Employee Motivation and Managerial Leadership: A Case Study

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A key problem facing modern public and private organizations is that of motivation. It is recognized from the literature that employee motivation is an important ingredient in organizational success. At the same time, it provides a crucial challenge to management. However, good managers also display good leadership. This means they will find ways to motivate their staff to perform at the peak of their abilities. This leadership ability becomes especially critical during transitional phases in an organization. Such phases include periods in which new policies or procedures are being implemented. During such times, employees are expected to withstand a time of adjustment to new roles or job requirements. It is particularly challenging for even the best managers to motivate employees during such transitional phases. This paper will examine a scenario in which a crucial policy change is being implemented. Managers in the organization recognize this change will not be welcomed by all, or even most, employees. However, the change will be implemented using methods that, it's hoped, will not seriously affect employee motivation.

This paper is divided into three main sections. Section one is the introduction. Section two will review some general concepts concerning employee motivation and the challenges it poses to managerial leadership. Section three will present the hypothetical case study scenario. This scenario will involve the implementation of a new policy in an organization along with its presumed negative effect on employee motivation. Then methods will be considered do minimize, or in the best-case scenario, eliminate this negative effect.

Overview: Employee Motivation and Managerial Leadership

The methods managers use to motivate employees is the subject of considerable literature. As noted above, it is crucial for organizational success for employees to be as highly motivated as possible. Unfortunately, this same literature is less clear on how to best motivate an organization's employees. In general, theories of employee motivation fall into one of two types of motivation. The first is extrinsic motivation and the second is intrinsic motivation. Each of these types of motivation will be discussed in some detail next.

Extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is recognized as the type of motivation that relies on external incentives to spur employee performance. As such, extrinsic motivation is commonly rewarded on the basis of monetary compensation. The compensation is clearly important to the employee to sustain a livelihood. Thus whether the job itself is intrinsically rewarding is not particularly relevant. Osterloh, Frost, & Frey (2002) report that pay for performance is the preferred incentive system in economic theory.

However, it should be noted, that there is some literature that finds problems with methods that rely on extrinsic motivation. This problem arises when the incentive is removed or is no longer perceived as a worthwhile motivator. A study of employee award programs (Gubler, Larkin, & Pierce, 2002), found that a program targeted on employee timeliness had unintended consequences. Employees, who were otherwise not so timely, only performed up to standard for the duration of the award program. At the same, employees who usually reported to work promptly began showing indications of a decline in motivation after the introduction of the award program. This was thought to be due to the resentment generated from never being formally recognized for good behavior. The study found a decline of 1.4 percent in worker productivity. Thus there is evidence such extrinsic incentives can produce volatile and unreliable outcomes.

Intrinsic motivation. Motivation focusing on intrinsic rewards can be described as intrinsic when it is undertaken for the purpose of the individual's own innate satisfaction. That is, the individual would perform the tasks in question whether or not external rewards were present. In fact, there is some evidence that when external rewards are introduced, into such a context, that motivation has been shown to decline (Cho & Perry, 2011). This is likely because an external agent is now seen perceived to be in control of the reward. Therefore, motivation that is valued for its own sake is the only type that is demonstrated to have individual persistence. Intrinsic motivation is based on an individual commitment to the type of work or task. It must also provide satisfaction and fulfillment to the employee. As Osterloh, Frost, & Frey (2002) report, in order for workers to stay motivated to perform well on the job, they must first have a good job to perform for.

There are reports of studies on employee motivation. Cho & Perry (2011) found that the optimum in employee performance was observed in work contexts that have high levels of intrinsic motivation coupled with high levels of managerial trustworthiness and goal-directedness. As noted above, extrinsic rewards were found to have a depressing effect on employee motivation in those contexts.

This opens a crucial motivational problem for managers. That is when assessing what type of motivation works best, how often is it feasible to match workers to appropriate task situations? Maehr (1989) says this means that finding the "right fit" for workers must begin at the recruitment stage. Moreover, when dealing with motivation in an existing labor force, matchmaking workers to tasks is not always feasible. These issues are too complex to fully address in this paper, however it is crucial to establish under what conditions employee motivation can be expected to be at its maximum. This is not to suggest that achieving such conditions is always realistic. Out of necessity, the less optimal extrinsic methods may be the one's managers rely upon most often. Nevertheless, the focus on employee is crucial because it's often the key to gaining an edge on an organization's competitors (Jackson & Schuler, 2002) The next section introduces the case study scenario in which it is hoped a combination of extrinsic and intrinsic methods can be used to achieve optimal employee motivation.

