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Motivating Shop-Floor Workers in Manufacturing Sector

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Motivating Shop-Floor Workers in Manufacturing Sector

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What is Motivation?

The word Motivation is derived from the Latin word “movere” which basically means “to move”.  So, if we must measure one’s motivation level, we need to evaluate what makes one participate in an event/activity and what makes one continue that event/activity, ie the underlying desire.  

Four drives that trigger Motivation

The modern-day theories, new cross-disciplinary research in fields like neuroscience, biology, and evolutionary psychology, suggest that one is guided by four basic emotional needs or drives.  These four needs or drives trigger everything one does and hence motivation is the driving factor for actions taken on basis of these needs.

  1. The drive to acquire (scarce goods):
  • It ranges from drive to acquire tangible goods such as food, clothing, housing, money till intangible goods such as experiences and status.  
  • This drive is relative to what one owns already and what others around him own.  And it is a drive which can never be satisfied, because as humans we always want more and more by nature.
  • In an organization, this drive is addressed by “The Reward System”.  The reward system enables the employer to differentiate between the performance level of various employees.  It is not just tackled by rewarding the employee, but the employer also needs to pay employee on par with its competitors in the market.
  1. The drive to bond
  • Humans as a species loves to bond, be it with parents or family, but we also love to bond with the larger social groups such as organizations, or even nations.
  • In an organization, this drive to bond is served by “Culture” ie creating the workplace environment which encourages employees towards teamwork and friendship.  Essentially the culture of the workplace must incubate bonds. amongst the employees to keep the motivation momentum going forward to achieve the organizational goals.
  1. The drive to comprehend
  • As human species we want to make sense of the environment around us.  In workplace we don’t want a monotony.  We always want to take up challenges and move forward on the learning curve.  This also leads to attrition of employees in a company if the job gets too boring for their level.
  • In an organization, this drive to comprehend is addressed by “Job Design”.  If the employee is constantly using his ability to comprehend in a challenging job profile, he/she will be having this drive aspect satisfied. Hence the employer should focus on designing jobs that are having discrete important roles and are meaningful in nature.
  1. The drive to defend
  • Humans naturally defend themselves and everything related with them be it family, ideas or property and accomplishments.  Fulfilling this need, gives humans security and confidence.  
  • In an organization, this drive to defend is met by “Performance-Management and Resource-Allocation Processes”.  This is done by the employer by having fair and transparent processes.  And Employer also needs to extend the fairness and transparency in giving rewards and recognition to fulfil this drive aptly.

All the above four drives need to be fulfilled for the person to be a productive and motivated in progressing with day to day life.  

Additionally, the same four needs listed above are also needed for Employee Motivation in an Organization.  At an organizational level, each drive is mapped to specific lever ie action system (also mentioned along with the drive’s above):  Reward System, Culture, Job Design, Performance-Management and Resource-Allocation Processes.  

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Figure 1 : Organizational Levers for Employee Motivation

Apart from the Organization fulfilling the needs at a broad level.  The local environment of the employee also needs to be tackled with the above mentioned four levers, and this is where the immediate supervisor needs to handle individual employee needs at a micro level.

If any of the four levers are not met at either Organizational level or Immediate Manager level, then the employee motivation drops by some level. [7]

Motivation Frameworks

Several theories/frameworks attempt to capture how motivation works.  We have assessed the following five popular frameworks in this report and explored each one of them to understand applicability in the manufacturing domain. The following motivation frameworks have been assessed to find out their applicability and suitability in the manufacturing domain.

  1. Theory X and Theory Y
  2. Two Factor Theory
  3. Equity Theory
  4. Reversal Theory
  5. Expectancy Theory

After an in-depth analysis (detailed in respective theory sections), the following three frameworks have been found to be most applicable to the chosen domain of manufacturing,

  1. Theory X and Theory Y
  2. Two Factor Theory
  3. Equity Theory

And the following two frameworks have been omitted due to lesser applicability

  1. Reversal Theory
  2. Expectancy Theory

Theory X and Theory Y

One of the most iconic books in the history of management, “The human side of Enterprise”, written by “Douglas McGregor” brought forward one of the most pertinent theories in motivation, named “Theory X and Theory Y”. This theory contemplates on two alternate styles of management, Imperious (denoted by Theory X) and Participative (Denoted by Theory Y).

This theory establishes the rudimentary perceptions that managers make of their subordinates and then suggests managers to introspect by engaging with this theory. At the end, it is hoped that the managers will be able to gauge the adverse impact their behavior makes at the workplace and transform the behavioral / attitudinal aspects of their personalities to provide a thriving environment at the workplace.

McGregor predominantly pondered upon the following ideas as the base for this theory.

  1. Managers, either by choice or inadvertently, end up making assumptions about people working for them.
  2. The assumptions made by managers can be broadly put into the following two categories
  1. Pessimistic Assumptions (Referred as Theory X)
  2. Optimistic Assumptions (Referred as Theory Y)
  1. The Pessimistic assumptions or Theory X has the following assumptions on employees.
  1. People are inherently not willing to work.
  2. People possess limited caliber to contribute anything substantial.
  3. People are not trustworthy and therefore must be controlled minutely.
  4. People are selfish and therefore will never think for the organization.  
  5. Incorrect assumptions and therefore perception of people leads to unwarranted behavior of managers.
  6. These adverse managerial behaviors affect employee motivation and work behaviors.
  7. The managers with Theory X assumptions also have self-fulfilling nature of their thoughts.
  1. The Optimistic assumptions or Theory Y has the following assumptions on employees.
  1. People are industrious and willing to work.
  2. People unlimited caliber to contribute substantial to every work.
  3. People are responsible and therefore must be given self-direction and self-control.
  4. People will commit themselves if the objectives are clearly defined and they feel aligned to them.  
  5. Correct perception of people, delegation of responsibility and therefore self-control leads to the desired behavior of managers.
  6. These desired managerial behaviors boost employee motivation and work behaviors.
  7. The managers with Theory Y tend to have clearer understanding of people’s work and therefore attribute success of work to them, instead of blaming them for failures.

Application of theory X and Theory Y in manufacturing sector

The following is a list of issues in the manufacturing sector which elevates the issues mentioned in Theory X, and hence the reason this theory has been selected for this report.



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