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In an organizational context, motivation can be
defined as the psychological characteristics that guide and stimulate the human
behaviour in order to generate voluntary actions aligned with the organizations
goals. Scholars tried to tailor the motivation definition differently, thus we
can find multiple definitions in the organization literature. Nevertheless, all
these definitions shared three main aspects that turn around factors that
stimulate, channel, and prolong human behaviour through time (Steers et al., 2004).

Lakhani and Wolf (2005), Lakhani and Von Hippel (2003)
and Lemer and Tirole (2004) distinguished between two components of motivation
related to intrinsic and extrinsic factors. The former relies on internal
factors or deep-rooted desires within the human nature, such as self-esteem,
personal satisfaction, acceptance, curiosity… The latter relies on external factors
that serve as stimuli that trigger motivation, such as rewards, bonuses, and
benefit packages. Because of the crucial role that motivation plays in
increasing performance within organizations, many practitioners and scholars
tried, since the beginning of the twentieth century, to determine the factors
that enhance employees’ motivation within organizations.

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earliest perceptions of motivation

One of the pioneer researchers
in the field of employees’ motivation is Frederick Winslow Taylor. Through his
scientific management theory, Taylor (1911) claims that in order to motivate
employees and enhance their performance, the organization should adopt a
paternalistic style of management. Taylor is an adept of “the one best way”
approach, thus he claims that workers are “economic men” and the only way to guarantee
their motivation is to link their level of productivity to the wage rate per
piecework; the higher is the wage rate, the higher is the motivation and thus
the level of productivity (Taylor, 1911).

Elton Mayo (1953) brought into light a new approach of
employees’ motivation based on human relations. For Elton Mayo, employees are
not only interested in monetary rewards, but they also require understanding,
recognition, respect, and consideration. Therefore, social needs play an
important role in triggering employees’ motivation and enhancing performance
(Mayo, 1953).

McGregor (1960) came up with theory X and Y. This
theory describes two different attitudes toward work. Theory X claims that
workers are lazy by nature and that they reject work, unless if they are forced
to work. For this reason organizations should adopt an autocratic style of
management. At the opposite, theory Y assumes that people enjoy work and that
they have intrinsic motivation, therefore, they are voluntary willing to work
and meet the organization objectives without any external control.

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