Employee Motivation: Scenario

To facilitate this transition an employee motivation improvement project is planned. This plan is being undertaken because of concerns about how the new office configuration will affect employee morale and motivation. The plan to motivate the unit's staff to cooperate and hopefully support the change will be undertaken using four stages (Pritchard & Ashwood, 2008). These four stages are as follows:

1. Develop the project plan.

2. Investigate the strength of each connection and possible causes of low connections.

3. Identify appropriate solutions

4. Decide which problems to tackle and measure results.

The scenario involves a state government agency that has recently experienced a change in senior leadership. This new leadership has strong private sector connections. Thus it is seeking to introduce many policies and procedures that are believed proven motivators, into a public sector employee context. One of these is the reconfiguration of the office's cubicles into a format that can be described as a "bullpen style." The existing cubicles have very high partitions. These partitions are noted to be conducive to individual workplace privacy. However, the new bullpen seating will be devoid of any privacy. The walls environing the cubicles will be removed and replaced with rows of desks with low-level partitions. This new seating arrangement should allow managers improved ability to monitor staff activities. At the same time, it also means that employees may have to adapt their behavior to the new configuration.

This change is being implemented for a number of reasons. First, the new senior managers believe the bullpen seating will facilitate improved communication between staff members. This is believed to be crucial to worker productivity and organizational problem-solving. Second, the new seating will use less space than the older cubicles. This will allow more efficient use of office space. This helps because a number of agency units are being physically consolidated or reorganized. Finally, it's believed the new seating will improve social interaction between staff. This is thought to be central to fostering notions of heightened staff participation in the organization's objectives and goals.

In this scenario, the author of this paper is the manager of a medium-sized unit in the agency. This unit will be moved from its existing floor to a new floor once the bullpen seating has been completed. It's estimated that the offices will be ready for occupation once the construction is completed. There is only one unit involved in this particular relocation so only one level of supervision exists. So far, existing estimates are on target for a successful relocation and reorganization within three months.

At this time, it appears that low morale and motivation is a problem throughout much of the agency. This low morale may also affect members of the relocating unit. This morale is also coincident with low-levels of motivation. That is, employees typically undertake only the bare minimum to accomplish their jobs. There is also little staff input on organizational problem-solving. It's also been observed that staff cooperation could be better as well.

Therefore, a problem diagnosis that involves the entire unit will be undertaken. This diagnosis will involve a meeting with the entire relocating unit of several members. A questionnaire will be given to the staff both before the move and afterward to gauge changes in employee morale. It's hoped that any negative indicators will turn positive once the move has been completed and the staff becomes acclimated to the new work setting.

The unit supervisor will impress upon the staff the benefits of the new seating arrangement. These benefits will include fostering greater communication between staff members and increased participation in pursuit of the agency's goals. There may be intermittent evaluations involving individual staff members who continue to show low levels of motivation. These meetings will stress the importance of the individual employee's contribution to the organization. These meetings will be in the form of a one-on-one in which the unit supervisor will sympathize with the employee's view of the change. However, it will be impressed by the employee that the change will happen. In addition, great positives in terms of greater management recognition of individual accomplishments are a potential outcome of adaptation.


Cho, Yoon Jik, & James L. Perry. (2011). Intrinsic motivation and employee attitudes: The role of managerial trustworthiness, goal-directedness, and extrinsic reward expectancy. Review of Public Personnel Administration, (XX)X, 1-25. DOI: 10.1177/0734371X11421495.

Gubler, Timothy, Ian Larkin, & Lamar Pierce. (2013). The dirty laundry of employee award programs: Evidence from the field. Harvard Business School NOM Unit Working Paper, 13-069.

Jackson, Susan E. & Randall S. Schuler. (2002). Managing individual performance: A strategic perspective. In Sabine Sonnentag (ed.) Psychological Management of Individual Performance. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Maehr, Martin L. (1989). Building job commitment among employees. Library Trends, 38(1), 3-10.

Osterloh, Margit, Jetta Frost, & Bruno S. Frey. (2002). The dynamics of motivation in new organizational forms. International Journal of the Economics of Business, 9(1), 61-77.

Pritchard, R.D., & Ashwood, E.L. (2008). Managing motivation: A Manager's guide to diagnosing and improving motivation. New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.