical practices which both respondents also said they would likely “take a stand” against. Such a notion highlights that while values are indeed the foundation for motivation, if they do not align with organisational values, they will likely become the foundation for de-motivation behaviours instead. This idea can be linked to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, where if an employee cannot fulfil a lower order need based on their values, it is suggested they will “refuse” to commit and be motivated to achieve higher order needs/tasks (McShane & Travaglione 2007). Whilst both respondents had many common ideas when it came to values, a significant contrast was in their value of a team environment. Respondent B would “never ever call in sick to really have a day out with friends”, while respondent A says she is “committed [to her co-workers] but not that much”. In her defence, it appears a strong team environment is not necessarily promoted in her workplace, with shifts all over the place being “often cancelled unexpectedly”. This suggests that motivation could be enhanced in the workplace if the value of a team is fostered within each employee, while an unorganised team can serve as a considerable de-motivator and cloud judgement that would otherwise be influenced positively by a person’s other values.

Incidentally, it is recommended that management at respondent B’s workplace organise employee’s shifts into common teams in order to foster the value, and motivational benefits of, teamwork while at the same time improving productivity and quality of care for patients. If this team environment features team reward systems and is implemented with care, then reinforcement theory indicates that employee performance and motivation will rise to higher levels (McShane & Travaglione 2007). In addition to this, respondent A states that while her employer states “respect” as one of their core values, she has witnessed “on numerous occasions managerial staff being rude to employees of lower status”. Such hypocrisy casts doubt over the entire value system of the organisation, and to foster faith in and adoption of the values, managers should live by the promoted values and actively convey the benefits of doing so. This links to self-efficacy theory in the sense that employees will reflect and likely decide that “if a manager can adopt them, so can I”, as well as the leadership theory of leading by example to motivate employees in a positive manner (McShane & Travaglione 2007). Whilst respondent B does not suggest anything significantly wrong with his workplace management in this regard, any group of employees in any workplace can be positively motivated by simply asking them what they value, so that they can be wholly motivated to work towards rewards they actually value; an often overlooked idea that links to reinforcement theory previously discussed. Executives at Campbell Soup in Canada thought that employees would ask for more money in a special team reward program, but when actually asked, it was discovered what they really wanted was a less expensive, but a more valued, leather jacket (McShane & Travaglione 2007, p178).

With that said, the significance of values laying the foundation for motivation can never be underestimated. When values are aligned, people can do amazing things, whether it be on a political scale by fuelling Bush’s war on terrorism with manpower and support, or in the workplace by increasing motivation and in turn performance and profits. But when they are ignored and aren’t aligned, results can be quite destructive, leading one scholar to write: any manager who does not take values into account will be a bad manager…values are part of a company's distinctive competences and, therefore, shape their long-term success (Argandoña 2003, p16).


Argandoña, A. 2003, 'Fostering Values in Organizations', Journal of Business Ethics, Vol. 45, No. 1/2, 15th Annual Eben Conference: "Sustaining Humanity Beyond Humanism" pp. 15-28.
Available from: JSTOR. [17 August 2009].

Davidson, P., Simon, A., Woods, P & Griffin, R., 2009, Management: Core Concepts and Applications, 2nd edn, John Wiley & Sons, Queensland.

McShane, S & Travaglione, T, 2007, Organisational Behaviour on the Pacific Rim, 2nd edn, McGraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd, New South Whales.

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